LESSON 1: Staging Rules and positions
Educational Objective: Students will show their understanding of stage areas, directions, and notations by labeling a stage map and developing a basic script notation.
Pre-Assessment/ Hook: Have 4 posters in the room. Each has one term written large on the top: Believable Characters, Script Analysis, Character Motivation, Stage Directions. Tell them that they are going to do a “Brain Dump!” A Brain Dump is when you take everything you have in your brain about a certain topic and dump it onto a piece of paper or a poster.
Set up and rules:
When everyone is done, ask them to gather around the poster that they felt they knew the most about. Once they’re in their new groups, tell them to read through all the comments and be prepared to present the poster and share with the class what each term means in relation to performing in a scene. NOTE: Make sure that the group for “Stage Directions” goes last, because they will lead you into the next instructional step.
Step 1: When the Stage Directions group has presented. Ask them if they feel they could label a map of a stage accurately? If there is someone who thinks they can (and if they are willing) ask them to come help you label one for the class to see.
Step 2: Handout a map of the stage without the labels. Explain the difference between Right and Left Stage, Upstage and Downstage. (The reason it is the way it is. Actor’s right and left for clarification, and up and down because of the racked stage in the old days.) If you have an area in the room large enough, or a rehearsal stage, then as you have them label together each portion of the stage, have a student stand in the correct place so that they also have a physical example in front of them.
Step 3: Once it is all labeled, tell the class that you are going to quiz them. Have them use the tip of their pen or pencil to draw the directions you give them on the map (their map should have lines from the starting stage area leading to the next area). Make sure they understand that when you say “cross” you mean “move to”. You will do this once on the side with the labels they wrote and once on the side where there are no labels still. Use the master copy to grade their work. Their final shape or design on their map should match the one you have on the master copy.
An actor is standing on DSL.
They cross to DC,
Cross to SL.
Cross to USR.
Cross to SR.
End at C.
Step 4: Allow the students to see the master copy and compare the shape they drew as they followed your verbal instructions. Ask a student to take the master copy and follow the directions on the actual stage or rehearsal area that you have marked out. This allows them to have a visual of what it would look like in real life.
Step 5: Have them turn their maps over the other side where there is another unlabeled map. Explain that this time they will not have their labels to help them. They will have to see how well they can do without them. Have a student lead in the stage directions this time. NOTE: You will also have to follow along so that you can have a master copy of the correct design for them to see after.
Step 6: When the student is done giving instructions show them the correct shape. Have them compare to their neighbor’s. Ask them questions like: Which instructions confused you? Did you mix up Left and Right? Up and Down?
Step 7: Explain that now that we are familiar with the map and names of the stage areas, we are going to put our knowledge to use by playing Battleship! Divide the stage into two stages. Make sure that the class knows where both Centers are located and the other areas as well. Pick two students to stay off stage and face away from the stage. These two students use their maps, if needed, to take turns calling out various stage areas. For example: Student Captain of Team A calls out “Stage Left” or “Center Stage Left”. The student(s) on Team B who is standing in that area is “SUNK” and they have to leave the stage. Student Captain of Team B then takes a turn calling out a stage area. Then all the “battleships”/players on the stage, move around to other areas. Student Captain of Team A then takes another turn. Follow these steps until there is only one team with a “battleship” on their stage.
Stage 8: Gather the students in their seats again. Explain that now we know where the different areas are, but we still need to understand why it’s important for a performer to know and use them. Why do we have different names for the different parts and how do the actors use them?
Step 9: Have all the items needed to make a PB and J sandwich displayed on a table. Ask for a volunteer to give you directions on how to make the sandwich. Tell them that no matter what, they cannot touch you or any of the ingredients or tools that you will use. They must only instruct verbally. As they give directions make sure you do them in a non-traditional manner that makes a bit of a mess. For example: They might tell you to take out a piece of bread. You should rip open the bag instead of untying it. They might tell you to put PB on a piece of bread. You should slap a big glob of it on or only use a very small piece of bread Etc. NOTE: This may make a mess. Prepare for it!
They will probably laugh and get frustrated when they see you doing the steps they tell you, but not in the way they expect or want.
Step 10: Once the sandwich is made, ask them, “What did you notice about this experience? I did the directions like you said, so why does this not look like your normal sandwich?” Point out that the more specific you can be with directions, the better the product will look. The same is true for stage directions. There are special terms and phrases used in order to help actors. Stage directions are always given from the actor’s perspective in order to make it clear for them. So when a director says “go right”, it means the actor’s right not the director’s right. Performing artists use this lingo so that they can be specific and avoid confusion. If an actor does not speak the lingo, it will mess up the presentation and make everyone frustrated at rehearsals.
Step 11: There are other terms in the lingo that we must know as well. Introduce body positions and other terms we use in stage directions: full back, cheat out, full front, upstaging, cross, hug. Have them take notes on these in their journal so that they can keep the definitions with them for future reference. Have students come up and show examples of each as you introduce them.
Step 12: Explain that we know the basic lingo, now we need to know how we can remember what the director has asked us to do and when. Performers must make notations in their script in order to keep all their notes and remember what they’ve been asked to do.
Step 13: Ask the students to give you two or three lines from a movie or a play. They must be from the same movie or play. Have a student write them on the board. Introduce a scenario by saying, “what if these are the lines in the script and I start at USL. My director wants me to cross after the first line down to DSR, throw my shoe toward C after the second line, and then exit off to the R?” Tell them that the notations generally used for cross, exit, and entrance are: X, Ex, En respectively. But how could you make sure that all the directions are clear in your script notations?
Tell them to copy the lines from the board into their journals and take a couple minutes to make the notations on the lines there. They can be creative. They may all come up with something different, but they need to be clear enough for an understudy or director to also understand them.
After a minute or two, ask a couple students to come to the board and show the class what notations they would make in the script.
Step 14: At the end test make sure they turn in their maps for participation points and to assess whether they understood the directions given in the beginning. You may also consider having them keep their maps or giving them back next class so that they have them to refer to during the duration of the scene unit.