Blocking Made Easy Part I: How to Block

The differences in style between Duo Interpretation and Duet Acting are enormous. Duo Interpretation prohibits direct contact, whether with the eyes or physical. Duet Acting allows for all sorts of contact: eyes, physically with a partner, and with the two chairs and table provided as set pieces. Despite the gaps, the two events do share similar tenets when it comes to planning blocking. Essentially, blocking is handled in the same manner between projects but with variation deriving from the givens of the work. Thus, use of these blocking tips will provide the guidance necessary to block any Duo/Duet with ease and finesse.

Know the Script

Everything about a piece is found in the script. Either information is blatantly stated in the characters’ lines or the stage directions, or what needs to be known can be inferred from the words. Even research is directed by ideas derived from the source material. And though there are some decisions or inspirations originating from someplace found outside the material, ultimately these concepts must fit the environment and tone the script supports. Ergo, understanding the script thoroughly and looking towards it for answers is the only way to create a performance truthful to the story. The characters’ dialogue is perhaps the largest indicator of what is needed in blocking for the performance to work (more of this later).

The Setting

Knowing how to fully use the space provided is pivotal. In Duo a physical set is not permitted, but creating a virtual one through implication and interaction not only helps to rationalize space but also adds depth. For every scene create barriers and set pieces (if the script/interpretation calls for it) with which to perform. This is not always needed for every scene in Duo. Sometimes just reaching out and grabbing something works just as well as walking to a “shelf” and grabbing it. All depends on the script and tone being created. In Duet, if it is decided to make use of the table and chairs be sure to use them. Table and chairs can represent other objects (such as two chairs being aliened to represent the inside of a car) than what they are intended. A table can be used as a wall for Humpty Dumpty to sit upon--provided the league has not banned the action of performers sitting/knelling on a table. Further, use all areas of performance space. Not everything must be performed downstage center. It gets boring.

Motive and Reaction

An action without reason is empty. To get up and pace the acting space just to add movement is hollow. And what is more it leaves a partner without reason to react. Every movement in a scene must be done with a motive. Every sitting down, standing up, moving across stage, all of it needs to be based on motivation. A character’s motive is found, unsurprisingly, within the script. Interpret what it is they are saying and how it is said. Look at the subtext. Know what is happening within a scene and build movement on the momentum of the script. Further, when one character does an action their scene partner will have a reaction. Not to imply that all movements be met with an immediate, equal motion. Sometimes a reaction can be the act of non-movement.

The 45° Angle

An important aspect to Duet staging is the 45° angle. People rarely stand side-by-side, facing forward, while chatting. It is impractical and impersonal. Thus, it makes equally less sense for scene partners in Duet to always be staged in such a fashion. Periodically this blocking can be interesting, but not always. Besides, a straight line is typically boring visually. Thus, make use of the 45° angle (picture oneself as a 45° angle being drawn into a Right Triangle). The 45° angle opens up the body to the audience while offering some intimacy with the scene partner. The illusion of speaking together is accomplished while being more capable of cheating out towards the audience. There is a reason why the 45° angle is the most common angle in staging (actors do have a full 360° with which to play--each angle expressing a certain audience connection based on how much of the actor’s body faces the audience). However, it must be said that this is more apt for Duet instead of Duo. Being positioned at a 45° in Duo might cause partners to look at the other (illegal).


With anything keeping fresh and avoiding repetition is key. People do not wish to see the same visual story being told throughout the 8-10 minutes of competition. Competitors are challenged to find new movements, placements, levels, etc. to provide stimulating blocking. Make use of various angles, positions within the performing space, height differences (such as crouching or standing on a chair), speed of a movement, and more to stay interesting. Combinations of all blocking tactics provides no excuse for bland blocking. Do not go overboard (remember, motivation behind motion), but do not play safe as well.


One way to create blocking is organically. When memorized, because real work never truly begins until off book, run through the piece a few times letting the body act upon impulses. React to what a scene partner does as well. Be “in the moment” and do not try too hard to plan what will happen. Let it grow. After performing the piece a few times in this manner take what blocking was liked and develop it. Look at what did not work and ask why and how to improve upon it. Work as a team to take these natural impulses and turn them into a skeletal outline of blocking, then develop it to be more specific and detailed.


Another method for blocking is pre-planning. When script interpretation is being done it is a great idea to mark-up the script with small blocking choices that can be embellished. Having an inclination of knowing that some sort of movement should happen to correspond with the script’s build helps to move blocking along quicker. Even marking “stand here” provides some structure so that when working with a partner on blocking there is something to work with. Actually, some directors and actors like to have a rough blocking sketch scripted prior to getting on their feet. Some people can visualize a scene better than improvising as they go. Be aware that even if one person has a blocking plan, they still need to work with and react to their scene partner in the early stages of blocking creation. Basically, a mix of both organic and pre-planned thought is a good idea for when first testing and finding blocking. This allows for some structure (avoids standing in one place or over thinking in a scene) while responding to a scene partner.

Visual Story

The blocking of a piece should be able to tell a story even without dialogue. It is the physical representation of a script. Builds, character tensions, power struggles, character dynamics should all be seen within a single stage picture (a metaphorical photo of an instant from a performance). Base blocking on builds, tones, emotions, subtext, desires, etc. as found in the script. Even how a character holds themselves or interacts with their scene partner is all blocking which conveys a message. Truly brilliant blocking will be able to visually express who a character is and what is happening within the story simply through sight.

Blocking is ultimately the visual telling of a story--nothing more. That is the goal anyway. Theoretically, blocking that does not help with storytelling is not worth doing. An audience might as well listen to a rendition of the script if movement is secondary. Constantly experiment to discover what works within a piece. Elaborate, alter, and play with what is to reach a point of better physical expression. An audience should never want to look away from a performance for fear of missing a vital clue.