Studying stage drama in an educational setting is the best way for aspiring actors to become proficient in a career in theater. In order to successfully prepare actors for the world of performance, a teacher must be well-versed in all aspects of theater. Improvisation, character work, scene study and the process of auditions all are important steps to learn before taking the stage.
Just like an athlete, actors must warm up their bodies before jumping into the game. Performances require their whole bodies as instruments. Lead your class in stretches that promote relaxation. Yoga poses are a great way to loosen tight muscles and nurture concentration. Demonstrate vocal exercises, like moving the voice high and low, to prepare for speaking on and offstage. Blowing raspberries, massaging the face and moving the tongue are other exercises that can help improve elements of speaking, such as diction.
Improvisational acting, often referred to as “improv," is when a performance is created spontaneously without a script. An entire staged show can be made up of improvisational acting. However, improvisation sometimes is used to cover up mistakes onstage, such as dropped lines, costume malfunctions or late entrances. Improv requires focus, problem-solving and trust in other actors. Split your class into groups of four individuals. On a table, place objects such as a pool noodle, a garbage can, a large box or a hula hoop. Explain that each group needs to pick one object. Give the groups 5 minutes to create a scene that stars the object of their choice. They may take notes but cannot use a script while performing. This game will teach them to think on their feet and expand their creativity.
A play is broken down into scenes that all play important roles in creating a story. Research and make copies of scenes that include two to four actors. Encourage each group to work together to develop an understanding of the situation, relationships, characters and overall theme of their scene. Also remind them to always have a pencil with them to make notes on movement, vocal intonation and character intentions. At the end of class, each group will perform their work for everyone. Provide constructive feedback and suggestions that will help better their technique and train them to give an honest performance.
Writing character outlines helps actors fine tune performances to optimize the audience's experiences and understanding. Before encouraging your students to begin memorizing lines and stage direction, give them a list of questions to answer, such as “What does your character look like?” “What is her personality?” “What is her greatest fear?” and “What are her hopes and dreams?” Completing this assignment helps actors form strong bonds with their characters and others onstage.
Auditions can be nerve-racking, but with proper preparation an actor can walk in cool and confident. The first thing to tell your students is that they always should dress professionally. The next thing to know is that an actor should always have a monologue prepared. This solo performance usually lasts about two minutes. Take the time to help your students find monologues that interest them and work on making them performance-ready. If a director enjoys an actor’s performance, she may ask the actor to come back and read a scene with others. This is called a “cold-read," and the provided script is called a “side." Remind students to use every technique they have learned in class to impress the casting director. Even though students usually are in and out of the audition room in 10 minutes, it is important to make a dazzling impression. Hold an audition within the classroom for a short one-act production and give each actor the notes you have taken. Meet one-on-one with students to discuss what they did well and how to improve weak spots.
- Contemporary Drama Service: Theatre Games, Acting Games, Theatre Improvisation, Drama Games, Classroom Drama Exercises
- 101 Drama Games for Children: Fun and Learning with Acting and Make-Believe; Paul Rooyackers and Cecilia Bowman The Ultimate Scene and Monologue Sourcebook; Ed Hooks
Ashley K. Alaimo is a writer, blogger and certified teacher in New York. She has a master's degree in elementary education and early childhood education from Medaille College, as well as a bachelor's degree in music and theater from Buffalo State College. Alaimo has also worked as an education specialist with ages birth to 12 years old, creating classroom and enrichment curriculum for various early childhood centers.