Move with Purpose (or The Removal of Unnecessary Motion)

By Don Hall

One of my personal favorite shorthand directions when working on a staged play I stole from my second ex-wife.

"Move with purpose."

So simple.

Translated it means that if you are going to cross from point A to point B, have a reason to do so that connects with the character's life in the play. It funnels down to mean that all movement, down to scratching your face or tying your shoe, needs to connect with your purpose. As an actor, it's an extremely helpful tool as I have a tendency to move around a lot with no function other than I just have lots of freakin' energy.

The inverse of this direction I use when directing improvisation—"Make every move have a purpose."

Again, translated this means that there is no extraneous action in an improvised scene. Every word, look, mimed object has a connection to the overall direction your character is going in. In improvisation, one doesn't know where point B will end up but the direction forces the actor to understand that he will need to justify everything he does in the scene if the scene is to be as it was written.

As is often the case, a good direction in theatre is a good direction in life as well. As I think about this specific set of rules, it occurs to me that the whole of our lives is an improvisation with shorter, pre-scripted plays contained within. In life, point A is when you get squirted outta that womb and point B is when your heart stops beating and your body becomes meat. Within the overall arc of life are mini-dramas that play out, sometimes the same play with different characters, sometimes brand new plays. And inside each one, the constant is you. You are the one character that is in every little comedy, sitcom, romcom, tragedy, political satire, farce, musical, performance art piece.

In each of those little plays (The Job InterviewThe Love ConnectionDIVORCE! The MusicalElection Day, etc.) it is our mandate to Move With Purpose. Eyes on the Prize. Don't Dick Around. Stay Focused on the Goal. And, like the actor in the play, figuring out the purpose before you act is a strong beginning. Unnecessary motion derails the movement. It gets in the way and mucks up the action.

Like actors, ego gets in the way. Lack of objectivity gets in the way. A lack of awareness of the other actors on stage guarantees a disconnect in the action. A selfishness of purpose reduces the play to a one man show. Likewise, the erection of protective walls around us guarantees the solo act.

The Big Picture, however, contains a lack of specific purpose (other than survival, of course). In the long form improvisation that is a life, one must justify each choice made in context of the whole. Random acts have impact on the overall story and will come to play. Denials of new offers block the forward momentum (I'm reminded of the Jim Carrey film The Yes Man) and the actor has to choose whether or not the full story of his life is a solo or ensemble effort. And there are callbacks a plenty and patterns that reappear and behaviors that won't budge from their stubborn track.

Every move counts. Every choice matters. There are no accidents, there are no mistakes. Coincidences exist because they're supposed to.

Move with purpose and make every move have a purpose.