Stacy Meisetschlaeger, Theatre director, Ridgeview Middle School, Round Rock, Texas talks about working with a very large Chorus in her production of Agatha Rex. Thank you so much Stacy for writing this great guest post!
The Chorus in “Agatha Rex” is a very exciting prospect for a director. I cast 23 additional Chorus members in addition to the 10 named characters, for a total of 33.
While blocking the play it kept bothering me that a bell would ring or the principal would say, “Get to class”, and no one left the stage. The nature of a Chorus is that they are ever-present and comment on the action and theme of the story and I wanted to keep that integrity. I invited my fellow Theatre teacher to watch a run-through and he suggested dividing the Chorus in half so that they can enter/exit during transitions yet still have some Chorus present in each scene. That solution worked perfectly! The 10 named Chorus members stayed on stage (because they had lines), but would change positions, and the rest were divided into two groups and alternated being on stage; they would enter/exit at the transitions that are built into the script.
Having so many students on stage allowed me as a director to create wonderful stage pictures. I was able to tell the story through pictures created by their bodies. In the picture below the actors on the right of the picture really say, “Whose going to get it. . .What dirty deeds been done?”
Here we used the Chorus to demonstrate how “it feels just like an army camp”:
“We believe in breaking the rules!” (some are ready to break rules and some are shocked at first):
“Agatha Rex” has some very abstract elements to it and the Chorus could be used to enhance that. I considered using actors to portray set pieces. Like Chorus members dressed as the lockers or holding up Dr. Creon’s rule book like a podium. The actors then are part of the set but are also the Chorus, ever-present and able to comment on the action and theme of the story.
During Dr. Creon’s monologue reading the rule book portion pertaining to jewelry, I took the abstract approach and had the students writhe in pain during his speech; Creon’s rules are stifling their individuality:
“Stand up for what you believe in?” -Eunice
If you’ve got a chorus in your play, make sure you treat them as important members of the cast. If they’re creating atmosphere, if they’re reacting to the action, if they’re speaking in unison (as they do in Agatha Rex) they are vital to the world of the play.
Give your chorus ensemble exercises to help them work together, to help them find their characters (especially if they’re not named in the script) and to build confidence.