Staging is perhaps the most powerful, non-invasive, non-improvisational directing tool available. Unfortunately, it is one of the least understood and most frequently misused tools. Before we get into staging methods, we need to take a moment to consider its definition and function.
Staging (or blocking as some refer to it) is simply the movement and placement of characters within the appropriate setting during a scene. In everyday life, we move through our world in relationship to each other, our environment, and ourselves according to our needs physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We also move in response to our environment, other characters, and ourselves. In short, we “stage” ourselves according to our needs.
We make assumptions about people’s attitudes and feelings as we observe their movements in relationship to each other and the environment.
For example: As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a waiting room at LAX and I am noticing the variety of ways people have arranged themselves. Assuming that any individual will seek maximum comfort (both physically and emotionally), I know that I can make pretty accurate assumptions about the dynamics of many relationships.
One woman on the phone has her body turned out toward the room and is casually glancing over the crowd with a light smile on her face, while the man in the booth next to her has his forehead leaning against the wall as he speaks intimately on the phone.
The couple directly across from me are about as close as allowed in this room. His hand is on her inner thigh, his other hand is playing with the hair on the back of her neck. He is looking directly into her eyes and seems unaware of the rest of the room. She, on the other hand, is splitting her attention between him and the rest of the room. Her body is faced out to the room (his is faced toward her) and her legs are crossed away from him.
Another couple, across the room, are actually sitting on either side of a pillar which forces their seats apart by a foot or so. They are talking to each other but rarely looking at one another.
Most likely, we all make the same assumptions about these individuals based on their physical behavior. And we can assume that an audience would see these relationships in very much the same way.
This is staging – reflecting and triggering the emotional life of a scene. We allow the emotional dynamics of the scene to suggest specific staging, then create staging that will stimulate and support the interplay in the scene.
Note: Appropriate staging will support the dramatic elements within a scene. Improper or inappropriate staging can damage, undermine, or even completely sabotage the scene.
I have had scenes in rehearsal that have completely collapsed when they got on their feet. All the good work was lost because the actors were staged in such a manner that the conflict in the scene was diminished. Consequently, the actors had only one choice – they had to start acting in order to create the necessary conflict. They were focused on making the scene work rather than on the objectives of the characters.
Every scene has to be staged, and the staging is either going to support the scene or not. Learn the dynamics of supportive staging and you will be able to make any scene work.