Sometimes we get caught up in all the bells and whistles of a theatrical production. Sumptuous sets, elaborate costumes, piles of props, mountains of furniture – they’re all wonderful, but shows can be equally great without them. Many shows achieve success with the actors only using one significant costume, prop item, or signature piece of furniture each, to show their character. The decision to put on a stripped-down production may be because of a tight budget or it may be a stylistic choice, but students and teachers shouldn’t feel limited – selecting the perfect item for your character can open up a world of possibilities for the actor and the show itself.
Here’s an exercise you can do with your class – or cast and crew of your show – to explore the challenges and possibilities of using only one item specifically chosen for each character. This can be a theoretical exercise or a practical exercise – instructions are included here for both options.
- Each student will select a theatrical piece that they would like to work on; the piece must have at least 10 characters.
- Read the script and copy out the dramatis personae (list of characters).
- Assume that all the actors will be dressed the same: black pants, black shoes, and black shirt. For each character, select one costume item, prop, or piece of furniture that best complements that character.
- For each item:
- Describe the item.
- Include a sketch/clipping or swatch/photograph/image of the item.
- List two-three points per character that explain WHY you chose this item and how the character would use the item.
- Students sort themselves into groups of three to four. Each group will select a theatrical piece they would like to work on, read the script, and select a scene from the play that they would like to present. Make sure that there are the same number of students in the group as characters in the scene.
- Students will cast the scene amongst themselves, block the scene, and memorize their lines to present to the class.
- Each student will each select and acquire/make one costume item, prop, or piece of furniture to use in the scene that best complements their character.
- Each group will present their scene to the rest of the class. For the presentation, students will wear black pants, black shoes, and a black shirt. They will each use the costume, prop, or furniture piece they selected for their character and no other item of props, costumes, or furniture.
- Upon completing the presentation, students will each submit an individual Reflection.
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.