Directing Students Actors- Opening Up Your Student Actors

Is it fun?

images-3When working with young actors in a primary and secondary school setting drama teachers and directors can find that it’s a major chore to get them to open up to an audience. Often young actors will work against themselves on stage, subconsciously opting to weaken their performance. There are many ways to get them to open themselves up, including playing theatre games, working on trust exercises, and teaching them relaxation methods. Here are three basic physical directions drama coaches, directors, and teachers can give their students to make them better actors and also to help them improve when giving a classroom presentation.

Sit Up Straight

readers_theatre098Often actors lose energy when they sit down. This happens when they sit on a chair, sofa, on the floor, etc. If your actors are sitting make sure that they are sitting up straight with their heads up. Their chests should be open too. Not only will this allow the audience to see their faces but it will also stop them from collapsing inwards, which weakens their ability to breathe and project.

Head Up and Out

images-6Young actors will often look to the side or down when they are speaking. This means that their words are either going offstage or into the floor and neither is conducive to an actor being heard by an audience. Thus, when onstage coach your actors to speak with their heads up, looking out over the audience. When in a scene have them cheat out to the audience placing on foot upstage and the other downstage. All of this should look natural and in order for it to work properly the actor must be comfortable. Don’t make this a rigid demand. Open the actor up to the audience and his/her fellow actors gently and gradually.

Supporting Speech, Speaking Clearly and Breathing

Working with new plays offers students various challenges.

Actors need to be heard and volume is often a problem with young actors. Telling someone to be louder is not a real solution. Here is how to get your young actor to speak up without having them shout unnaturally.

  1. Have each actor breathe using his/her diaphragm to support their speech.
  2. Stress enunciation and speaking slowly. It’s okay to have them speak slowly and extremely clearly at first. After some time, they can speak more quickly.
  3. Along with breathing from their diaphragm, your actors must simply remember to breathe. This may sound ridiculous, but often a nervous performer will take very few breaths, causing them to tighten up even more.

Giving Young Actors Confidence

The best thing any theatre director or teacher can do for any student actor is give them confidence. Make sure your actors know that the audience is on their side, meaning they want to be able to see the actors, understand what they are saying, and enjoy their performance. In other words, the audience is on the actor’s side. Also, let your actors know that doing the simple things outlined in this blog will go a long way to helping them out in strong performances. Be positive, supportive, and offer them direction that will get them to the next level.

  • This Author:

    Paul Mroczka

    Paul Mroczka has served Theatre By the Sea as associate director and playwright-in-residence. He has directed for companies including North Country Center for the Arts, Pontine Movement Theatre, The Theatre of Newburyport and the Palace Theatre. A former National Endowment for the Arts fellow in playwriting, he has also garnered a Shubert Fellowship, the Jason Miller Award and has received grants from the New Hampshire Council for the Humanities. His plays have been performed at New York’s La MaMa La Galleria, Nat Horne Theatre, and Manhattan Punchline Theatre, among others. His interactive planetarium show, Pathfinders, is running at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, NH. Recent directorial assignments include Good People, Steel Magnolias, and The Complete World of Sports (Abridged) at The Barnstormers Playhouse in New Hampshire, and Rumors, Orpheus in the Underworld, and The Glass Menagerie at PSU. This summer Paul finished an initial draft of his new play, Smart Money ... Read Full
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