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Back to Workshop Previews | "Upstage Vs. Downstage" (6:14) | "Body Positions" & "Crosses, Turns" (35:39) | Stage Movement: Description | Stage Movement: Registration
Examples: Richard Jeni | Richard Pryor
Jim Richardson's Stand-Up Comedy Workshops course descriptions for
Professional Stage Movement: setting a bit,
Page 2 of 2:

Lenny Bruce was practically born in a stage trunk.
So, it is not surprising that even for a mug shot,
He would not only assume the stronger 1/4 R body position,
But he would also make sure the photographer could see his upstage eye.

If you want to impress motion picture and TV casting directors,
You'd best master basic professional stage movement ASAP.

Sure, this stuff is a lot easier to learn when you are a 6-year old offspring of theatre folk.
However, you really have no choice if you want to get anywhere fast in Show Business.

Choreographing the Joke:
Professional Stage Movement for your
Serious Speech and/or Stand-Up Comedy Act
Lessons 26-29 of 35 Lessons

(Continued, Page 2)

Pre-requisites: none,

Plus: 30% Web Discount:

You will get a lot more out of this page if you first:
•read the Page 1: course description
•and then be sure to watch my two video clips that contain 13 chapters.

Part One: plays a single chapter inside the first clip.
“Upstage vs. Downstage” (6:14):

Parts Two & Three: play the last 12 chapters inside the second clip.
“Body Positions” and “Stage Crosses & Dramatic Turns” (35:39):

Find links to both the "iPhone/iPod/iPad version | Computer" versions of these two video clips here.

Since you will ultimately be auditioning for major motion pictures and TV shows,
this Workshop will also be considering those objectives in addition to your immediate needs,
be it as a stand-up comic, business keynote speaker, politician, ventriloquist or other solo act.

Neutral body positions:
As the central plane of the stage is considered the neutral plane,
•so the 1/4 Right and 1/4 Left body positions are considered neutral body positions.
The stronger position is 1/4R which is almost always how the TV host sits on panel
behind the desk DL.
•This is also the preferred body position for most publicity shots.

In the photo below, we see Frank Sinatra in R Pro looking at a music stand that is in the weaker 3/4 L position.
Yes, props have bodies and are carefully arranged in photo, film and video compositions.
•We can tell without seeing his feet that he is in R Pro because we can just barely see his upstage shoulder.
•Plus, he "cheats" his head into 1/4 R, more toward the audience so we can easily see his entire upstage eye.

The trick is to fill in your character's attitude:
Sinatra poses with his hands in his pocket, rocks back on he heels a bit, cocks his head to one side, wears his hat back on his head to expose more of his face, etc.
•None of this is accidental.

One of Frank's preferred opening acts was Tom Dreesen who is an excellent master of professional stage movement.
When Dreesen plays large stages, he is much more athletic than most comics,
•rapidly crossing the entire width of a 30 foot stage with long strides on his set up lines,
•then turning in place to do a very slow pan of the audience on his punch lines.

I had a very nice chat with Dreesen about his stage crossing technique, and he sent me a video
•of one of the most awkward performing environments he'd ever experienced.
•I show his brilliant solution to this movement problem
during one of the later Lessons in this Lessons 26-29 block of my 34 Workshop Lessons:

In the first of two photos below, we see Dreesen favoring the FF body position to make a point
and putting his left hand in his pocket.
•His head is in 1/4 R position, almost in R Pro since we just barely see his upstage eye.

The second photo shows his body in an extreme R Pro:
•we can see that his upstage leg is ahead of his downstage leg
•and we only partially see his upstage shoulder and eye.

Watching either Sinatra or Dreesen perform on the same bill was like watching the unfolding of a movie
since their movements, small and large, were so precisely choreographed.

Notice in this series of Laugh Factory video clips that Tom never aimlessly paces back-and-forth
•but instead gracefully moves in and out of most body positions.
He also makes some use of "stealing" UC so he can cross almost DC to sell a point.
And uses all three of the central plane's areas.
Plus, he pans the audience to get a few more seconds of laughter out of jokes that already get at least 5 seconds of laughter.

There is more than can be done than what we see just in these few video clips; but even here . . . Tom does a lot, and does it very well.

Techie note:
This series of his video clips requires the Flash Player which is not supported on iPhone, iPodTouch nor iPad
•but is supported on 98% of Apple and Windows desktop & laptop computers
where it often comes pre-installed:
Sinatra.Dreesen.Dreesen more extreem QR.

The Laugh Factory web site has been updated, and the video I initially referenced has been deleted.
However, the clips "Family Jewels" is from the same performance were you can see Dreesen in a gray suit and open collar.
Now, instead of opening "The Tom Dreesen Channel" with a performance clip, the page opens with a new interview of Tom by comic Dom Irrea.
Great interview; come back later and watch it, too.
But for our purposes here, notice that I have taken a screen shot and added a red arrow aimed at a red box I have placed around the desired clip.
Click on that clip's image to begin playing the "Family Jewels" clip
•where Dreesen does all the techniques described that he did in the deleted video clip.
Techie tip:
Clicking that clip's image will open a new web page's window where you can watch the video clip,
•then close that window to return to this web page:
Screen shot of opening for Tom Dreesen Channel.

Naturally, there are a few tricks to making sure your upstage eye can almost always be seen
which I will guide you to master in this Workshop.
•For now, I just want you to be aware of the problem.
How to best study other performer's professional stage movement:

These and other movement problems are best observed
•by playing back sections of a comic's or speaker's video
•with the distracting sound off.
•Get used to stopping the video, and asking yourself, "How did they do that?!?"
Then, play the video back, and figure it out.
•And put yet another technique into your own act!
Sharing 1/4 positions:

When two comics are on stage, even if it is just the moment when the MC passes the mic to you,
•both performers should initially be in "sharing" 1/4 positions.
•But there is more to it than that!

When you are auditioning for movie and TV parts,
•the casting directors might throw a few blocking directions at you.
This is to see if you have any theatre training worth a dime.
If your body doesn't almost involuntarily
•jump into the requested "sharing" or "giving" position,
the very next question they might ask you could be,
"Where on God's earth did you study acting!?!"

This Workshop is designed to help you pass such inspection with flying colors.


Giving and Taking the Scene's Focus within Shared Positions:

Here the two lead actors on the poster for "Gone With The Wind" (1939)
do not yet share top billing as Clark Gable is more well known in the USA,
although the woman is much more important to the story.
We can see that his head is downstage of Vivien Leigh, slightly blocking her face.
In addition to body positions, his parted hair is more visually interesting as is his striped smoking jacket.
•More importantly, the white background sets off his black hair and jacket
•and his body occupies more of the painted picture than does her body:

However, even within the sharing positions, for storytelling purposes,
•one actor will "take" the scene's focus and the other actor will "give" the scene's focus.
Here we see Gable clearly give the scene in the photograph to Leigh.
•We can see her upstage eye but his upstage eye is blocked
and the size of his arm embracing her with his black jacket is diminished
by blending it into the reddish brown of the sunset.
•We also see more of her neck:

Here both Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum occupy about the same amount of "screen real estate."
Like Gable in the previous photo,
•Mitchum is also on the stronger actor's left side of the screen looking to his right like the TV talk show hosts.
"His Kind of Woman" (1951) is directed with beautiful blocking by the excellent John Farrow, father of Mia Farrow.
How does he "help" Russell?
•Mitchum is upstage, "above" her and so further away from the camera, making her head appear slightly larger.
•Plus, her white skin contrasts with both his black t-shirt and the overall grays in the rest of the shot.
•His eyes are almost closed whereas hers are wide open.
So, she takes the scene:

More Obvious Giving and Taking a Scene's Focus:

In a more obvious example, Mitchum in 3/4 L gives the scene to Vincent Price in 1/4 R.
This one of Price's greatest roles where he is very funny.

Multiple techniques for controlling who the audience is looking at:

For an opposite use of contrast, we at first look at Jim Backus in the glaring white dinner jacket,
then at the couple blocked by the bar and a chair.
White costumes always makes a character look larger as black dress makes you look smaller.
But since everyone is looking at Mitchum,
•we look where all the actors are looking.
Mitchum gets some help as his dark suit contrasts with the white of the diners
and he takes a bit from Bacus since we can see Mitchum's upstage eye
and therefore, we see more of his face.
•In the strongest FF body position, he takes up more screen real estate than Backus
or the combined space taken up by the couple who are so far away in UL
so that Mitchum appears almost twice the UL man's size.
The table blocks the man's legs, the woman is sitting.
Mitchum takes the scene:

Contemporary movies and TV shows still use these proven focus techniques:

Lest you begin to think that I am describing staging techniques unique to an older era,
here is a scene from "The Closer" (2005-2012) which uses exactly the same "blocking" techniques.
In the Workshop, you will get pop quizzes like this one, usually using current shows or performers as examples.
•First, learn the techniques from historical examples, then apply said technique to current examples.
Wonder why this TV series had such a long run, and both the series and its star won so many awards?
OK: stop wondering, and prove it to yourself by just considering . . . the shot composition.
•Describe all the ways that Kyra Sedgwick takes this scene:

Pop quizzes—let's see what you have learned so far:

Oh, you like quizzes.
OK: who "wins" this contest in "Love Affair" (1939), Charles Boyer or Irene Dunne?
•And why?

In "La Dolce Vita" (1960) between Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg,
•who wins, and why?
This isn't all about blocking and body positions,
both of which are usually assigned by directors,
as in this case by the great Federico Fellini.
•It is also about how the actors fill in the blocking with their own character's attitude.
Who is doing more filling in here,
Marcello or Anita?

Describe what Fellini assigned the same actor in this shot
•and the difference in Mastroianni's attitude
between this and the previous shot:

Same questions, different scene:

What would a quiz be without at least one trick question?
•Where do you start looking at this shot of the stars
of "The Thin Man" movie series (1934-1947),
•and where do you end up looking,
and why?

Who wins: sitting boxer or standing manager?

What about between this sitting boxer and standing manager?

Does larger child kick boxer or smaller boy take this scene?

Between soldier and civilian?
•Notice that shared profile positions
•are used to capture scenes of heightened conflict:

Using more complex body positions for more complex moments in the scene:

The next level is using complex body positions.

The flag lady has her downstage leg forward in R Pro,
thus blocking our view of her upstage shoulder.
This is called "closed" position.
However, she "turns out" her head so we can see almost her full face in 1/4 R:

Brando's body is FF but his head is 1/4 L with his eyes in L Pro, his head slightly inclined.
The four different body positions create the illusion of a complex, vulnerable thinker
that fits his many dynamic characterizations.

Legs 3/4R, shoulders R Pro, head 1/4 R:

Body builder's head and feet 3/4 L, back FB:

Marilyn Monroe's different use of her arms, hands and legs in a similar pose, the second far more sophisticated:

Pirate woman's torso FF and at an angle off the perpendicular.
(Note: impress your friend by telling them this is called a "Dutch angle"
as originated in German Expressionist film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920)
and regularly found in camera, set and actor angles in Film Noir detective film [1941-1953]),
Her upstage knee is in L Pro, downstage knee in 1/4 L.
Weapons in either hand are held at different angles,
indicating she can come at you from any direction.

"The Rebel Slave" also has contrasts between legs in R Pro "open position,"
torso twisted almost 3/4 R (cannot see upstage shoulder),
head angled up in 1/4 R.
Again, deadly:
Imagine what he would do to his master if only he could get free!

Using levels for comedic effect:

Changing "levels" on stage can refer to relative actor and/or set height.

Boxer is almost a head taller than his promoter,
plus he blocks the promoter's body to give up even less screen real estate:

Woman runner has clearly fallen, and lost the race.
Note that we see the bottom of her track shoe:
•a comedic device known to make audience's laugh.
•In a parallel shot, comic Dick Shawn falls and exposes the bottoms of both his feet
•accentuated by wearing contrasting white socks.

Richard Pryor famously used different levels,
•both so he wouldn't be standing all the time
•and to make points.
He might sit in a chair or stoop over:

His most famous changing of levels was to illustrate his heart attack.
•His clenched fist represented the twisting pain in his heart.
•He imagines it literally knocks him down:

Using all 3 planes of the stage to make a character suddenly 2-3 times weaker or stronger:

Using the 3 planes of the stage is
•one of the most powerful ways to punch a joke or serious point.
Robert Mitchum as the murderous minister in "Night of the Hunter" (1955)
•motivates "revealing" his "LOVE" tattoo
on the fingers of his right fist
by holding onto the porch post
so the widow woman will think he is a nice guy.
What she is missing is that on his left hand, the one closest to his heart, is tattooed "HATE"!
•Mitchum's innocent-looking face is in the neutral center plane
•while his LOVE hand is in the stronger downstage plane.
Great script by James Agee from the novel by Davis Grubb,
and beautifully directed by Charles Laughton, Terry Sanders and Mitchum himself:

Movement going UC-to-DC or DC-to-UC is the most powerful:
•as the actor's size can increase or decrease 200-300%.
•The film cuts between long shot to close-up have a similar UC-to-DC-like dynamic punch.
Here we see the paparazzi at the bottom of the airplane's exit ramp,
chomping at the bit to get shots of Anita Ekburg.
As the camera moves down the ramp behind her,
•the photographers become increasingly larger and more threatening:

Jack Palance in "Panic in the Streets" (1950), his first movie,
ends with one of the greatest chase scenes of all time.
Zero Mostel slides down this ramp UC-to-DC the normal way
but menacing Jack goes down much faster
•by sitting on his leather bottomed shoes,
and taking off like a shot!

Controlling focus in group shots:

OK: time for our final quiz.
Tell me everything you have learned about Choreographing Professional Stage Movement in these final group shots.
Who takes this scene, and why?

"Touch of Evil" (1958)
Same questions:

What has the focus here, and why?

Your Mission, should you choose to accept it:

Make a list of every movement technique you have learned from this 2-page, 2-video clip preview of the Workshop.
Then, for each and every one of your upcoming performances:
use at least one of these movement techniques to enhance your comedy act or keynote speech
to increase the length of laughter for a different joke.

Soon you will have included every technique on your list,
and be ready to learn more techniques, yes?
But why wait for that:
take the Workshop ASAP to make certain
•that you are getting off on the right foot.
(Pun intended!)


For example:
Each day experiment use a different body position for a different joke
until you have found a place in your act for all 8 body positions:
After keeping what works for at least 10 performances,
decide if that body position stays where it is
•or moves somewhere else where it can do you the most good.

Q: "But, Jim: where am I going to put the weaker 3/4 R, FB and 3/4 L body positions?"
A: Anywhere you need a place from which to make a dramatic turn into a stronger body position.

Q: "How to I get into the weaker body positions and weaker areas of the stage
so I can then move to a stronger body position and/or stronger area of the stage?"

A: Cross into weaker body positions and areas of the stage on your set-up lines.

Remember: never let movement add unnecessary pauses or otherwise change your timing for a joke.
Moving on the line instead of before or after a line will prevent adding dead spots to your act.
Ever seen a really bad TV movie with next to no script?
Then, you have probably seen a lot of unnecessary shots of cars driving down the street,
actors taking long walks to get somewhere . . . just to fill up the show's time slot.
On stage, these crosses without speaking are usually mistakes called "dead crosses."

Go get 'em, tigers!

When would you like to learn a whole lot more about Professional Stage Movement?

Well, folks, as you might suspect by now, this is just the tip of the iceberg:

If I give you all this for free,
•just imagine what you can learn when I charge you money!


Pre-requisites: none,
Plus: 30% Web Discount:
When you go to the Stage Movement: Registration form, be certain to take advantage of the 30% Web Discount Price!

One-on-one 8-hour package at $200/hour = $1,600 x . 7 = 30% web discount price of $1,120, plus Shipping course materials USPS Priority Mail at $5.60 (includes tax for California Residents): $1,125.60

Four (4) students, semi-private 12-hour package at $500/hour = $6,000 x . 7 = 30% web discount price of $4,200/4 = $1,050 each, plus Shipping course materials USPS Priority Mail at $5 (includes tax for California Residents): $1,055.60 each.

Do you have questions?
•Ask away.

I look forward to both:
•sharing more of my Professional Stage movement tips and
•working with you throughout the year.

Warmest regards,

Just a simple, country comedy coach

Jim Richardson
Landline and messages 24/7: 415-877-4424

Snail mail:
Jim Richardson, owner
Organized Comedy
PO Box 4524
Santa Rosa, CA 95402

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please send me an email,
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Page created: Sunday, December 15, 2013, 4:40 pm PST and Updated: Thursday, April 7, 2016, 4 pm PST.
Copyright © 1997-2016

Back to Workshop Previews | "Upstage Vs. Downstage" (6:14) | "Body Positions" & "Crosses, Turns" (35:39) | Stage Movement: Description | Stage Movement: Registration
Examples: Richard Jeni | Richard Pryor