Working with Student Actors: Geometry Can Help Them be More Effective On Stage

How can you add variety in staging?
How can you add variety in staging?
How can you add variety in staging?

If you are a teacher or drama director working with school students, then you have your work cut out for you. When directing a school or after-school play with those in primary or secondary grades drama directors must spent a lot of time teaching young performers the basics of acting. That means some simple things can be difficult. In an earlier blog, we considered ways in which school drama directors could help individual actors open up to an audience. In this piece, we will consider how three basic directing tips related to geometry can help your actors put in stronger performances on stage.

Tip One: The Diagonal

Note the various diagonals being used in this scene.
Note the various diagonals being used in this scene.

Using diagonals on stage can be very helpful in this way. When an actor moves on a diagonal or when they stand apart from another actor on a diagonal the audience gets a very interesting view of them. Moving on a diagonal on stage involves an actor standing upstage in one corner, let’s say stage right and crossing downstage to the stage left corner. In doing so, the actor will walk across innumerable planes, crossing through or near center stage, and using the entire depth of the stage. This is a very strong cross.

Likewise, having one actor stand upstage right and another downstage left creates a visually interesting stage picture for the audience. What’s described here is an extreme use of diagonal. Diagonals can be used more subtly by making sure your actors are on different planes (never standing in a straight line on stage) and that they stay 8 to 12-feet apart unless they are involved in an extreme emotion such as love or hate.

Tip Two: The Arc

Three arcs outlined. Making a cross in this manner is much better than simply walking in a straight line.
Three arcs outlined. Making a cross in this manner is much better than simply walking in a straight line.

When an actor moves across the stage they will tend to want to go from one side to the other in a straight line. A direct cross of this sort feels comfortable to the actor, but it is not very interesting for an audience to watch. However, having the actor arc their cross can suddenly create a new dynamic. That’s because, as noted in the first example using diagonals, the actor walking in the pattern of an arc is using various planes on the stage, utilizing its depth.

An arc consists of an actor starting their cross at one point in the stage and then gradually taking that cross either up or down stage and then ending it on the other side of the stage on the same plane they started. Often arcs work well when an actor has to go either upstage or downstage of some furniture but you may use them on an open stage too. If you’re unsure of what an arc looks like, think of the actor walking a path on the stage that would follow the basic outline of an archery bow.

Tip Three: The Triangle

The power of a triangle as seen using a chorus.
The power of a triangle as seen using a chorus.

Rarely, if ever, do you want actors on stage standing in a straight line. Why don’t you want this? Because it is very boring. When you have three actors on stage try to arrange them in a triangle with the middle actor either upstage or downstage of the two actors on either side of him/her. It’s a simple idea, but it works wonders. Playwrights create triangular relationships in their plots between characters all the time with great effect and stage directors can do the same physically with actors.

Use These Simple But Effective Tips

Be sure to use these simple but effective tips whenever you are staging a play or musical. These three geometrically inspired staging devices will open your actors up to the audience, help create vivid stage pictures, and enable dynamic movement.

  • 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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