Tag Archives: Rehearsal

Location Location Location: Warmups for Working with Where

How do we know where we are? Students will respond with many answers to this question. “We can see the walls.” “The people around us.” “Google maps?”It’s the opener to a discussion of where.  Viola Spolin’s “Creating a Where” and the call for a “location” in the beginning of any improvisation have in common the mandate that good scene work take an empty space and transform it.

As an isolated skill,  weighting “where” is  extremely valuable to practice, and it is one that embeds itself deeply not just in improvisational scene work, but in the work of the actor, in script analysis and in set design.

WARMUPS FOR “WHERE”

  • WELCOME TO FRANCE- Perhaps you’ve done the exercise with students where you’ve had them mill around shaking hands, and then have given them characters to change into while shaking hands. Try using music to further strengthen this. In an exercise introduced to me by Kevin Coleman at a Shakespeare Plays workshop, we were walking about when he suddenly said, “And welcome to France” and put on French cafe music, which changed our walking into promenading down the avenue, until we realized we were late, then lost, then, no, the clock was wrong and we had plenty of time, but wait, we were still lost, oh no, we knew where we were…
  • SHIP AHOY- From Talia Pura’s excellent book STAGES: CREATIVE IDEAS FOR TEACHING DRAMA,  I like to play music from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN with this one. High energy game that has students:
    • “hit the deck” (lie down on the ground)
    • “man overboard” (one stands up and grabs a prone partner’s leg like a wheelbarrow)
    • “officer aboard” (everyone stands and salutes)
    • “helicopter” (partners grasp hands and spin)
    • “dive bomber” (everyone simulates airplanes)
    • “Captain’s daughter” (one person takes a knee, the other sits on their lap)
  • DIRECTIONS TO MY HOUSE- This is for pairs. Each partner explains to the other how to get to his or her house from school.
  • MY ROOM- Class sits in a circle. One person goes into the circle and literally “walks” us through their room, then  goes back to the circle, sits down, and sends other students into their “room” to work with imaginary stuff. “Grab my book from the shelf and put it on my desk. ” “Turn on my computer”.  And so on. Do this with a few volunteers.
  • HEY BUDDY-From the Red Ladder Theatre Company. Useful to help students create details of a where through action.  Students in lines of maybe five. Student at the head of line A mimes a simple object.  Student in line B tries to guess what it is by saying “Hey Buddy, get away from my toothbrush, my hairdryer,my blender…” whatever it is. When person B guesses it, they high-five person A and go to the end of the A line, and person A goes to the end of the B line. Continue as necessary, and to intensify, narrow what can be mimed. “Anything from a kindergarten classroom.” “Something you only find in a gym.”
  • OBJECT SWAP- Start this in a circle.  Work with air like clay, then pull an object out of the air. Let students work on this simultaneously. When you are all holding your mimed objects, turn to one student and say, “Do you want this thing I have?” Then describe the thing, but don’t tell them what the thing is. Say you have made a jar with a butterfly in it.  Tell them it’s fragile, it has something alive in it, you can see the thing, the thing has wings, and the thing is colorful and there are lots of varieties of it. When they figure it out, have them describe what they have to you, and give them your jar and take their hamster or whatever. Let everyone go around and trade objects for awhile.  Then ask, who got something beautiful, dangerous, expensive, unusual, scary, and listen to their answers.
  • BOOKSHELF- In partners, students can build a bookshelf. This works great right after object swap. Have them build their imaginary bookshelf out of any material they want, then with their partner put three things on it. Something rare, a piece of technology, something alive. Have them step back and admire it. Then, and they love this, have them start an argument with each other about the bookshelf. Let the argument lead to a “breakup, ” where they must divide the objects and go in search of a new partner with whom to rebuild. Have them build a new bookshelf with their new partner, then ask them what was on their first bookshelf, why they broke up with their first partner, and what was better about the new one. The answers you will get are incredible.
  • FIVE IN, FIVE OUT.  Students can retire to the audience. Ask for a volunteer and give them a location (convenience stores seem to work really well).  Have this volunteer go onstage and interact with one mimed thing in the 7-11 and then leave.  Then send the next one in. They have to interact with the first thing and then create their own. The next person must interact with the first two things, then create another, and so on, up to five. Then start a new scene.

These exercises will go a long way towards preparing students to work with floorplans, which I’ll describe in the next installment. Stay tuned.

This is Our Masterpiece: On Presenting, Rehearsing, and Responding to Student Performance in Class

Were your students born knowing how to rehearse and give helpful feedback after class performances? Mine sure weren’t. Luckily, it’s a teachable skill.

We tell our students to “rehearse” because we know it’s the key to good classroom presentations and of course to good theatre. But do we break down the process for them into manageable chunks? If our students are not rehearsing independently as well as they should,  are there strategies we can implement to make their time more productive?

THIS IS OUR MASTERPIECE- TEACHING STUDENTS TO SLATE

The first “performance” my students ever give is an extremely brief one. It’s called “This is Our Masterpiece” and I’m pretty sure I made it up.

I stand in front of the class and explain to students how to introduce themselves in a line, starting at stage right (audience left) and proceeding down the line ending at stage left (audience right).If I have TA’s who are more advanced, I let them model this. If my class is tentative but there are students who are beginning to show themselves as potential class leaders, I use them as models.  Then I sit down, I take out my roll sheet, and I call them up in groups of about 5 to try it.

It goes like this. They line up. Then, from their right, and our left, they introduce:

Person 1: Hi, I’m Amy.

Person 2: I’m Juan.

Person 3: I’m CJ.

Person 4: I’m Priya.

Person 5: I’m David. And this is our Masterpiece.

That’s it. It’s a very short performance, we clap loudly, then move onto the next group. I tell my students that this is called a slate, which is what it’s called when students introduce themselves in a competition or an audition. I tell them to do this before every class performance, that they can use “Masterpiece” as default titles for scenes that don’t have titles.  This helps with our class culture and procedure in several ways:

  • In the beginning of the year, it helps you learn names and identify cliques so that you can decide whether to let students choose their own groups for projects. I advocate for a mixed approach. They choose their groups for some projects, I choose for others. Letting students repeatedly choose their partners results in an unfocused class where rivalries and power struggles outstrip the work of the ensemble.  Just because it’s drama class doesn’t mean it has to be anarchy.
  • It gives students practice in introducing themselves, which means that over time, they stop fidgeting, mumbling, and shuffling their feet, as well as looking less awkward and ironic, which translates into better work.
  • When students reach more advanced levels of theatre and start competing, as my Advanced Honors students do, and auditioning in other places,  as my preprofessional students begin to do, introductions are second nature. “Masterpiece” becomes “A Selection from Death of a Salesman, where I will be playing Biff”, or whatever.
  • It teaches students about “the first 15 seconds” onstage. A lackluster introduction generally breeds a low-energy performance. Introducing means they need to learn to fake it till they make it, which is valuable.

REHEARSAL PROCEDURES

Now that they know how to present a performance, it’s time to get down to the details of how to rehearse. You probably love theatre and love to rehearse, and so when you get a new script or devised assignment, you work on it with your group members until it’s good or good enough.

Why don’t our students do the same thing?  Because they don’t know how.

I start out by telling my students that they need to get it fixed in their head that any scene for class that does not include text needs to be run three times on its feet. On its feet means up and running, not “sitting around and talking about what they’re going to do while sneaking  glances at their phones.”

To enforce this, I break the rehearsal process up for them by acting as an activity leader for it. I assign the task, explain it, provide a model if appropriate or feasible, and then give them 5-10 minutes to talk about it. This talk should include the who what where when why of the scene and then of course difficulties (big moments such as violence, affection, or emotion) as well as the stage pictures the audience will see.

I then call “On Your Feet”, which means get up, find furniture/props, and start running it.

ON YOUR FEET

  • Identify and REHEARSE difficult moments. (violence, affection, emotional outpourings)
  • Up on your feet. Get furniture you need. Create the space- entrances and exits.
  • Walk it through, identifying stage pictures.
  • Run it with a rough idea of who’s going where.
  • Run it again.
  • Run it again until you can do the entire thing with no script or if there is no script, no stops.  Run it and have someone watch.*
  • Run it until it’s ready or you run out of time, whichever comes first. And then every time you’re going to perform it, run it again.

If grading a project takes longer than one day ( four groups perform one day, but you don’t get to everyone) give 5 minutes for a quick run the next day.

*For a longer project, they then should get some other students to Watch It before it performs for the class.

WATCH IT

Although basically unnecessary for a short scene,  a “Watch It” period can provide structure and enhance rehearsal of a longer project. Have students pair up with another group, run their piece,  and give feedback (positive and improvement).  If you’d like students to be accountable for this piece or want to practice Aesthetic Valuing skills, you can have students record their progress on a half sheet or in a journal.

THE MEMORIZATION TEST

Memorization, crucial to the actor who performs in a mainstage show, is often extremely difficult for beginning performers and often stands in their way of effective scenework of pieces that involve text.  If your students are having trouble with memorization, try the simple “first 10 lines”  memorization test.  Have students get in their groups and work rapidly to try to memorize the “first 10 lines” of their scenes.  Give them no more than 10 minutes. Then give them a 1/4 sheet and have them “test” each other on lines. A perfect score would be no line calls, a B would be one to two line calls, a C would be two or more, under that redo.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE

If you allow your students to be critical of each other’s work, it will inhibit everyone’s natural creativity and create a caste system in your class. If you never allow them to respond to each other’s work, it will create a disingenuous, unchallenging environment where you have far too much power.  You’re between a rock and a hard place. Therefore, I advocate for the following strategies to build a healthy, curious, inquiry based environment.

ASK THE ACTORS

It’s done all the time in college classes and on Reality TV competitions. Do it gently. You teach high school.  Let’s say that Daniel and Kadisha have just performed a duo scene. Ask them to stay up there. They are now experiencing  self evaluation.

Ask Daniel to say what he liked about the scene.

Ask Kadisha to add what she felt they may have improved upon.

ASK THE AUDIENCE WHAT THEY NOTICED

Ask the audience what, as the great teacher Kevin Costa says, they noticed.
Ask two members, one of whom is raising his or her hand, one of whom is not. Keeps them on their toes. If you don’t get an answer from somebody, come back to them next time. Keep track. Make them participate.

CREATE THE RUBRIC AS YOU GO

You probably write a lot of the same comments on rubrics, and you probably find that they don’t contain the scope of what’s happening in a performance. Here are comments I write constantly in Beginning and Advanced Theatre Classes.

Energy in Intro. Set Stage before Slate. Share the Stage Picture. Share Your Voice. Find Truth in Dialogue. Cheat Out. Don’t let Set Upstage You. Make Gestures Specific. Use the Space to Tell the Story.

I learned the following technique from the English Department at my school, who created targeted feedback responses for students aimed at helping them understand how to improve on essays, and modified it for Drama class. I was already giving notes to the casts of mainstage shows, and I am noticing that this is an excellent way to begin training for students to learn to pay attention to notes.

I suggest doing an ungraded “free trial” of this technique before you start using in in assessment, but after trying it you may become a believer.

1.Set up the points for a particular assignment.  (10, 5, 6, whatever you do).  Let me model this for a 5 point assignment.

2. When the first group performs, they are group 1. Make sure you have their names on an index card (they can just fill these out and give them to you) or a little grade sheet, or whatever. It’s important for students to remember what group number they are because they will be looking at the feedback and identifying the feedback as a group.

3. Watch group 1’s performance and write down the comments in the areas where they seem to fit.

  • Positive comments are in the 5 zone. Great Characters. Creative Intro. Nice Energy. Good Use of Stage Picture.
  • Maintenance/what if comments are in the 4 zone. Share your voice. Cheat Out.Share the Stage Picture. Raise the Stakes.
  • Improvement comments are perhaps in the 3 zone. Raise energy on intro. Find Focus. Use Space to Tell the Story. Keep Hair Out of Face.
  • Redo/Not Yet- Is the scene incomprehensible? Poorly planned? Stop ‘em. Send ‘em out to rehearse for five more minutes.

4. When group 2 goes, add to the comments, and so on, until all the groups have performed. You now have a custom sheet of notes for your group, and they see both their positive and improvement areas. Pop it up on the projector or print out six  or however many copies and have the groups look at it.

5. Go around the room. Have each group share out. Have them summarize in one sentence,  what they learned, what they need to work on. Total assessment. Nice wrap-up. The focus is on the ethic of improvement.  And they know they need each other to make them all better.

Because this is their masterpiece. And yours.