Alexandra Billings
Brief History:

The Viewpoints were originated by Mary Overlie who began with 6 major viewpoints that gave her dance troupe a common language from which they could begin to create new pieces. How to move through space, how to move with each other, and how to work as an ensemble.

In the early 1970’s, Ann Bogart adopted them and brought them to the famed SiTi Company in New York, where they still teach and use them in new works. Tina Landau, a Steppenwolf company member, worked very closely with Ms Bogart, and together, they developed a multitude of exercises which enabled them to add 3 more to bring the total number of Viewpoints to 9.

In 1996, Ms. Landau taught them to Alexandra Billings for a show they were both working on at The Steppenwolf Theater. Ms Billings took them to The Steppenwolf School in Chicago and ultimately to the Steppenwolf School West in Los Angeles and has been using them in her craft as well as teaching them ever since.

From her vantage point as an actor, Ms Billings has tailored the VPs in a way that opens up emotional truth for the individual actor.

The Viewpoints:
  • Kinesthetic Response
    For every action, there is a reaction. Someone claps, you flinch. A siren goes by, you jump. This is your gut instinct. Reacting without creating. Allowing things to inform you instead of thinking about them first.
  • Tempo
    How fast or how slow you move. This can also be internalized. How quickly do you fall in love. Do you have flashes of temper?
  • Shape
    The literal shape of your body against the universe.
  • Duration
    How long or how short something lasts. Again, this can be internal as well as external. How long do you laugh, cry, breathe, dream. And how does this change?
  • Architecture
    Replace the word “props” with the word Architecture. It’s another name for the physical world around you. Anything you can touch is considered a piece of Architecture. Although, sometimes we can consider light and sound physical properties as well.
  • Spatial Relationship
    How close or how far away you are from someone else. Or from a piece of Architecture. Or from the ground, or the sky, or the earth.
  • Repetition
    The literal repeating of anything. A physical movement, a piece of text, or an emotion. There’s a power in doing something over and over and over. Think Meisner. What happens and how do you allow something to change by simply repeating it.
  • Topography
    Patterns on the earth. Picture having gold paint on the bottom of your feet, traveling around the room, and then looking over your shoulder at what you’ve created. Traveling in New York City for instance is much different than traveling through Texas. Each character you portray will have a very different Topography.
  • Gesture
    Hand signals, facial expressions, even waving hello and goodbye. These are all considered a type of gesture. Every character has distinct ways of using their hands or in some cases, not using their hands at all. There’s a big difference in the way characters from Tennessee Williams behave as opposed to the way characters in Anton Checov behave. Also, think of acting on stage as opposed to acting in front of the camera. Gestures may be used in both, but they have to change to fit the medium.

Using The Viewpoints For The Working Actor:

The Viewpoints are simply another way to consider how to create a character and how that character reacts and behaves honestly in the world which the writer has created. Through Viewpoint exercises we’re able to come up with a myriad of possible choices. Viewpoints work equally well in both theater and in front of a camera. After all, acting is not acting, it is telling the simple truth. And that’s true in any medium. But before that happens, you have to get brave, fearless and work with reckless abandon. All the time.

This is a study in character development, finding possible truths through movement that you may have never thought of before and most importantly, reigniting your imagination. This is the best tool any actor has, and it usually lays dormant.

The Viewpoints are never meant to be the sole methodology from which an actor studies. They’re meant to add to whatever process the actor already has. It should spark new ideas and squash the millions of times you say “my character would never….”

Let yourself off the hook. Remember acting is not only a craft, it’s an Art.

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