Pantomiming isn’t just for weird uncles who go “downstairs” where there isn’t a staircase, or for French street performers earning spare change for being stuck in an invisible box. It’s a valuable skill that every serious actor should have in his toolkit.
Pantomiming encompasses more than imaginary boxes and ropes. It involves the manipulation of imagined objects in a way that helps the audience view what you are viewing. If you’re not planning on performing a scripted play or an improv show without props, why would you need to pantomime, you ask? Two main scenarios: (1) auditioning with a monologue and (2) rehearsing before props have been introduced.
In the second scenario, the pressure to perform crisp, clean, believable pantomime is not high. It’s just rehearsal. But the sooner you can explore “doings”, or stage business, to discover more nuances of your character, the better. Also when props are finally provided, the mental transition (that is, the ability to remember your lines while handling new props) will be that much smoother.
When performing a monologue at an audition or in a play that requires pantomime for artistic effect, you won’t have all the props your scene may require. It becomes vital for the story-telling and believability of the character, then, that your pantomiming of objects in the scene is polished.
Keys to polished pantomime:
If you place a hammer down on the workbench and need to pick it up again later, pick it up from the same location. Be consistent not only in location, but also size, shape, weight, height, etc. The amazing thing about this is that, to the audience, inconsistency is very obvious. If you are working at a counter, and then step forward, they will see you walk right through the counter.
C+ pantomiming: twisting off a bottle cap.
A+ pantomiming: straining with a little extra tension in your fingers when the cap isn’t twisting easily.
C+ pantomiming: opening a book.
A+ pantomiming: dusting off the cover, flipping through the pages to find the one you want, realizing that you went one page too far, and scanning the paragraphs before finally finding the section you want to read.
If you’re done with an item, put it back where it belongs. Don’t let it POOF into thin air by gesturing with the hands that were just holding something.
So, how do I do that?
- Be conscious of how you manipulate objects. Next time you drink a water bottle, note its weight. Its diameter in your hand. The diameter of the bottle cap. How difficult it is to twist open the cap. How far apart your hands are when you open the cap.
- Repeat the handling of that object. Do it twelve times. Then with your eyes closed. Repeat until the muscles in your fingers and hands can think for themselves. You will look silly to someone who catches you doing this. That’s fine. You’re an actor perfecting your craft. Their life isn’t as cool as yours.
- Take the object out of your hands, and visualize it instead. Visualize its diameter. Feel the weight. Feel the temperature. Give it a shake.
- Visualize your entire scene. The more details you can imagine and visualize, the easier it will be to be consistent, detailed, and committed with your pantomiming.
Trust yourself and trust your audience. Trust yourself that if you have put the effort into visualizing your objects and your surroundings, then you can play in that world believably. Trust the audience that if you see it, so do they. And they won’t even remember that it doesn’t exist.
Where have you seen A+ pantomiming? Share your experience in the comments below!