Students will show basic knowledge of stage directions by performing the game “Captain’s Coming”.
Let the students play “Freeze” in two different circles. (This improvisation game involves scene work and is one of the most frequently played games in drama–its rules can be found in previous lesson plans.)
After about ten minutes of play, ask the students for their attention and ask them to imagine that those in the circle are a formal audience watching a skit put on by the two in the middle. Ask them what this kind of theatre might be called. If nobody knows, inform them that it is called theatre in the round or arena style theatre. Let them know that for most formal productions in theatre (including improv shows!), the stage and audience relationship is called proscenium theatre (which would be what they will think of when they think of an auditorium). For their next major assignment, they will have to perform with proscenium staging. Ask all of the students to go to one side of the room. In various games played in previous units, they would have had the option to do this, but were not necessarily mandated to do so. They are now to see themselves as an audience in a proscenium-style theatre.
Step 1 (Group Practice): Inform the students that they will be playing “Location, Career, Death” (a game they would have already learned in their elements of storytelling unit) and must keep in mind that their audience is only on one side now. Let them know that they will have the extra challenge of keeping the entire round to three minutes or less. As they play, remind the students who have volunteered to be aware of their staging by simply asking “where is your audience?” if they begin to turn away or upstage one another.
Step 2 (Discussion/instruction): Ask the performers, after you have gone through and learned what each person thought was going on, what was different about performing this game simply by changing the audience around. Was it harder to pay attention to what your partner was giving to you? Why? Ask the members of the audience how hard it was to see what was going on when the performers were only focused on one another and didn’t pay attention to what the audience would be seeing. Ask the performers to look at one another with their profiles (or sides) to the audience. Ask the audience how much they can see of the performers. Now ask the performers to turn their bodies and faces so they mostly face the audience while still keeping eye contact with the performer across from them. Again, ask the audience how much they can see. Which is better? Why? Inform the students that this technique of having one’s body mostly facing the audience while still looking in the direction of the other performer is called “cheating out”. This is a technique that all of them must use in their performances from now on.
Step 3 (Instruction): Ask the students who have been in a play or participated in theatre classes before to stand up on “the stage” that they have created out of the room. Ask if they have ever heard of stage directions before. Let students explain what they are if that is possible. If it is not, explain that stage directions are exactly what they sound like: directions (as in the places you are supposed to go) on the stage. Ask the students up on “the stage” to go stage right together. Stage left. Upstage. Downstage. Ask the audience what they noticed about the movements their fellows made. It should have been evident that the students on stage went to the audience’s right when you asked them to go stage left. Explain that the stage directions are given from the actor’s perspective (or, whoever is on the stage looking out to the audience). What about upstage and downstage? Explain that stages used to be raked, or slanted. The back of the stage would literally be higher than the front so that the action could be seen by the audience better. Therefore, when an actor goes backward on the stage, he is going upstage. When he goes forward (toward the audience), he is going downstage.
Step 4 (Class Practice): Ask the class to get up and move together as you call out different stage directions. Add center stage, downstage left, upstage center, etc. as you feel that they are able to do so.
Step 5/Assessment: Teach and play the game “Captain’s Coming.” This is a game of elimination in which the students all begin up on the stage. You can call any stage direction you wish, and they must move together to that place. If anyone dawdles or goes the wrong way, that person is out and has to sit down. If you say “center stage”, they all have to go center stage and shout “ta-dah!” with their arms out in a dramatic fashion. Other ways to get people out are if they are left out of the following directions: • Bunny in a Bush — one person kneels on the ground making bunny ears with his or her fingers on either side of his or her head and saying over and over “bunny, bunny, bunny…”. The other person stands behind the bunny and moves his or her hands over the bunny’s head in a covering movement saying “bush, bush, bush…” Anyone who is not in a partnership is out. • __-Person Buffet — any amount of people can be called here, but it’s good to stick to 3-6 people. They students must quickly make groups of exactly how many you called, sit in a circle, and “eat” from the middle of that circle saying “om nom nom nom nom”. Anyone not in a group is out. Any group with less or more than the number you said is out. • __-Person Conga Line — this one is like the buffet, except that amount of students must create a conga line and do the conga dance with the typified music. Anyone not in a line is out. Any line with less or more than the number you said is out. • Hit the Deck — all of the students must lie flat on the floor. Anyone who doesn’t immediately go to the floor is out. (Please take into consideration any infirmities or disabilities in the class.) • Captain’s Coming — all of the students must make a straight line and stand in a salute with a straight face. This is an opportunity for those students who are out to get up and try to “break” those who are still standing, but they are not allowed to touch the players at all. This usually lasts for ten seconds before you say “at ease”. If any of the players have broken, they are now to sit down with the others who are out. These directions can be given in any order at any time. If there are only two students remaining, they are to do a shoot-off. The students start back to back, center stage. They walk away from each other when you say “walk”. When you say “go”, the student who turns and says “zoom zoom!” first is the winner.