Stage Presence

An FFP Production! Why Do We Call It a Workshop?

Making New Friends

Making New Friends

Being involved in a live stage production is fun, challenging, and a whole lot of work!

These young gangsters from our current Sam Shade production don’t look like they’re working! Would you guess they were all new friends? Making new friends is part of the fun, as is goofing off a little during breaks in rehearsal.

But working very hard at something you enjoy is also “fun,” even though it can be tiring and even a little stressful. There is good stress and bad stress. Good stress is good for you! No matter what your age, taking on new challenges is good for you! Imagine a life with zero stress. That’s called boring and purposeless.

There’s nothing boring about a live stage production. At FFP, we’re working mainly with young actors, anywhere from 7 to 20, and even some adults. We take everyone who is serious about joining the cast. We work with every level of experience and inexperience. Our purpose is to give young people nurturing, family-friendly opportunities to be on the stage in front of live audiences and to benefit from all the aspects of being a cast member.

Developing Real Stage Presence

Developing Real Stage Presence

Let’s list some of those benefits — learning the meaning of real commitment, personal responsibility, and selfless teamwork. We’ve had actors perform with a fever, for the sake of the show and the team. Showing up for rehearsals with lines, cues, and moves learned builds character as well as memory. Learning how not to upstage others, and how to help others pick up dropped lines is valuable in building relationships. Learning how to take direction — now, that‘s a valuable skill! Analyzing a character and exploring a personality that’s different from your own — that’s a challenge! Learning about people and things in a different time period — that’s educational!

The stage builds confidence and personality “presence.” We work on projecting the personality as well as the voice. We work on moving and speaking to the rhythm of a song (speaking can be harder than singing!), delivering a song, singing harmonies, and how to properly use a microphone.

But here are a few things in this “workshop” you might not readily think about. Yesterday’s Sam Shade rehearsal involved how to walk in heels, how to move, how to stand, how to sit, how a guy walks and moves in a suit, handles a hat, how a girl straightens a man’s tie, how to do a prat fall, how to handle a violin and a violin case (and carry it like a “tommy gun” and what is a tommy gun!).

The “list of learning” involved in live stage productions is almost endless. An FFP production is definitely a valuable workshop for every actor. So, join a cast! Work hard, learn a lot, make new friends, and have some fun!

Drama — The Ultimate Team Sport

“The show must go on!”

You’ve heard the phrase. It usually refers to an actor in a leading role who “hits the boards” (stage) in spite of sickness, or to a prepared understudy who goes on for an actor who absolutely cannot, or to a little homeschool drama class crew with no understudies that scrambles like mad to find someone who can step into a role at the last minute.

I’ve had dedicated kids (with parental support) perform with fevers and in spite of a family wedding. Once, a leading role had to very reluctantly leave town due to a death in the family, right before dress rehearsal. The co-op director stepped in and we survived just great.

Our homeschool co-op drama classes (divided into lower and upper grades) are a risky endeavor because I have always been willing to do several things: 1) raise the bar high on the quality and complexity of the musical play despite the daunting time constraints of about 16 hours of rehearsal over 10 weeks, 2) take whomever signs up and guarantee them some kind of decent role, and 3) customize each play to fit the specific cast I get. That means, if we lose someone, it can be a challenging situation. It’s a risk we have taken twice a year for going on 12 years. One way or another, we’ve made it through every time!

A Team, A Body, A Family

Drama truly is a team sport, requiring the commitment of every cast member. In football, if the quarterback is a no-show, that’s a problem. If the unsung lineman who knows how to protect that quarterback is a no-show, that’s an equal problem. As I try to get across to the kids, if you’re in the cast, you’re important!

There’s a famous passage in the Bible where the Apostle Paul talks about the Church as if it were a physical body. Take a look at I Corinthians 12:14-26. The head or the face or the brain may seem most important and deserving of glory, but it can’t survive without all the other parts. Even a hulk of a football player can get sidelined by a damaged little toe. Wherever you are onstage — whoever you are in that body — you are important.

A play cast is a team, a body, and a family of sorts. When each member strives to support everyone else, at every rehearsal, and when the parents are supportive, challenges may still arise, but they will be met and overcome.

Being “Present”

Regardless of your experience or skill level, you can try your best to be present at every rehearsal and every performance, whether onstage, “in the wings,” or waiting for your turn to practice.

Study your script and learn your lines. Pay attention to whatever is going on onstage. Know your cues. When onstage, think about what is happening. Direct your attention to the actor speaking, or wherever the director has coached you to look. Try your best to listen to each line.

You may just be a beginner — you may still be a little shy — but, if you practice some of these things, you’ll go a long way toward looking like a pro! You’ll be acting!

[This is the third blog in a series. See the two previous entries.]

Drama — the Discipline of Hurry Up and Wait

No one likes to sit around and wait, even if it means a few more precious minutes before the doctor gets that needle in you, or until Dad comes home and reams you out for what you did to your little brother that day.

If you’re a kid in a drama class, you’re there for action! Not waiting around. First of all, you’re a kid. You’re all about action, even if it’s just yakking with friends. Second, you’re there to get on the stage and act out lines, not sit around and watch. Well, unless Mom made you be there.

A director can only work with one scene at a time, and, oh boy, if it’s a musical, and that scene involves a song and choreographing the movements of a group of singers, then… you can bet those actors not in the scene or the song are sitting around waiting. It’s even worse when the actors who are actually in the scene have to sit or stand around while others are being choreographed. It’s a bore. It’s a bummer. Actually, it’s a bummer for the director, believe it or not. The director feels the pressure of all those bored “waiters,” as well as the pressure of getting the current scene and song done.

Ask anyone on stage or screen — acting is so often the discipline of hurry up and wait.

If possible, the director tries to keep the “waiters” busy by having an assistant run lines with them. It’s great to have an accompanist available who can take “waiters” who are singers and go practice a song.

But, there is something YOU can do when you are called upon to wait. You can try your best to be as present offstage as on.

Pay attention to what is happening onstage. Think about where you would be, when you will come on next, what you will be doing. Study your lines. Think about the play in general and how you can help make it successful — how you can support everyone else. Be ready when it’s your turn.

Real stage presence is being “present” — whether you are onstage, “in the wings,” or waiting your turn in rehearsal.

[This is the second in a series of three blogs about presence and commitment in a play. See also Stage Presence and Drama — The Ultimate Team Sport.]

Stage Presence — To Be “Present” Onstage

“Stage presence” probably makes you think first of a performer with a vibrant and captivating personality.

You may think of someone who “sparkles” onstage, with expressive eyes, a winning smile, and effective movements. Or, you may think of a powerful personality who takes command of the stage the minute they enter, in a dramatic and forceful way, or even more amazing, with a quiet, deliberate, and thoughtful manner. The great Ethel Waters could do it all superbly.

If you do a search for “stage presence” on the internet, you will find numerous articles on the subject aimed at actors, dancers, singers, and musicians — anyone onstage.

And that’s where I want to go with this blog entry — “anyone onstage” — or actually, “everyone onstage.”

I think the most difficult thing to teach a young actor (or any type of performer) is that they are “on” every second they are onstage. From the audience’s point of view, each individual on the stage, whether or not they have a line, is either adding to the production, or taking away from it. There is no neutral. The actor’s stance, their expressions, where they direct their attention, how they listen to the speaker, how they react — it all helps (or hinders) painting the picture for the audience.

Granted, if you’re a kid, that’s a tall order. It’s a tall order for a lot of adults. But, it’s our ultimate goal and one of the things we want to persistently practice.

If you are onstage, you are there for a reason. Stories often feature a “group” of some kind. The group may be orphans, or gangsters, or radio singers, or neighborhood kids, or a family of mice, or shepherds in a desert caravan. They are needed to tell the story. Each actor is important, and each actor can make an important contribution.

For example, I watched some of our co-op kids do a skit the other day. Allison, one of the girls (who had been in my drama classes for years) had no lines at the time. She was playing one of a small group of runners about to begin a race. All the lines and attention went to another girl who was portraying a self-important runner who kept delaying the race. Allison’s best moment was “sleeping” face down on the stage while the other actress delayed the race once more.

It was the way Allison “slept.” Though she was “just lying there,” she incorporated little actions that communicated great frustration. She acted. She gave it her all, but without upstaging anyone else. It was funny! It caught my attention. I was proud of her! It added to the skit. She was present!

Here’s the good news. No matter what level of experience, or skill, or “natural talent” you possess right now, you can do some little things that will begin to transform your presence onstage. Decide that you will try to do your best to think about “who you are” every time you take the stage. Remember to look at each actor as they speak — basically, just follow the action. If you do that, you will actually help direct the audience.

And, remember to try to listen to each line. It’s the director’s job to help you learn how to react to each line.

So, make a decision, try your best to be present, and you’ll end up acting!

[This is the first in a series of three related blogs directed at the actor and “being present.”]