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Viewpoints is a technique of composition that provides a vocabulary for thinking about and acting upon movement and gesture. Originally developed in the 1970s by choreographer Mary Overlie as a method of movement improvisation, The Viewpoints theory was adapted for stage acting by directors Anne Bogart and Tina Landau. Bogart and Overlie were on the faculty of ETW at NYU in the late 1970s and early 1980s during which time Bogart was influenced by Overlie's innovations. Overlie's Six Viewpoints (space, story, time, emotion, movement, and shape) are considered to be a logical way to examine, analyze and create dances, while Bogart's Viewpoints are considered practical in creating staging with actors.
SYSTEMS is a mnemonic device for the six elements of Overlie's viewpoints (the actual acronym is spelled SSTEMS: Space, Shape, Time, Emotion, Movement, and Story,) and also signifies which elements Mary Overlie considered the most important. Note the change from the classical and modern periods in performance art, where story always took precedent over the other elements. Viewpoints is part of the post-modern tradition, in that there is no hierarchy in the different elements that make "theatre."
Psychological or narrative content ascribed to movement.
All of the different elements influence each other and work together, and can "cause" a change in a different element. For example, the shape of your body may carry a certain emotion with it as well - something in the space of your environment may make a story out of what you are doing - etc.
The actors must focus first on the isolation of each separate viewpoint element on its own, before integrating and working them all together. It's often that a performer finds one of the elements comes naturally, and perhaps uses that one element they really understand to access the other elements, which they must work to become more familiar with.
In their book, The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition, Anne Bogart and Tina Landau identify the primary Viewpoints as those relating to Time - which are Tempo, Duration, Kinesthetic Response, and Repetition - and those relating to Space - which are Shape, Gesture, Architecture, Spatial Relationship and Topography. In addition, Bogart and Landau have added the Vocal Viewpoints which include Pitch, Volume, and Timbre. In the book, the authors outline the basics of the Viewpoints training they both espouse as well as specific methods for applying the Viewpoints to both rehearsals and production. For Bogart and Landau, the Viewpoints represent not only a physical technique but also a philosophical, spiritual, and aesthetic approach to many aspects of their work. Bogart references her work with the SITI company, and Landau with the Steppenwolf Theater Company.
Bogart recognizes that these are not the only Viewpoints, just the ones she finds most useful for the actors with whom she works.