This is a followup of yesterday’s post on Theatre in the Round. Yesterday I talked about staging, today I’m going to take about the unique challenges and benefits to acting in the round.
You have to move a lot more than normal in order to share the theatrical experience with everybody. Any line that’s more than a couple of sentences long pretty much has to be delivered while walking in a circle to give everyone a chance to see you. Any important prop has to be held high, circled around in order to be seen.
This feels very artificial. You just have to trust that it doesn’t look artificial to the audience. It helps seeing other shows in the round to see how it works.
Yeah, that seems to contradict my previous point. It does. Movement in the round is more natural because you’re not cheating every bit of staging to be visible from one particular angle. If you want to turn your back to someone, you can turn your back to someone fully. You can move in any direction to anywhere, you’ll always be visible to someone.
You can’t cheat upstage to cough or wipe your nose out of sight of the audience. They’re surrounding you.
I cut my finger on a shard of glass at the top of the show the other night. There was no hiding it, no keeping my hand behind my back. I had to keep my hand in my pocket until I got to leave the stage 30 minutes later. I was sure they were all staring at my hand and well out of the world of the play, but they didn’t even notice.
This is one of the hardest adjustments. In a traditional proscenium setting, you’ll occasionally get a glance at the audience. Often the lighting is too bright to see anything but the first couple of rows. But lighting in the round is all from the top. The audience is so close that you can easily see every one of them. You can’t help but see them. When you look your scene partner in the eyes, you’re also seeing the audience in your periphery.
Most of the time you’ll see someone deeply engaged with the show and having the time of their life. Sometimes you’ll see a bored husband who can’t wait to get out of there. Sometimes you’ll see the person who is unwrapping a candy and driving you crazy.
There’s no guessing what effect you’re having on the audience. They are right there in your face, you can clearly see their reactions. They are as much a character in the play as you are.
Acting in the round is a unique, immediate, terrifying experience. If you have a theatre space that can be arranged in the round, I encourage you to give it a try. Audiences love it, and you might too!