This week at Natick Drama Workshop we continued working on music and choreography. Once we get into blocking, I don’t get to see our actors working on other aspects of the show, so it was nice for me to walk around and see what our actors were up to (and get a sneak peak at a couple of costumes). As I mentioned last week, it’s really important to continually practice all choreography and to learn lyrics to songs that have been taught – it will make everything so much easier as rehearsals go on and as we get closer to our off-book dates and, eventually, tech week.
I also got to spend some time with about half our cast, talking about stage directions and doing some preliminary character work. What do I mean by stage direction? Each part of the stage has a different name, making it easier to give an actor precise blocking. If a director just said, “You enter over there, walk that way, and end up over there,” well, that’s rather confusing. However, by saying, “You enter upstage left and cross right to the pit platform,” well now you know exactly what the director is asking of you.
Stage right vs. stage left
Even as someone who has been involved in theater since kindergarten (and directing since college), this can still trip me up, but I am also directionally challenged. It’s actually not that hard – as long as you know your right from your left. The tricky part is knowing your right from your left and where you are standing in relation to the stage. Stage right and left are the right and left of the actor ON stage. As the director, I am usually facing the stage and therefore my right and left are the opposite of stage right and left. Let me say this again: stage right and stage left are based on the actor’s right and left while on stage. Think about it – if you’re an actor and the director tells you to move left, all you do is move left. It’s that simple.
However, house right and house left (house=auditorium/audience) is the opposite of all this. What? Now I’m confused. I know, I know, but this is still from the actor’s perspective. If an actor is in the house (and presumably facing the stage), the actor’s right is house right and the actor’s left is house left. The confusing part is that house right is on the same side as stage left. If an actor enters from aisle (or loge) right and continues onto the stage, the perspective changes. Even though the actor walked in a straight line up onto the stage from aisle right, once that actor is on the stage (and presumably facing the audience), the actor’s right and left are opposite of what they were when that same actor was facing the stage. Because, again, now the actor is ON stage. This is the part that I think always trips people up. But once you get it, you get it.
Down stage vs. up stage
Time for a history lesson. Way back, a long time ago, in a land far away, stages used to be tilted. This way, the audience, who would all be sitting at the same level, would be able to see things happening at the back of the stage, as well as things happening at the front of the stage. The back end of the stage was, therefore, up, compared to the front of the stage, which was down. So if an actor needed to move from the front to the back, he was literally walking “up” stage and an actor walking from the back to front was literally going “down” stage. If you think about a tilted stage, you’ll never get these two stage directions mixed up again.
Do I really need to explain this one? No, I didn’t think so.
In order to help teach this I’ve taken to having actors go stand in one of 9 spots that the stage is divided into to help make all of this more visual for other actors. Those 9 spots are up right, up center, up left, stage right, center stage, stage left, down right, down center, and down left.
Once that is made clear, then I start getting more complicated with actors standing in aisle right or left and loge right or left (at Wilson there on loges on either side, at Kennedy there is only a right loge), in the pit, and on the down right and down left extensions. The step after learning this would be learning how to write stage directions, but we didn’t get into that today. When we start blocking next week we will get into that for any actors who are new or need a refresher.
The other thing I did with some actors, as I mentioned, was start character work. It’s really important for actors to understand their characters. Sometimes this means creating a backstory. For example, why our soldiers are soldiers (rather than farmers, for example). Sometimes it requires the actors to focus on their characters’ motivations and wants. All of this depends on the actors’ experiences. One of our 8th grade actors named her character’s motivation right off the bat, whereas one 6th grade actor had already come up with a backstory and discussed it with an actor that he would be sharing all his scenes with. Some actors don’t know to think about either of these things and that’s why it’s good to discuss all of this in a group setting – who better to learn from than your fellow actors? Much of this is based on the script, but there are holes to fill in and choices to be made. Any actor could decide that his or her character is always really excited about everything, which may or may not make sense with the script. If the actor can justify it, why not go for it. The worst thing that could happen is that the director will ask you to try it another way. After all, even though the characters are in the hands of the actors, the entire play is created from the vision of the director based on how she interprets the script. Just another way in which, as Jane likes to put it, “theater is a team sport.”
Well, that’s it for now. See you all Saturday,