Teacher Tip | How to Keep Your Whole Cast Engaged Throughout a Performance

As a drama teacher, one of the greatest struggles I’ve faced is trying to keep my whole cast engaged throughout a performance. Particularly for children, it can be difficult to maintain focus when it’s not their line. Last week we talked about how to teach your students the structure of a scene with regards to lines. Today we’re going even deeper and exploring how character and performance can be maintained throughout!

Character, Character, Character
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One sure fire way to get your students to maintain their performance is to maintain their character. If they’re thinking as their character, they’ll be acting and reacting all the time. Getting our students to maintain their character is the tricky part as Stanislavski may be a bit much for a six-year-old (though there are some definite adaptations).

Once you have a strong foundation of who the character is, it's much easier to incorporate them into all aspects of the production. Click To Tweet

It’s worth dedicating at least a session to characterisation during your rehearsal process. There are plenty of ways to develop individual characters by talking about their opinions, way of moving, defining personality traits and objectives. Beyond a character session, you can continue to develop these skills by incorporating a characterisation drama games into your class warm-ups.

Once you have a strong foundation of who the character is, it’s much easier to incorporate them into all aspects of the production.

Reactions

A good reaction can add so much via GIPHY

Now that you have an established character, you need to encourage your actors to react as their characters to every piece of action. Actively ask them to think about their character’s opinion of what is happening. Ask them to show you this with their body and their facial expression. Find moments when they can ad-lib a vocal response to the action.

Now, despite constant reminders to keep thinking as their character, it can be hard for children to maintain this. That’s where you come in. How can you get them to remember to keep acting and reacting during the performance? Block the reactions during the rehearsal process.

Blocking the reactions doesn’t mean you have to tell the students how to react, it just means giving them the time and space to practise this while rehearsing. If you make time between each line to simply say, ‘Let me see your reactions.’ you can check what is happening on stage and encourage this behaviour from your actors.

Blocking and Drilling Reactions
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Let’s take a look at a section of the line drill from last week and how reactions can be incorporated:

Line 1 (learn):

  • You say it.
  • The student repeats it.
  • You say it.
  • The student repeats it.
  • Reaction
  • The student repeats it again.
  • Reaction

Line 2 (learn):

  • You say it.
  • The student repeats it.
  • You say it.
  • The student repeats it.
  • Reaction
  • The student repeats it again.
  • Reaction

Now students repeat their lines alone in the following sequence. If you need to remind them, run the above learning drill once more for their line.

Drill:

  • Line 1
  • Reaction
  • Line 2
  • Reaction
  • Line 1
  • Reaction
  • Line 2
  • Reaction

Once you get used to blocking in the reactions, it takes very little additional time. Your cast will also get used to working in this way and adding a reaction to every line will become second nature to them. Try it out with your cast and let us know if it works for you!

You might also find these useful:

Teacher Tip – How to Direct Text Using Actions

Teacher Tip | Why You Should Let Your Cast Tell Their Story

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