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Showing and telling — How directors combine embodied demonstrations and verbal descriptions to instruct in theater rehearsals

  • In theater as a bodily-spatial art form, much emphasis is placed on the way actors perform movements in space as an important multimodal resource for creating meaning. In theater rehearsals, movements are created in series of directors' instructions and actors' implementations. Directors' instructions on how to conduct a movement often draw on embodied demonstrations in contrast to verbal descriptions. For instance, to instruct an actress to act like a school girl a director can use depictive (he demonstrates the expected behavior) instead of descriptive (“can you act like a school girl”) means. Drawing on a corpus of 400 h video recordings of rehearsal interactions in three German professional theater productions, from which we selected 265 cases, we examine ways to instruct movement-based actions in theater rehearsals. Using a multimodally extended ethnomethodological-conversation analytical approach, we focus on the multimodal details that constitute demonstrations as complex action types. For the present article, we have chosen nine instances, through which we aim to illuminate (1) The difference in using embodied demonstrations versus verbal descriptions to instruct; (2) typical ways directors combine verbal descriptions with embodied demonstrations in their instructions. First, we ask what constitutes a demonstration and what it achieves in comparison to verbal descriptions. Using a typical case, we illustrate four characteristics of demonstrations that all of the cases we studied share. Demonstrations (1) are embedded in instructional activities; (2) show and do not tell; (3) are responded to by emulating what was shown; (4) are rhetorically shaped to convey the instruction's focus. However, none of the 265 demonstrations we investigated were produced without verbal descriptions. In a second step we therefore ask in which typical ways verbal descriptions accompany embodied demonstrations when directors instruct actors how to play a scene. We distinguish four basic types. Verbal descriptions can be used (1) to build the demonstration itself; (2) to delineate a demonstration verbally within an instruction; (3) to indicate positive (what should be done) and negative (what should be avoided) versions of demonstrations; (4) as an independent means to describe the instruction's focus in addition to the demonstration. Our study contributes to research on how embodied resources are used to create meaning and how they combine with and depend on verbal resources.

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Author:Axel SchmidtGND, Arnulf DeppermannORCiDGND
Parent Title (English):Frontiers in communication
Publisher:Frontiers Media SA
Place of publication:Lausanne
Document Type:Article
Year of first Publication:2023
Date of Publication (online):2023/01/23
Publishing Institution:Leibniz-Institut für Deutsche Sprache (IDS)
Tag:conversation analysis; demonstration; depiction; description; instruction; multimodal interaction; rehearsals; theater
GND Keyword:Beschreibung; Deutsch; Ethnomethodologie; Instruktion; Interaktion; Konversationsanalyse; Multimodalität; Theater; Theaterprobe; Videoaufzeichnung; Vormachen
Page Number:20
Gefördert mit Mitteln des Leibniz-Zeitschriftenfonds
DDC classes:400 Sprache / 400 Sprache, Linguistik
Open Access?:ja
Leibniz-Classification:Sprache, Linguistik
Linguistics-Classification:Pragmalinguistik / Kommunikationsforschung
Program areas:P1: Interaktion
Licence (English):License LogoCreative Commons - Attribution 4.0 International