Lesson 2: Theatre/Stage Basics Part 1

Storybook Scenes – Acting Unit
Lesson 2: Theatre/Stage Basics Part 1
Daily Objective: Students will demonstrate their understanding of stage directions and acting positions by participating in a variety of activities, as well as completing the check for understanding in their journals.

Materials Needed: Slips of paper, labeled with the different stage directions, ready to hand out as soon as students start to walk into class.
Hand each student a slip of paper as they walk into class (saying US, CS, DS, SR, SL, DSR, DSL, USR, USL). Do not give any instructions yet. Deflect any questions about what we are doing with the piece of paper.
Transition: Begin by asking the questions “What is theatre?” and “Where does theatre take place?” Inevitably, someone will say that theatre takes place on a stage. This is somewhat true, but anything can be a stage. Tell them you need them to use their imagination to see that the carpet in the front of the room is a stage. We will be using it as a stage today.
Introductory Activity: Ask for three brave volunteers to come up… explain that they are going to participate in an improv scene. Explain that they are the actors, and you (the teacher) are the director. Ask the class to give them a scenario. Before they can do much, stop them and give them really terrible directions. On purpose. The goal is to confuse them. After a minute of confusion, ask the students to give them a round of applause, and invite them to return to their seat.
Ask if it was confusing for anyone. Ask the actors if they knew what it was that you wanted them to do. Explain that this is why they had to come up with a way to give clearer instructions. Every stage is set up this way, and it means the same thing in every theatre. (Explain that it is from the actor’s point of view. Explain why upstage and downstage are switched from what they might normally think.)
Transition: Have everyone take a look at their papers, and based on the conversation we just had on upstage and downstage, and remembering that this carpet is a stage, invite them to come sit down where they think they should go, based on the direction on their cards.
Once everyone is seated, ask students to help you make a list of the different stage direction cards, and define the tougher ones for them.
(Based on this, does anyone need to move?)
Instruction: Have the students get their journals, label the page as today’s journal number, and draw the following diagram of a 3×3 grid (draw it on the board for them):

Label the diagram together, as if it were a stage, and the nine boxes show the nine different stage directions.
Activity: “Who has ever seen the first Harry Potter movie?” “Who remembers the part where they play Wizard Chess?” This next game is kind of like that. Ask for two volunteers. Everyone else is standing on the stage of the classroom. The volunteers will say first who it is they want to move (whether it is one person, or a group of people (girls, everyone wearing blue, certain birthdays, whatever)) and then where that group of people is moving to. The two volunteers will alternate calling out. You will also rotate the volunteers a few different times. (Depending on the class, after a few rounds of this, you can start playing it “Musical Chairs” Style, where the last person to get there (without running or shoving) is out. Some classes can’t handle this.)
Transition: Erase the diagram on the board and draw a new, blank one. Ask students to return to their journals, flip open to the very last page, and draw a new one there. This new one can’t be labeled. It must be as blank as the one on the board.
Check for Understanding: Tell them that you would like to check and make sure that everyone gets the idea of the stage directions. Have them rip a blank piece of paper out of their journals, and ask them to draw another stage diagram but ask them not to label it this time. Tell them that their finger is an actor, and the diagram is a stage for their actor. Their actor will have a starting point. Tell them that you, as the director, have some ideas as to where the actor should go when he is on stage. Give directions, have a stopping point, and have them draw a certain mark on that box. Do this a few times.
An X – Start downstage. Take a few steps toward upstage. Take a few steps toward upstage right. Move upstage.
Smiley Face – Start center stage. Move toward stage right. Move downstage center. Take a few steps toward downstage left, then move upstage left.
Their Initial – Start stage left. Move upstage left. Move toward downstage right. Cross to downstage right.
Let them pick the mark – Turn to the person next to you. Give them a starting point, three or four directions to follow, and an ending point. Switch so that you are each testing each other.
Transition: Ask them to turn in their papers. Put your journals under your chairs, we will come back to them later.
Activity: Explain the Machine Game. This time it isn’t a still picture, but a moving machine made out of people. One person starts the machine, doing a repetitive movement and a repetitive sound. Other people add on when they feel inspired. Ask for a volunteer to start. Watch for when the machine is “done.” Play this until you see a good example machine with people facing all sorts of directions.
Discussion: Freeze the machine. Ask the audience questions. Who is the focal point? Who is your eye drawn to? Which way are people facing? Did you notice that not everyone is facing the audience? What does that do to the picture?
Instruction: Talk about how in acting, just like there are stage directions, there are also directions for the actor to face – actor positions. Talk about it like it is a clock. The trick to knowing what they are called is looking at how much of the actor’s face you can see. (Full front, full back, half – profile, 1/4 right, left, etc.)
Draw a person, bird’s eye view, on the board. Have students help to label the different actor positions. Ask them to copy this into their journals. Talk about what might be the strongest, and what might be the weakest.
Activity: Have everyone stand up in their places. Play a quick game of Simon Says with the acting positions. Tell them that they are the actor, so this time the stage is the chairs and their left is stage left, etc. Tell them not to look at the papers on the walls because they will confuse them.

If there is time at the end: Have students play freeze, but between every two or three scenes, make a new rule about acting positions or stage directions (ex: you are only allowed to move upstage and downstage, one of you needs to be facing full back at all times, you may only face 1/2 right or left, etc.)