Many productions are based on a pyramid structure : Stars at the top, supporting cast in the middle, chorus at the bottom. Even though there are more actors involved at the bottom of the pyramid, it’s those at the top who usually get to shine.
This structure has been in place for years and is inherent in every genre of play from Shakespeare to Broadway musicals. Stars shine, the chorus gets stuck at the bottom. And because high schools often produce Shakespeare to Broadway musicals, the pyramid structure finds it’s way into student productions. There’s nothing worse than being at the bottom of the pyramid and feeling like you’re not a worthy part of a show.
If you’re intent on the performance aspect of shows, you probably accept the pyramid structure because that’s the way theatre works. You can’t produce The Wizard of Oz without Dorothy. But if you’re intent on the drama in education aspect of theatre in your program, and if you ever want students to work together on something of their own, the pyramid structure has to be dismantled. Everyone in a show has to participate in and actively buy into the notion of ensemble.
To be a part of ensemble is not to be part of a chorus – the acting ensemble is the entire cast. To be part of an ensemble is to create a feeling where everyone belongs. The ensemble is a space where everyone is on the same page. It’s an atmosphere where everyone on stage works toward the same goal.
There are three qualities you want to instill in your cast when creating an ensemble.
To create an ensemble, you want your students engaged, supporting each other, and thinking that everyone is equal in the process. These qualities are within every student but they don’t happen naturally. You have to lead by example and incorporate ensemble building exercises into your class or rehearsal process as soon as possible.
Use this exercise at the beginning of every rehearsal. How well do they work together by the time your show is ready to open?