Episode 88: Tips and Tricks for Directing Youth with Steven Stack

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Playwright Steven Stack is a long time director. He shares his tips and tricks for directing youth. Bonus! Steven also shares some writing tips when you can’t wait for inspiration.

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Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

Welcome to Episode 88! Woohoo! Yeehaw! Oh ho!

You can catch the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode88.

Today, I’m talking to playwright Steven Stack whose new play, Ashland Falls, has found a lovely home in our catalog. But he’s also a long-time director so we’re going to get him to share his tips and his tricks for directing youth and student actors. How do you do it? He’s also going to share some bonus tips for how to write when you can’t wait to be inspired. Now, that is a trick. Let’s find out how he does it.

Lindsay: Hello everybody! Welcome to the Theatrefolk Podcast. I am very happy and thrilled today. I’m looking out my window. There’s snow on the ground but I can see green. I can see green and the sun is warm so that’s good.

And I’m very happy to welcome Steven Stack to the podcast. Hello, Steven!

Steven: Hi, Lindsay!

Lindsay: How are you?

Steven: I’m doing great. Been sitting at my computer since 4:00 this morning.

Lindsay: Why?

Steven: Well, because, at the studio I work for, we have an end of the year show, and I need to write seven scenes and I’ve only had six days to do it because of planning issues and stuff. So, I’m in the final, like, stretch now.

Lindsay: So, Steven is one of our playwrights but he also directs youth and we’re going to talk all about that – some tips and tricks about working with youth. But you’ve just said a very interesting thing which I think also would be good for others.

So, you need to write, you can’t wait for inspiration, you have a deadline, you have to get this stuff done. How do you do it? How do you propel yourself to write those seven scenes?

Steven: Well, basically, it’s just make myself. I sit in front of the computer and then I start writing regardless because one of my writer friends, Alex Bledsoe, once when I was talking about writer’s block, he basically just said, “You know that’s a myth, right? If you want to write or need to write, then you write,” and, at that point, it was pretty much done. So, I need to write so I do and, basically, you get a semblance of an idea and then you just run with it and get that first draft out of the way and don’t go back. When you write a terrible line, don’t go, “Oh, that’s awful, I need to fix it.” Just keep going until you finish it and see what happens.

Lindsay: I’m a firm believer in ugly writing and ugly first drafts and that’s the only way to write. So, do you create on computer?

Steven: Yes.

Lindsay: Yeah? Why does that work for you?

Steven: Because, usually, I listen with my headphones with music, too – which, there’s no one here, I don’t know why I put on my headphones but I do – and it’s just easier for me because I like the bright screens, I like my comfortable chair. But, I mean, I also use, sometimes, when I have more time, I use my memo pad, too. I don’t like writing just on notebook paper but I’m a huge fan of, like, the flip notebook. I have tons of them and I get more and more for, like, birthdays and Christmas even though I have a lot already.

Lindsay: I use to, in my temping days, I temped a lot at lawyers’ offices and government offices and I have a very fond affection for yellow legal pads.

Steven: Oh, nice, yeah!

Lindsay: You know? So, it’s a little bit longer and it’s just, you know…

Steven: Well, I like the white better just because I’m mesmerized by the yellow. And then, when I write with different colors, I get kind of carried away and distracted because I get distracted very easy with those things and I just like, “Oh, that yellow and red just blends really nicely,” and then I’m not writing anymore.

Lindsay: Then you’re just in your own little mesma-world, right?

Steven: Yeah, and it happens a lot so I have to go white there so it’s less distracting.

Lindsay: That’s interesting, too, that you listen to music when you write. Do you find that’s a good focuser for you?

Steven: Absolutely, because I can’t watch TV at all. But, when I have the music in, it just kind of fades into the background and, because I don’t like working in silence because then I end up just talking out loud and that’s just kind of weird for me because I’m not talking about what I’m writing. So then, listening to music just makes it like a little perfect world.

Lindsay: I’m a silent writer. You know, sometimes I listen to – it sounds very ooky spooky but I listen to – mantras. Those go into the background for me. They’re on YouTube everywhere. But music? I will listen to. But here’s a site which is really interesting. I think it’s called Focus@Will. The music, apparently, is very specifically designed for focused writing or focused work on computer or whatever and I’m going to put it in the show notes. I’ll make sure I have the right website. Craig uses it and you put a type of focus that you want, you know, and the music will play – you know, excited or soothing or driving – and he loves it.

Steven: Oh, that’s really cool.

Lindsay: Yeah! And it’s always interesting, I always like to have these kinds of discussions because, you know, there’s all that big myth about how writing happens the same way for everybody and, if you don’t write a certain way, or you don’t like silence, then you’re not a good writer and it’s like, “Nope, that’s not the way it works.”

Steven: Yeah, because, I mean, in the end, that’s what you have to do. You’ve got to find what works for you. And, I mean, at different times, different things will work for you because there’s times when we’re getting near the end where I’ll go upstairs and I will just have nothing and then, as I’m editing and as I’m writing, I’ll be playing all the characters out loud which is highly entertaining for my kids and that’s one thing I really enjoy doing.

And, sometimes, I do that early on in the project. Like, for one of the scenes I just wrote today, I turned off the music and I just played all the characters as I wrote. And then, I established that nice flow which I have to because they audition Wednesday and they have to have the final copy before Spring Break.

Lindsay: Yup, got to get it done! And, you know, for you to speak out loud, this is what we do. Plays are meant to be said aloud. You can’t just leave it on the page and never have put it out there.

Steven: And it’s really fun to do, too. Like, it’s highly enjoyable – unless it’s bad and then you go, “Ah, man.”

Lindsay: Or unless you’re in public and people are like, sometimes I catch myself because I’m really good at inner talking out loud and I will actually gesture and I’ll start to do that and see rhythms in my head and, if I’m in public, because sometimes I like to change up my location just to go choose a different location and that jogs things a bit, and I have caught, I have been stared at and I’m like, “Oh, shoot! No, I’m not crazy. I’m just writing.”

Steven: Yeah, I tend to embarrass my older daughter sometimes when I’m doing and it’s like, “My bad and I’m sorry. It’s just really fun. Let me write that down.”

Lindsay: So, this is a nice segue into what we’re going to talk today about – you know, having plays and not leaving them on the page – getting them not only said out loud but getting them produced. You direct with your studio so you direct the first production of all your plays, correct?

Steven: Right, and that does help out a lot.

Lindsay: I imagine, just because you can, well, you have a testing ground to see what it’s like when your plays are brought to life.

Steven: Yeah, it’s a little nerve-racking, too, because, basically, I have my first draft and then I make the edit and then it has to be ready to perform almost instantly because, you know, the actors need more time and then we have a show coming up and an audience that expects the show to work and it’s a little stressful at times but it’s also really cool to see if we can all pull it together in basically one take in some ways.

Lindsay: Do you do a lot of rewrites in rehearsal?

Steven: I started that this year because, when I did, for the first couple of years, I just did random scenes and that was cool. Well, this year, I decided that I want a play. I wanted a play to tie it all together with the scenes and so that made it. There was a lot of times where they would be rehearsing – and this happened all the way, like, a week before the show – and I go, “That doesn’t work for me anymore. Let’s go with this.” But, the thing is, they were just so, like, amazingly excited about doing it. Like, they enjoyed the changes even though it caused them stress. But they liked the aspect of “Okay, the show’s not finalized until almost opening night.”

Lindsay: I find that, particularly with high school students, they don’t have a preconceived notion about what it’s supposed to be and they’re so adaptable and they work on the fly really well.

Steven: Absolutely.

Lindsay: I’ve been to shows and have learned that, well, the lead in this show had to be replaced, like, two days beforehand. In fact, the last play that I just premiered in February, that would happen – the lead wasn’t memorizing her lines, a week before the show, a new girl came in, she was in grade five, she learned an entire full-length play in four days and she had no concept and she was fantastic. And it’s like they’ll work with what you’ve got.

Steven: Oh, yeah, because I also work with seven to nine-year-olds and they had the same thing. Like, I was changing their lines and one of them happened to be my daughter who’s in the class, too, and they got so excited because they felt like they were the teen class, like the older kids, and their professionalism at that age was fantastic.

Lindsay: Aww. I love that, that’s awesome!

Steven: It was really great to see.

Lindsay: So, let’s talk about what it specifically takes to direct young people and youth because it’s quite different than directing adults, wouldn’t you say?

Steven: Oh, absolutely, and I enjoy it a lot more. Like, nothing against directing adults. I mean, it’s fine, but directing kids, like, they just seem to be more into… The ones I’ve worked with, because some adult actors have been fantastic, but the students just seem to go, “Okay, let’s do this,” and their ego hasn’t taken over as much.

Lindsay: Right.

Steven: And they accept direction really well.

Lindsay: What do you do? Do you ever have to deal with shy students? Like, how do you bring a shy youngster out of their shell?

Steven: Well, basically, what I do is try to put them in a position where they’re going to succeed and, with rehearsals, it starts, like, in rehearsals, at the beginning where we do things where they get more and more outside of themselves, and a lot of what we do, too, is focus on letting them understand that it’s not about one person; it’s about everybody and everybody has to do their part.

And then, we also taught, too, one of my beliefs is that self-consciousness comes from putting the focus on yourself and, when you take the focus off yourself and you put it on the character or on the work, what happens is you’re not self-conscious on stage or you’re not shy on stage anymore because you’re focusing on what that character wants and you’re working for that.

So, what I do is push them in class and in rehearsal just to keep taking the focus off themselves – not to make it about them, to make it about what the character wants or needs – and it’s amazing how that, when they’re actually doing that, it changes. Like, we’ve had a lot of breakthroughs, just this year, with certain students who have been the quietest, shyest students.

We had one with this one girl in a very serious scene, like, for weeks, nothing, really. But I was like, “I know she’s got it,” so we stressed it and kept doing it. And then, one time in rehearsal, she just busted it out and I stopped rehearsal and I was like, “That is it. You’ve had your moment where you just dominated that character.” It was beautiful and she did it in the show, too.

Lindsay: I think that’s amazing. I wonder if that’s the same reason why, a lot of times, young students, when they put masks on, they can find themselves because it’s not them; it’s somebody else.

Steven: Well, yeah, and I think that is, and one thing we’ve stressed, too, like, this always sounds rough at the beginning but, when I talk to my class, I’m like, “This class is all about you. But, we start rehearsal, it’s all about the character. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about the play and then it’s about each other creating that world.” And there’s some kind of relief that actually comes from knowing it’s not about them. That it is about the character and about creating this magic on stage. It’s kind of freeing.

Lindsay: Are there any specific exercises that you do or is it just in the process of rehearsal?

Steven: Well, we do a lot of that in the process of rehearsal and we do a lot, like, I’m a huge fan of character bios and talking about what the character wants and getting those action verbs in there and stuff. So, that allows them to start thinking that way. So, before a scene starts, it’s like, “Why are you coming on stage? Why do you say this? Why do you say that?” and, if the focus is on themselves, they can’t answer the question.

Lindsay: Yes, awesome!

Steven: And, the more that we do it, because, you know, it’s like anything in life. The repetition of it, the constant pushing and the constant to go deeper and deeper because the whole thing, one thing they’re used to, they actually laugh at me sometimes when I go, “Hey, that was a really great show,” and we talk specifics and then they would go, “Well, I know what you’re going to say now.: now go out and do better.” It’s like, “You did this today, what are you going to do tomorrow? Like, what are you going to discover about your character?” and the more your push that, you know, since it’s a process, and if you push it and you have kids that are willing to work and willing to get better, it’s just amazing what they’re capable of.

Lindsay: Where do you lie in the process product about which is more important when you’re working with students?

Steven: Oh, it’s actually really interesting. When I first started directing, I felt it all came down to the product and that it was all about the product. And then, as time went on, I realized I became more obsessed with the process. And then, I read a book about John Wooden and he was talking about they were asking him about his undefeated seasons in basketball and he said, “I don’t necessarily care whether we win or lose. I care that we got into a position at the beginning of the game, that we could win, that we were going to do our best, that we practiced as well as we could have to do everything in our power to have a chance at winning.” And, in the end, that’s what I really value.

Like, in our rehearsal, like, I love rehearsals so much now because you focus on that process – developing these characters – because, in the end, there’s so many variables that go into that final show – like, you know, the actual performance – that, sometimes, you just can’t control props and things. You’ve got interesting audiences and stuff but you can’t control that but that, you know, when you go through the whole rehearsal process and get where that last dress rehearsal and you go, “This is your show,” it’s one of my favorite moments when I just give the show to them and I just say, “This is your show. Be there for each other. Come through for each other. And then, when you take your curtain call, know that you deserve it.”

Lindsay: I love that. Really, that whole notion, it’s very true. You can’t control what happens in a performance all the time but you can certainly control your process.

Steven: Yeah, and that’s what I have and I realize I wish I would have known that earlier when I first started, but now I do, so I fixed it from there. You know, it’s like, getting better and learning new things.

Lindsay: You know, it’s funny, we just did a Google Hangout about what I wish I knew when I was starting out as a drama teacher and I think that is a really good one about look at process and product – that’s what the difference is. You can control process and then let the product happen and where the chips fall where they may.

Steven: Yeah, exactly, and it takes a lot. It puts some added pressure on them but, at the same time, it also knows, lets them know that they’ve done the work, that they deserve success – and knowing that you deserve it, like, you deserve the success because of what you’ve done is so powerful.

Lindsay: So, a couple of times, you’ve been really brought up about the notion of the community of your players – your students – and how they sort of have to work together and that it’s not about you as an individual; it’s about a “we.”

So, talk about how community you think is important for student actors.

Steven: Well, I think it’s vital. One of the things we do in all my classes that we do in all the rehearsals is a check-in where the students are allowed to, at the very beginning, we do a check-out afterwards, but where they’re allowed to share whatever they want. Like, how their day’s gone or something funny that happened to them or something they’re struggling with and they share it with the whole group. They don’t have to share and we talk clearly about how it stays in there and what happens is and what’s amazing to watch is that these students really open up and they share things about themselves and they share what they’re going through and it helps just to create that community of one, basically, that we’re not alone.

And then, we also do an activity called “Who Am I?” where the students walk around and then they think about who they really are – not just what the people, the teachers or what I think of them or what their parents think of them, but who they really are – and then, when they know, they share it with everyone and it is amazing how you do, like the check-in and the “Who Am I?” activities that, after those are done, just the first couple, like, the first time or the check-ins constantly, you really see people wanting to come through for one another and it changes the whole spectrum of the rehearsal process. It’s actually probably the most important thing I do with like the who are you and the daily check-in. I mean, some check-ins are completely ridiculous, but those are important, too, just as the meaningful, like, the really serious ones, too.

Lindsay: Well, yeah, you need that balance. It sounds like what you’re doing, too, is creating an atmosphere of trust.

Steven: Yeah, and you have to because, if you really want to transport your audience to the world of this show, that means that every single actor has to be in on that, too – that they have to trust each other to be able to take that journey with each other – because it can’t happen if, you know, a couple of people don’t feel like they’re involved or they don’t trust the other actors, they’re not working as hard. Because, if we can create that magic on stage, then we can create that magic for the audience, too.

Lindsay: Ah, it’s awesome.

Steven: So, we really push for that because it’s so much more fun to watch and it’s so much more fun to act when you actually feel that, like, “Wow! We created that magic tonight!”

Lindsay: For sure. Okay. So, what would you say is your biggest challenge with directing youth?

Steven: Well, I think the thing is that you want to. I actually talked to a parent a couple of days ago and he was seeing, like, they really try, because I really focus on the process, sometimes when I’m casting, I put actors in a position that they’re not necessarily ready for. Well, I know it’s going to help them grow if I get them there. So, I’m like, “Okay. You know, if the show doesn’t work, that’s okay because it’s a learning thing.” And then, you talk to parents and then they talk about other actor’s breakthrough and then you see or you hear them go, “I really want this for my kid, too. Like, I feel like they’re on the edge of something.”

Because, when I had this conversation with this dad, I thought about my own kids and I was like, “Okay. This is what we’re going to do.” And then, you want to get them all to that next level so it becomes so much more than about the play because it’s their life. It’s like they’ve chosen to spend this part of their teenage years or their childhood with you and you really want to come through for them to make sure you get to find all the talent they have and just get them ready for the next step – whatever that may be.

And so, that’s the challenge because, sometimes, you know, you look back and you go, “I could have done more with this student.”

Lindsay: Yeah, and it’s hard, too, when you put them in a position and they don’t always step up, you know?

Steven: Right. And it’s like I had this conversation with the play we did just recently where I told the lead, I was like, “You have the potential to pull off this role. You also have the potential not to pull off this role and you’re the lead. So, here’s your part. I’m going to work you and you’re going to do the work. But we’ll see what happens,” and you see their eyes grow big and they’re like, “Okay. I can do this.” She totally nailed it, too. She has huge breakthroughs. But, yeah, I’ve had it happen before where I put someone in that position and did, well, it didn’t go that well.

Lindsay: Yeah, yeah, and do you ever get the other thing where parents aren’t so interested in the breakthrough? They’re like, “Well, Jimmy should be the lead. Why isn’t Jimmy the lead?”

Steven: Oh, absolutely. But the way I deal with things, and I tell them, like, when we’re casting, I say, “Look, I promise you this: I will cast this play not of what’s necessarily best for you – except for those exceptions where you’re really pushing – but what is best for the characters.”

That’s what it’s about for me because I would never cast someone that had no chance to pull off a role and I tell parents that, too, when they come up to me. I’ve had parents come up and I was like, “Well, it’s not about your daughter because this person was better for the role,” and, you know, when they get that, some get angry and I was like, “But I put your daughter where she’s best. It may not be the biggest role but this is where she’s best at right now.”

Teaching middle school, I’ve dealt with some really interesting parents so I’ve had a lot of moments where you have to go, “You know what? It’s just better to deal directly with them and just be very matter-of-fact.

Lindsay: They’re coming from that emotional place and, if you match them, that’s not good. That’s just not going to end well.

Steven: Oh, yeah, because I found out in teaching middle school, too, like, I never yell as a teacher at all because it just never worked for me because, when I was growing up, my dad, when I was about to blow off a course in college. He called, I talked to him and I thought he was going to yell at me and it would have made me not care.

But, instead, he just said, “Just so you know, you can do whatever you want but I’m extremely disappointed in you.” And I was like, “Oh.” And then, I stayed up the rest of the night to do that paper and did not blow off that class only because of that. Like, I could tell that he cared and then I’ve used that in my teaching and parents see that, too. You know? That you care about their kids but there’s just some things you have to do.

Lindsay: I like putting it on the character because, well, there’s really no argument.

Steven: Yeah!

Lindsay: There’s just no argument. It’s like, “This is what is best for the characters.”

Steven: And having, you know, written most of them, too, they understand that I’m going, like, I like these characters so I want to see them represented well on stage, you know?

Lindsay: That’s right. Absolutely. Oh, you segue me so well! So, let’s get into, speaking of talking about your plays, you’ve got a new one with us and it’s called Ashland Falls. Do you generally do full-lengths when you write? You seem more like in the hour – or is it? Yeah, because She Wrote, Died, And Wrote Some More is a one-act. The Bottom of the Lake is a longer one-act.

And then, we’ve got this really full – and I mean that as in wonderful as opposed to full-length – piece called Ashland Falls which takes place at a high school and there’s a lot of mystery behind it. We have students who are putting on a play but it was mysteriously delivered and their original director disappeared and then there’s another director kind of shows up with an English accent and then mystery gets deeper and deeper and deeper.

So, do you usually do full lengths?

Steven: Not normally, and this one actually came out from the fact that last year was my first time teaching a three-week high school summer camp at UW-Madison so I was like, “I want to do something different than I do for my middle school.” And so, I was like, “I’m going to write a two-act. I haven’t written one before but let’s just do it anyway.” So, I was like, “What do I want it to be?” and, instantly, I thought of Noises Off because that was my favorite show to ever do, and I have a really funny story about that at some point about the rehearsal process. It’s really funny. So then, I was like, “I want to do the first act similar to Noises Off where it’s a rehearsal process. It goes awful.” And then, I’m obsessed with English accents and ghost stories so I was like, “Well, I want the second act to be an English ghost story then.”

Lindsay: Ah! Well, and it’s what you’re good at, and I love that it is very much inspired by Noises Off but it’s not a comedy and, well, except that it’s got so much humor to it but that second act is just very genuinely intense.

Steven: It is, and when the actors were working with it, because they were having a lot of fun with the first act, and then, the second act, and that’s where the challenge comes in as an actor because the vibe is totally different.

Lindsay: You have to switch gears very, very abruptly between act one and act two.

Steven: And it was so much fun for me to write, too, because, in the first act, you have hints of that they’re similar in a lot of different ways but, in the second act, you get to deal with some very serious life issues, like, non-directly and stuff which made me happy because I love when I see a play or when I watch something or I read something, that you’re getting all the different kind of emotions that we deal with on a daily basis. It was so much fun to write, too.

Lindsay: So, when you came to direct it, what were your challenges?

Steven: Well, basically, one of the challenges was to do a two-act play in three weeks where you only could rehearse in the afternoon for three hours because, in the morning, you were doing class.

Lindsay: Right.

Steven: That was the biggest part. And, also, like, when the summer came, you don’t know necessarily who’s going to be there and you have to cast on whoever signs up for the class.

Lindsay: Right, because, usually, in your studio, you have been working with a lot of your students for years.

Steven: Absolutely.

Lindsay: So, you can write specifically to students. So, this is a much different situation where it’s a normal situation.

Steven: Exactly. Right! So, you knew that everybody in the class was going to get a part. So, I mean, you know, because I make sure the numbers where I needed a certain number of guys and, you know, girls – I needed that. But, other than that, it was just going, “Okay.” So then, we had, basically, that one day for auditions and then you have to cast people where, you know, you’re making judgment calls on “where could they go?”

Lindsay: I find it really rewarding when I write something and then I go see it and I’m like, “Well, I never saw it that way,” and how awesome is it that it can be interpreted that way and it can be that the text supports it meaning you’ve done a good job. How is that when you put your hands, your work in hands of people that you weren’t quite sure and then it came to life?

Steven: Well, I love it, like, when the actors make your work better than it is which is one of the things that I’d go, “Oh, wow! You just made that way better. You took that writing to a whole new level,” and that’s really fun to see, especially when you have that, like, very first draft to something, and it’s fun when they interpret it a way that you, like, when I’m reading all the characters out loud and, you know, in the early stages, and then they take it in a brand new direction and you’re like, “That is really cool!” So, there was a lot of compliments there. Like, I got to see those actors do that and then, some of the actors, I just got blown away, like, by the time of the performance because, you know, in a short amount of time, it doesn’t really come together until probably opening night, you know?

Lindsay: As it should be. That’s all right.

Steven: Exactly! It’s where you go, “How is it going to work out?” So, yeah, that was really cool and it was a lot of fun to do and to see it because the actors really enjoyed the fact that they got to have more fun, like, just goofy kind of fun, like, be high schoolers in the first act.

Lindsay: And then, just not. Be English aristocrats.

Steven: Exactly, yeah! And it was so cool because, when they first found out they have English accents, they’re like, “I can’t do one!” I was like, “All you have to do is get one close enough to play a high school actor who’s not actually British doing this accent.”

Lindsay: Did you do any exercises to help students sort of gain confidence with those accents?

Steven: We would practice. We’d go over various words on how they basically should sound. We would listen to a few dialect tapes but not a lot because we just didn’t have the time. So, it was really interesting. And we would do those were parts of our warm-up where a line that they were having trouble saying and then they would just go for it because really what I pushed is basically the character stuff because, in that second act, they have to really – well, in the first act, too, but in a different way – in the second act, they have to develop that character.

Like, why is that character the way they are? Why did they get to this point that all of this stuff is happening? And I was like, “And then, what’s going to happen is, the more you know about the character, basically, the accent’s just going to come from that because you’ve got it already in you because of the little practice we’ve done. But, also, you’re playing that character and everything else is just going to blend together if you push it enough.” And then, they did.

Lindsay: Well, it’s a multi-layered thing because, if we connect to who those characters are when you’re the actors and then we want to see and we see the little snippets of who they are in the play within the play and then we see them – and then, of course, because it’s a full-length – things happen at the end of act one. And then, we get to act two where they’re playing the character in the play, we have to have connected to them.

Steven: Absolutely.

Lindsay: So that we are on for the ride.

Steven: And the only way that can happen, it’s like you brought up, for the actors to connect, and that connection actually happens in rehearsal because, you know, the connection that the actor forms with the character can’t happen on opening night. The work had to be done beforehand.

Lindsay: And all that stuff we’ve been talking about – character profiles, just community building.

Steven: Oh, yeah, and because it’s so many things factor in to creating that, you know, the magic on stage – so many things – and it’s just fun, like, all of the process. If you look at all of the variables that just go into creating a show, it’s really cool.

Lindsay: I like it. It’s kind of the reason I’m in this field. I think so.

So, just before we go, what advice would you give to a director who’s looking at your play Ashland Falls?

Steven: I think the main thing is to just go into it and look at it first, the first act and second act, completely differently. But then, just go into creating, like, spending a lot of time on character development and that they have two distinct characters that they’ve got to create. But allow the character actors to explore and really work on developing that community where they feel, all the actors feel safe with one another and that they’re all on the same page and just to make it a journey.

Like, go, “We’re about to embark on a journey that’s really, really awesome. It’s going to be serious at times. It’s going to be funny at times. It’s going to be scary at times. It’ll never be boring.”

Lindsay: It’s a rollercoaster.

Steven: Yeah!

Lindsay: It’s a rollercoaster.

Steven: As we create this world and just go with that because they really, I mean, once you set it out like that, the actors just jump at it and you’re like, “All right. Let’s do this,”

Lindsay: Yeah, yeah, let’s do it! It’s awesome.

Steven: Hey. Can I tell you my Noises Off rehearsal story?

Lindsay: Of course!

Steven: Because it’s pretty awesome and painful. It’s ridiculous, too.

So, I did it, originally, like, a year after college and we had such a great cast that we’re like, “Ten years later, let’s all get back together and do it again.” So, we did! Because I figured, like, it would just be talk. But we did. We got all together and then, one weekend, we had a rehearsal, or one week we had a rehearsal and then we were going to get back and perform it a month later. So, I was Gary which meant I had to fall down the stairs.

And, when I got there and I saw the set, it was all, like, the stairs were really small and really steep and wooden and sharp because it wasn’t finished. And, if I fell down the flights of stairs right, when I got close to the bottom, there were two drops – to the left, there was a six-foot drop, to the right, there were three steps and I’d be happily laying there at the end.

Lindsay: I can see where this is going.

Steven: Exactly, right? So, during the last rehearsal, I have done perfectly well. I mean, I was covered in bruises because of the way the steps were built but, the last time, I started going all the way down the stairs and I’m like, “Oh, whoops! I have now lost control of my fall.” Had no control over it at all so I fall off the other side, fall six feet and landed on my back. So, the other actors, I think, think I’m dead and I’m just like, “Uh, hey, uh-huh… keep going, I’m good.” So, we kept going and I’m in serious pain.

And then, after the rehearsal is over, the director – one of my friends, too – he looks at me, he goes, “That was a good fall.” I’m like, “Thanks.” He goes, “Can we keep that fall for the show?” I’m like, “Are you serious?” He’s like, “Yeah, it looked really good,” and I was like, “Okay?” So, when we did the show and we had one more, I guess, one more rehearsal, I had to fall off the six-foot drop each time and it worked though because it did look really, really cool. But, man, it was painful.

Lindsay: Ah, it’s only good if it hurts. As my friend says – my friend who’s an aerialist – it’s like, “All the good tricks hurt.”

Steven: That’s right!

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. So, thank you so much, Steven! It’s a really great conversation. I think it’s really good to just get out there about directing and what it’s like to build a community and how important characters are. Actually, I think those are the only two things as a director of high school or middle schoolers – community, character – that’s it.

Steven: Yup!

Lindsay: You know what?

Steven: And that’s where the most fun, too.

Lindsay: Oh, yeah, absolutely! And so, Ashland Falls, and that’s Ashland Falls by Steven Stack. We will have the link in the show notes so that you can go and read the wonderful sample pages because it is a rollercoaster – I think that’s the only way to describe it, with an accent! So, you know, awesome!

Thank you so much!

Steven: Hey! Thank you!

Thank you, Steven!

Don’t forget; you can find the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode88.

Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

So, what have we been doing? What is new? Well, there was an in-depth blog post last week about preparing middle school students to perform monologues; we did a Google Hangout, Drama Teacher Hangout all about finding, choosing, and performing monologues; and there was – well, now I’m tooting my own horn, I was just about to say “pretty awesome” – okay, well, I like it and I think it’s okay – it’s a shark tank meets monologue exercise. You can find all the links to all of these in the show notes, theatrefolk.com/episode88, and you may have guessed, April is all about the monologue. Monologue, monologue, monologue, and we are going to have something pretty special coming your way later in the month. Stay tuned.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Go there, search on the word “Theatrefolk.”

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Enjoy this replay of our live Drama Teacher Hangout. We talked with Michael Wehrli about the challenges drama teachers face when guiding their students to choose and perform monologues.

Topics covered:

  • Why monologue books are bad.
  • Why monologue books are good.
  • Making bold blocking choices.
  • Pieces to avoid (and why to avoid them).
  • What to do with “the chair.”
  • And lots more!

See below the video for a link to a transcript.

Click here to get a transcript of the conversation.

Episode 87: Character Interpretation – The Student’s Point of View

Character Interpretation Student's

Lindsay talks with two sets of students who prepared the same characters, in the same show, but in two different productions. How did they prepare? How did seeing their character played by another actor affect their work?

Play

Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

Welcome to Episode 87! Yes, dork central, that would be me. So, you can catch the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode87.

Last week, we talked about character interpretation from the director’s perspective and how two directors from my play, Cobweb Dreams, saw their particular productions. You know, same script, same set, same costumes, same blocking, and then completely different productions.

So, this week, we are going to talk to the students from that production. I have two sets of students, each who prepared the same character – one for the high school production of Cobweb Dreams and then one for the middle school production – and I really wanted to get their point of view on character interpretation, especially since they were able to see, you know, basically, right in front of them, another actor preparing the exact same role. So, how does that affect their preparation and were they intimidated or exhilarated, right?

So, let’s talk to our first set.

Excerpt:

Oh! Do you smell that? Ugh!

What?

It’s the worst thing I have ever smelled! Quick! Plug your ears! Hold your breath!

Why is everybody yelling?

Bottom… you have changed!

Cha-cha-changed!

What is on your head?

Can we get up yet?

Not yet! Still stinky!

Hee haw!

You’re all just making asses of yourself.

Lindsay: Hi! All right. So, I am here and I am in Owensboro and this is actually a very cool situation because we’re sitting in a theatre and it’s empty and it’s quiet. The stage is empty and I’m sitting here with two actors. I’m sitting here first with Tucker. Hello!

Tucker: Hello!

Lindsay: And with Cory. Hello!

Cory: Hello!

Lindsay: And, Tucker, what are we here to talk about?

Tucker: Cobweb Dreams.

Lindsay: Cobweb Dreams! That’s right. It’s tonight, right? It’s this afternoon. We have the middle school production doing their first performance and then tonight with Cory we have the high school performance, right?

Cory: Yes, we do.

Lindsay: Are you guys excited?

Cory: Oh, yes.

Tucker: Very.

Lindsay: Very? You guys can finally get to get it in front of an audience. Are you ready, Tucker?

Tucker: Yeah! As ready as I’ll ever be!

Lindsay: Yeah? That’s good. How about you, Cory?

Cory: Yes, very much ready.

Lindsay: Good. So, what’s really interesting is that, so, Tucker is in the middle school production of Cobweb Dreams and Cory is in the high school production and they’re playing the exact same roles. Cory, what role do you play?

Cory: Bottom.

Lindsay: Yes. So, Cobweb Dreams is a sort of a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and some of the same characters are the same. Just like that. So, did you want this part, Cory?

Cory: Oh, yes, very. It’s a comedic role. Love to make people laugh. When I read the script, wanted Bottom.

Lindsay: How about you, Tucker?

Tucker: Same.

Lindsay: Yeah? You really wanted this part?

Tucker: Yeah, I did.

Lindsay: Tell me why.

Tucker: I like making people laugh and being laughed at. So, that’s pretty much it.

Lindsay: Now, is this part easy for you or difficult?

Tucker: Well, it’s something that I know how to do, but there’s different difficulties because it’s a different character.

Lindsay: What’s something that’s difficult?

Tucker: The lines confuse me sometimes.

Lindsay: Yeah?

Tucker: I just cut people off a lot in the show.

Lindsay: Right. So, it’s hard to get the timing right.

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: How about you, Cory? Is this an easy part or difficult?

Cory: It’s a difficult. I believe that the mindset of the character you have to play is very difficult to understand. You have to get that arrogant feel.

Lindsay: So, because you guys are playing two different productions, exact same part, what’s really interesting to me is how there’s a lot of similarities – same script, you guys are working on the same set, you have essentially the same costume – and yet, time and time again, the characters, two people who are playing the same character do them differently. So, Tucker, what do you think that you do that’s different than Cory?

Tucker: I feel like, since our group’s younger, we react differently.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Tucker: To different things. Like, I don’t see Tatanya the way his Bottom does.

Lindsay: Yeah. How do you see Tatanya?

Tucker: I see it as there’s a girl who likes me, why not join on in the fun?

Lindsay: It’s a fun experience for this character.

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: What about you, Cory? How does Bottom interact with Tatanya?

Cory: I believe that he’s so into himself that he doesn’t realize that the person in love with him isn’t even human. He’s just like, “Okay. This gorgeous girl is hitting on me. I’m just going to go along with it. Why not?”

Lindsay: Right. Then, you guys, when you were doing your rehearsals, did you guys talk about the role together?

Tucker: Yes.

Cory: Yes.

Lindsay: What was that like, Tucker?

Tucker: Well, we talked about our back story a lot.

Lindsay: Oh, tell me what your back story was.

Tucker: Well, I’m related to Snout in the show and I don’t believe he is.

Lindsay: Oh, cool. Okay. We’ll do one then the other.

Tucker: All right.

Lindsay: So, you’re related to Snout in what way?

Tucker: Yeah. We’re brothers and Quince is like his best friend and they needed somebody else in the show that they were doing.

Lindsay: Hey, is Snout the one who jumps into your arms at the end?

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Yeah! Okay. That’s really good. I like that, building that relationship.

Tucker: Yeah, they needed somebody else and I was like, “Nah,” and they were like, “Come on,” so I did it. And then, it turns out I’m obsessed with it so why not do it everywhere I go? And just perform and perform and perform it even though I’m not that good.

Lindsay: Do you think this character knows that he’s not that good?

Tucker: No. He thinks he’s the best thing in the world.

Lindsay: Yeah?

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Cool. And then, what was your back story, Cory?

Cory: It was I actually am related to Snout. However, I put it as more of adeeper sad kind of like our mother left us after which so Snout kind of raised mee and all that with my father and I put it as he doesn’t really see the world through anyone else’s eyes except Snout. So, he’s really arrogant, he’s like Snout.

Lindsay: Really? Why is back story important?

Cory: It helps character development so much. It tells you were you’re from, how you develop, how you perform out there.

Lindsay: Yeah. Do you have a lot of experience, Tucker, doing all this kind of back story and character development for your stuff?

Tucker: Well, I usually wrote, like, a page. But, for this one, I had somebody who was that but they were behind me and helped me which was Cory. So, I ended up writing two, three pages because he helped me, like, he helped me get through. So, I was confused on a lot of stuff and he’s older so he would have understood.

Lindsay: So, you have someone who’s older who’s playing the same part as you and he’s sort of like, if there’s anything that you didn’t understand in the script, then he sort of explained it.

Tucker: Yup.

Lindsay: What’s something that you didn’t understand?

Tucker: The song because I’m singing and he told me the song. That didn’t really work out for me because I’m a younger kid so I ended up singing a different song. But that helped me out a lot.

Lindsay: Yeah, just to have someone who kind of throws you, lets you know.

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Did you ever feel any pressure, Tucker, to act the way Cory does?

Tucker: I wanted to be as good as Cory, but I wanted to be different because I’m not Cory. I’m not going to be Cory. But I wanted to be with him but be myself and be different, but still be as good as Cory.

Lindsay: Did you feel any pressure, like, just sort of that you know you had to mentor kind of another person who’s playing your same character?

Cory: Yeah, when I saw the middle school perform and he was up there, I kind of felt, like, responsible to help him develop and help me develop in the same way.

Lindsay: How did it help you?

Cory: He taught me the differences between, like, his reactions are totally different from my reactions. So, I kind of combined them together to make a completely new reaction that both parties helped create.

Lindsay: Yeah, and have you ever done this before where there’s another person, like, right there all the time, playing the same part?

Cory: Nope, never done this before.

Lindsay: So, how has that helped you as an actor?

Cory: It lets me see two different sides of the same character – two different roles of the exact same character – because, when I see the show today, I’m going to be looking at his part. He’s doing it completely different from me, but that’s okay because he’s doing it his own way which is what I respect. I love that people can go, “I’m going to do it this way, but I’m going to do it this way, and it can be even better. It could be amazing.”

Lindsay: Well, this is a perfect example of character interpretation, right? That there’s no one way to play a part, there’s no one way to interpret a theatrical experience. How has this helped your acting, do you think, Tucker?

Tucker: Well, I felt like I had more help this time. Like, not that I needed help but Cory was there to help me. Like, I wouldn’t have understood half the stuff in the show if it wasn’t for Cory because Cory knew how to explain things to me when other people didn’t really understand our role because they weren’t the ones practicing the lines every night. So, he helped me, like, back story a lot. He helped me through that, like, because it’s not the easiest thing for me to do.

Lindsay: No, and also, I mean, how long have you been acting?

Tucker: A while.

Lindsay: Yeah, but is this one of the few parts where it’s been this involved?

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Yeah. So, how are you going to tackle your next role, do you think, based on this experience?

Tucker: I don’t know. Like, I’m going to find somebody who can help me out, too, who will actually, like, they know it as well because, like, I saw that when Cory helped me, it helped me grow so much and another person could do the exact same thing because I want the help. I want the criticism because all criticism does is help you. It helps you more and more.

Lindsay: What about you, Cory? What will you take from this to the next thing that you do?

Cory: I believe the next thing I do is, when I get the character and when I get the script, I’ll actually have someone perform the other character so I can take their interpretation and mold it into my own interpretation to get two different sides of the story.

Lindsay: Well, it’s so funny because sometimes you see something you just never thought of, you know? And that can really help you grow. Just what you guys are saying, it can help you grow as an actor.

So, you’re excited for the show. What’s the thing you’re looking forward to the most, Tucker?

Tucker: I don’t know. Doing my final monologue.

Lindsay: Doing your final monologue

Tucker: It’s really fun.

Lindsay: Yeah? I think that moment that you guys have, well, I just love it when Snout just runs down and he leaps into your arms.

Tucker: And I catch him, yeah.

Lindsay: Are you looking forward to the audience?

Tucker: Yeah, yeah.

Lindsay: Responding to what you have to do?

Tucker: Yeah, definitely.

Lindsay: How about you, Cory?

Cory: My favorite part about performing is the audience reaction because I take what they give me and I go, “Okay. I’m doing something really good here.” I just love when they give me a laugh. That’s my favorite part of doing this.

Lindsay: Awesome. Cool! Thank you so much for talking to me.

Tucker: Thank you.

Cory: Thank you.

Lindsay: Ah, great!

Awesome. Okay. So, now we’re going to talk to two different actors – again, one high school student and one middle school student – and this brings in a different aspect of character interpretation – the same character played by two different genders. So, how does gender affect interpretation from the actor’s point of view, okay? Let’s do it.

Excerpt:

Ow! My wings! Get off of me!

You get off!

Do you mind? I don’t like being flattened.

What are you doing here?

What are you doing here?

Why are you hiding in the bushes?

Who’s hiding? It’s a free forest!

It’s not like we were spying you.

What?

Spying? Who said anything about spying?

How long have you been there?

We were visiting our friend! You have no business here!

None of you have business here.

Ugh!

It isn’t nice to sneak up on a fairy, Moth.

Lindsay: Okay. So, now I’m here with John Thomas. Hello! And Lucy, say hi, Lucy.

Lucy: Hello.

Lindsay: And both of you also play the same character in Cobweb Dreams. Lucy, what is your character?

Lucy: Thicket.

Lindsay: Thicket. Thicket is sort of the best friend-ish, brother-ish character to the main character, Cobweb, right? Right.

Now, the thing is that, in the middle school version – Lucy, which you are in – Thicket is played by you and you are a…?

Lucy: Girl.

Lindsay: Girl, yes. And John Thomas in the high school version, you’re a guy, right? And so, what part were you looking for when you auditioned for the play?

John: I was actually looking at Puck. I really thought he was very playful and mischievous. It was a different character than I was just playing. And then, Miss Greer put on the board on the auditions the names of flower fairies and water fairies and all that, and then she starred certain ones that she wanted to turn into a guy and I was just thinking, “Huh. That’s going to be interesting to see how they’re going to turn it into a guy.” I didn’t think I was going to be the one to change it. But it’s been really interesting.

Lindsay: It’s interesting for me, too, because, you know, for me, I saw Thicket as a girl, but I really like Thicket as a boy. Like, what do you think of the character as a guy, John Thomas?

John: I just think he’s more like a brother to her. If you have a girl play it, it would be more like the best friend, you know. Willow’s kind of like the mommy. But Thicket is kind of like the brother and he’s also kind of an authority figure to her in the end whenever he just tells her, “You know, you belong with us. I don’t know why you can’t see it.”

Lindsay: Now, Lucy, how do you see the character?

Lucy: Well, I see it really playful that she doesn’t really want to get in trouble with Tatanya but, at the same time, she wants to have fun and she wants to go with Cobweb. And, every time Cobweb gets in trouble she’s worried that Cobweb will rat her out, really.

Lindsay: Do you know what’s really interesting though? When I saw taking pictures yesterday of you, Lucy, every time, like, Cobweb was threatened or every time the flower fairies came around, you made a fist and it’s like you were going to get up and you were going to beat somebody up. Is that conscious? Did you make a choice to be angry and make that really tense fist?

Lucy: The first time that happened, like, I was up in her face and I was like, “Wait. Hey, how did I get here?” and then, the other times I thought, “Oh, well, I thought that was fun. Might as well go with it.”

Lindsay: Yeah, it’s a really interesting image which I think the high school, John Thomas, your Thicket’s not like that at all. How do you see that?

John: He is a lot like Willow. The way that I looked into the back story is that Willow and Thicket were brother and sister.

Lindsay: Right.

John: And they both do kind of worry about Cobweb and they’re really concerned about Cobweb, but it’s also like she has to make her own decisions and she has to fail at times, just like everyone.

Lindsay: Right. Yeah, everybody has to. Lucy, did you do some background work on your character?

Lucy: I did!

Lindsay: So, what’s your back story?

Lucy: Well, Thicket is Willow’s twin sister but they’re like fraternal twins – they’re nothing alike – and Cobweb, they just kind of ran into Cobweb one day when Cobweb was about to get beat up by a flower fairy and Willow and Thicket kind of jump in and save her.

Lindsay: Yeah. There’s a moment at the end where, in the middle school version, it’s you and Willow and you’re sort of Willow’s revealing to Thicket for the first time that she’d really missed Cobweb and you guys hold hands when you walk away. What’s that moment like for you?

Lucy: Well, it’s kind of big for us. I mean, Willow has always been, you know, like, “Oh, I’m worried about her,” but, you know, she’s offended in that and then, in that scene, she’s more, “She’s my best friend. I’m going to die without her. I really need her there.”

Lindsay: Did it make sense for you to hold hands when you walked off? You hold hands in other areas, too, don’t you?

Lucy: Uh-huh.

Lindsay: Yeah. John Thomas, you and Willow don’t do that, do you?

John: No.

Lindsay: Why?

John: I think Thicket really gets annoyed with Willow because she’s always worried and she’s always trying to control Cobweb and he really just, as he says, she has to make her own decisions and he gets annoyed with her because he has a bunch of stuff to say. Thicket is younger than Willow and I think he’s a lot wiser even though he is younger and he has so much that he wants to say and he wants to take care of everyone but Willow isn’t letting him so he just gets annoyed with her sometimes.

Lindsay: I love how we have, like, so it’s the exact same show, essentially, but, you know, people are able to make completely different interpretations of their character.

Lucy, what was it like to see your character played by another person?

Lucy: Well, I always saw Thicket in one way. Like, the boyish fairy, very happy, very playful, and then, when I saw John Thomas, I was like, “Oh, Thicket can be another way,” and I was amazed by that.

Lindsay: Yeah? Did you ever feel any pressure to play it his way?

Lucy: Not really, no.

Lindsay: That’s good. That’s good. And what was it like to see the different interpretation of Thicket?

John: It was interesting to see how the show was written for a girl. I really thought it was cool and, you know, I had known Lucy just through seeing her perform at the middle school and so I really was happy for her to get the role and it was just, you know, just looking at her, it’s just like, “Wow!” I really love how we can interpret things differently and it still can be such a good show.

Lindsay: Yeah. It’s like it’s very open, isn’t it? I love that. So, are you guys looking forward to the show? So, tonight we have the high school and this afternoon the middle school. What are you looking forward to, Lucy?

Lucy: Performing for my mom. She’s been really excited about this. She’s helped me run my lines. She’s made my costume. She’s with me all steps.

Lindsay: Cool. How about you?

John: I’m just really excited to premier something. You know, we’re the first group to do this in the United States and it’s just really cool when, you know, twenty years down the road, I can look back and say, “This is what I did.”

Lindsay: Well, and also your names are going to be, when it gets officially published, you’re going to have your names in the published work which is also very cool.

This is a very unique experience that we have the same show as middle school and high school. And, also – you must have – did you have a conversation together about your character?

Lucy: Yeah.

Lindsay: And how do you think that this experience is going to help you the next role that you do? Lucy, what do you think?

Lucy: Well, next role I do, I’ll know not just to see one way. I’ll know to look at it from different points of views, you know, see them as something else.

Lindsay: Cool. How about you?

John: I’ve learned that you can’t just look at a script and get your character that way. You have to research and you have to, I mean, it’s little stuff like looking into the name like where does the name come from. So, I’ve learned that I can’t just not do back story. I have to know who this character is.

Lindsay: Awesome.

John: It just makes the experience so much cooler.

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. Break a leg, buys. Thank you!

John: All right. Thank you.

Thank you, guys!

Okay. So, don’t forget, you can find the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode87.

Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

It’s a play feature! It’s a play feature! It’s time to feature a play!

So, our play of the week this week is Postcards from Shakespeare by Allison Williams. Allison has a number of plays with us – Drop Dead, Juliet!, Hamlette, Mmmbeth, The Scarlet Heart – and we are thrilled to have another in our catalog.

So, here’s the deal. Shakespeare has writer’s block and he doesn’t know how to fix it so he turns to the only person who can get him out of this jam, Queen Elizabeth I. Of course! Who else would you turn to, right?

Okay. Here is a short moment from the play:

WILLIAM: The words just aren’t coming out…it used to be so easy! Bang out fifty-odd pages, rush it to the theatre, collect the money. Four histories, two comedies and a really long poem in the last four years! But now, I am a block, a stone, a worse than senseless thing. Please, Elizabeth, no-one understands me like you do. What shall I do?

ELIZABETH: How dreadful for you! Sometimes I don’t know what to say, either! But then I just yell, “Chop off his head!” or “I’m not getting married!” and that covers most situations. If I yell it in French, I look clever, too. “Couper la tête! Je ne vais pas épouser!” I don’t think that will work for you, though. You’re already married. And you can’t chop off people’s heads. Well, you can, but you may not. Where would we be if everyone just chopped off someone’s head when they felt like it? Spain. And then we’d all have to take three hours’ nap every afternoon, just when the weather’s getting nice.

Willy—William—your plays make me—what’s that feeling when no-one’s attacking you with guns or asking you to marry some repellent little toad from Norway? Happy! They make me happy. Not too many things do that any more. They say a change is as good as a rest, Willy dear, so let’s have a change of scene. See what I did there? “Scene?” I’m sure I could be a writer, too, if I wasn’t so busy crushing the Welsh. Enclosed is a purse of ducats. Well, not enclosed, attached. Well, handed to you by the messenger with this letter. You know what I mean. Take a little trip on me, Willy, and see if that gives you some fresh ideas. Don’t think of it as giving up—it’s like a strategic retreat. Like the Spanish! “Invincible armada,” my Aunt Fanny.

So, Shakespeare takes a whirlwind tour around the world in thirty minutes looking for inspiration. Venice, Egypt, there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. Go to theatrefolk.com. Search for Postcards from Shakespeare. Read the sample pages. Laugh your butt off. Buy a copy. Do it now.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Go there, search on the word “Theatrefolk.” That’s where you’ll find us.

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

How to find monologues

I never enjoy looking for monologues. It’s sort of like a hunting expedition and I don’t like hunting. And don’t get me started on fishing…

But – big BUT – I love when I actually find a great piece that suits both me and the thing I’m auditioning for. I feel like Livingstone seeing Victoria Falls for the first time.

Here’s some advice on finding the perfect monologue for you.

Monologue Books

Monologue books are a great starting point. Monologues in collections have usually been curated by editors who have gone through dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) of plays to create the collection. And they can be a godsend if you really need something specific in a pinch. But they’re just a tool, not a solution. They’re not the end all and be all.

Lots of people buy monologue books. And it’s very likely that lots of people have the same monologue book that you have. And it’s possible they like the same piece that you do. And I’m not saying that they’re better than you per se, but if they happen to have their audition scheduled before yours, then when you announce what you’re performing there will be a small drop in the room’s barometric pressure as the director thinks to herself, Dang, how many times will I have to watch this same piece today???

But as I say, these books are great starting points. Here’s how to use them…

  • Find a piece you like in the book – you identify with a character, the writing appeals to you, etc.
  • Buy a copy of that play and read it.
  • Look for the monologue from your book. It’s possible that the piece in the book is edited down from a larger monologue. Maybe you can reshape it into a different piece altogether than the one in the book.
  • Look for other monologues by the same character. It’s possible they have more than one monologue in the play.
  • Look for other monologues in the same play by a different character. Playwrights who write good monologues , ones that aren’t in the monologue book.
  • Get other plays by the same author. There are probably well-written monologues in those plays as well.

Visit the Library

Yes, the old-fashioned library. That building with all the books. While a lot of theatrical publishers are starting to put their plays online, there are still thousands of amazing scripts that are only available in book form.

If you’re near a major city, budget a day to spend at their largest library, whichever branch has the best performing arts section.

Just start completely randomly. Grab a couple dozen plays off the shelf and start flipping through them. You’ll begin to get a feel for which playwrights are likely to write monologues that appeal to you, then start focusing on those playwrights.

Editing

Here is the one place in the theatre that I think it’s ok to edit the playwright’s work to suit your needs.

Don’t be shy about cutting together a monologue from a series of smaller speeches.

Don’t be shy about slicing out bits that don’t make sense out of context.

The object of this piece is not a performance. It’s a showcase for you, not the writer. You’re the one auditioning.

When I was auditioning a lot, this is where most of my pieces came from. Since I was the one putting them together, I could be pretty sure that what I was doing was unique.

Consider What You’re Auditioning For

If you’re auditioning for a play, look at pieces by the same author. Or look at pieces in a similar style. Or find out what playwrights inspired that playwright.

If you’re auditioning for a school, look at the plays they’re doing in their season. Again, look at pieces by the same playwrights and in similar genres.

Movie Monologue Rod Steiger (1)

Welcome back after a short break from Movie Monologue Monday. This week I’m featuring a clip that I had never seen before – Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker.

Normally I do a little research on the movie and give a bit of context for the clip, but when I first saw it I felt that the clip in and of itself was pretty self-explanatory. Watch it a zillion times and we’ll discuss it below.

Seen it? Good.

Here’s what I think – Steiger is amazing. Stillness and economy of movement been a recurring theme on Movie Monologue Monday and this performance is no exception. Every move he makes is purposeful, illuminates the character and the character’s intentions.

Watch it again and plot out his level of intensity. It broils in the beginning, percolates throughout and erupts in the climax. He plays the monologue like it’s the movement of a symphony. He uses variety in his performance. Sometimes he’s quick, sometimes he’s slow. Sometimes he’s loud, sometimes he’s quiet. Sometimes he moves, sometimes he’s still.

This is a great piece to share with students to illustrate the importance of variety, of build, of saving the climax for the end.

On a purely technical note, did you notice that the entire monologue is performed in one uninterrupted take? That says a lot about Steiger’s skills. It also says a great deal about the cinematographer and the crew on the film. Not only is the monologue delivered in one take, it’s delivered while the camera makes several movements. Any time the camera moves in a movie takes an extraordinary amount of planning and coordination.

And one of the moves is a MAJOR SUPER move. Go back to the beginning of the monologue and note the positions of the other actor (Jaime Sánchez) in relation to the desk. The clip is very dark, but I’ve lightened the shot up a bit here:

cameraspace

Does that space look wide enough to fit a camera through? A camera on a dolly? Plus crew? Trust me, it’s not. Yet at one point in the monologue the camera passes right through that gap.

That means that at some point in time (when we, the audience aren’t looking) space has to be made for the camera. We see Sánchez lean a bit to get out of the way when the camera makes its move so we know he’s still there. And I just noticed that Steiger appears to be leaning on the desk mere seconds before the camera makes its move. My theory is that that whole desk unit has to shift out of the way. Which then means that there a bunch of crew members in there rolling it out while Steiger is performing.

With that in mind, I’m even more impressed with Steiger’s performance. He’s giving a perfectly measured intimate dramatic performance surrounded by the chaos of a film crew in motion. Love it.

Class Exercise

  • Watch the video and discuss these questions. Don’t worry about whether or not everyone has seen the whole movie. Fill in the missing details using what you see, hear, and imagine.
  • At the beginning of the piece, Sol (Steiger) is referred to as “you people.” Does this phrase make him angry? If so, why doesn’t he start yelling from the beginning of the speech?
  • What symbolism do you see in the way the very first shot is staged?
  • Is this speech something the character has been asked before? Is it something he’s thought of before?
  • When the camera first zooms in on Sol, the lighting on his head is terrible. Do you think this is on purpose? Why or why not?
  • Sol leans on the desk, but when the camera moves the desk clearly isn’t there. At what point in the speech do you thing the crew moved the desk away?
  • After the camera moves in it gets very low. What effect does that create?

Episode 86:Character Interpretation – The Director’s Point of View

Character Interpretation Cobweb Dreams

Two directors, high school teacher Carolyn Greer, and middle school teacher Jessica Stafford, share their experience working on the same show and seeing students come up with completely different character interpretations.

Play

Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

Welcome to Episode 86! You can catch the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode86.

So, today, we have two directors on the podcast. Two teacher directors – a high school teacher, Carolyn Greer, and a middle school teacher, Jessica Stafford – and they both put out productions of my play, Cobweb Dreams, at exactly the same time and we’re going to talk about how so many of the elements in both shows were similar — some identical, you know, the same set, for example. Of course, the same script, and yet the two shows that came out of their rehearsal process were so completely different. Character interpretation, okay? Where does it come from? How can you encourage your students to develop their own characters? Lots of great stuff, plus a little, you know, a looming tornado – that always adds some action.

Let’s get to it.

Lindsay:  Hello, everybody! Welcome to the podcast.

Well, I have to tell you, I’m in a very unique situation right now. I don’t usually – well, actually, that’s a lie, too – that’s the one thing you’re not supposed to talk about in, like, podcasts is the weather because nobody cares about the weather where you are… except that we, I am currently in Owensboro, Kentucky, and I have Carolyn Greer here. Hello, Carolyn.

Carolyn:  Hi!

Lindsay:  And I have Jessica Stafford here.

Jessica: Hi!

Lindsay: And we are in Jessica’s house because it has a basement because there is a tornado! There’s a tornado warning which is the better? Which is the worst one?

Respondent:  We have a watch.

Lindsay: We have a watch.

Respondent:  With a very good possibility of a warning.

Lindsay: Awesome. So, like…

Respondent:  Week after snow’s melted.

Lindsay: We have the weather channel on as the red area is flashing and I’m here because Carolyn and Jessica – Carolyn at the high school and Jessica at the middle school – are premiering a play of mine, Cobweb Dreams. We have a high school version and a middle school version which I think is very exciting.

Respondent:  It is.

Lindsay: And, when we first started this, you guys were going to combine and it was going to be a combined show. And what happened? Why do we get two shows?

Carolyn:  We started out with the idea that I was going to direct, the high school teacher, me – Carolyn – so whatever. I was going to direct and Jessica was going to assistant direct and we were going to partner and she was going to do a lot of the tech. But, when we went into the audition process, there was a lot of talent.

Lindsay: When you emailed me about this, you said over a hundred kids had tried out.

Respondents:  Yes.

Jessica:  Probably 120?

Carolyn:  In the beginning, yeah. And there was just a lot of talent on both sides and we knew that meant everybody was talking about it and saying, “We don’t want to understudy. We don’t want to do that sort of thing, but that’s turning away a lot of, really turning away a lot of middle school talent that deserve to be seen on that stage in those roles.”

Jessica:  Because we talked about doing two ensembles, we talked about having a live forest using the kids as the forest, also that the forest really had those ears, but we realized there was no way to really showcase my kids that could also handle the roles and I looked at Carolyn and I just kind of took a deep breath and I said, “Okay. Well, here’s my deal. If you will handle the directing, once you’ve blocked it, I will direct my end of it,” and I think that stunned her, and then we said, “Okay.”

Lindsay: And then, you contacted me and I’m like, well, first of all, as a playwright, it’s like gold because, well, I get to see two versions and this is really the reason that I wanted to have this conversation with you guys which I think would be very useful for our listeners and that is the whole notion of interpretation. And this is a classic case because you guys have the same set.

Respondent:  Yep.

Lindsay: High school and middle school is on the same set. They’re going to work on the same stage. They have the same costumes?

Respondent:  Most of them. Most of them share costumes.

Lindsay: And they both have the same blocking because Carolyn, for the most part…

Respondent:  Most part.

Lindsay: Did the big picture.

Respondent:  We blocked them together.

Lindsay: Yes.

Respondent:  They shadowed.

Lindsay: And yet, you have two different, completely different shows.

So, what are some of the differences between the two shows?

Carolyn:  I think the high schoolers understand the relationships much. The maturity of, especially to Titania and Oberon and they understand that maturity a lot more than my kids do.

Lindsay: And I’ll just say that Cobweb Dreams is sort of a parallel universe to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It takes place at the exact same time. it has some of the exact same characters, and yet focuses on a smaller fairy.

So, we have the characters like Titania and Oberon who are, you know, the king and queen of the fairies. And, in the high school version, what are they like?

Carolyn:  In the high school version, it’s a little bit more, well, it’s more mature. There are moments of a little bit more fire and anger, especially, you know, in the scene that you created, the wonderful scene where we see Titania giving permission or asking Oberon if he would like to have the changeling boy which we don’t see which I love. That was one of my favorite things about this script is seeing that. But it’s a little bit more mature. It’s a little bit more flirty than it is with the younger kids. My older kids, he kisses her hand and, you know, there are things like that. And then, when you get to Bottom and Titania, you know, we have a little play on the sexuality of it all that you’re not going to get from two eighth graders.

Lindsay: So, what are Titania and Oberon? How do you see them in your version, Jessica?

Jessica:  I almost, and I hate to say it’s almost like a teen angst, it’s almost like, “Well, you broke up with me,” or, “I’m not sure if you still like me,” – it’s your typical middle school kind of a love-hate relationship where you love to hate each other but, at the same time, there’s still that chemistry that kind of keeps you hanging out.

Lindsay: There’s still a little bit of innocence, isn’t there?

Jessica:  There is. There’s a lot of innocence there.

Carolyn:  Yes, yes.

Lindsay:  And, in the high school version – oh, I find Oberon, he’s got a menace to him.

Respondent:  Yeah.

Lindsay: That I just don’t think that they have in middle school yet. They haven’t learned that yet.

Respondent:  No, thank god.

Lindsay: Yeah!

Carolyn:  And the boys, and Ben who is the middle school Oberon has created this really humorous, you had an oddity about his character where my high school boy is more, “I’m a man,” you know?

Lindsay: Yes.

Carolyn:  And he carries himself that way and he portrays it that way. I mean, he’s an eighteen-year-old; he’s not a man. You know, but he carries himself that way. And then, there’s young Ben who is an eighth grader who has created this almost goofy…

Jessica:  Like a goofy bully

Carolyn:  Yeah! I mean, but it works, that’s the cool thing is that it still works, it plays differently, the relationship with Titania is very different, but it works.

Lindsay: And that, to me, means that the play is working.

Carolyn:  Yes.

Lindsay: Where you can take a relationship and play it this way and it works, and you can take a relationship and play it in a completely other fashion and it works. I love that. I love that and I think it’s so important, particularly in high school and in the school environment, that there’s not just one way to play things.

Carolyn:  Oh, yeah.

Lindsay: You know? And we also have a couple of differences, too, with gender because one of the characters, so there’s the main character and then she has a couple of best friends and one of them’s name is Thicket and in the high school version’s played by a boy and in the middle school version’s played by a girl. And how does that interpretation come to play?

Carolyn:  I think it’s kind of cool. I mean, when we were casting the shows, we never sat down and said, “Oh, well, I think we need to have this gender difference.” It was just who was right for the role, you know, and in relationship in the show, it works out nicely because, for me, for the guy, it’s like that best pal because Cobweb, she is a tomboy. And, in Jessica’s, the girl playing Thicket is a tomboy.

Jessica:  She is.

Carolyn: You know? So, the demeanor for each of them worked, but yet it’s a different relationship from my young man. He’s like the best friend guy pal with every teen, you know, every movie that has the sidekick best friend guy – that’s him. And then, that also changes the relationship with the other best friend, Willow, who, at the high school, they decided that, with their back story, that they’re siblings. So, her little high and mightiness really works well because he’s the brother and then they’re both best friends with Cobweb, your main character, and that’s different from the middle school.

Jessica:  It is, and I think, in everyday life, the girls that play Willow and Thicket, they have time together in other classes – I think they’re in Math team together – but they’re not the buddy-buddy but they have somehow formed this incredible friendship through this role – these two roles – that my Thicket, she’s such a passionate girl in real life and she’s vibrant and she’s passionate and I believe her every time that she… she puts her honesty there and there’s that friendship of understanding why they love Cobweb so much. They both get it. It’s different how they love her but you see a difference in how they touch and how they look at her and at each other and I think, you know, I never saw Thicket as a boy, and I actually forgot…

Carolyn:  I didn’t either and yet I like it!

Jessica:  Yeah! I like it, too!

Lindsay: I love having that flexibility.

Jessica:  For me, that came from the fact that it really is a female heavy lead show and which is great! Don’t get me wrong. We need those shows. But I had boys. I had some boys with some strength and one in particular who wasn’t an Oberon and he wasn’t really a Bottom. He’s a good guy. He plays good guy. He is a good guy, number one. John Thomas is a great kid. He’s got an exquisite voice. You know, he’s a good guy and he just played that well. So, when we held auditions, it just came out of that that he really handled the reading and the audition process really well and it was right for him. He got it. He understood Thicket. And the funny thing is he actually is very good friends with the girl that plays Cobweb. They’ve grown up, you know, they’ve been friends since, like, fifth grade. So, they are that friendship was has been nice to extend it so, when Thicket really gets on to Cobweb, towards the end of the show, my favorite scene of the show, there’s that passion that can come from that friendship that’s going to be different than your Thicket doing it because, you know, the middle school Thicket is an eighth grader.

Carolyn:  And my Cobweb is a fifth grader.

Lindsay: It’s way different, isn’t it?

Carolyn:  It’s extremely different because it feels not best friend-ish. It feels very protective and very, you know, “You are going to literally break my heart because you’re my sister.”

Lindsay: And another thing that we talked about before is that there is a very specific moment in the play where the two characters, Willow and Thicket, talking about Cobweb have this moment where they fear they’re going to lose her. And the two – the high school Willow and Thicket – respond very differently than the middle school Willow and Thicket. Jessica, how did they respond in that moment?

Jessica:  They respond with an understanding, but my Thicket reaches out to Willow and takes her hand.

Lindsay: And they hold hands and they walk away…

Jessica:  And they walk off.

Lindsay: …which is such a strong visual connection between those two.

Carolyn: So sweet.

Lindsay: And, Carolyn, they don’t do that in the high school.

Carolyn:  Oh, you know, my thing is, originally, we blocked it that way as well and it was my Thicket who said, “It doesn’t feel natural because I’m thinking of her as my sister and it’s a sad moment for my sister and I touch her on the shoulder but it doesn’t, that walking off together that way doesn’t feel natural for my character,” and that’s when you, as a director, go, “Okay.” When an actor feels that strongly about what their character would do and the path of their character then you really support that and I love that he was honest and said, “That doesn’t feel natural. It doesn’t feel comfortable,” and they’re older and it’s not that they’re not comfortable touching each other – they’re good friends and all that – but, in the moment, he said, “I just feel like I need to follow her out.”

Lindsay: And to give her her space.

Carolyn:  And let Willow, who’s really the saddest of all in that moment, let Willow go and I follow. You know, it’s not the cute, sweet ending that you get by the hand holding which is so lovely, but it has its own merits.

Lindsay: Absolutely.

Carolyn:  So, that’s, again, it goes back to using different kids and they’re going to have different unique interpretations and that’s what’s so great about the show. Now, I go in and I watch the middle school show. You know, when I watch the middle school show now, I watch it as a mom which is totally different because my son is in the show, and I can sit back and I can enjoy it and not think of it as, “Okay. Well, they’re not doing it the way my kids do it,” and I love that they don’t. You know, when we’ve helped each other, we’ve covered for each other in the rehearsals when we’ve had conflicts and it’s never been about forcing our ideas on each other’s shows. It’s been about supporting the ideas that were already developed.

Lindsay: And it certainly could be because, like, you know, the partners – like, the Bottom and the Bottom work together, the Oberon and Titania and the Oberon and Titania – two shows work together and I think what a great thing to have that support instead of, “No, you should do it like this.”

Carolyn:  Oh, no, yeah.

Jessica: Well, I think, what’s interesting for me is I’ve never really worked in a school where the community, the kids have grown up together. I’ve always worked in schools where it was very transient. And so, these kids have relationships with each other in real life and I say that that is the best and the worst thing about teaching in a community like this because they know each other and they get along. They’re such a tight-knit group. And the worst thing is they never shut up. So, not only are you herding cats, you’re herding cats in middle school with these kids up on stage. You’re herding cats who won’t shut up.

Carolyn:  Because of that history! That history keeps coming out.

Jessica:  And it’s the good history and it’s the bad history. But I’ll tell you what. When you have a group like that, it’s a tight show because there’s trust. You don’t have to build that trust because that trust is there and I’m grateful for that. It’s one of the reasons I moved to the community.

Lindsay: Do you think that that’s why the middle schoolers feel comfortable making their own choices?

Jessica:  Yes.

Lindsay: Isn’t that amazing?

Jessica:  Because the trust each other.

Lindsay: It’s just sort of, you can be like, they’re looking to each other. They’re not looking to the, you know, to the high school – they look to them for, like, respect and maybe some guidance but not to copy their choices.

Jessica:   Right.

Lindsay: You know what? That’s not happening at all.

Carolyn:  No, they’re not at all. They’re not.

Jessica:  My Titania, I wanted her to go and see what Carolyn’s Titania was doing because I just wanted her to see the regal, the presence, just to kind of give her some of that confidence because, like many of us, she’s kind of a sloucher – and she’s not a sloucher in like she doesn’t work; I mean, like, she slumps. And a lot of kids – and I’m a slumper – and I don’t think she understood that when I said that to her. “I want you to see how Titania’s carrying herself at the high school,” and she came to me after rehearsal and she said, “I’m really not comfortable doing that because I’m nothing like Navji,” and I said, “You’re right, Kennedy. You’re nothing like Navji and that’s okay. I just wanted you to understand the presence,” I said. “But, you know, you’ll get the opportunity and let’s work with where we are and I think you’re going to understand where we’re going.” And the fact that she, as an eighth grader, had the courage to come up and tell her director, “I’m really okay with not doing that.”

Lindsay: My choices.

Carolyn:  My choices are fabulous.

Jessica:  She’s making very fine choices.

Carolyn:  You know, my Titania and her Titania are very, very different. One, they’re very different types. Their physical types are very, very different. I have a very voluptuous, you know, Titania.

Lindsay: And she plays with that.

Carolyn:  Oh, she’s plays with it. She uses her body. But she’s also already played the big, bold – my Navji was also my Ursula last year.

Lindsay: Right.

Carolyn:  So, she’s played that. So, you know, there are times where I think I want my Titania to be this or to be this, but I trust her to take a route that she wants to take because it is educational theatre.

Lindsay: Yes.

Carolyn:  And we have to step back some time and allow them to take their interpretation. Just like you did with Kennedy. Kennedy came to you and said, “I’m not comfortable doing it this way.” Well, we have to hear that and I think that that leads to why our shows are so different because, in that educational setting, yes, we are guiding and kids always hate hearing it but it’s the director’s vision. It is, but we both make sure that we give them leeway to try. So, John Thomas can come to me and say, “I’m not going to hold her hand because that moment doesn’t work,” you know? Or your Bottom and your Titania can look at me and go, “I’m not holding her hand,” you know? You don’t have to!

Jessica: Yes. I mean, they’re horrified that, right now, they’re doing a micro-slow dance on the stage.

Carolyn:  Oh, they nearly died the other day, yeah.

Jessica:  I mean, you know, and I think one thing they’re grateful for is they know that I say, “You don’t have to kiss on my stage. You have plenty of time to do that in high school. I’m extremely conservative with my middle schoolers.” And so, I think they know they can trust that, too, that I’m not going to put them in a situation that is ridiculously uncomfortable to the point, but I think slow dancing with someone that you were boyfriend-girlfriend with in second grade is okay.

Carolyn: I’m going to die!

Jessica:   First grade.

Lindsay: One other character who has pretty different interpretations is Puck. Again, we have Puck played in both ways because, one, they’re both played by different genders. We have a girl in the middle school and a boy in the high school, and I also think that, beyond that, they’re different interpretations. Your Puck is mean, you know? Does she wear the same outfit?

Jessica:  No.

Lindsay: Okay.  I was wondering about that.

Jessica:  No, not at all.

Lindsay: Okay. That’s funny. That would be interesting.

Carolyn:  He’s, like, that big. He’s a tiny little thing. Again, that comes from a female mean and a male mean.

Lindsay: It’s different.

Carolyn:  Very different, and he’s young. He’s a freshman, she’s an eighth grader. They’re only a year apart.

Lindsay: He’s pretty playful though.

Carolyn:  Yeah, they’ve acted together.

Respondent:  They’ve worked together but they, you know, he takes sneaky and mean to mean something very, very different than what, I mean, Carter does his thing and Gracie she does her thing and they’re very different. But, again, you know, it plays. You know, he’s with an Oberon who is a head taller than him.

Respondent: Actually, you know what? That makes a really good point about how you have to balance relationships. It wouldn’t work if Carter was mean because then you’d have mean-mean.

Carolyn:  Right, because Oberon handles the mean and the presence, the mean presence, because, you know, Will is a senior, he’s a foot taller than Carter who plays our Puck. You know, he’s a broader guy. Carter’s a skinny thing. I mean, he’s athletic but he’s slim and it just has a balance whereas I think Gracie’s almost Ben’s height in your production of it and Gracie can go the mean girl route.

Lindsay:  And she does.

Jessica:  And Ben does the, “Aha!” and that was a tough thing with Gracie because she also dances and so she was thinking, you know, we were starting off, like, with the whole punk thing, saying it was kind of a punk feel. Well, then all of a sudden, I had like this hip-hop look and, for me, it looked awkward and she didn’t look comfortable and she felt a little lost. I finally just sat down – and it was just this week, too – I finally sat down with her and I said, “I need you to be more like the girl who’s telling you, ‘It’s okay if you do it,’ you’re not going to get caught,” you know? Where you build up that trust in a sweet way but then, every now and then, you see that little evil child come out and say, “Come on!” and that’s when Gracie’s role as Puck, I think, really took off this week.

Carolyn:  I agree.

Jessica:  All of a sudden, she looked like, “Okay! I’m good now,” and she looks comfortable on the stage again and it was nice.

Lindsay: She looks like one of the punks. She looks like one of the punk fairies whereas Carter doesn’t necessarily.

Carolyn:  He does not.

Lindsay: But there’s a great thing of interpretation. We have one Puck who is very much in… Oberon is kind of the one that’s very separate in the middle school.

Jessica:  Yes.

Lindsay: He’s very separate in his behavior and his tone and the rest of the fairies are like, when they go, “Shame, shame, Cobweb,” on her, all of them look like they were going to tear her to pieces. It’s a really great moment. And, in yours, it’s like Oberon and his underlings – and your underlings are a little bit more foolish and Puck fits in and that’s where Puck comes up.

Carolyn:  He’s somewhere in the middle.

Lindsay: Yeah, he’s in-between.

Carolyn:  He’s in the middle, yeah.

Jessica:  And I think that I am one of those people that I like to kind of dig in the creepy, you know? I do. I like things that are a little bit creepy. I like to kind of feel a little uncomfortable and that’s why I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable in a romantic situation.

Lindsay: Because maybe we can get a little uncomfortable in a different way.

Jessica:  Yes.

Carolyn:  And that works too for you because your…

Jessica:  Sick sense of humor.

Carolyn:  Well, that too, but your flower fairies, you know, when you’re looking at the different kinds – your water fairies, your flower fairies, and your woodland fairies – you called them Oberon fairies, Oberon’s fairies, and we started referring to them as the punk fairies because they just made sense, you know?

Lindsay:  They have their own.

Carolyn: Their own identity and the kids speak to that. But, you know, my punk fairies are more sneaky and playful and manipulative and the mean, mean, means for mine are the flower fairies.

Jessica:  Right.

Carolyn:  Your flower fairies and your punk fairies have a different kind of mean. But that makes sense for a middle school group to have that kind of mean because it’s going to translate differently in their own personality, in their own world.

Jessica:  Yes.

Carolyn:  You know, where our flower fairies are, you know, I kept telling the girls with the flower fairies – and boy because, you know, we have at least one boy in every group and I did that consciously because I didn’t want it to have a stigma of, “Oh, if you’re a flower fairy, you must be a girl,” you know, “If you’re a water fairy, because you’re ditzy, you have to be a girl,” and I think the two boys that I have in each of those are doing really well of keeping that attitude. But I kept telling the girls of the flower fairies, “Think of the movie Mean Girls,” which is funny because I have never seen that movie.

Lindsay: But you know what they are.

Carolyn:  But I know it and, you know, and the girls are like, “You’ve never seen it!” but the minute you can give them that clear image then they, you know, they take to it and we used that kind of imagery when they auditioned. You know, I had them in rows walking across the stage as the different types of fairies and we talked about, you know, the sounds or the attitude or the thought process that, you know, I remember saying to them, “If you’re with Oberon, it’s sort of a dum-dee, dum-dee, dum-dee kind of movement.” You know, it’s a heavy, thuddy kind of movement where the water fairies aren’t and the flower fairies are different, you know, and it was really cool to see that even the middle school kids and the high schools kids how they would interpret each type of fairy.

Lindsay: What that meant.

Carolyn:  And it was cool to see how they interpreted it because you’d say a water fairy’s kind of clueless and innocent and sort of lost. What does that mean? And you would get, you know, fifty different interpretations of that which was really awesome.

Lindsay: I even think the water fairies are, you know, they’re your ditzy group.

Carolyn:  I love them. I love them!

Jessica:  They’re fabulous.

Lindsay: They’re my favorite. But the Sparkles are even, like, at their core, they’re the same characters in the middle school and the high school, yet the variances are very interesting and I know your Sparkle is new to the role and yet she’s a little bit, like, the high school water fairy, she’s a very – because she’s a bit of a dancer – she’s up on her toes.

Carolyn:  Yes.

Lindsay: And your middle school fairy’s a bit more flat out.

Jessica:  Like, she could almost be a woodland fairy because she’s on the verge of clumsy.

Lindsay: She is on the verge of clumsy.

Jessica:  Because she’s so tall already at sixth grade.

Lindsay: But she’s like, it’s enthusiasm clumsy.

Jessica:  Yes, yes!

Lindsay: It’s a different type.

Jessica:  It’s big puppy clumsy.

Lindsay: It’s big puppy clumsy! And it’s perfect for water fairies and yet, you know, a little bit delicate twirly-twirly.

Carolyn:  Yeah, Erin’s more like a butterfly.

Lindsay: Yes.

Carolyn:  Water fairy. You know, I mean, and I love that for Erin because Erin is not like that as a human being. Erin is very…

Jessica:  Very serious.

Carolyn:  Very serious, just straight-laced stern. She doesn’t like to be touched and that we just laugh about that because we’re like, “We’re going to hug you, Erin,” “No.” You know, I mean, he’s that kind of and she’s a very intelligent young woman and she’s a very talented young woman. When I cast her as Sparkle, everybody was like, “Are you kidding?” I think they were really surprised though they saw how well she did in auditions but, if you know her, and then to see what she’s doing on stage and she’s only a sophomore and to see the physical that she created. At no time did I ever say to her, “I need you to do this as a water fairy.” And she immediately took to it and ran with it and that’s one thing that’s been really, really wonderful about this play is that each type of fairy is so clearly identified that you don’t have to give them every single thing. I mean, we’re talking about interpretation but yet so much of it is what the kids interpret.

Lindsay: Yes.

Carolyn:  And what they choose in terms of their flower fairy or their water fairy or their woodland fairy. It’s written there for them and so we can just guide and then we can look at the big picture and pull things together, or we can look at the minute details and put it together because the fairy types are written so clearly. I mean, I think the only ones that I feel like we put a real stamp on, so to say, is really the fairies in waiting and making their look or their thing butterflies as opposed to flowers and water and you know because they’ve matured , they’ve aged up into the senior things and that was the only place where, you know, we discussed, “What kind of fairies are they?” and that was really cool though because, you know, the girls had theories. You know, my high school girls sat down and had theories but based on what their character did or what their character said.

Lindsay:  And we had to have a big conversation about that and how I interpret the fairies just in my own head and on the page and then to have that come back and they’re like, “Well, we think so and so was a water fairy,” and me to go, “Oh, no, no.”

Carolyn:  Which was interesting because, after that conversation that we had on Facebook.

Lindsay: Who was it? Moth? It was Moth.

Carolyn:  It was Moth.

Jessica:  It was the high school Moth and I said something after because my Moth and I were always like, “Well, she’s a woodland fairy,” and so I asked Adalei who’s my Moth, I said, “Hey, Adalei,” I said, “What kind of fairy do you think you are?” She said, “Well, really, Miss Stafford?” I said, “Yeah, I just want to know what you think.” She said, “I’m a woodland fairy. Don’t you see how I connect with Cobweb?” and I went, “Well, okay, eighth grader. Good for you!” You know, but I could see how water fairy could also come to mind because I think it’s just the kindness. I’ve always felt that people who are very, it’s almost like a down-to-earth person. Woodland is the down-to-earth and you see that.

Carolyn:  The water, it was really cool because they sat down, the three of them sat down together and they made the determination and they knew that the mean one, that she’s definitely a flower. There was no question about that. And then, that Peas Blossom, originally, their thought was that Peas Blossom was a woodland fairy who had matured and just didn’t see it anymore and then that made Moth a water fairy because she’s sweet and she tries to help, you know? But then, when I went back to them and said, “Okay. I talked to Lindsay and this is where she feels,” and they went, “Oh, okay!” and it wasn’t an argument, it wasn’t an issue. It was like a, “Okay. Well, I can get there. I understand that,” and then that made some interpretation changes, too. Again, choices made by the kid to take what you wrote and go with it which is really nice to see and, when you’re looking at an established program and you’re bringing in a lot of new kids and quite a few of the cast members have very little theatre experience, you know, my Moth and by Peas Blossom both don’t have a ton of theatre experience, you know. So, for them to come in and sit down and find their own way and work at it is really nice.

Lindsay: When you have your students who don’t have a lot of experience, do they look and see what the others are doing and they see that they’re making choices? Or is it just because the environment is good?

Carolyn:  I think that, you know, I’m the queen of backstory. I think that you don’t go on stage, you don’t work until you start to know who you are. So, I’m very demanding about creating backstory and they were given time in the rehearsal process to just sit down and they actually sat down with their younger counterpart and talked to them and discussed and I gave them a series of questions and they answered those questions and, you know, we talked about, even to the point of, “What kind of fairy are you? What kind of fairy do you not like? What kind of fairy do you bond with? How do you feel about Titania? How do you feel about Cobweb?” You know, really made them ask themselves questions, kind of like we were talking about in the writing workshop. You know, asking these series of questions and I think that’s the starting point. And then, when these younger actors or these newer actors see those kids digging deep and knowing how to answer questions in character, I think that leads them to that.

Lindsay: When I was in one of your classes today, Jessica, it was really interesting because they were asking about character development and I said a really great exercise is to “What is your bedroom like?” and you could see them all kind of like, “Oh! Oh, that’s really neat!” and then, you know, and I said, “To those of you who are in Cobweb Dreams, what would the bedroom of your fairy be like? You know, what would it look like?”

Carolyn:  And, you know, I’ve actually randomly found scripts – as it often happens – that they just get left on the stage and they had all their questions that we originally asked and I saw most of them are half done and the answers, some of them didn’t understand the answers are first person. It’s, “How do I feel about them?” and I think that, tomorrow, before we start rehearsal, I think we’re going to answer those questions again because, by now…

Lindsay: They should know.

Jessica:  Because they don’t have that ability, even if they try, because they’re in such – and I hate to say – there’s such a box in a classroom with how to write stuff but they don’t know how to create character from nothing. They don’t realize that they do it on a regular basis because, well, as soon as you make up a rumor about someone, you’re creating this character from nothing. But they struggle with that. Me, if I said, “Okay, well, you know, let’s take Toy Story and start with, you know, Buzz Lightyear,” they can give me a backstory because they know the story. I think, by now, two days before our show, we should go sit down and have a quick discussion about that which should lead to them having longer discussions before the show. But that’s helped. I think, actually, that’s something that we need to do with middle school more often – I need to do in middle school more often – is give them the questions in the beginning, have them answer the first time, and then, halfway through rehearsal, revisit it. And then, a week before we go on stage, we need to revisit again.

Carolyn:  We’ve mentioned one day we talked about one of the things that I wish we had done, you know, when you lose ten days of school, you run out of time.

Lindsay: So, the weather here in Owensboro has been freaky dee.

Carolyn:  Yes!

Lindsay: They lost so many days to snow and so we’re here and we’re like, “Hey, the snow is gone!” and now, you know, we’re sort of looking out the window right now.

Carolyn:  Instead of being at the theatre because we should be opening house in twenty minutes.

Lindsay: Yes, it’s supposed to be opening night tonight! And, you know, they want people to be safe, you know.

Carolyn:  What’s up with that?

Lindsay: What’s up?

Carolyn:  But we had talked about, there’s a wonderful moment in Cobweb Dreams when Cobweb says, “When Titania calls my name, to be in the train, I should have said, ‘No, thanks,” and I’m just going to go wander around on my puddle” or something like that. And I said to Jessica, “It would be a really good exercise if you had a scene,” we just did a rehearsal of Titania calling forth her newer fairies and waving, and seeing how Cobweb would respond. Would, you know, “Oh, my gosh,” you know? The fear or the anxiety or the anger or whatever it was to then step up to the plate and take that job on. Or how Mustard Seed who wanted so bad as a flower fairy, you know, that sort of thing, had we had time, that would have been a really great exercise and something that I would have loved to do. We just ran out of time.

Jessica:  Right.

Lindsay: It’s always such a great idea to all those, any scene that’s in a play which is not mentioned, or informs a character to stage it so that, when  an actor is talking about it, it’s actually informing them because they lived through it.

Respondent:  Right.

Lindsay: Yeah. Did you think that the two shows would be so different when you started?

Jessica:  I knew they would have to be.

Carolyn:  I mean, there’s language, there’s dialogue that’s different for the ages.

Jessica:  Well, I just knew that my kids would just read things differently. That they would carry themselves differently. That they would, gosh, we spent a week on a stage where they didn’t even touch each other in friendship. It was like, “You know, you guys have known each other for, you know, you’re twelve, you’ve known each other for eleven years, you can put your hand on their shoulder,” and I think they’re scared to try some of their things on their own because they don’t want to look stupid in front of each other. That’s just middle school. You don’t want to look dumb. You don’t want to be laughed at. It’s the fear of the middle school age and, sometimes, when you pull together fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, and they’re not on a class together with that connection, it’s new people, you do have that fear all over again so you go from that safe zone that we talked about earlier because you’ve known each other for years, but that’s in your grade, or maybe in those two grades, when you spend four grades.

Lindsay: That’s a lot to get over.

Carolyn:  But the high school, too.

Jessica:  But, I think, in high school there’s a new…

Carolyn:  You’re spending those four years, too.

Jessica:  But you’re more comfortable with who you are, I think, a little bit more.

Carolyn:  I think, yeah, to some degree. But then, you have the high school rock stars.

Lindsay: Yes.

Carolyn:  You know, you have those kids that people admire or look up to or respect or you don’t want to, you know, you don’t want to let that group down. You know, if you have a scene with Cobweb, you don’t want to not be ready, you know, or, if you’re in a scene with Titania or you’re in a scene with, you know, whomever, there is that pressure of “I’m a freshman, I’m playing Puck and Oberon’s a senior,” you know, Cobweb’s a junior and they have all this experience and they have all this, you know, background. But when it goes back to the idea of the shows being different, I think we knew it would be. I don’t know if we knew how and how uniquely different. I mean, those middle school kids are strong. She has a strong established group of kids and it’s a joy to go and watch their work. I mean, I absolutely love it and I, you know, being the mom of a kid in the program, I have watched all those kids grow up, too. So, it’s really cool for me to see it. But then, to step in and see it as a theatre teacher coming in, and I know that that’s what I’ve got coming to me, it’s really cool. So, seeing them do the same show, it’s different and it’s awesome that it’s different because there would be nothing worse than having one of the middle school students sit and watch my high school kids’ production and be able to put every single moment together because it was the exact same thing.

Jessica:  And copy it.

Carolyn:  That’s just no fun.

Lindsay: No, and I think that’s really the remarkable, remarkable thing. I think that’s the same thing. I mean, I thought, “Oh, this is so great. I just get to see two different age groups tackle it and what are the challenges of the age groups,” and I don’t know if I ever thought about how nuanced the two different shows would be and what a joy that is to see the same script tackle them one way and then tackled, you know, completely in the other and that they both worked equally well. It just makes my day.

Carolyn:  It makes ours, too!

Jessica:  What was really cool too was noticing you laughing at things that were funny with middle school that high school didn’t make funny. It was just funny because of delivery or a look on a kid’s face, you know, or the timing. I think, to me, that’s really cool.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Jessica:  And I work really hard to make sure that our shows aren’t considered cute. I like our shows to be good – good, solid shows, clean shows – and, if they happen to be cute as well, that’s great. But, you know, this is a fun show. It’s a funny piece. We love the show. But I watch the highs school version and I think, it’s a really good show. And then, I go watch mine and I think, “That’s a really cute version of that show.”

Lindsay: Man, you know what? I think you’re selling yourself short.

Jessica:  I think it’s cute.

Lindsay: I think it’s a good show.

Jessica:  It’s a good show.

Lindsay: I think it is.

Respondent:  But the kids are cute because…

Jessica:  It’s their costumes and their head pieces and they’re just cute kids.

Lindsay: You know what? They’re being themselves.

Carolyn:  Exactly.

Lindsay: They’re not trying to be high school.

Carolyn:  No.

Lindsay: They are…

Carolyn:  They know who they are.

Lindsay: They know who they are and they’re being themselves.

Jessica:  Yes.

Lindsay: And I think that’s wonderful.

Jessica:  I love the slight awkwardness that sometimes appears from the middle school world, and it appears on the stage, you know? You watch kids fall over nothing and it’s just how many Cobwebs are on the stage at a time?

Carolyn:  And even when it’s not a fairy.

Jessica:  Right!

Carolyn:  You know, and it’s a human. I think the cool thing is that there’s that youthfulness – I mean, we’re talking about teenagers, teenagers are babies, they’re young but there is an innocence and a youthfulness that those children can’t help but bring out on a middle school stage.

Jessica: Maybe it’s not cute that I’m looking for. It’s sweet.

Carolyn:  It’s sweet, yes, yes.

Jessica: It’s the sweetness.

Carolyn:  It’s adorable!

Lindsay: The perfect example of that is the Cobwebs.

Carolyn:  Yes

Jessica: Yes.

Lindsay:  Because your Cobweb, middle school Cobweb.

Jessica:  Avery.

Lindsay: Avery.

Carolyn:  Avery, fifth grade.

Lindsay: Avery is just a sprite. They’re both spritely but it’s so different. Like, the high school.

Carolyn:  Kelsey, yeah.

Lindsay:  Kelsey is a little bit that sneaky, what-can-we-get-away-with?

Carolyn:  Yes.

Lindsay: And it’s just that kid, she’s so true to her age, and how that just, again, it’s the same character and it’s just two sides of the same coin, and it’s delightful. It’s delightful if I do say so myself.

Carolyn:  Well, you know…

Jessica:  And she’s feisty!

Carolyn:  And, you know, it’s so funny because they are very different portrayals.

Lindsay: Absolutely.

Carolyn:  But they both work.

Jessica: They do.

Carolyn:  And I just look at Avery and I think, “You’re just the cutest little thing.” I mean, she is; she’s this tiny little thing.

Jessica:  She’s tiny.

Carolyn:  You know, a little short little thing and such a fireball of energy and, you know, I remember Kelsey – who’s mine – that age. Kelsey was like that. You know, Kelsey had that fire to her and that energy, and now Kelsey’s, you know, a junior in high school and there’s a maturity to her. But yet, you put her on stage and she brings back the clumsy and she’s the mischievous one but she’s really clumsy and I love that about Cobweb, that she’s such a clumsy little fairy. But, you know, Kelsey brings that and it’s so much fun to see Kelsey do that because it brings a nuance that’s different than Avery who is just so sweet and so innocent and adorable and just, you know?

Lindsay:  It’s pretty much the epitome, I think, of the two, of what you get in a middle school and what you get in high school.

Jessica:  Yeah.

Carolyn:  And they work. They both work.

Jessica:  And it’s cool that it works.

Carolyn:  Yeah, very.

Lindsay: This has been so awesome. Thank you so much for talking to me. It’s so funny, guys. We are literally, like, we just keep looking out the window.

Jessica:  Literally watching the red dot.

Lindsay: I just turned around and looked at the TV, the red dot approaches. Okay. We promise, we’ll be safe. Thank you, ladies.

Carolyn:  Thank you!

Jessica:  Thanks, Lindsay!

Thank you, Carolyn and Jessica. I have to say, as a playwright, I love conversations like this. I love experiences like this where, you know, schools take my work and they bring it to life, and I love knowing that a script of mine put in two different hands can have two completely different results. That’s very satisfying and it kind of means that that play can, you know, it can be released into the world and I can feel very satisfied in knowing that there are many different ways to play a character. Character interpretation, I love it and I think it’s the backbone of plays. I’ve said it before. If character is the only thing you focus on, you cannot help but have an interesting theatre experience for your audience.

So, make sure you check out the show notes for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode86.

And, before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

So, we have another drama teacher hangout this week, Saturday, April 5th at 3:00 pm. I adore these. I love sitting down and having a conversation about topics which I know are helpful for our teachers because we get feedback. You know, we get feedback that, “I thought I was alone. I thought I was the only one who had this problem. It was so great to get some new tips.” So, we’re going to keep on doing them until the masses revolt which I hope they don’t revolt. That would be an interesting thing.

And our topic for this week’s hangout is: monologues, monologues, monologues. Finding, choosing, and performing the monologue. Sometimes, it can be the bane of a student’s existence to choose and rehearse and monologue. Like, where do I find a good one? What do I do with it? It can be overwhelming and it can certainly be the bane of a teacher’s existence to have to sit through monologues – poorly prepared monologues, poorly developed, poorly presented monologues. I’m not sure – actually, I do know because I have sat through adjudication of monologues where it’s basically from 8:00 am in the morning until 5:00 pm at night. I have experienced the – well, I’m not going to say “the horror” but – the interesting day of watching monologues over and over and over again. And you want good ones. We want good ones!

So, let’s talk about it! Let’s get some tips. You know, let’s get some good information out there, right? So, check the show notes: theatrefolk.com/episode86 for the register link. Join us, share your tips, or get some new ones for yourself.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Go there, search on the word “Theatrefolk.” Find us, listen to something, tell us what you think about it, give us some feedback – that would be awesome.

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Middle School Monologues

I recently adjudicated monologues at a Middle School Drama Festival and saw a lot of students trying their very best. They left it all on the table and amazed me.

But I also saw students overcome with nerves, students unable to grow their characters beyond memorizing their lines, and students who couldn’t get out of their own bodies to physicalize the monologue.

When I adjudicate, I’m looking for three things:

  • Confidence
  • Character
  • Character-driven movement

Or more descriptively:

  • An actor with the confidence to sell those two minutes with everything they can muster.
  • A strong three-dimensional character.
  • Gesture and movement that comes from the heart of what that character is going through in the monologue.

These three elements are the bedrock of every great performance – not just in middle school, but on any stage.

Confidence

It is nerve-wracking to perform in front of others, especially in a competitive environment. Students can practice for days, know that monologue inside out, then lose it all when they step in front of a panel of judges.

I’m terrified of public speaking. It really scares me. But over time I’ve learned what I need to do to overcome my fears and stand on a stage with confidence.

Breathing

You’ll be amazed at what a little breath control can do. If you have control of your breath, that means you’re calm. It means you will be able to speak in full voice. It means your body is relaxed. These are all necessary elements when you want to perform with confidence.

The nerves usually hit when students are waiting to perform. In a competition situation they may be sitting in the same room with their fellow competitors. Nothing can drain confidence like seeing someone else perform a piece that looks like a winner.

The next time your students are waiting to perform encourage them to try these exercises.

  • Sit quietly and close your eyes. Breathe in slowly on a two count and out for a two count. Breathe in slowly on a four count and out for a four count. Breathe in slowly for a six count and out for a six count. Breathe in slowly for an eight count and out for an eight count. For each of these rounds, focus only on the in and out of your breath. Keep your eyes closed and try to block out any outside noise. Count the breath slowly in your head, and above all else, keep your count consistent. Don’t rush. If eight beats is too long, dial it back down to six or four. The aim is not to see how long you can hold your breath, but to maintain control of your inhale and exhale.
  • Say your first line over and over in your head. The first line is always the hardest to get out and the easiest to forget. So repeat that first line like a mantra.
  • Fake it till you make it. When you are afraid, don’t say anything. Don’t let on how scared you are. Especially don’t tell the adjudicators. Don’t use nerves as an excuse. Smile and go on stage and do your best. Never give anyone a reason to second guess your work. Do your best and smile, smile, smile your way through it.

Character

The text of the monologue doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the character. The more you know, the more the monologue will transcend beyond being just words on a page. As an adjudicator, I don’t want to see an actor performing a monologue. I want to see a character having an experience.

Question and Answer

Have your students answer the following questions about their character:

  • Who is this character? What details do you know about him/her?
  • What details do you need to create to fill in the blanks?
  • Who are they talking to? What is their relationship with that character?
  • Why are they talking? Why is it important to share this monologue?
  • Why is this monologue important for this character?
  • How does the character transform from the beginning of the monologue to the end?

Understanding the “what” in the monologue (i.e. the content) is important, but it’s not as important as the “who” and the “why.” The “who” and “why” are where you find the character’s depth. This will show an adjudicator that you understand your character and the purpose of their monologue.

Character-Driven Movement

More often than not, students stand and move like themselves when they perform. They shift their weight from one foot to the other. They fidget with their clothes and hair. They lean into one hip. They swing their feet when they sit.

If you do only one thing with your students, get them to focus on character-driven movement.

That means every single twitch, every single shift of the feet, every single hair twirl has to come from the character.

Every gesture must be chosen. Every time a student stands or sits it has to be because the character wants to, not because the student thinks they should throw some movement into their piece.

This is how a monologue becomes more than memorizing lines. This is how a monologue becomes an experience – not only for the student, but for everyone watching as well.

Physicalization Exercises

Character Animal

  • Pretend your character is an animal. How would they move about the space as an animal? At what pace would they move? Would they creep? Would they pounce? Would they soar?
  • Do a “day in the life” non-verbal improv where students imagine their character in animal form. As an animal, what would they do all day?
  • Choose one animal movement and add it to your monologue. How does that change the piece?

Spatial Exploration

Most student actors only stand straight up and down. They never stand on a chair, stand on their tip-toes, crouch down, fall to their knees, lie on the floor, or move from side to side.

  • Students explore the room exploring the three levels of space: high, middle, and low. What kind of movements establish each level of space?
  • As a rehearsal exercise students perform their monologue but they’re not allowed to use the middle space. They must always be up high or down low.
  • Discuss with students how this awkward use of space affects the piece. How does it change when performed this way?

Rehearsal Recording

  • Videotape a practice session. Show students what they look like. Most times students have no idea they have any tics at all, it’s unconscious movement. Emphasize to students that all movement must be conscious and specifically chosen.

Pairs Performing

  • Practice monologues in pairs: one performer, one observer. Every time the performer shifts their weight, or fidgets the observer raises their hand. How often does that happen?

Explain Your Blocking

  • Students should only move during a monologue because the character would move. Have students show you their monologue blocking and explain each move. If they don’t have a reason, they either have to come up with one or strike the move.

Emotion Movement

  • Analyze each sentence in the monologue. Define the emotion in each sentence. What is the character feeling with each line?
  • With each emotion, define an action that fits that emotion.
  • As a rehearsal exercise, say each line and perform each action.
  • Discuss what it’s like to perform the monologue this way. How does it change?
  • Have students perform the monologue with just the actions, no words.
  • Discuss with students what it’s like to perform the monologue with just action.
  • Discuss and decide if there places where the monologue supports an emotional action.

Confidence, Character, Character-Driven movement. Bring these three elements into your middle school students’ rehearsal process and they’ll take their performances to the next level.

Click here for a PDF poster for Performing a Monologue: Confidence, Character, Character-Driven Movement

Perform Your Best