In a scene containing two or more characters who are interacting (or conversing) with each other, a Dramatic Downstage Turn is a visual method for forcing the focus onto one of them without interrupting that interaction. In theater, a classic Downstage Turn typically involves the character walking slightly downstage (i.e., toward the audience), perhaps into a specially-illuminated spot on the stage, thereby emphasizing that character above all others in the scene. In TV or film, where a camera replaces the audience, the character may turn directly into the camera, away from the other characters, or walk closer towards the camera while other characters remain slightly behind in the background (and possibly out-of-focus).
This maneuver is an extreme version of "Cheating Out", a staple theatrical technique where actors orient their bodies unnaturally so as to be more visible to the audience. The Turn simply goes beyond that by having the actor change facing entirely, and may involve any number of additional visual aids for extra effect. However, as with "Cheating Out", a downstage turn is specifically designed not to interrupt the ongoing interaction
with the other characters — It's simply that one character is now drawing a lot of focus by no longer facing the others.
The Turn is practically ubiquitous in melodramatic
works, where it is used in order to show that a character (usually female) is in a very emotional state. It also gives the actress a chance to ham it up a little, and may even be used to break into a soliloquy.
The position of the characters may persist for the entire rest of the scene if required. Bob might close the distance a little, but he will not
turn away from Alice nor remove his focus from her. He will keep looking at the back of her head as though she's still making eye-contact. This serves to keep the viewers focused on Alice too.
More often, the Turn is eventually broken in one way or another before the scene ends. Alice could simply turn around of her own volition. Alternatively, Bob can physically grab Alice by the Standard Female Grab Area
and spin her 180 degrees to re-establish eye contact. If this results in Slap-Slap-Kiss
, you win a Daytime Emmy.
For 500 extra cliché points, television gives us the possibility of a Downstage Turn Volley: Alice does a Downstage Turn, now facing the camera, with Bob in the background. Bob then moves in front of Alice and turns to face her, forcing eye-contact. The camera then jumps to a different position, and Alice makes another
Downstage Turn in this new direction. Repeat as often as desired. A variation on the above is when a furious Alice Turns while explaining that she's furious
with Bob, then whips back around when he asks why, to give the dramatic Reveal
that she knows about his affair... and an ashamed Bob Turns the other way to mutter his excuses.
Contrast with Internal Monologue
, where similar visual effects are sometimes used, but in which case the character is not interacting with others in the scene (the Dramatic Downstage Turn only applies as long as interaction continues).
Since this trope appears constantly in almost every Soap Opera
in existence, as well as Soap Within a Show
shows, examples from such shows are not required here. Please list only parodies or examples from other genres.
- In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Kirk makes the turn while lying in a prison bed, leaving McCoy in the background. They are both implied to be whispering, since they are in a room full of sleeping inmates... and yet McCoy has no trouble hearing Kirk while he's facing away from him.
- The Australian skit show Comedy Inc parodied melodramatic period pieces regularly. In one skit, taking place in the 19th century, a man proposes to his beloved and she refuses. Throughout the entire skit, she constantly turns to face away from him wherever he moves. Eventually she explains that it's a medical condition that causes her to stare mistily into the horizon.
- The Chaser's War on Everything once did a candid-camera segment where one of the presenters went around inserting Dramatic Downstage Turns into everyday conversations.
- There are several instances of this during Star Trek: The Original Series, especially during dramatic scenes featuring female cast members. This should not be surprising, as it was very common in many TV series of the period. One simple example appears in a conversation between Leila and Spock near the end of the episode "This Side of Paradise".
- Star Trek: The Next Generation has several.
- One occurs in "Unification I" from season 5. Perrin (Spock's step-mother) performs it during her scene with Picard. She goes for more of a "preoccupied" kind of downstage turn, but it's understandable since she is distraught over Spock's apparent defection.
- Perrin actually does the exact same thing during her first episode ("Sarek"), when Picard comes to her quarters to confront her about her husband's illness.
- Also Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, usually when Sisko is having a long, involved chat with someone.
- Quite common in the original Perry Mason television series. Especially frequent during the courtroom scenes to add movement and interest during witness testimony.
- In a recent episode of Covert Affairs, Auggie and Parker, by this time his fiancée, have such a moment when he "reveals all" while being held hostage.
- In Freelancer, there's a cutscene where Trent and Juni talk to Dr. Sinclair at her dig-site. She does the Dramatic Downstage Turn several times in close proximity, like a goddamned revolving door!
- Occurs often during conversations in the Mass Effect series, though the turns rarely persist longer than one or two sentences.
- Parodied in Greystone Inn, when the main characters are interviewing a woman who used to work for a soap opera; she keeps Downstage Turning, and they react the way one might expect if someone tried this in real life. Argus finally gets fed up and forces her to resume normal eye contact, at which point she admits that she can't work for a comic strip.