What is THE most important part of an actor’s job? To tell a story to an audience! No matter what, the audience needs to be able to experience what’s going on during the performance. Actors must play to the audience in order to get their story across.
Sometimes it’s really useful for drama students to go back to the basics to practice the seemingly simple skills that they use all the time but occasionally neglect or forget. Here are three games to help students get back to the basics, and hone their skills on playing to an audience.
To practice basic stage directions:
First, review basic stage directions with your class: centre stage, downstage, upstage, stage right, stage left, and the corners (upstage left, upstage right, downstage left, downstage right). Remember: we walk DOWN towards the audience, UP away from the audience, and LEFT and RIGHT are from the actor’s perspective! Think of the classroom or stage as a grid with nine squares. If the students have never worked with stage directions before, you might want to put signs on the wall!
To play Trapdoor, have students start at centre stage. One person (the teacher, director, or another leader) is the Caller. When the Caller yells out a stage direction (“Upstage Left!”), all actors must run to that area of the stage. Whoever runs to the wrong area or arrives there last is OUT!
Why is the game called “Trapdoor”? If the Caller yells “Trapdoor,” everyone must lie flat on their bellies on the floor right where they are. (It’s not exactly what a trapdoor does, but it’s fun nevertheless, and gets everyone moving!)
You can add tons of variations to this game:
- Actor or staging positions (full front, full back, one quarter left/right, three quarters left/right).
- Add some funny tableau/mime positions and actions. Some of my favourites include:
- “Director’s coming!” (Students stand up straight like soldiers and salute)
- “Paparazzi!” (Some students pose like models/celebrities while others pretend to take photographs–it doesn’t matter how many are posing vs. photographing.)
- “Love scene!” (Students create melodramatic “love scene” poses—hands over hearts or over the brow, down on one knee, fainting away, etc.)
- If you’re worried about students running in the classroom, you can use different ways of moving: tiptoe, glide, hop, crab walk, moonwalk, leap, etc.
- Change where the “audience” is located. If you’re playing this game on a stage, pretend that the audience is at stage left! How does that change how you use stage directions?
To practice cheating out (face the audience!):
Choose a short scene (one page long). Students divide into small groups and prepare the scene twice–once facing upstage, and once facing downstage. Have students partner up with another group and perform for them, or else perform in small groups in front of the rest of the class.
An alternate version of this game is to perform the scene the exact same way twice. First, set the performance downstage, close to the audience. The second time, set the performance upstage, far away from the audience.
Check out the sample scene in the PDF download!
To practice basic stage principles/rules:
Act It Out!
This is a fun game to use if you have a bunch of basic stage rules or principles to learn. Divide students into small groups and give each group a rule to act out. Students can either act out the rule as written OR act out the opposite of the rule to show the rest of the class what not to do! For example, a rule might be “If you can see the audience, they can see you” or “Keep quiet while the director is giving notes.”
Give the groups a time limit to figure out how they’ll perform the rule, and then have each group present their rule via a class performance. As each group performs, have the other groups guess what the rule is. Usually it is useful to talk about the guesses just as much as the actual rule!
An alternate version of this game is for each group to prepare two scenes. First, a stage rule being broken or ignored and the consequences that occur. Second, the rule being followed, and the benefit to the actor and/or audience. Students can have fun by really exaggerating the scenarios and consequences that occur when rules are broken!
For example, if the rule being performed is “Cheat out towards the audience,” the students might present a scene of two “actors” performing a scene facing away from the “audience” (another member of the group). The audience might comment on how they can’t see or hear the actors onstage clearly, then the actors might perform the scene again but cheating out. Have the “audience” give the actors a big round of applause since they could hear and see the performance.Click here to download a PDF version of these games and a reflection sheet for each game.
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer, and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. Explore her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.