Acting Techniques: Viewpoints

Acting Viewpoints

It never hurts to build on or refresh your acting repertoire. This is why we’ve pulled together our thoughts on these different methods.  An actor’s craft is built on his or her body. Something the Viewpoints methods holds front and centre. Viewpoints acting focuses on movement and gesture instead of an actor’s psychology, backstory or motivation. It focuses on the physicality of a role rather than who the character is and can be used by amateur as well as professional actors.

History

The term Viewpoints has been used for decades it was coined by choreographer Mary Overlie. Viewpoints encompasses six elements of onstage performance: space, shape, time, emotion, movement and story.

Anne Bogart and Tina Landau’s book The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition identify the primary Viewpoints related to Time and Space. Viewpoints represents a philosophical, spiritual and aesthetic approach to their work as well as the physical technique, which they incorporate within their own theatre companies.

What’s it all about?

Viewpoints breaks away from what might be seen as ‘traditional’ theatre and the naturalism and realism this entails. At no point should you have to think about a character’s motivation, psychology or backstory. Instead, the emphasis is on observation and an understanding of storytelling through action and movement. It is through movement that the story is integrated into a whole.

That’s not to say there’s no thought behind this method of acting. Far from it. Viewpoints requires you to increase your observation skills and pay more attention to the small things. But the good thing is you can do this at any time as part of your day-to-day life, no matter what you’re doing. How quickly are people walking, how are they using their bodies and how are they holding themselves? How are the various elements of life integrating and with each other and how do they exist alongside each other?

A positive is that theatre companies who use this method are often seen as being more collaborative than traditional companies. Individual actors are more consciously aware of the movement of the ‘whole’ incorporating the collective vision.

What are the Viewpoints?

There are nine ‘physical’ and five ‘vocal’ Viewpoints.

Physical Viewpoints

 Space:

  • Architecture: A performer’s physical environment, the space including permanent and non-permanent features
  • Spatial Relationship: The distance between objects and bodies onstage, in relation to each other, or to the scenic architecture
  • Topography: A performer’s physical movement over landscape and design

Shape:

  • Shape: The outline or contour of a body, the shape of a body itself and in relation to other bodies or the scene’s architecture.
  • Gesture: A behavioural (realistic belonging to the physical world and daily life) or expressive (abstract or symbolic) shape with a beginning and middle and end.

Time:

  • Tempo: How quickly or slowly something happens on stage.
  • Duration: How long a movement or events lasts, how long a particular movement or gesture is held before it changes to the next one.
  • Kinesthetic Response: How performers spontaneously react to movement which occurs outside of them by other people or objects
  • Repetition: A performer repeating a movement either with their own body or a movement occurring outside of their body.

Vocal Viewpoints

  • Pitch: The degree of highness or lowness of a tone
  • Dynamic: The loudness or softness of a sound
  • Acceleration/Deceleration: the speed of a sound, making it quicker or slower.
  • Silence: The absence of all sounds.
  • Timbre: The texture or quality of a sound

How to get started?

It’s easy to block out the world and have our heads down to our phones, but make time to watch the world go by. You’ll notice how people carry themselves from one point to the next all the while skirting and integrating with cars, traffic, other people, birds, animals and even the architecture around them. Once you start you’ll find yourselves noticing the smaller details and movements and getting ideas on how you can integrate them in your work. There’s no way of getting this wrong, but a lot of opportunities to learn and improve your craft.