Gestures and Blocking in a Speech

Vocalization can only advance a Declamation speech to a certain point in competition. Vocals are important, but there is much more to speech delivery. Physicality for instance is a main component that helps influence the overall quality of the piece. Speakers in Declamation might not be offered the same physical range as a Humorous Interpretation, but the use of hand gestures and blocking does add an energy to the performance. When considering gestures and blocking, there are a few guidelines and considerations to remember.

Planned or Organic Gestures

Depending on the speaker, some will adhere to the "gestures should be planned" philosophy. Others will protest gestures need to develop while speaking. There truly is no correct method to use, and both offer various pros and cons. Those who plan their gestures in advance prevent over-gesturing from plaguing the piece, yet they risk having their gestures turn bland from repetition in practice and rounds. However, those who do “what feels right, in the moment” could suffer from performing the same gesture continuously and with no impact, yet will be sure to have fresh gestures that look natural. A speaker cannot be told which gesture technique to follow; they must decide as individuals which works best for their style and personal character. Perhaps, for some a mixture of both is appropriate?

Gesture Dos and Don’ts

The first thing to always be conscious of when performing a Declamation is to never leave arms hang for a long amount of time. It is perfectly fine and encouraged to let arms and hands remain by the sides at times. Not every line needs to be punctuated physically. However, letting arms dangle for thirty seconds to a minute is not recommended. A lack of gestures can add a level of boredom to an otherwise great piece. Gestures, and motion in general, adds energy. Not that all gestures must be huge and cheesy, but having some movement does look visually interesting and stimulating to the audience.

Another thought to be conscious of is keeping track of gestures in a performance to avoid repetition and nervous motions. Even those who plan their gestures in advance should be aware of unknowingly adding extra, superfluous hand gestures. This is particularly crucial to those who do organic gestures while in a round. Be sure to take note of what type of gestures are being used and how frequently. By continually doing a mental check of the specifics happening during a performance, a speaker is capable of correcting a bad behavior before it becomes hurtful.

Also, be aware that hand gestures, much like blocking, are meant to accentuate a word/part of a speech. Blindly throwing in gestures just to fill space is an easy way to detract from the importance of gestures and the very speech itself. Besides, gestures without reason look random and are deemed insignificant and often annoy to the point of distraction.

Finally, oftentimes with speakers one certain gesture is preferred and thus becomes the only one done in a round. Try to avoid this. Variation is one way for a speaker to distinguish themselves among their competition. Watch various speeches to see what others do while presenting. Think of unique motions that can be done to compliment a speech. Gestures can be done merely for emphasis or for comedic effect depending on the speech. For instance, if performing Jodie Foster’s commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania where she quoted Eminem, it could be hilarious to do one silly “gang symbol” after a deadpan recitation of Lose Yourself.

Plan Blocking

Blocking, in the sense of walking during the speech, should be planned. Unplanned blocking will most certainly lead to catastrophe. If the body is not trained to move at a certain time then staying in one place might feel better, thus little movement. Or having the freedom to choose when to move while speaking might lead to an abuse of this freedom which results in pacing. Lacking concrete blocking leaves an element of uncertainty within a piece. This uncertainty could also result in a loss of focus on the speech delivery as focus is drawn to the question “when to move?” Therefore, movements might become ill-timed or poorly spaced within the piece. Regardless of which scenario, the audience is left with lopsided blocking.

Blocking for most Declamations occur at the start of a new idea or new paragraph. The idea behind blocking is that the movements serve as transitions or emphasis for a powerful line. Many Declamations tend to only have a few movements that typically begin with the speaker standing center, either move right or left, then move the opposite direction taken before, and finally end back at center. Sometimes Declamation speakers play with moving downstage as well at the conclusion. There is no correct way to block aside from planning a path, memorizing it with the cues, and executing it properly. To look professional while moving it is always a terrific idea to talk and look at the audience while the walking is occurring. Movement should look natural; as if it is a part of the speech and seamless. Blocking that is absurdly obvious, unless there is a specific need for it to be so, is the opposite of what is wanted.

It is for these reasons that gestures and blocking should not be sloppily tossed upon a Declamation. Blocking and gestures add life, interest, variety, and slightly subliminal stress to portions of the speech a speaker wishes to highlight. These can be highly useful tools when used properly and with purpose. Take these two tools seriously, incorporate them lovingly, and they will help provide a bounty of good reviews.