Wednesday, July 25, 2007


[The attached pictures are from an early 19th-century acting manual and demonstrate gestures for "terror," "joy," and "anger." Notice weight is on one leg or the other -- not in "neutral stance". Arms are moved from the shoulder, not the elbow and the head is held at an angle.]

1. Actors trained through apprenticeship: joining a company and starting with walk-ons and non-speaking parts, watching more experienced and famous actors. They would develop a “line of business” (stock character), e.g.: hero, villain, low comic, light comic, walking gentleman or lady
2. Most actors had had training from a dancing master, as did most of the public (Dickens showed these even in the poorer neighbourhoods) in dancing as well as: polite carriage, entering and leaving a room, proper bows and courtesies, forms of introduction, etc. Many more had elocutionary training.
3. Delivery of speech and motion was vigorous, spirited, “exaggerated.” The whole body displayed feeling through foot stamping, sudden starts, eye rolling, “windmill” arms, etc.
4. Actors articulated musically and emphatically; they employed large gestures and positioning of body and worked for “points” (traditional places of emphasis in speeches, highly emotional phrases, where actors aimed to elicit applause). As a rule, they did not talk while moving across stage.
5. Entrances and exits were meant to attract attention: actor primarily an ACTOR, not character. An actor entered confidently, directed self towards footlight focal point, and planted oneself firmly before beginning to speak.
6. If an actor received loud or continued applause (including foot-stomping, whistles, shouting, or throwing of wreaths of flowers on stage), speech might be encored 3 or 4 times back to back.
7. Gestures somewhat categorized: serious/comic, male/female, hero/villain, upper class/lower class. The pace slowed for serious moments, sped up for comic ones. Serious or good characters showed more curve, grace and beauty; comics and villains were more angular and sharp.
8. All the tradition and plot similarity allowed “gagging” – that is, being able to play a part without thoroughly memorizing it. Standard company would be performing one play, rehearsing another, and memorizing a third in the same week; changing performances every week.

Neutral stance: Modified fourth position, weight on balls of feet
Chest out, chin in, shoulders down
Back straight and arms curved, elbows slightly out

FORWARD: Objective (towards an object) – moments of description, love,
revenge, authority – any emotions directed out
NEUTRAL: Doubt, reservation, neutrality
BACKWARD: Subjective (introspective) – thought, meditation, fear, experience

Ascending: Appeal to heaven, indication of something above, acclamation (the ideal)
Middle: Indication, description, sincerity or deep feeling (e.g., Aversion)
Descending: Indication, contempt, affirmation, denial

*Quotations are from contemporary acting manuals.


Ceri said...

Very disappointing to see you feature illustrations without quoting the source and copywriting it as yours! Henry Siddons must be rolling acutely in his grave. American incompetence abounds yet again.

Buff Huntley said...

Illustrations were not copyrighted as mine -- I state that the text is in my copyright, as they are my own work.

In an original paper or publication, I quote the sources...this blog is more informal and, as I stated, is for reference by actors I work with to aid in their rehearsal.

I don't see what my nationality has to do with anything?

Anonymous said...

Buff: I wouldn't give too much heed to what the "no profile available" ceri has to say. He or she clearly doesn't stand behind the words written and has no blog or academic work she cares to share, which to me means you can disregard. Also, anyone who writes about someone "rolling acutely in his grave" and who can't spell copyright isn't someone writing material you need to be reading anyway. I'm not using my blog persona to keep blog persona and my real persona separate, but I will sign myself by my own name.

Jeanette Richmond

Anonymous said...

I meant "you don't need to be reading" obviously. JR

Ceri said...

Jeanette Richmond, my apologies. I understand that you are not a fluent English speaker so I will share the following: disregard needs an object; "rolling acutely" might be a melodramatic action appropriate for such a forum; you missed 'whose' in responding to my writing material; "copywriting" was dumbing down but was obviously appropriate as this audience includes people like yourself.

Dyslexics of the world untie!

Buff Huntley said...

Ceri obviously has an agenda which does not include sharing information or theatrical history. Personal attacks are not welcome here, so I have changed my blog so that I can moderate comments: any similar comments will be deleted before anyone else reads them, so posting bile here will be a waste of time.

I apologize to readers for having to be exposed to this.

Anonymous said...

Just discovered this blog and think it's got some really neat info! Haven't followed this whole conversation from last spring, but would love to know the citation information for your acting manuals, they're so fascinating!

Buff Huntley said...

Please send me an email naming which posts you want citations for, and your email info, and I'll look up the titles for you.
Thanks for your interest, and please comment again.

theatrestudent said...

hi im doing a paper on melodramtic acting and i was wondering if you could give me your original source so that i could cite them please? thanks..also if you had any more information could you email me?

Buff Huntley said...

The illustrations are from _Practical Illustrations of Rhetorical Gestures and Action_ (1822) by Henry Siddons.

The text is mine, a result of various researches and experience in dramaturgy. Please cite my blog if you quote this material.

I'd be very interested in reading your paper when you are finished.

theatrestudent said...

sure thing! will be sure to cite your blog! been really helpful. I also have to critique my sources and that requires me to evaluate the would be really helpful if you could tell me about your experiences with melodrama? Thanks a lot once i said...VERY helpful.

Buff Huntley said...

theatrestudent, please contact me at and I can answer any questions you have.

I look forward to your paper.

Shauna said...

Dear Mr. Huntley,

I once learned about an actual acting technique in which melodramatic gestures were utilized. There was an established gesture for every emotion. I can't remember the name of the technique and can't seem to find it by internet searching. Can you help me out?

Buff Huntley said...

I believe you are thinking of the Delsarte method. Francois Delsarte was a French actor who developed a system of gestures based on his observation of people offstage and how they reacted physically to emotions.

It became very popular in America in the late 19th century. It was a legitimate subject for college study, for example. You can probably find a book any day on eBay from that period, claiming to teach the method. However, there was no control over who could teach or write about Delsarte's method, and so it came to mean very little and to become as stereotyped and emotion-free as what he originally worked to supplant.

Shauna said...

That's it! Thank-you!

Angela said...

Hi! I read the thread regarding Delsarte and I have to say I am friends with the only Delsarte Master Teacher in the world, Joe Williams, and you should take a look at his webpage. I've had him in to do masterclasses with my students and I teach Laban-based movement theory. Delsarte is alive and well and very misunderstood. It's an excellent whole body, vital and emotional acting technique! I think you would enjoy it!