Mastering Stage Presence: How to Present to Any Audience
Professor Melanie Martin Long is a professional theatre director, private performance coach, and part-time Assistant Professor of Acting and Directing. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of The College of William & Mary in Theatre and English, Professor Long holds a certificate from the Alliance Theatre Acting Program in Atlanta and a Master of Fine Arts in Directing from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She completed further theatrical studies as a Dunn Peace Research Scholar to South Africa and as an assistant director to Joe Dowling at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
Professor Long has directed productions ranging from classics such as Hamlet, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, to her original adaptation of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings for the Lincoin Center Theater Directors Lab. As a performer, Professor Long has appeared on various Atlanta stages, including the Alliance Theatre, Theatrical Outfit, and Theatre Gael.
Professor Long's publications include two annotations of Shakespeare (The Tempest and Julius Caesar) for Teacher's Discovery and the book and lyrics for The Frog Prince with composer James Woodward.
Professor Long has received numerous awards, including the Ken Bryant Outstanding Directing Award, three Lotta M. Crabtree Theatrical Trust Awards, and multiple Certificates of Merit for directing from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
01: The Performance Triangle
Consider how people learn stage presence-a process of cultivating self-awareness and practical skills in an environment of trust and support. Begin with the three building blocks of performance technique: a "triangle" formed by mental focus, your physical life, and your speaking voice. Create a safe and comfortable physical space for the work you'll do.
02: Modern Acting Technique
Discover how modern acting technique is built around a commitment to enact a specific purpose onstage. Then explore two psychological approaches to performance: performance from the "inside out" and performance from the "outside in." Begin to look at ways to find purpose in dramatic material, and also as it applies to public speaking and presenting.
03: Building a Character
Now learn an effective system for clarifying and connecting with your purpose onstage, or in front of any audience. Using the characters of Blanche and Stanley from Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, explore acting teacher Uta Hagen's "Nine Questions," which elucidate a character's identity, given circumstances, and motivations.
04: Analyzing Backstory and Motivation
Continuing with the Nine Questions, learn how a dramatic character's circumstances affect their behavior, and how actors use a character's obstacles and tactics to overcome them in pursuing the character's purpose onstage. Then, see how to use the Nine Questions in public speaking, using the example of a famous speech by Barbara Bush.
05: Identifying Your Unconscious Habits
The "habitual self" is the complex of physical and vocal habits that we adopt as a response to our life experience. Through the stages of life, observe how human beings develop habitual physical patterns that may be limiting, and how awareness of these patterns serves freedom of expression and the needs of performance.
06: Recovering Your Natural Alignment
Learn the principles of the Alexander Technique, a system of movement training designed to achieve natural physical alignment and freedom from unnecessary tension. Explore the relationship between the head, neck, and spine, and practice a series of exercises to bring awareness and freedom to basic movements such as sitting and standing.
07: The Body Balanced at Rest
In this course, "balance" is a state of equilibrium produced by an even distribution of weight, through which we can direct our energy in the most effective ways. Begin to balance the body in a lying position, practicing small movements that create release in the connective tissue of the shoulders, hips, and joints.
08: The Body Balanced in Motion
Beginning with a physical warm-up to bring freedom to the joints, experiment with vertical, horizontal, lateral, and sagittal planes of movement, and how using all the planes in performance gives visual and emotional variety. Find ways of moving through space with balance and freedom, and observe how ways of moving affect and evoke emotional states.
09: Intent, Purpose, and Character
Learn about the work of movement pioneer Rudolph Laban, who created a system for understanding and notating qualities of movement. Explore eight fundamental movement types, which describe the range of direct and indirect forms of movement we use in daily living, and consider how we can shape our physical movements to tell stories.
10: Playing Status Relationships
How do our movements and gestures communicate our purpose? Study how our interactions with others are governed by our status or power position within the relationship. In life and onstage, observe how we "play" status with others through specific physical tactics, stances, and gestures that convey our intentions and further our objectives.
11: Stage Movement Savvy
Discover the physical techniques that stage performers use to direct the audience's focus and maintain visual interest. Learn how to take and give focus onstage, using body position and orientation, as well as movement and stillness. Learn also to create visual variety through stage geometry, as well as the use of physical planes, balance, and rhythm.
12: The Glorious Human Voice
In this first session on vocal technique, take a tour of the physical mechanisms of sound and speech. Practice free and expansive breathing, and experiment with the principles of phonation (sound production) and resonation (sound amplification). Conclude by exploring articulation-how speech shapes sound into words.
13: Accessing the Breath
Continue with an extended session on breath, the source of sound. Begin with a full-body warm-up to release any physical tension that may obstruct sound production. In a neutral, lying position, practice free, clear breathing, using deep, natural breath to connect with the voice and to access vocal power without creating tension.
14: Your Vocal Energy
Building on our previous breath work, experiment with the range of your vocal potential, letting go of any preconceived notion of how you should sound. Using text from the Prologue to Shakespeare's Henry V, invoke the element of play in exploring tone, sustained breathing, vocal variety, and free, spontaneous vocal expression.
15: Vocal Dynamics-Your Best Voice
What makes a voice expressive or lackluster, rich or strident? Explore the parameters of resonance (sound placement), pitch, and volume. Understand how they give your voice its overall quality, and experiment with altering them at will. Also delve into inflection and intonation, see how they convey meaning, and learn about vocal projection.
16: Clear, Energized Speech
Now study the tools that make speech clear and energized. Consider how vowels carry the feeling behind words, and practice clearly pronouncing our language's 20 vowel sounds, including pure vowels and diphthongs. Continue with consonants, both plosives and continuants, building awareness of how consonants communicate meaning and create emphasis.
17: The Muscles of Speech
Here, exercise and strengthen the muscles we use in shaping words, an important practice for clear expression in both professional and everyday life. After warming up the breath and voice, work out your vocal articulators using combinations of consonants and vowel sounds, followed by practice phrases and tongue twisters for enunciation and clarity.
18: Vocal Color-Pacing and Phrasing
Learn to keep your audience engaged using the rhythms of speech. Begin by studying pace, how vocal pace affects listeners, and how variety of pace aids clarity and communication. Then learn about phrasing-how you group words and punctuate your speech with pauses-and ways to improve phrasing and change limiting speech habits.
19: Accents and Dialects
As performers or public speakers, we may at times need to either acquire or reduce a dialect or accent. Study the process of adopting a new way of speaking: learn to place your voice where it needs to resonate, incorporate new ways of shaping sounds, and find the intonation and rhythm of the new speech pattern.
20: Acing the Audition
The principles of auditioning in the theatre apply equally to interviews of any kind. Learn a comprehensive approach to presenting yourself in high-stakes settings. Study each phase of the process, from entering the room and introducing yourself to doing your audition or interview, the moments after, and your exit.
21: Preparing for the Performance
Building on all the work you've done, this lecture takes you through the rehearsal process step by step. For both stage performance and public speaking, begin with hands-on exploration and practice of your material in small sections, moving gradually to run-throughs and final dress rehearsals, approximating your performance conditions as completely as possible.
22: Using Stage Fright Energy
Look closely into the phenomenon of nervous energy or stage fright. Study key principles of mental focus for performing at your best, such as putting your performance experience in perspective, subduing self-judgment, using mental images of success, focusing on your partner or audience, and pinpointing specific fears.
23: Working the Crowd with Confidence
Connecting with your audience and holding their attention is essential to an effective performance or presentation. Here, grasp three strategies for sustaining attention: learn to claim your power and set the scene; keep your structure, language, and movement simple; and engage your viewers from start to finish through variety and creativity.
24: Stage Presence-A Way of Life
Conclude by contemplating what great performers do, and how presence can be a way of life. Consider how master performers engage and question the world by reflecting what they see, telling the truth, taking risks, transforming what they receive from others into something new, and finding what gives them the greatest joy.