Acting Exercise: Beyond the Lines

classroom

This exercise focuses on developing concentration, communication and creativity. It works well with primary and middle school children and may also be used with high school students.

Objectives

1. Students will identify three main skills they use in their daily lives that are essential skills for acting.
2. Students will describe why each skill is essential for an actor.
3. Students will learn theatrical activities as a group and be able to describe how each activity tested each skill.

Framing

1. Begin with students sitting in circle. Begin to talk about theatre, and ask them what they think is necessary to put on a production (costumes, actors, directors, props, etc.) Segue into what an actor needs to be able to perform successfully.

2. Discuss rules that are in effect throughout the session. Inform them that they need to remain “school appropriate” and violence will not be tolerated. Only positive commentary will be allowed in the session. One person talks at a time. If it is not a student’s turn to speak, they should be listening.

3. Explain what a warm-up activity is, and how it helps prepare an actor to focus and move around. Play “Elephants, Palm Trees, and Jello.” Have students stand up in a circle (teacher in center). When you point to a student and say ELEPHANT, they extend their arm in front of their face and become the trunk. The two students next to them (the “neighbors”) will become the ears by forming “C” arms towards the trunk.

Point to another student and say PALM TREE. The student will sway their arms above their head, and the neighbors become hula dancers. Point to another student and say JELLO. The student will “jiggle like jello” and the neighbors will become the bowl by holding hands around the jiggling jello. As they become more familiar with the movements, begin to accelerate. If a student demonstrates the wrong move (or no move at all), they have to sit down where they are sitting and become “statues” (this helps keep the group quiet while the game continues).

Explain that this makes the game more challenging as some students might have new “neighbors” far away from them because of all the gaps filled with sitting statues. Encourage energy in the movements! Play until 2 players are standing.

Process

1. Have students sit back in circle. Ask them what skill they use in daily life to talk or listen to each other. Hint that it begins with a “C.” COMMUNICATION is something we do every day to get a message across. Ask them to give examples of ways we communicate with each other in daily life (speaking, listening, sign language, body language, lectures). Ask them to give examples of how actors use communication (speaking to the other actors and the audience, listening to the other actors, miming, dancing, body language, physical acting).

2. Call on 3 volunteers. There are 3 lines these actors are going to say. When giving the lines, do not recite with emotion:

Actor 1: We have to talk to you.
Actor 2: Oh. What about?
Actor 3: We think you already know.

*Actors 1 and 3 enter together.

Have the audience give them a variety of ways to say the lines (excited, suspicious, sad, surprised, etc.) The actors should focus on not only their voices, but their bodies as well. Discuss how when the emotions were changed, the scene had a different meaning even though the lines remained the same. Ask them what might have happened in each scenario (when they were excited, maybe someone just won the lottery). How did the actors convey each emotion? What did they do with their voices? What did they do with their bodies?

3. Ask the students what skill artists need to paint a picture or what writers need to write a story. Hint that this also begins with a “C.” CREATIVITY. Ask them why it is important for actors to be creative (so the audience does not become bored, so that the audience has a clear understanding of their character, etc.) When an actor is directed, they must make bold choices. No choice is ever “wrong,” but an actor must be creative enough to think of new ideas to bring to the table.

4. Divide the group into two teams for ONE MINUTE CHALLENGE. Have them stand in two lines facing each other. Give them 30 seconds to think of a CREATIVE team name. Give Team One the name of a place (the beach, the mall, a park, etc.). Player one will act out a person/thing/activity you see at a beach (surfer, building sandcastles, swimmers, etc.) They must do this without speaking or using sound effects. The rest of Team One will try to guess what the player is portraying. When they guess correctly, the second player will go. They only have one minute! After a minute is up, Team Two will go.

5. After the game, ask the students why creativity was essential in this game. When one idea did not help the other players guess, did the player give up or did they think of a new creative idea? Since no talking was allowed in the challenge, the actors had to think of ways to use their bodies to convey a character.

6. Ask the students what skill they use in everyday life when they are taking a test, or studying. CONCENTRATION is an essential skill for the actor. Ask them why it is so important for an actor to be able to focus and concentrate (so they don’t break character on stage, so they remember their lines, so they stay connected with the other actors on stage, so that if something goes wrong on stage, they can improvise quickly enough to keep the show going). Ask them what types of things could distract an actor.

7. Have the students stand in a circle. Choose one player to begin. Holding a bean bag, a ball, or any other object, they are going to choose another player by walking towards them (maintaining eye contact) and stating, “Hello (insert name here)” while giving them the object. The chosen player will respond with “Thank you (insert name here)” and the greeter will take their place in the circle. The chosen player will now choose another player to greet.

The activity continues in this way until everybody has gone. Play another round. This time, to speed up the process, the player who is receiving the object should meet the greeter in the middle. Their goal is to go as fast as they can while remembering the previous pattern. After everybody has gone, choose a different player to begin. This time, instead of greeting, the player is going to state any word that comes to mind and combine it with a physical movement. The pattern should be different this time. (Again, maintaining eye contact is essential).

After everyone has gone, the group should attempt to work through both patterns simultaneously without getting mixed up and still keeping up the pace.

8. After the game, ask the students what the challenges of the game were. Did they have time to think or plan? What was it like when both patterns were combined? How did they remain focused?

9. If there is time at the end of the workshop, play a game that combines all three (COMMUNICATION, CREATIVITY, and CONCENTRATION). Have the students stand back up in a circle for a round of WHAT ARE YOU DOING? One player begins by acting out an activity (jumping rope, fishing, etc.) The next player in the circle asks, “What are you doing?” The actor thinks up the first thing that comes to mind that is NOT something they are doing. For example, “I am tap dancing on icicles.” The next player will act out tap dancing on icicles. The NEXT player asks, “What are you doing?” and the game continues on in this way. An action cannot be repeated. Also, a player cannot simply state that they are “running.” Where are they running? What are they running on? A player is out when they repeat an action or if they are not quick enough.

Wrap-Up

1. After the game, ask the students how they used each of the three skills discussed in the workshop. COMMUNICATION was used when the players were conveying their actions to the other players. CREATIVITY was used when they had to think of ways to convey the actions. CONCENTRATION was essential because they had to listen intently to the other players so that they did not repeat an action.

  • This Author:

    Laura Cole

    Laura Cole is a Counselor and Instructor at Camp CenterStage on the island of Maui in Hawaii. She also performs for Maui OnStage, and directs for various venues on the island. Before moving to Hawaii, Laura toured as an actor and director for Missoula Children's Theatre. She performed for Encore International, doing revue shows at theme parks around the United States. Laura holds a B.A. in Theatre, with an emphasis on Music Theatre Performance, from Plymouth State University. Read Full
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