Take Care Of Your FeetBy Ty Unglebower • May 4th, 2011 • Category: An Actor's Advice
If you have seen the movie “Forrest Gump”, you know the scene wherein Gary Senise as Lieutenant Dan gives his first orders to both Forrest and Bubba. He has only two, and one of them is simply to “take care of your feet.” Small but rather important advice for the soldiers. And for actors.
Shoes. They seem in most cases to be a relatively minor thing on stage. I cannot think of many scenes in many plays wherein the shoes are the center of attention. Some in the audience may out of curiosity glance at them as a character, particularly as a well dressed female character enters for the first time, but in most cases, little is thought of the bottom most part of an actor’s costume from the perspective of the audience. (Though a common refrain throughout the casts I have worked with has been, “If the audience is looking at your shoes that much, we are doing something wrong with this show.”)
Yet for the actor himself, shoes are of the utmost importance. And that would sound obvious, but as with most obvious things it is often overlooked. But believe it or not uncomfortable shoes can ruin a performance more than just about any other ill-fitting costume piece.
Our feet are very sensitive. More so, I would guess during a play because we often are standing or walking in ways that are ever so slightly unnatural compared to everyday life. Theatrical movement, even the subtle, nuanced kind, is different from movement off of the stage. It is bound to be.
And so performers should make every effort to incorporate their own private footwear into their costumes if possible. Talk to the director or costume designer about this, and bring in all the shoes you own during the night of the costume parade. If any of your own shoes will work with the costume, use them, without a doubt. In fact so important are comfortable shoes to me, that I am within a certain range willing to allow actors to wear their own shoes in a play, even if they technically are anachronistic.
I have been lucky in this regard. For the last eight years or so I have had a pair of black oxfords which I rarely wear any wear except on stage. So plain are they that they have fit into nearly every play I have been in during that time frame. They are only just now starting to show their age, but I am sure they have a few shows left in them.
If you can’t manage to put your own shoes into a show, pester the costume person to let you try on appropriate shoes as early in the process as possible. Be persistent if you have to, but go out of your way to obtain your costume shoes as early as possible, so you can wear them during your scenes as early as possible. Even before you are off book, if you can.
Clothing may or may not make the man. But the wrong shoes can break a performance.
Photo by Samira Khan. Used by permission.
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Ty Unglebower is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and TyUnglebower.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.