The Actor

Did You Know You Teach Your Audience to Give You Those Laughs? Or to Hold Them Back?!

Full house DVD watch party

Full House for the DVD Watch Party

Now that A Most Fantastical Pirate Tale! production is Opera House history, and we are all enjoying watching the wonderfully edited DVD that draws from all 4 performances, let’s see how the DVD can improve our acting and, in particular, the laughs we get from our audiences!

Yes, young actors, there are a number of ways that you actually cue the audience to laugh, or not to laugh. If you pay attention to the DVD, you will begin to see the most obvious laugh killer ~ it’s not stepping on the lines of your fellow actors ~ it’s stepping on the laughs of your audience! Watch and learn how you actually train the audience to hold back their laughter (in all but their most boisterous moments) because the audience is afraid their laughter will drown out your next line. They want to hear you, so they chuckle quietly. When you charge ahead too quickly, without a slight pause to see if the laugh comes and for how long, you actually teach the audience to hold back to avoid laughing over your next words.

You can see it best in television shows that are recorded before a live audience. Now, those are edited ~ and scenes, even though live, are shot and reshot. The audience is prepared for that. The audience is also “warmed up” and actually has cue signs. But you can tell a real laugh, and you’ll note the actors pause just long enough each time, allowing the audience to respond.

Now, “you lot,” on the stage ~ no cue signs, no retakes. The stage is true actor/audience interaction. It’s the real deal. And that’s why all the best actors love it the best ~ and often go back to it, during and/or following successful movie and television careers.

So,…observe the DVD carefully and think about the most important thing about the performance ~ the live chemistry and energy exchange between you and your audience. It is certainly something that comes with experience and practice ~ the feel for audience response. How long to pause for a laugh, without pausing too long and slowing or even disrupting the flow of the play.

Want more laughs? You got quite a few, but you can get even more! Watch and learn, pirates. Watch and learn!

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!

No Mystery It Was a Fun Show!

RKClumpgroupTheRadioKidsFFP’s own Radio Kids revealed The Mystery of the Clump in the Night at our end-of-semester, homeschool co-op program and had a great time! And so did the audience!

A co-op of some 50 families draws a substantial audience, but there wasn’t any nervousness visible in this performance by our lower-grades drama class (elementary grades). The kids did a wonderful job, and they only get to rehearse once a week, for about 50 minutes, for only 10 weeks, with two quick dress rehearsals. Anyone who has ever put together a reasonably substantial show knows that’s insane. It is. But we do it anyway. And it works. The bar stays high, in spite of our limitations. And the kids reach for it!

RKClumpIntheMicA radio play is something of a “different animal.” It is a skill in itself. It requires the actor to hold a script and read from a script, always into a microphone, while acting for two audiences — the imaginary one, and the live one in front of them. And The Clump is a radio play within a play. It begins as a regular play, with no scripts, as the audience gets to know The Radio Kids as everyday kids who are local radio stars in 1940 America.

Our modern-day, cell-phone-using, television-watching, internet-using, elementary-school-level kids had to learn some things about American culture in 1940. It was fun! And they enlightened the audience with a little cultural literacy in an entertaining way. Nan may have her dad’s Popular Mechanics magazine with a story about the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the amazing new “telly-vision,” but, as Swell Sammy Sakowitz makes clear, “It’ll never replace radio!”

RKClumpBobAnother new challenge was the use of pantomime. The actors met the challenge of helping the audience (and themselves) “see” a bologna sandwich, a baseball bat, and “the clump”!

And, of course, with a radio play, you have to have sound effects (SFX)! Our SFX actor did an amazing job of playing 5 parts, as a Radio Kid who also played “Mom,” and as Bob the Bologna Man, and Bud the Baseball Slugger, while doing physical SFX with wood and pans and cans and other SFX with her voice into the microphone. She literally wore several hats (and coats).

RKClumpsingThis was the “world debut” of this brand-new play and it features two radio jingles (yes, we added one). It is perfect for elementary-school plays (public or private schools), but it could also easily be done by middle school, junior high, or senior high students. It would really be funny with adults dressing and acting as kids!

Did we find out what “the clump” is?! I think we have to wait for the next show!

Meet “The Radio Kids”!

TheRadioKidsIt’s 1940 and The Radio Kids of Station KTIQ (the smart place to be!) are ready to bring you a number of fun and funny radio plays! The plays are “slightly musical” in that the kids always sing their own radio jingle and sometimes sing jingles for their “sponsors” and occasionally a short song.

FFP’s newest script is ready to go live on the catalog, featuring The Radio Kids in something they really love to do — a mystery! It’s called The Mystery of the Clump in the Night! Stay tuned for more on that, soon!

Another play called A Day with the Bickersons will be ready for our catalog very soon — right after we finish getting all of the A Shakespearean Tale! materials ready to upload.

Doing a radio play is a great challenge for any actor, but especially for young actors. It’s not the same as memorizing lines and moving around the stage as they normally do. The actors actually have to act as they read, holding their script, turning the pages, and delivering their lines into the stand-up microphone while staying in character. They are acting for a “pretend audience” in front of a real audience — so they have to think on several levels. It requires a lot of directed energy.

You’ll find that some great little actors (and maybe some big ones) have serious problems reading from and following a script “on the spot.” They will take some extra attention. Many have learned to compensate with their memories, but they still need to learn to follow each page in some fashion. Figure out who these actors are right away and don’t let them get lost or discouraged. Support them from the onset and they will usually find a way to get the job done.

Radio plays are great fun, and also excellent opportunities to create some interesting and entertaining ways to enhance cultural and historical literacy for both the actors and the audience!

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.”]

Ben J. Pierce in A Shakespearean Tale!

Ben J. Pierce as Will Surrey

FFP’s recent production (and world premiere!) of A Shakespearean Tale! featured Ben J. Pierce in the role of star and storyteller, Will Surrey, proprietor of the single gas station in the “charming” town of Stratford Corners, Alabama, in 1955.

Ben began in our homeschool co-op drama class productions years ago. You’ll recognize his smiling face in the header of the FFP website. He was always a delight to work with, easy to coach, eager to be expressive, and blessed with a very good memory for lines.

He discovered he really liked acting and now he’s a professional with an agent. We thought we’d tell you a little about him.

When Ben was 10 years old, he loved watching the Nickelodeon television show BrainSurge.  He asked his mom how he could be a contestant and she told him to do some research to find out.  He had to be 11 to audition. Close to his 11th birthday, he got an email that BrainSurge was opening up auditions for their second season.  Ben made a video audition and, 10 days after its submission, the show called and offered him a spot.

Here’s how Ben’s mom, Cynthia, describes what happened:

Ben gets slimed on BrainSurge with Jordin Sparks

Within days we were flying out to Los Angeles to tape. He was assigned to the special episode co-hosted by American Idol’s Jordin Sparks. He competed alongside 5 other great contestants and ended up winning the whole competition. In traditional Nickelodeon fashion, he was green slimed along with Jordin Sparks!  It was such a fun experience and it sparked a desire in him to “do more.” We prayed about it and decided to leave it in God’s hands instead of me doing research and finding out how to get started in the television/film industry. Within weeks, a fellow homeschool acting family posted that Cathryn Sullivan, acting coach to such big-name stars as Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, had moved her studio to Lewisville, Texas, and was opening up her very first homeschool class during school hours. This felt like an open door to us, so we walked through it.

It has been three years now and Ben has since then been blessed to be signed with The Campbell Agency and has worked in short film, commercial, fashion show, print, and now theater with the excellent Family Friendly Productions group. He even had the fun opportunity to perform an original comedy routine at the Hyena’s Club in Dallas last fall. He was most recently cast for a kid’s variety show that is in “workshop phase,” so only the Lord knows what may or may not come of it. But all along the way he has had a blast and is enjoying meeting so many new and talented people.
As for the Totinos Pizza Rolls commercial, (done during rehearsals for A Shakespearean Tale!) this is his first official television commercial. He has done industrial commercials, which are like in-house training videos for companies. His were for educational materials. The funny thing is, I didn’t ask his agent for any of the details.  I probably should have, but we were just so happy he was chosen out of so many wonderful and talented boys who auditioned. It is such an honor. We give God the credit for all his opportunities. I don’t even know how much he is getting paid!  Crazy, huh?  He doesn’t do it for the money, he does it for the love of acting.
Ben fit right into the cast of A Shakespearean Tale!, befriending all, clowning around, leading by example, and easily working well with everyone, from the adults to the youngest actors. No “I’m a pro” attitude with this fellow — he’s just an all-around great young guy, as he has always been.

Ben’s mom added the following comments on what it takes to launch an acting career:

Keep that eye peeled!

It is amazing how much hard work and time (and money on training) goes into developing an acting career. He has worked for three years just to get to the place of booking his first TV commercial. There is no such thing as an overnight success. People who we see show up seemingly out of nowhere into stardom have actually been working for years and years to get that kind of recognition. It’s just that no one recognized them before!
Well, as Will Surrey would say, keep an eye peeled for this young ‘un. He’s well worth watching!

Curtain Closes on Spectacular Night!

A Shakespearean Tale cast in their start-of-the-play costumes

We were concerned. Friday night’s performance was so well done, could the cast do even better on Saturday night? Could they top it? Could they go out on the “highest note”?

Yes, they could, and yes, they did!!

It was actor and audience chemistry at its best. The house was literally packed (stuffed!), but everyone laughed and clapped and cheered and “aw-w-wed” all through the production, pushing the actors to new heights. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. The energy of actors and audience feeds off the other and creates the best experience for both. Each side gets invested in the story and the songs, then literally “work together” to create a thoroughly enjoyable journey into the imagination!

Everyone went “down yonder on a Saturday night,” suspended reality for a couple of hours, and had a great time!

FFP wants to thank all those involved, all those who came, and all who wished us well on our first venture into the public arena. We look forward to packaging our materials, planning more projects, and seeing as many of these kids again as possible in the not-too-distant future! And new kids! C’mon along! You’re all welcome!

A happy cast after the final curtain in their end-of-play costumes. Cheers!


Petruckio does it again! He tames Kate.

Clowning on the set.

Rosie & Will Surrey & Shakespeare the dog.




Now They’re Really Acting!

Petruchio/Petruckio — Can you believe he used to be shy?

I don’t know how to describe the joy, fun, gratitude, and pride a writer feels when a young actor stops reciting lines and thinking about “being in a play” and suddenly grabs hold of their character, throws themself into a role, gets beyond confidence, thinks on their feet, connects with their fellow actors, plays to the audience, and suddenly has a great  time really, really acting! And reacting!

These two have never been shy!

That’s what the cast of A Shakespearean Tale! did last night (Friday, July 20). Believe me, it’s a thrill for a writer/director!

They get  it! They’re having fun! Now the audience is having fun! Everybody’s into it. Finally — the script comes alive!

We had another full house and the energy in the story and the songs rose to a new level. We are grateful for lots of serious compliments. Thanks to the couple with literary and drama background who saw the poster, came to the show, and loved it!

Now we get ready for our first “Closing Night.”

Three cute little mice! And great little actresses!

It’s fun, it’s relief, it’s exciting, it’s poignant. Working with this entire cast and their families has been a complete delight, extremely rewarding, and well worth the stress of making it all happen.