All the world’s a stage, at least according to William Shakespeare. I cannot help but argue that while the world may be a stage, a performance area is vastly different than everyday life. In everyday conversation, someone isn’t worried about forgetting a line. On an ordinary day, people do not need to worry about how to walk through an imaginary door. In a normal setting, an individual isn’t worried if the entire room can hear him. Time on the stage is slightly awkward. Thankfully, there are some tips of the trade that can help any team get through the scary minutes in the performance area.
If you remember nothing else, please remember the audience is your focus. First, you need to define your audience. Who are the people that need to hear and see what you are doing in the performance? Let me give you a hint: it is difficult to appraise and give points if you can’t hear and see what is going on. Second, whatever you are doing or saying, direct it towards the audience. Performing is significantly different than everyday life in this. Most of us are taught that you look at the person you are speaking to or the person speaking. So it seems correct that Character A is looking at and facing Character B. However, if Character A has his back to the audience, then it is not correct since it makes it hard for the audience to hear and see what is going on. However, you want your performance to seem real right? So you don’t want to just face the audience and talk. In fact doing that has a name in the acting world; it is called breaking the fourth wall and it’s considered to be a big mistake. Instead of letting the audience see someone’s back and another person’s front or both people just talking at the audience, try letting the audience see both people from the side. This mean you need to think about the performance area.
Knowing the space you have to work with is the next step in creating a better performance. Did you know a stage has its own directions? These directions are based on where the audience is located; take a look at the diagram and definitions below.
- Stage Left—the actor’s left facing the audience
- Stage Right—the actor’s right while facing the audience
- Upstage—towards the back of the area (away from the audience)
- Downstage—towards the front of the area (towards the audience)
Now, using these definitions, you can figure out where you want everything to go (people, props, scenery, etc.) For example, place the main scenery stage left, upstage so there is plenty of room for the actors to move in front of the set. Place the main technical device downstage, stage right to allow the engineer to get everything set up behind the device away from the audience. I would recommend each team makes a diagram of their set. Having a plan laid out will help when it comes to the tournaments. If someone forgets where something goes, then a glance at the diagram should solve the issue. There have been quite a few teams I have watched trip over their props and sets, because they are not used to where everything goes. However, you also do not want to damage your props and sets by practicing too much with them. So what is a team to do? How about substituting another item for your props during practice? There are plenty of household items that will be roughly the same dimension as your props. Using placeholders will allow your team to practice with the space they will have. Once you are comfortable on the set, you can then work on your skills as an actor.
Pretending to be someone or something other than you is difficult. But it becomes easier if you know who that character is. Try getting to know the character like you would a person. Where did he come from? What culture did he grow up in? Is there a defining moment in his life? What does he want to do/accomplish? Does he have a bad habit? Who is his role model or hero? What is his personality like: loud and over-the top or quiet and reserved? What are his talents? How does the situation affect his mood and attitude? Practice being your character outside of the main performance such as in a short improv skit, and see what happens. Don’t worry about portraying the character badly. If you don’t like how something happened, then figure out how you would change it to work better. Once you figure out the character, you can work on getting the script down and reciting it.
Like I mentioned earlier, trying to remember what you need to say when is difficult. When trying to memorize the script, repetition is key and so is giving yourself breaks. Read the first line and then say it without the paper, ready the first and second line and then say it without the paper, and continue this process until you can say all the lines without looking at the paper. If you cannot do it, then just keep going back to the beginning. Once you have worked on it for a bit, take a break and do something else. It is easy to derail the memorization process if you try to learn and remember everything at once. Now beyond just repeating the lines, you need to make sure your audience can hear. So when reciting a script, work on breathing, projecting, and enunciating. Before you speak, try taking a deep breath. This will allow you to say the whole line through without any pauses (you know the pauses that happen when you need to breathe). Make sure you project your voice, allowing more than just the people in the performance area to hear you. Pretend that you are trying to get someone to hear you across the library or another place you just can’t yell. When you speak, over enunciate (e-Non-C-aTe). You want to emphasize consonants to allow your audience to understand what you are saying. Yes, doing it in everyday conversation sounds weird and you may feel ridiculous, but it will help you to speak clearly.
If a team works on focusing on their audience, planning their staging, creating realistic characters, and reciting the script well, then that team’s potential success will increase. Yet success is not always an easy road. One of cre8iowa’s experienced Team Managers recommends practicing one more thing, preparing for a disaster. Try having the team brainstorm and write down all the things that can go wrong (everything from someone missing a line to a prop being forgotten at home to the scenery falling down). Let the team briefly discuss what to do to fix each problem. Then, while the team is practicing their performance, select a problem randomly and shout out the disaster. The team has to then think on their feet and solve the problem while the show continues on. Repeat this exercise a few times with different problems and times the problem takes place. As the saying goes, if you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail. But most of all, remember and prepare to have FUN!
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