June 24, 2016
Classroom Experience: Dramatic Basics
Most of us, if not all, love masterpieces of art. A finely performed concerto, a breath-taking painting, a dazzling theatre performance.
What you’re not often told is what goes on behind the scenes that gets these artists to be that good. Drilling the basics.
Like with good old boring music scales.
One commonality many arts share is the practice of muscle awareness and control, and drama is no exception. Meet the hosts of our drama lessons: Teachers Reuben and Shah.
Left: Tr. Reuben giving instructions.
Right: Tr. Shah in musical heaven after class.
Today we join our junior drama students training in their basics. These exercises build the foundation for future performances, and later in Year 11, they’ll even direct their own play during the Student Directed Festival (you can book tickets here, details are at the bottom!), as our past students have done and even won 3 awards at the 13th BOH Cameronian Art Awards for Junior Cammies in Theatre.
First, let’s go for a walk. When we enter the space of theatre, we carry with us our daily habits, the way we move, checking our hair time to time, a knuckle crack, shifting our weight as we stand...
Let’s remove that - loosen up, stand neutrally, relax your body. As an empty glass, we more easily take on the way our characters walk and talk. It’s about building physical awareness to create a powerful, believable presence on stage. This activity, called the Neutral Walk, builds into more advanced techniques and becomes quite therapeutic.
Awareness of breath, holding particular poses while moving, changing the way you walk, and even maintaining facial expressions (it sounds like a meditative exercise, doesn’t it?). As they go, our students learn different speeds of walking on a scale of 1 to 10, practicing muscle memory and awareness of their own bodies. At 10, you’re practically running, and at 1… Let’s just say you’d take an hour to cross a 5 metre-wide room.
“I like sweaty actors. It shows me that they’re working hard.”
Then we move to music free-styling. Some background music comes up, and students move in natural reaction to the song . It’s an exercise for actors to release their self-inhibitions (like the fear of looking silly, like we all do), and push the limits of their creativity. The songs chosen are usually, unusual. It’s not just a matter of dancing to the beat, because there often isn’t one!
After that warm-up, we have Circumstances. A scene is described, with background music. Students practice how to feel and portray a scene, and react to it as it changes. This is where an acting mantra comes in handy: “How am I seeing? How am I being seen?” The scene transforms over time, sometimes in unexpected ways, training actors to respond. In theatre, sometimes things don’t happen according to plan, but the show must go on. Well-trained actors respond aptly and quickly, thanks to years of practice.
As an observer, it’s interesting to watch completely differing reactions from students. For example, the usual response to a can of worms would be disgust, but who knows if a curious, free spirit would taste them instead in the name of science!
You’re stranded in a desert, blazing hot. Your shoes are wearing thin, melting. It’s 47 degrees Celcius out. But wait, you see an oasis. Get under that coconut tree, feel the cooling water. Feel the relief come all over you. What does it feel like? The water starts to get thicker, and thicker, and thicker. Until it becomes a muddy sludge. It becomes harder and harder. The more you struggle, the deeper you go. And suddenly it turns into… Strawberry jelly!
In drama, you enjoy your little freedom of space and movement. “I don’t care what people think, I’m here to express myself as what I want.” Teacher Reuben gives his thanks to the students who go all out, and encourages those who didn’t. He empathizes that he was once there feeling the same thing, out of his comfort zone - and it’s okay, you’ll get there eventually.
Every effort stays in our activity room, as props to those learning to step out of their comfort zone. So they have a safe space to fail, forward. Acting is not “pretending”, it’s “becoming”. On stage, you’re not acting, you ARE.
Check out the Student Directed Festival to see our seasoned students in action, where they direct and manage their own show. That’s right, they take up the acting, directing, stage management, and even Front of House duty. Book your tickets by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!