Monday, January 19, 2015

Students as Directors: Parts of the Stage

"Sweetie can you move downstage some.... No move downstage..... No move downstage ... No move towards the audience." Most school directors have had a conversation similar to this several times in the course of a rehearsal. Teaching our students common theatre lingo, especially stage directions can be a huge lifesaver in making your rehearsals run smoothly. Teaching parts of the stage is a lesson that must be taught, it becomes very frustrating to assume that students will just "pick it up." If you consciously teach this skill students will take learning this skill much more seriously. It will also help students transfer to different directors much easier.

I like to teach the parts of the stage in several different ways but first a word on consistency. When working in class, after school, or in rehearsal always use the correct stage directions. It can be very easy to get lazy about this. I know I am very guilty of this. When you are trying to hurry and a kid doesn't remember which way stage right it, you really just want to tell them which way to move. But I have seen a great improvement in my students vocabulary and stage use since I have made a very conscious effort to only use stage directions.

Different ways to teach stage directions. 

Start off by using masking or spike tape to mark off a stage. If you are lucky enough to have access to a stage mark off that, if not simply tape down a big rectangle on the floor. Divide the stage into your 9 sections. Start off by simply standing in each box, naming it and having the students do basic call outs. Once they seem to have a basic understanding of the parts of the stage you can start to have some fun.

Simon Says

Put some kids on stage. Depending on your area you can either put the whole class, a 1/2 class or small group. Have everyone choose their own starting place. Start off easy. "Simon says move up stage" "Simon says move stage right" Any student who does not move to the correct place in the correct time frame is out. I like to give the kids 5 seconds to get to the correct side of the stage. Counting down on your fingers works really well as a management technique. After you have done a few easy directions to get the kids use to the stage get slightly more difficult. "Simon says boys move stage right, girls move stage left" "Simon says if you are wearing pants move downstage if you are not wearing pants move upstage" however you can easily divide up the kids so they have to work harder on remembering the parts of the stage. After you have eliminated more of the kids get even more specific. "Simon says if you are wearing red move down stage left" "if you are wearing blue move upstage center." This game is a great introduction and works well with your kinesthetic learners.

Army Men (or any other small toy/figurine)

This is a great lesson for teachers that don't have the space to move around. This is also great if you like a little more control and less chaos in your class. Give each student a piece of paper and a few of the old school green army men. Have the students draw out a basic rectangle and draw stick people on one side. Then have the students label the stage according to wear the audience is. After each stage is drawn call out different stage positions and have the students place army men at the correct spot. You can even have the students practice creating stage pictures by allowing them to place several army men at once. Or you can give groups of students a large sheet of paper and have them practice placing an entire company onstage for a major musical. This game is great for your visual learners.

Stage Pictures

This is a good game for students who need some differentiation. Allow your more advanced students to be the directors to this game. Have your directors create stage pictures with different groups of students. The directors can only use stage directions to move the groups around stage. For added interest, you can add a mini lesson on levels to this game and your directors can practice using stage directions and levels to create their pictures.

Pick a direction

Give each student an index card and have students write a series of stage directions in short hand on the paper. Enter USR X DSR, Exit DSL. (enter upstage right, cross downstage right, exit downstage left). Gather all the index cards together and spot check for correctness. Then have students pick a stage direction card and act out those directions on stage. This activity is a great assessment because each card will be slightly different. Students won't be able to simply copy what someone else has done.

However you choose to teach stage directions, make sure you are consistent in using stage directions when you direct students in class and rehearsals. You should also talk to any other Fine Arts teachers at your school (especially dance and chorus teachers) and make sure that they are using stage directions in their classes as well. If everyone comes together and learns the correct theatre lingo, all of the students will benefit.

These are just a couple of ways that I have taught stage directions. What are some ideas you have for teaching stage directions in class?