The 7 Steps to Better Scene Work

I’m really fortunate this year to have an absolutely fantastic Year 10 class. They progressed through Year 9 willingly and enthusiastically. So this year I am really looking to challenge them and refine the skills they developed last year. Before we launch into playbuilding later in the term, I want to bring out a couple of things in their performances. I’ve found that they rush their dialoague and don’t critically think about their theatrical choices enough. Some of the things I’d like to work on include:

  • Dramatic Tension
  • Belief
  • Focus
  • Motivation/Objective and its translation through movement and dialogue choice.
  • To create polished, confident scenes and performances

I had a look in two great drama resource books that I encourage every drama to purchase if they haven’t already: Centre Stage by Matthew Clausen and Acting in Person and in Style by Carol Wimmer. I used them to create my own scaffold for working with my kids on their scenes. So full credit must be given to them and the work they have both done in this area.

We are using selected scenes from “Summer of the Aliens” by Louis Nowra. So far, this structure is working.

  • Scene Read Through – Complete full read throughs of the scenes. As many as are needed but at least two or three. Swap roles if student’s aren’t sure which character they want to be. Do not exert any effort to “act.” Just gather information and facts from the text about your character.
  • Communicate More – This should be about the third or fourth read through of the scene. This time student’s should try to make maximum eye contact with the other actor’s in the scene and include any physical contact if necessary.
  • Walk & Talk – Groups should improvise the scene in their own words with free movement and activity. Try to reveal all the information learnt in Step 1. Don’t hold the scripts. It will be too tempting to look for cues.
  • Script in Hand – This is the point where groups should explore the scene through guided improvisation. Try each run through with something different in mind. For example, each character has a single goal in mind, perform the scene whilst eating or drinking something, perform the scene with an opposite value (e.g if it’s a love scene play it as if it is a hate scene), perform focusing on entrances and exits, perform with each actor swapping roles, play music during a performance of the scene, perform with focus on vocal delivery, gesture and mannerisms.
  • Set All Business – Finalise blocking and incorporate props and costumes. Finalise character and any emotional decisions. Establish a motivating force.
  • No Interruptions – Run the scene without interruption to set up a flow or rhythm. Focus on energy, tension and belief.
  • Preview & Perform –  Run through the scene two or three more times. Perform the scene in front of the class. Follow with a written evaluation. De-construct the performance with verbal feedback from the class and teacher.

What things have you tried to improve your student’s performances? Comments appreciated.

Image Credit: Scaffolding: Not just for construction workers anymore / Kevin Dooley / CC BY 2.0