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Step Rowe

The Child, An Old Man, and a Frisbee Dog
by Step Rowe

June 2000

When you're down to your last dime and can't eat, much less sign up for any classes or training, don't forget what you can do on your own — for free.  When I was a high school theatre director, I made it a homework assignment.  As an actor, I make it a training priority.  As a human being, I use it to remember my blessings, and keep empathy alive.  I'm talking about Observation Exercises.

If you've never tried it before, I'd encourage you to read what some of the great acting teachers advise regarding Observation Exercises.  As actors, we represent life.  In order to provide the most realism possible to an audience, it is helpful to have the details down.  Studying real people is key.  If you are cast in a play as an older person, for example, you'll have to adjust how you maneuver.  There's nothing worse than strict stereotyping, however.  Your character still has a definite personality and life experience to affect his or her physical behavior.  By watching many, many older people and taking notes, you begin to collect a file of information that you may use someday.

In general, people watching is not something you have to make a reservation to do, or pay to try.  Go to the park.  Go to the mall.  Find a cozy bench in the middle of the walkways or in the food court and plop down for a while. I know you're busy.  I like to set a watch so time doesn't get away from me, and take notes on a notepad that I keep with me always!  You never know where you may witness a behavior or physicality you may need in the future. I have my own set of rules or guidelines for observation, and I would encourage you to acquire your own.  One thing I would say that you should do when starting out is to make sure to focus on certain people — not just watch groups or crowds.  You may think that you will attract attention to yourself by doing so, but believe me, most people will never even notice that you are watching them.  Even so, I'm not encouraging stalking or anything.  Be reasonable, learn, and have fun.

You wouldn't believe the results I achieved with teenagers doing this exercise.  They gained a new perspective on others’ feelings.  In a way, they are very much like actors. We are so used to having people watch us that we sometimes miss the educational value of really concentrating on watching and listening to others.


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