I play E.J. Lofgren, left, in Arcadia’s production of “Harvey.”
I play E.J. Lofgren, left, in Arcadia’s production of “Harvey.”

Acting: Learning to Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes

I suddenly realized that I forgot how to walk.

As a theater major, I’ve become accustomed to the bizarre exercises that directors ask actors to do. When Arcadia University Theater produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the fall, the entire show was filled with various games.[1] So why did I think the latest production, Harvey, would be any different?

During rehearsals, Director Jill Harrison thought we’d benefit from understanding how these characters walk. To do this, first we had to analyze how we typically walk. It was in that moment that I lost my stride. Being asked to examine something that I do instinctively threw me into a panic. How do you do that? It’s like paying attention to your breathing—the moment you notice it is the moment that you begin to control it.

MJW_9155As I began walking around the space, I found that my mind began to move in a dozen different directions: the cold weather outside, the homework I never finished, my Spanish test the next day, etc. As my thoughts drifted, I started to lose sight of the activity. Suddenly, I was just walking again.

Next, Jill asked us to change the way we walked. “Find your character’s center,” she said. As we tried to find a new walk, it was clear that we were all still unsure of what to do. Then Jill began to coach us. She asked us to understand what our characters had gone through that day. Once those thoughts were there, our gaits began to change on their own. They were no longer forced. Rather, they were an expression of who these people were.

Before getting into my character, let me say a few things about the show: Harvey is a 1940s comedy about a man named Elwood P. Dowd who sees a six-foot rabbit named Harvey wherever he goes. Unable to handle her brother’s “imaginary friend,” Elwood’s sister, Veta, takes him to a sanitarium for treatment. While there, the doctors spend the course of the play trying to determine whether or not Harvey exists.

In the show, I play a character named E.J. Lofgren. He’s a cabbie who drives Elwood’s sister to the sanitarium near the end of the play. Through Jill’s exercise, I imagined how he might view the world. Being a city cab driver, he has been through a lot in his life and has learned from various kinds of people. Therefore, he takes slow and weighted steps. In this way, he express that he is older and tired but also that he is very clear and focused in what he does. While a seemingly small detail, his walk says a lot about his character.

While it’s not easy being an actor, it provides some wonderful insight into the way that humans function on a daily basis. It wasn’t until this moment in rehearsal, where I was asked to analyze my stride, that I realized just how much a simple walk could say about a person.

Now I understand that taking a walk in someone else’s shoes is much easier said than done.

Notes

1. While rehearsing for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we would play mirror games, in which one actor had to seamlessly copy what the other actor was doing. The goal was to appear to be doing the same thing so the audience wouldn’t be able to tell who was leading. This was used in the performance between Oberon and Puck as well as Titania.

Photos by Fig Tree Photography

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