Directing

How to “Pre-Block” a Scene

Written by Kerry Hishon

When directing a show, it can be very useful to “pre-block” a scene ahead of time. “Pre-blocking” means to plan all basic character movements in advance of the rehearsal. This can save a lot of time during rehearsals, as directors will be organized and ready to go with their staging already in mind. This, in turn, will give the director more time to work with actors on developing their character and fine-tuning the overall look of the show.

For this exercise, students will take on the role of director and pre-block a scene. First, students will choose a scene from a play. The scene should have three or more characters.

Students will need to make a basic ground plan of the stage they’d like to use. A ground plan is a drawing of the stage from a bird’s eye view (looking straight down on the stage from above). It helps the set designer to develop the scenic design, and helps the director to establish the flow of the action. Students will choose from one of the following stages:

Once students have decided what stage they will use, they must decide where the entrances and exits will be and note these on the drawing. Students will need multiple copies of their ground plan, one for each page of text for their scene.

Now, it’s time to plan the action! On the actual script pages, use shorthand to indicate entrances, exits, and movement (both crossing the stage as well as movements like standing, sitting, dancing, carrying on a prop, etc.) at the precise line moment they are to happen. It’s much faster and tidier to write “XDR” (cross downstage right), instead of writing out the full sentence. Simple stage direction shorthand looks like this:

  • DS = downstage
  • US = upstage
  • DR = downstage right
  • DL = downstage left
  • UR = upstage right
  • UL = upstage left
  • C or CS = centre stage
  • X = cross/move
  • + = with another character (include initial of character)

Once the student has planned all the movements on the script pages, they will use the ground plan to make a visual map of the characters’ movements. When a character enters or exits, write on the stage drawing which entrance they use, and use arrows to indicate movement and/or the direction they’re facing. Identify characters with dots, X’s, or stick figures, and a short form of their name (for example: Rom., Jul., Tyb., Merc., etc.) or initials. It may also help to colour-code each character and their movements using coloured pencils. This will help to visualize where the performers will appear onstage.

For an extra challenge, have each student trade their pre-blocked scenes and ground plans with a classmate, and try getting the scenes up on their feet using the notes and movements created by the student!

Click here for a free sample pre-blocked script page, as well as a reflection.

 


Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer, and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. View her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.

About the author

Kerry Hishon

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. View her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.

1 Comment

  • How to pre-block a scene . . .

    DON’T!!!!

    Please!!!

    I’m serious!

    Entrances and exits, okay. But if you pre-plan ‘moves’, you will ‘block’ in another way, as an actor who moves about because of memory can only ever look wooden. Their actions, even if practiced, are coming from a conscious part of the mind.

    (It may be possible to pre-block if you have so much time to rehearse that it can be made to look ‘natural’, or if the actors are skilled in a tradition such as Noh theatre – but that simply isn’t the case even amongst professional actors and productions).

    Rather, get the actors up on their feet, and free to move whenever and wherever their instincts take them. If you and they really trust this, it is not far off infallible.

    This even works for ‘necessary’ moves: if they need to get a glass from a sideboard – have them move where they ‘feel’ it should be, then put the sideboard and glass there.

    This can be a very quick process, if you have prepared your actors well; and you can, of course, tweak things to take account of sight lines, etc.

    This may require quite a leap of faith for anyone who’s used to pre-blocking; but please, please, PLEASE try it – you may be very pleasantly surprised.