This past Friday I gave a presentation/workshop for over 100 high school drama students. They came from far and wide (well more near and not so near), and many of them were very familiar with my plays. The teachers and students in this particular area are definitely Theatrefolk regulars!
When I was asked to give the presentation, my first reaction was my usual: Panic. 100 people listening to me? What activities will I do? What if they don’t listen? What if they rush the stage? What if it goes so poorly they never do my plays again. What will I doooooo. You know, the usual. You might say I’m a glass half empty kind of gal.
But I planned well, did a lot of homework in the ‘large group activity’ genre, and settled on the theme of ‘Ensemble.’ I’ve been involved with theatre in one way or another for over twenty years. And the element that I’ve always loved about it is the notion of ensemble. Of a place where everyone’s on the same page. Where I felt I belonged. Where, if I was nervous before a show there was going to be someone beside me in the exact same boat. Where, if I wanted to be goofy (as drama folks are wont to be) there was someone beside me who wanted to do the same.
And further to this, nothing disappoints me more than theatre that is star based and it shows. Where the actors aren’t working together to make the production the best that it can be. You can feel it, just as you can feel when everyone on stage is working toward the same goal. There’s an energy.
So that’s what I think all productions regardless of their level, professional or high school, should strive for. And when I say ensemble this is what I mean and expect from actors:
- Look and Listen: The ensemble actor always has their eyes and ears open while on stage.
- Support: Since they are looking and listening, the ensemble actor is ready when the unexpected happens to their fellow actor. They don’t just stare into space waiting for their next cue.
- Community: Ensemble actors work together, they build a community out of their production.
That’s what all the exercises at the presentation involved: students looking, listening, working together, supporting each other. I’m very pleased with the outcome. So much so that I’m going to dedicate an upcoming newsletter to the topic where I’ll lay out all the exercises from the presentation but here’s one to start.
I love this exercise but have lost the source. If it’s yours, by all means let me know so I can give credit. It’s a great working together exercise!
- Students stand in a circle. Their first job is to make a perfect circle.
- At their feet is a manhole cover which is the area and dimension of the entire circle. A very big manhole cover.
- The task is to, as a group, pick up the manhole cover and lift it to shoulder height and then bring it back down to the floor.
- All the principles of mime apply – the weight, shape and size of the cover must be taken into consideration. Everyone must work together to keep the shape consistent.
- Next do the exercise with something that has the same shape but an entirely different weight and consistency. Cotton candy circle?