[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.]
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
“THE ARMS ARE NOT STICKS”*
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
GESTURES: “BE FREE IN MOVEMENT, VIGOROUS IN ACTION”
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