Last week, I was treated to a performance at Vista High School. It was a series of student written, student directed, and student acted short plays. It was facinating to sit on the audience side of the stage, and it gave me a newfound sense of gratitude for my high school drama teachers. At the time, they drove me nuts with the constant nit-picking! Now, I'm reminded of how vital those things that seemed so minor at the time, actually ARE when performing on stage.
First off, I have to give kudos to every kid who put their work on stage last night. It takes a certain amount of guts and passion to write and perform something - especially as a high schooler, where peer pressure and the opinions of critics are often taken deeply to heart.
*If any high schooler's read this, I hope they'll take this as nothing more than one audience member's opinion. Some things were great! Some things left me going "huh?". So here's a bit of both!
This isn't a performaning arts focused school, but overall the kids did alright. (Afterall, I'm sure I wrote similiarly silly things when I was a teen, though some of the skits were surpisingly deep and well done!)Saddly, it's obvious that the arts have suffered at this school. While several of the actors/actresses have a lot of potential, the basics seemed to be lost on a majority of the skits.
This all reminded me of how grateful I am now for the drama instructors I had in high school (whom, at the time, I despised). They drilled the fundamentals into me and they stuck. This largely TV generation seemed to miss lessons like, "Make sure the person in the back of the audience can hear you, no matter the mic situation," and "Cheat out whenever possible."
While the kids did a great job of not blocking one another from the audience or needlessly turning their backs to the audience, for the most part, they seemed to miss the Power of the Profile dynamic.
You non-theater folks may be suprised to learn that often characters when speaking aren't quite looking at one another. At least - on stage. (Camera angles allow for more flexibility in this area for film acting.) Using a Profile look can be very intense. Take a love scene for example. The tension built as characters lock eyes and are about to kiss for the first time is almost measurable. A Profile look can also be a very strong expression when two characters are angry at one another and staring each other down, or when one turns and walks away and the other is left staring after them...
However, when characters are always talking to each other and truly facing one another, it gets very boring for an audience to watch. A lot of facial expression is lost because the audience can only see half of the actor's face. While the actors may be using it to connect to one another, the audience is largely left out of that connection. In many of these skits, the actors overused the power of Profile blocking.
Hence the tip to - "Cheat out whenever possible." It brings the audience into the characters and story more than watching half a face does. ;)
Line Delivery -
This is another basic that seemed to be missing from many performances. Delivering lines with confidence and clarity is a great fundemental skill for theater. If the last person in the audience can't make out what the actor is saying (either through volume, enunciation, or lip reading) than the audience can't get into the show. They have to understand what's being expressed, so, as important as it is to express emotion, it's vital to speak the lines at a comprehensible speed, volume, and clarity to the audience.
This is another issue that can stem from troublesome blocking. If an actor is looking upstage (toward the back wall) or standing profile (looking toward the wings), the line often gets lost. The Volume goes whatever direction the actor is facing. It's pretty much impossible to read lips when the actor is facing these directions, so projection is key when blocking calls for those angles. (Also, if the audience is straining to hear what is being said on stage, they can't sit back and enjoy the entertainment/art as it was ment to be enjoyed. They are too busy trying to figure out what's going on.)
All that said - these kids did a great job with "the show must go on". No matter what goes wrong in live theater, ya' just have to 'role' with it. ;) Afterall, that's the thrill of it right there!
Support your local high school kids! Hit up one of their prodcutions! Who knows? You may see the next star in training!