Walking with motivation – a short drama exercise

Young or inexperienced performers often forget that they shouldn’t move around the stage without a reason – and “because the director/teacher said so” or because it’s a stage direction isn’t a good enough reason! There might be a specific reason they’re asked to move – to look out of a window to see another character approaching perhaps – which is all well and good, but the performer needs to consider the journey to the window as well as how they look out of it.

If the director/script doesn’t provide a specific motivation, the actor needs to find one within the character – to think about why the character would be moving then – is it to get away from someone or something? to get close to someone? because they’re moving between situations?…

In this exercise, performers get to try out a number of different motivations and while moving, they should think about exactly what they’re doing with their bodies. By removing this out from general improvisation/character work, the hope is that they’ll be able to focus more on the physicality of the movement and remember the lesson next time they have to cross a stage.

This exercise is a key skills exercise – a simple exercise that can be explored at many different levels, depending on the skill of the performer.

If the group is big enough, it might be helpful to split into two groups – one to perform, the other to actively watch then switch; they very well may learn as much from watching others as performing themselves.


Ask the group to silently walk around the room, filling the whole space. After a few moments, ask them to stop then in their own time, decide a spot somewhere across the room and walk to it with one of the motivations below (the “walking away” points could be a doorway to leave the situation or just another point in the middle of the space). Ask them to focus on the journey more than what they do when they reach their destination – do they walk faster, slower, with a skip in their step etc. Repeat with a different motivation, with a break of “normal” walking in between each round to help them “reset”.

Some of the motivations should result be “easy” (the situation calls for a clear emotional response), others are more complex and require a more subtle approach. If the performers are currently preparing characters for either a play or an audition/exam, they should be encouraged to stay in that character for the exercise but it is also useful to step out of character – to think how they’d move if they were playing “real”.

Ideas for different motivations

  • Meet a good friend in the local town
  • Unexpectedly meet a good friend in a far-flung place (where meeting them would a surprise)
  • Bumping into an ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend for the first time in a few years
  • Walking up the path to a sure-to-be-good house party
  • Walking to their most hated class at school/a dull work meeting
  • Reluctantly fetch a bottle of milk from the corner shop
  • Receive good news but have to keep it hidden while exiting the room
  • Receive bad news but have to keep it hidden while exiting the room
  • Walk away from a heated argument
  • Walk away as if you’re trying to shake off an annoying person
  • Walk away from an annoying person in a position of authority over them (so they have to remain quite polite) – for example, a drama teacher asking them to do something like don’t want to do ;)
  • Walk to a window to see if a debt collector is approaching
  • Walk to a window to see if a beloved friend is approaching
  • Move between a stressful situation and one where you have to appear calm

Taking it further

This can be used as a short (15-20mins) standalone exercise or a warm-up before a rehearsal but it can be extended in a number of ways:

  • Guess the motivation: spotlighting on certain people as they cross the stage using any one of the motivations above – or something of their own creation. With the latter, people should at least be able to get a general gist (happy, apprehensive etc) if not the exact motivation.
  • Travelling across the stage improvisation: divide into small groups to develop an improvisation in which every character has to move across the stage with a particular motivation at least once
  • Text-based work: give small groups a scene from a play with numerous exits/entrances or stage directions moving people around the stage. Ask them to decide what motivations might be suitable for each characters movement. If there is time/space, get them to act it out. (This, of course, could be a play/scene being prepared for production or audition – if there is time, less experienced performers might benefit from sitting down with the text and discussing it rather than having to do everything on the fly during rehearsals.)

If it’s not being used as a warm-up itself, something like slow motion tag is a useful to get people thinking about moving in specific ways.

Have you used this game with your class?

  • Did they like it?
  • Did you find it useful?
  • Did you change anything?

We'd love to hear what you think!