Who the heck are Anne Bogart and Tina Landau, and why do you care?
Anne Bogart is one of the Artistic Directors of SITI Company and a professor at Columbia University. Tina Landau is a freelance director, playwright and member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. These women have some insightful things to say about space and how we use it. Together they authored a book called, “The Viewpoints Book.” Viewpoints is a technique that explores movement, gesture and creative space. Originally developed in the 1970s by choreographer Mary Overlie as a method of movement improvisation, Bogart and Landau adapted the Viewpoints theory for acting.
Why do you care? One of the most common habits we all have, especially when we’re presenting, is not taking our space. What does that mean? Space affects us. It has an impact on us, and how we use it also has an impact on our audiences and those around us. In “Viewpoints,” Bogart and Landau discuss spatial relationship (among other things), which refers to “the distance between things onstage, especially (1) one body to another; (2) one body (or bodies) to a group of bodies; (3) the body to the architecture.”
When it comes time for you to speak, or even if you’re having a one-on-one conversation, be conscious of how you take and use your space. In simple terms, where are you, where are the people, and where is everything else? Consider:
- Upstage or downstage? Directors arrange actors and their movements to tell a story effectively and to establish clear sightlines. The downstage area, closest to the audience, is a strong position. Upstage, away from the audience, is less compelling. Where you position yourself is important.
- What if you’re seated around a conference table? Sitting on the edge of your chair and leaning forward (downstage) indicates interest in the discussion. When you shift your weight and lean back in your chair (upstage), you give the impression that you are not as engaged.
- Are you purposefully using the space? Every move an actor makes is intended to help tell a story. When you’re presenting, move and use your space with purpose to help you connect with individuals or to help the audience visualize what you’re discussing. Make every move count.
- Do we look like a team? How you interact with your teammates can make or break your presentation. Does your team look disjointed when the members split up and stand on either side of the projection screen? Probably. If it’s a formal presentation, the team needs to stand or sit together, listening to and interacting with each other. If the presentation is less formal, take a note from Viewpoints and consider the principle of “one body to another”; does it make more sense for your team members to sit amongst and interact with the client? How can you best use your space so your audience knows you are one, unified team?
- What else is in the space? What’s your spatial relationship to other things in the room? For example, standing behind a podium or a table creates a barrier between you and the audience. And what about those slides? Are you hugging your images or talking with your audience?
As Shakespeare says, “All the world’s a stage”; let’s figure out how to use it to be more effective communicators.