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
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:
Stage Movement for
Lessons 26-29 of 35 Lessons
(Continued, Page 2)
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
“Upstage vs. Downstage” (6:14):
Parts Two & Three: play the last 12 chapters
inside the second clip.
“Body Positions” and “Stage Crosses & Dramatic
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
be it as a stand-up comic, business keynote speaker, politician, ventriloquist
or other solo act.
As the central plane of the stage is considered the neutral plane,
Neutral body positions:
•so the 1/4 Right and 1/4 Left body positions are considered neutral
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
•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,
crossing the entire width of a 30 foot stage with long strides on is set up lines,
•then turning in place to do a very slow pan of the audience on his punch
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
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
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
•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.
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
it often comes pre-installed:
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 issue.
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.
and Taking the Scene's Focus within Shared Positions:
Here the two lead actors on the poster for "Gone With The Wind" (1939)
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
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,
will "take" the scene's focus and the other actor will "give" the
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
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
"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
•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 only 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
or the combined space taken up by the couple who are so far 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
•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?
In "La Dolce Vita" (1960) between Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg,
This isn't all about blocking and body positions,
which are usually assigned
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
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
•and where do you end up looking,
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
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.
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 L Pro, 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 tell them this is called a "Dutch
as originated in German Expressionist film "The Cabinet of Dr.
and regularly found in camera, set and actor angles in Film Noir detective film
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
torso twisted almost 3/4 R (cannot see upstage shoulder),
head angled up
in 1/4 R.
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:
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
•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:
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 has a similar
UC-to-DC-like dynamic punch.
Here we see the paparazzi at the end 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)
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.
for each and every one of your upcoming performances:
at least one of these movement techniques to enhance your comedy act or
•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?
why wait for that:
take the Workshop ASAP to make certain
•that you are getting
off on the right foot.
Each day experiment use a different body position for a different joke
you have found a place
in your act for all 8 body positions:
•After keeping what works for at least 10 performances,
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
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
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
Remember: never let movement add unnecessary pauses or otherwise change your
timing for a joke.
on the line instead of before or after a line will prevent adding dead spots
to your act.
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,
long walks to get somewhere . . . just to fill up the show's
•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,
imagine what you can learn when I charge you money!
When you go to the Stage Movement: Registration
form, be certain to take advantage of the 30% Web Discount Price!
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
Four (4) students, semi-private 12-hour package at
$500/hour = $6,000 x
. 7 =
web discount price of $4,200/4 = $1,050
Shipping course materials USPS Priority Mail at $5 (includes tax for California
Do you have questions?
I look forward to both:
•sharing more of my Professional Stage
movement tips and
•working with you throughout the 2014 year.
Just a simple, country comedy coach
COMEDY COACH & CO-WRITER
Landline and messages 24/7: 415-877-4424
Jim Richardson, owner
PO Box 992
Mill Valley, CA 94942-0992
Join our E-mail list:
•To receive two emails/month with many more writing and performing tips,
please send me an email,
being sure to put “Email list” in
the Subject line.
Web Site: http://www.Stand-UpComedyWorkshop.com/
December 15, 2013, 4:40 pm PST and Updated: Tuesday, February 18,
2014, 12:14 pm PST.
Copyright © 1997-2014
to Workshop Previews | "Upstage
Vs. Downstage" (6:14) | "Body
Positions" & "Crosses, Turns" (35:39) | Stage
Movement: Description | Stage