Last month, Prague Youth Theatre performed their end of term shows including Sweet and Sour: The Odd Gummy Bear, an original script by Silly Fish Learning founder, Rebecca Humphries. The 6-8 year old cast did a wonderful job and supported each other a lot. Rebecca talks about how and why the cast became a team.
The Final Rehearsal
In the final rehearsal, some of the students were still struggling with cues. With such a young group I took no shame in telling them that if they weren’t sure what they should be doing or saying, they could look at me in the front row and I would nod to confirm if it was their time to speak. Unfortunately, many of the young actors weren’t looking at me as they usually do. Other children on the stage started muttering the lines and calling the names of the students who should be speaking, highlighting the problem further. How could I resolve this problem at such a late stage?
Establishing the Team
I asked the students who knew the lines to try to have a greater awareness of the entire situation. Did they know who should be speaking? Was that person looking at me? If they weren’t, did they know the student’s line? In this instance I asked them to confidently and clearly speak in their place. Much of the play is ensemble based so the audience would be none the wiser. One six year old actress turned to me indignantly stating, ‘But they’re their lines so they should know them and know when to say them. I worked hard to learn my lines.’
While her points are valid (and often a sentiment even shared by professional actors), I explained that they may be their lines but it is OUR show and that we need to work as a team and support our friends or we all end up looking bad. She nodded her agreement and we tried to practise supporting each other.
When it got to the day of the show, I sat the children down before rehearsing and asked them if they had any thoughts they’d like to share with the rest of the cast. There were the usual comments of ‘Speak loudly and clearly.’ or ‘Always try to face the audience.’ but to my delight, the same precocious little girl who had complained about other children not knowing their lines raised her hand and said, ‘If someone doesn’t know what to say and you do you should help them out because we’re all a team.’ Throughout the remainder of the day I saw the cast working to try to support each other and it lifted my heart.
From the Writer’s Perspective
A majority of the shows I direct are ensemble based and have more narration than character specific lines. I’ve always pushed the actors to prioritise moving the scene forward over accuracy, particularly in youth theatre. As a writer myself I understand how difficult it can be to listen to actors perform lines that are not the lines you wrote, but ultimately a slight inaccuracy of text in an energetic show is better than word perfection while watching the actors slowly grasp for the next word. The performance will influence the way the audience receive and judge the text so the performance should be the priority.
With Older Students
This is a lesson my older students learned long ago. Even in character driven dialogue, I’ve always encouraged the actors to take care of each other and offer prompts in a way that moves the scene forward and does not break the narrative for the audience.
While I mentioned earlier that the six-year-old’s sentiment is one shared by many professional actors, I feel that that’s a crying shame. Far too often it’s a battle of the egos on stage as actors try to stand out. Often the problem presents as upstaging but it can also be a case of one cast member leaving another to flounder. The best shows are always the ones in which the cast support each other and I’m proud that the PYT Juniors learned this lesson at such a young age.