Mention “smartphones” or “cell phones” in front of drama teachers and most will immediately grimace or roll their eyes. Phones can be the bane of any teacher’s existence – it seems like students these days have their phones surgically attached to their hands and are in a perpetual state of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. But let’s try reframing our thoughts on smartphones and discuss how they can be used in a beneficial manner. Here are six ideas for practical uses for smartphones in rehearsal:
It’s not overly common yet but some show licensing companies offer the option to purchase e-copies of their scripts instead of paper copies. This is great for saving paper and saving on shipping costs, but it can be challenging to highlight lines or make notes directly on the script. However, having e-copies of the script certainly saves everyone from the excuse of “I forgot/lost my script!”
For musicals, many licensing companies provide both vocal recordings and backing tracks as part of their performance rights packages, often on an app that can be downloaded onto a phone, laptop, or tablet. These tracks are usually specially made to expire after the show run is complete, to reduce the opportunity for piracy. Depending on your licensing rights, students may be able to download the tracks on their phones and rehearse on their own. In rehearsal, they can bring headphones and listen to the music when they are not currently working onstage.
I frequently make rehearsal videos for dance or stage combat choreography and upload them to Google Drive, YouTube or Vimeo so students can watch and practice on their own time or when they’re not onstage during rehearsal. You can also record scenes or full runs of the show for students to watch back critically, looking for tics or bad habits like slouching, mumbling, playing with their hair, or not focusing on the action. Explain to your students that this is for rehearsal purposes only and delete these videos after students have watched them. Publishers do not allow show recordings.
I make mood boards for every show I’m working on to collect inspirational images and get ideas for design points, particularly sets and costumes. You can add contributors to a public Pinterest board, so share your inspiration board with your students and encourage them to contribute images as well. You may also wish to have students create their own personal mood boards to get an idea of their interpretations of their characters.
I love having students help with publicity for their shows. It shows their engagement and passion for the show, and gives a different point of view to audiences. Be sure to have a discussion with your students about what is appropriate and inappropriate to share, as well as what constitutes a “spoiler.” You want to create excitement for the show, but you also don’t want to give away too much too fast! Instagram takeovers and/or Facebook Live events can be a fun way to get students involved. Just be sure to change the passwords to those accounts if you have different students taking charge of them at different times.
Like with video, students can use a voice-recording app to record themselves speaking and listen for line errors, “ums” and “ahhs”, stumbles, volume and diction issues. Students can also use their voice-recording app to create a line-rehearsing tool. Have students record themselves (or their scene partners) saying their cue lines and leave spaces in between for their actual lines. Then, have students play the recording and recite their lines aloud along with it.
A final note: If you are finding that smartphones are more of a distraction than a useful tool, then of course it is fine to ban them from rehearsals. Smartphones are a privilege, not a right. (For students who claim they need their phone in case a parent is trying to get a hold of them, that’s what the school’s phone number is for.) Use your discretion and remind students that if their phones distract them, they will not be permitted to use them in rehearsal. If necessary, create a phone contract with your students that clearly states the rules of smartphone use in rehearsals/performances and the consequences for misuse. Students will sign them and the stage manager will keep them on file for the duration of the rehearsal process and production schedule. A simple smartphone contract template download is included at the bottom of this article.