Actors and The Space: Some Teaching Suggestions

I have a Yr 9 class this year and our first unit is always an introduction to Drama. We look at the toolkit that an actor needs to be successful on stage in preparation for looking at what a director needs in his/her toolkit. It’s difficult to separate the two but in the end it comes down to what you want to focus more on. I’ve really been working on getting my students to explain what they are seeing on stage using all the drama terminology of the elements. I’ve also been focusing on how to make performances more dynamic and engaging. I’ve posted before on some of the activities that I do with the elements of drama. Here are a couple more that I have been trying out this term, particularly to do with character/role and spatial relationships (in particular, proximity and distance) that I have found really make the improvised scenes much more interesting to watch:

Give the student’s a single line of dialogue. For example, “I have something to tell you.” Pair student’s up and have them face each other. One person will deliver the line but they must deliver it with the following constraints on their space:

  • At opposite ends of the room. Take one step towards each other until toe to toe. At each step deliver the line again.
  • Both seated.
  • One seated and one standing.
  • One facing away from the other.
  • One behind the other.
  • Back to back.
  • One lying on the floor.

Discuss the effect of these staging positions on the audience. Consider the following questions:

  • How does the audience’s sense of the character change depending on where they were when they delivered the line?
  • Did the meaning of the line change depending on the spatial relationship?
  • Which position was most/least powerful?
  • What relationships are suggested by the use of these levels and proximity?

At the conclusion of this exercise, try the following exercises:

  • Break into groups of three. Call out an action (e.g. painting, repairing, rehearsing, admiring, rejecting, greeting, opening). Each member of the group has to pose doing that action. Each person in the group must, however, be on a different level. Present them to the class and discuss the effect on the audience. Compare it with the same poses but all on one level.
  • Improvise scenes with dialogue and have pairs of characters meeting with others pairs of characters (e.g. grandparent and child on a bus meet a businessman and his wife).

During the improvisations encourage students to become aware of how they adapt their tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, posture when saying lines in different spatial positions. Discuss who has the greater status in the scenes and how all these things together can determine for an audience which relationships between characters are more formal than others.

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