acting 101: #10 spatial awareness

As actors, we are not always lucky enough to be playing scenes in real-world settings. Location shooting is not always the case or even possible for that matter — films are often shot in studios or backlots. Or you play scenes in front of a green screen, which can be pretty irritating. When the scene shows a beach with the wide sea in front of you or a suffocating little cellar room — but you are actually in a studio, it can be hard to get into the feeling of the scene to make it all convincing. But do not despair! 🙂 You can easily work on your sensory or imaginary perception (however you like to call it) and prepare the scene in terms of spatial awareness.

The most important aspect when training spatial awareness as an actor is to include your senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing) when preparing a scene. There are some questions which you’ll find below that may help you. Afterwards, you find two extreme examples that illustrate the whole idea.

Here is how you approach the scene/specific space:

  • Where are you? Visually outline the space the scene sets in detail. Who and what is around you?
  • What do you see? How far are you able to see?
  • What does it smell like?
  • How does your environment make you feel?
  • Are there many people around you? Do you have enough space to move freely? How high is the ceiling if there is one? How can you move?
  • Can you breathe deeply? Is the air fresh or is it stifling? Do you have trouble breathing due to indisposition? Or do you feel amazing at the place you are?
  • How does your environment affect the way you stand, your posture? Are comfortable?
  • What are you wearing and how does your clothings affect your movements?
  • What do you hear? And how do the sounds make you feel?

Really get into the questions above and go through them before you tackle a scene. You can start to practice by apply the questions above to the following two extreme places:

1 Cellar room
You are caught with a bunch of bleeding men in a tiny, moldy cellar room. There is water on the floor. It smells disgusting due to the mold, the liquidity and the blood. There are no windows. The air is really thick. You got your hands tied behind your back, one foot bound to a heavy chain.

→ Your breathing is heavy.  You can only move with your head and your upper body. The rest is fairly tied in motion due to the chain and the space. The ceiling is not as high. You can’t but make few steps forwards/backwards. Your shoulders tense, so is your jaw due to the circumstances. You can’t but see two meters before you. The surrounding people make you want to fold into a small ball. Their coughs and moanings greatly disturb you.

2 Beach
You are at the beach, the wide sea in front of you, it’s a sunny day, you have most of the beach to yourself. You are wearing light summer clothing.

→ You hear the crashing of the waves — it calms you. You can stand tall and  your head is straight up. move freely. Widening your arms, you can breath in deeply the fresh air. Your view goes very wide.

Other good examples that you could work on are: a bunker (same with the heavy breathing, the tiny space, unpleasant scent) or the planet Mars (imagine heavy clothing, shoes and helmet/mask, gravity, think how you can’t flexibly move your upper body because of the heavy big helmet).

In my opinion, the most important aspects you should consider are:

  • How far can you see?
  • What about your flexibility in movement? Your posture?
  • Your breathing.

This technique really is a revelation to me. I hope it improves your spatial awareness just as much as it did mine.

Happy acting! x

-your tiny woman in a giant world

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