A Brief Overview of Chekhov’s Psychological Gesture
The Psychological Gesture is a way for the actor to unwrap the entire character in condensed form, making him or her the possessor and master of its unchangeable core. It is not performative in nature (ie. It is not meant to be revealed to the audience) in the same way that scaffolding of a building is not meant to be construed as the architect’s completed masterwork. It is the actor’s technical secret in creating a kind of question for him or her to answer throughout the rehearsal process and through the run of a show.
The components of a PG are as follows:
Body: The actor uses his full body to make the gesture. Starting small, the actor allows the gesture to grow until a full, simple, movement is created using the actor’s whole self.
Breath: The gesture must be simple enough to allow for one deep and full breath to be used by the actor from beginning to end.
Effort: The gesture should require a certain amount of effort (without losing control or ease).
Extremes of Motion: The gesture should follow the laws of composition
Triplicity: It has a beginning, middle, and end
Polarity: It must end as far away as possible from where it began.
Transformation: Each step along it’s journey must be seen and felt (No Shortcuts!)
Artistic Frame: The gesture should be visualized fully prior to it being activated physically. Once the action is undertaken, it should be radiated and sustained through the actor’s Life/Body. It should then come to a natural conclusion with ease and conscious awareness.
Quality: Once the gesture has been created physically, the actor then decides with what quality they will perform the gesture. For example, the movement can have a quality of melancholy or austerity or cowardice.
Tempo: How fast or slow the Gesture is performed can have profound influence over characterization.
Rhythm: How the gesture moves through space (staccato, legato, chaotic, melodic) can also affect the gesture.
The actor can create the PG in any of the following ways:
Imagination: By visualizing the character fully, we can “ask” the character to best show us how to physicalize it’s dreams, fears, objectives, and qualities through a PG.
Inspiration: We simply use all the data we have accumulated about the character to that point and allow our bodies to move through space incorporating this data.
Intellect: By using Archetypal Gesture, we can add a quality to one of these archetypes that we feel best exemplifies the character’s Super Objective. We can then add another AG incorporating the character’s Counter Super Objective. Finally we add a gesture for the character’s dream fulfilled. Now we have three parts to put together in a way that best describes the character’s journey through the play. We then work to synthesize the gesture until it is fully compliant to the components stated above.
Remember, the PG must have a definite and distinctive form. It must be repeatable. It can be done just before stepping on stage or as a part of the actor’s warm up. It is the actor’s secret, a way of instantly and literally stepping into character.
Would you like to learn more about the Psychological Gesture and how it can revolutionize your approach to acting? Sign up for our classes at www.MichiganChekhov.com.