Gregg recently demonstrated in class how to create an optical illusion of gradually approaching the audience. He explained that it is possible to create the same effect we often see in film, called the “helicopter shot” where the camera is flying in from the distance and begins with a large area shot, and then slowly zooms in to the main character in the scene. He said he uses this technique in his plays so subtly that we often don’t even see it unless he points it out and demonstrates it in slow motion. He then showed us the “optical distance” illusion using the “Walk in Place, and showed us how he altered that illusion to create this film-like technique.
This technique works beautifully in the beginning of a new scene, where you would like your audience to enjoy spending just enough time to observe the environment surrounding the character. In essence, this technique gives the audience a sensation of travelling and smoothly approaching the character.
Here is a link to Gregg's Phantom 309. Watch and see how gradually he approaches the audience in the beginning of the play.
An important note here is to mention that when we create an indoor scene, we use the “flashlight” technique spoken about in our previous article linked here:
and when creating an outdoor scene, we use this.
We can also use this distance effect when play a multi-character play, to show the people at different distances from each other or within the same environment.
Today I try to focus on a scene where the character is standing in place instead of moving. (Moving from one point to another on stage. - across the stage space)
Please bear with me while I struggle to find proper words and concepts on this subject for I am in the midst of learning and analyzing this delicate technique. Gregg also enjoys finding ways to explain advanced techniques that have not been analytically taught in the past.
He calls this fascinating technique "The Satellite Dish."
"The Satellite Dish" - It's Purpose
A satellite dish moves around to receive the maximum amount of signals all the time in accordance with the planet's alignment in the space. And, although we usually only think of this dish as a “receiver” it is also a transmitter. This is what we want you to look at in this article, how we “transmit” ourselves into and around the seats of the theater where our audience is watching us from.
We, as performers, adjust our body - especially our torso and face – in order to project our thoughts towards our audience. As you see in the images below, the shape of a well projected body also resembles the shape of a satellite dish, making a gentle curve around the center.
Another significant purpose of this technique is to create an optical illusion of a flying camera subtly woven into our scene.
The priority and balance of multiple techniques are crucial to its success in performance. (Yes, always multiple techniques!) There are various ways to use this technique conceptually when creating a play. Today, I will concentrate on describing one example of the route of the flying camera, its physical creation on stage, and the optical effects.
Before we start the physical creation by the performer, let's imagine the route of the flying camera we are creating from inside out. This is the actual scene without the physical technique.
"The Satellite Dish" - The Route of the Camera
You are standing vertically.
Looking out of a window to your right, looking up the sky, daydreaming.
A helicopter with the film camera, capturing you from the sky diagonally above, around where you are looking at.
The camera descends slowly, making a big counterclockwise spiral down around you, passing the height of your face diagonally, then go a little lower than your chest. Now the camera is on the left side of you, still fifty yards (20 meters) away from you in distance.
Then, the helicopter makes a G-Force curve and then starts approaching slowly towards your face, gradually ascending to your height and getting up close. Then, the camera smoothly stops - which is the arrival of "The Satellite Dish" and the beginning of the upcoming scene.
"The Satellite Dish" - It's Physical Creation
Right leg forward, make a forth position facing diagonal left forward. Both knees bent. Put weight balance on your left leg.
Pelvis incline to forward as if you are bowing from the pelvis. The angle of your pelvis indicate the relative position of the ground - the spinning earth the character is standing on - to where the audience is.
While you elongate your torso to the maximum, subtly incline and rotate your waist to right, then subtly incline your chest to right and forward making a gentle curve in around your long torso. You aim your chest at your front row audience.
Then adjust your neck and head accordingly to make "The Cookie" sympathetic thoughts with your inclined (over to right) face at your "Universal Audience". Elongate your neck so that your head looks like peeking out of your window, farther front and right from where your pelvis is located.
This gently curving/twisting torso and head will later make an unnoticeable slow undulation in Phase 2. The earth spins to the left and rear, then your torso follows after it. The more “mime resistance” used during this, the stronger the effect is for the audience.
Try to make every rotation and inclination very subtle and delicately shaped so that you can adjust accordingly to find your final position with the impressions listed below.
1) Your pelvis - your base - is set at diagonal left (rotation) and forward (inclination).
2) Your elongated torso, neck and chin making a three dimensional curving/twisting tall building to the direction of your audience.
3) Your chest is making a very delicately curved (satellite) dish and the dish is inviting / embracing your audience.
4) Then your face with cheeks and eyes are peeking out of your building (torso)'s window.
5) Adjust your body parts accordingly to make an effortless looking whole body.
Feel the delicate and resilient connection between the satellite dish, i.e., your head and torso, and your satellite base, i.e., your pelvis and below.
Now, your audience sees your upper body closer, inclined toward them, than your lower body, which looks farther away and half gone.
Because of the angle of your torso you created, they feel the sensation of looking down on you like the New York City picture below. This logic also applies when a tall person sees a short person.
Slowly and gradually rotate your pelvis and above to right as one unit using your resilient and smoothly sliding feet with legs.
As you do, gradually lessen the forward inclination of your pelvis and make your torso more and more vertical.
While you do this gentle turning of your whole body and reestablishing your pelvis, gently and unnoticeably undulate your curved/twisted torso, neck and head to a kind of neutral state and align with your pelvis, only keeping your elongated waist and chest delicately curving in. Gently finish this phase 2 in a position where your torso is past vertical and now inclined to the rear left from the pelvis, subtly adjust the projection of your thoughts using an acting moment and gradually aim your thoughts at to the Universal Audience. You feel as if you are looking down on the camera. This is the end of Phase 2.
Your audience sees you from below like a short person looking up to you, from a little off center - left side of you.
An imaginary hula hoop may help you understand the first half of this mechanism. Keep your upper body, i.e., your pelvis and above, as a unit.
From that angle, now you undulate your subtly curved torso from your waist and above. Within this second undulation, your torso becomes gradually vertical and opened outwards. Lastly you shift your weight balance to your front leg and approach your audience with whole body like a tsunami wave. This is the end of Phase 3.
The changing of the view of your torso angle from your audience contributes a great deal of how they feel of their relative location to you. It may give them thrills or even motion sickness depending on how you change the speed and it's angles.
In order to help them feel agreeable and thrilled instead of sick, extremely gentle and careful angles, gradual speeding, and arrival of what we know as "G force" seem to be the key to its artistic success.
"The Satellite Dish" - The Arrival
When "The Satellite Dish" is successfully executed, the audience feels great anticipation of your upcoming drama. Usually, they don't even notice that you have physically created this illusion, as it often feels like their own mesmerizing imagination, as I always believed so.
You as the performer will also feel as if you too, have arrived closer to them during this illusion, as if you ended it by sitting in the audience's lap. (Psychologically, of course.)
One additional note for you about "The Satellite Dish" is that this is a “Time Transformation” and that these rules apply:
When the camera is far away, your thoughts should look far away and distilled. There should be less thoughts, being held longer than normal. Then, as your character arrives to the final stage of this “camera zoom” your thoughts transform and become more vivid and “close-up” establishing that you are literally in the place, the environment where the play will take place.
Written by Haruka Moriyama,
with additional writings by Gregg Goldston