Here’s a character exercise for moving like an old person.
I’ve heard this nugget of character development repeated countless times from Dennis Cahill of the Loose Moose theatre. He learned it from Keith Johnstone and it’s easy to understand why it sticks in the memory.
Many people play elderly characters with unrealistic or cliched behaviours. As most of us have yet to experience the real-life truth of ageing into our 80’s and 90’s, it’s hard to create the realistic subtleties.
You’re going to walk like an elderly person. imagine you have two glass Christmas balls – the delicate, old fashioned kind of ornament that hung from the branches of a Christmas tree. Imagine them hanging between your legs.
For the 50 per cent of you with testicles, imagine those delicate appendages replaced by these fragile, breakable ornaments. For the 50% of you without your own testicles, just imagine walking with these thin glass decorations between your legs and be careful not to break them as you walk.
The thing that I like about this tip is that it is a little silly but it works. The audience doesn’t have to know about your glass balls – just you do. It’s a strong visual image affecting how you will walk.
You aren’t trying to walk like an older person but the action of protecting the ornaments creates the approximation of one type of older person and the image is so strong that it anchors itself in your behaviour. It’s hard to forget the image or lose the movement.
Carolyn Cole · June 27, 2021 at 3:25 pm
Thanks for mentioning the age reference frame of 80/90 year-olds for the ‘walk like an old person’ trick. Actually, you can add 100+ years because there is an ever-growing group of centenarians. But please remind readers that not all people in these age groups walk like this and that their portrayal as characters can be included in the ‘happy, healthy, and good sex life’ category. Many of our elders in these 80/90 age groups are indeed, quite able to walk without fraility. I had a 93-year-old in one of my improv classes. He walked without hesitation and had no trouble getting down on the floor when the scene called for it. Ageism is still quite alive in improv and ways of portraying them may need some qualifiers. I would fit this ‘trick’ into a broader discussion of elderly character portrayal. Many younger improvisers think that people over 50 are elderly and therefore, portraying them need to include Christmas ornament walking.
ShawnKinley · June 29, 2021 at 3:39 pm
EXACTLY! I think you have added the reminder perfectly. My mother is in her 80’s and doesn’t apply to her BUT does apply to some of her friends.
Always good for any performer to note that there is no singular behaviour to any age, race, gender etc. There may be generalities that come from cultural context (Indian head wobble, Japanese bow), body shape and physics (weight exchange causes a very specific movement style from the process of shifting the centre of balance), biology (hips on men and women ARE different and cause specific movements). And when it comes to age, generalities are reasonable to start with BUT for correct context look to specifics for variety. Thanks for the note.