"Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling. It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law." Louis H Sullivan (wiki)
The above was from an article called "The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered" Lippincott's Magazine (March 1896). This paragraph went on to be shortened to: form follows function. A maxim that influenced architects for years to come I’m sure. For some reason it often plays on my mind when I watch an actor move. A move, action or gesture (form) must follow its function, it’s purpose.
What is the function of the a move an actor may have to perform? Let’s look at a lunge in the context of swordplay: to bridge distance for an attack. Its form should be driven by its function in this case for the lunge - the most economical bridging of distance, while maintaining balance and power. This should be enough of a clue to help an actor truly represent this move. Any other physical unnecessary form layered in should really only be driven by style or genre and character choice. But at its base learning as a skill set. Its form should follow function.
What about something as weird as a reaction to a hair grab?? I must admit this is one of the most over acted actions I see in a performance. But if its function is to convey that someone is being restrained by the fact that their hair is being pulled. Then surely the form I take should support that function. The stillness required to ensure I don’t hurt myself anymore when having my hair pulled would / could / should help inform the amount movement needed to fully and truthfully convey the staging of this reaction. My form should follow the function.
Marcus Virtruvius Polio a Roman architect and engineer is said a structure must exhibit three qualities: Solid, useful and beautiful. I think these are useful too!!