What is a tableau?

A tableau can be described as a frozen movement in time; a picture or a statue.  Actors use their bodies, emotions, costumes, props, and the space around them to create a picture and mood. Tableau is a silent art form, and a successful tableau will be one which is still, silent and creatively charged.

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Every good tableau should showcase the following:

Visual Balance – The tableau should be balanced; a better and more readable tableau will be created if an equal amount of action is happening on both sides of the stage. You want to avoid a ‘seesaw effect’, where one side has more people than another. It is easier for the audience to view your tableau if it is balanced.

Literal Balance – Work together! Rely on your fellow group members, and incorporate a tableau where you balance off each other. This will limit the amount of wobbling during a tableau, and create a unity amongst the group.

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Symmetry and Asymmetry – Creating a mirror image tableau results in formalness and presents a powerful picture. Having movements on either side which are not similar creates a more casual tableau. Decide what you want your tableau to look like.

Lines – Diagonal lines in tableau suggest movement. Horizontal and vertical lines appear more grounded and still. Having multiple levels and lines adds interest and variety to each tableau.  Be the movement.

Mass – Your body is positive space. The space around your body is negative. By posing and using all of the space around you, you are creating a more dynamic picture. Use people and props to break up your body mass, by adding contrast to your pose.

Type – Is your tableau concrete? Or abstract? Is there an obvious story, or is it more symbolic?

History of Tableau

Originally used in religious rituals, it was first developed into a theatre technique by the Ancient Greeks. Around 300 B.C., tableau was used to show events which were not allowed to take place on stage, such as murder or violence. Tableaux were often placed on a moving platform and rolled across stage when needed. Now, tableau is used as a form of entertainment, in staged photographs, theatre and films. Tableaux can increase the dramatic effect of a particular scene.

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Tableau 101

  • Hold your freeze!         Freeze the action!        Be full! Use a broad base!
  • Use props and costumes!        Don’t block or other actors!    Make relationships clear!
  • Use levels!                   Maintain the triangle!             Have energy!
  • Never move your eyes, or shift positions out of time!  Exaggerate positions and facial expressions!

Types of Tableaux

Singular Tableau – A single tableau which portrays an idea, message, emotion, etc.

Silent Story Tableaux – A number of tableaux which tells a story without using spoken dialogue.

Narrative Tableaux – A narrator (who can still be a part of the tableaux) tells a story which is represented in the tableaux.

Moving Tableaux – Movement or moving transitions are used to link the tableaux together.

Transitioning Your Tableau

  • Transitions are the spaces between each individual tableau.
    • Complete break from character and purposeful movement into the next pose.
    • Slow motion movement into the next pose
    • Blackout (not recommended)
    • Add and subtract – remove one part of the tableau at a time adding a new element to the scene

What makes an effective tableau?

Focus – each member of the group should be focused in the moment. No movement. No talking. Your freeze should last for at least 5 seconds.

Expectation – the audience should want to know what is going to happen next. Make the scene exciting.

Levels – levels will help establish power in a scene. Higher levels = higher status. Use different levels to establish a centre for your tableau.

Expressions – use every part of the body to create the mood for your tableau. Don’t forget about facial expressions.

Timing – make sure that the tableau is held long enough for the audience to absorb everything in the picture. Timing of your tableaux can add to the mood you wish to create.

Clarity – the object of tableau is to show your audience something, not to make them guess what they are seeing. Make each tableau clear and understandable.

Placement – be aware of your audience. Each party of your tableau should be visible to the audience. Make sure nothing is lost because you are hidden by another actor.

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