How to…run an after-school drama group (part 3 of 3)

Recently Foolproof was invited to contribute a series of articles to the Serve Your Local School website. SYLS is aimed primarily at Christians who are interested in helping their local schools with resources and ideas. We were invited to write some “How to…” guides on running an after-school drama club. Here’s part 3 of what we came up with…

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You’ve chosen your script, planned your programme and set a date for your final performance, and now it’s time to actually make it work. Here are some tips:

  • Establish a routine for the club – make sure you leave time for arriving, catching up on the week’s news, going to the toilet, eating snacks etc. We encourage children to take off their shoes as it frees them physically and allows them to be more imaginative.
  • Keep the programme fast-paced and fun. Use a mixture of all together, group and paired work to keep children engaged. Set out your expectations early on and try and create an atmosphere where children can be boisterous and imaginative within a safe, controlled environment.
  • Put together a box of props and costumes that you can use. This feeds the imagination and helps the young people build characters.
  • Using music can significantly improve a mediocre performance – a little background music, or to cover scene changes and create mood. Also music is great for getting children moving, and you can create some simple but effective dramatic effects by using movement and music (it’s a cliche but there’s nothing wrong with pretending to be a tree!).
  • Make notes each week so that you remember what you worked on – people can come up with amazing ideas and scripts only to have forgotten everything the following week!
  • Introduce terms such as ‘rehearsal’, ‘warm-up’, ‘director’, ‘stage-right’, ‘stage-left’ etc. early on as basic stagecraft is also part of the learning process, and adds to the sense of putting on a proper production.
  • Encourage the children to critique one another kindly and constructively. This encourages those who are ‘just watching’ to be more engaged. We usually ask two questions – what did you think was really good about the performance and can you suggest anything that would improve it?
  • When you come to put your performance together, be prepared to be quite directive. Imagination, ideas and creativity is part of the process, but in the end the director needs to make the event happen so that the audience can see and hear what’s going on.
  • The two basic rules of performance are don’t turn your back to the audience and speak loudly. You will have to reinforce this time and again.
  • The two basic rules of performance are don’t turn your back to the audience and speak loudly. You will have to reinforce this time and again. Seriously, time and again.
  • Pray as a team. Even though the content and purpose of the group may not be overtly Christian, it’s important to approach the club with the same attitude as an SU group or similar. Pray for the children as you get to know them, and remember that Creator God loves to see people using their gifts!
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How to…plan an after-school drama group (part 2 of 3)

Recently Foolproof was invited to contribute a series of articles to the Serve Your Local School website. SYLS is aimed primarily at Christians who are interested in helping their local schools with resources and ideas. We were invited to write some “How to…” guides on running an after-school drama club. Here’s part 2 of what we came up with…

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Once you’ve got your team together, had permission from the school to start a drama club and have done some advertising to the potential members, it’s time to get started! So, how do you do that?

  • Decide what you’re going to work on for the term – will you use a script? Write your own? Adapt a story? Familiar stories are often best (fairytales, Alice in Wonderland, myths and legends etc.). You might want to gather ideas from the group, talking about the stories (films, books, TV programmes) that they like.
  • If you’re using a script, think about the reading stage of the children in the group. Reading a script is a different skill from reading aloud in class and you may need to find imaginative ways of telling the whole story before you plunge into a first read. Remember that some scripts may not be available for performance or use (e.g. anything currently being performed professionally, many Disney-owned stories). There are lots of scripts available through websites such as Treepress and Lazybees, and we often recommend buying a copy of Julia Donaldson’s Playtime which is written to help young readers.
  • If you choose to dramatise a Bible story remember that many children will not be familiar with the passage. It’s a good opportunity to let them explore the passage for themselves and find its meaning (Bible study by stealth!).
  • If you’re going to devise your own script from a story (usually a cheaper option!) then there are some resources that will help you do this. Drama Games for Devising by Jessica Swale is a good starting point.
  • Working back from the performance date (probably the last session of the term), put together a realistic programme of what you’ll do each week. Make sure you include some physical, vocal and imaginative warm-up exercises (there are plenty of resources available to help you find exercises for this). Try Drama Games for Classrooms and Workshops or 100+ Ideas for Drama for starters.
  • Enjoy showing friends and family what you have worked on – think about whether you could get some other Christians to organise the ‘audience’ side of the performance by mingling with the families, serving refreshments etc.

How to…start an after-school drama club (part 1 of 3)

Recently Foolproof was invited to contribute a series of articles to the Serve Your Local School website. SYLS is aimed primarily at Christians who are interested in helping their local schools with resources and ideas. We were invited to write some “How to…” guides on running an after-school drama club. Here’s what we came up with…

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Drama is an excellent medium for engaging young people in thinking about big ideas. At its heart, drama is about telling stories, and through participation children grow in confidence, gain skills in presentation and learn how to use their bodies and voices. It also promotes trust, collaboration and listening skills. If you have some people in your church who are dramatic and confident in working with children, an after-school or lunchtime drama club is a great resource to offer your local primary school. Here are a few things to think about as you get started:

  • Before you approach your local headteacher make sure you are confident of what you are offering. You may want to offer something that has a Christian core, using Bible stories or seasonal material, or you may decide to offer something that is not overtly Christian. In either case the relationships you build with the children, the way you act towards them, and how you work as a team will be key. In our experience, unless you have a sympathetic ‘known’ headteacher, a school is likely to be more comfortable with the idea of non-religious themed drama in the first instance.
  • Make sure you are clear on your Child Protection Policy and that your volunteers are PVG checked.
  • Think about the age group you want to work with. We tend to work with P4 and above, but even within a P4-7 range there is a vast difference in ability and confidence.
  • Many people’s idea of drama is a grand performance of a complex script, and most children will come with high expectations of creating a show stopping production in a matter of weeks! Be realistic about what you, and they, can achieve with limited time and resources.
  • Remember that not all children are skilled readers, and many will prefer to create their own dramas from a story stimulus. By using games and storytelling exercises you can create a club that is fun to attend and produces something decent for parents and others to watch at the end of term.
  • Plan back from the end of term. If you decide to put on a performance for parents gather some people who can help you with welcome, refreshments and chatting to the audience. Think about other events or activities you could invite children and their families along to.
  • Look for other opportunities to serve the school through drama – perhaps you could help lead an assembly or do some work in the classroom alongside RME.

Top Tips for Drama School Auditions #2

 

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So, you’ve thought long and hard about whether you really want to enter this crazy world of uncertainty and fun, you’ve chosen the training course that’s right for you, you’ve done your preparation and found a set of speeches and songs that you want to perform at audition*. What else do you need to do?

Top tip #4 Practice

There is no substitute for practice. Get to know your speeches so well that you can rhyme them off without thinking (although you never want to look as though that’s what you’re doing!). This is particularly true for Shakespeare. Audition panels hear the same speeches performed year after year, so if your rendition is inaccurate and rhythm is off, they will spot it straight away. Practise in front of the mirror, on your way to the bus stop, in front of long-suffering friends. If you have trouble learning lines it can help to write out the speech longhand. It can also help to ‘stand the speech up’ and assign particular movements to particular phrases.

Top tip #5 Practice some more

Seriously. Try some different ways of saying the speech. Bore yourself with it. You won’t regret this when your mind goes blank, your mouth is dry and your knees are literally knocking.

Top tip #6 Read the whole play

It sounds obvious, but I’ve met lots of people who have found speeches on the internet, or in a book of audition monologues, and never made the effort to find the original play or read it! Reading the whole text will help you understand what is happening for your character in the wider context of the play. Occasionally auction panels will also ask you a question about the play and why you’ve chosen it. It’s embarrassing and rather insulting to them to reveal that you haven’t actually bothered to read it! Also, if you don’t like reading plays, or you can’t be bothered, then you maybe need to revisit top tip #1 and ask yourself whether this is the right career for you.

Top tip #7 Keep your skills up

There are lots of different performing courses out there, many of them very specialised, but the reality of the jobbing actor’s life is that the more skills you have, the more employable you are. You may not be applying for a musical theatre course, but if you can sing and dance, then that’s a good thing to have on your CV. Similarly, any talent you have may make you more attractive to cast, so keep up any skills that you have (circus skills, gymnastics, foreign languages, musical instruments, etc.).

Top top #8 Stay cool

On the day of the audition give yourself plenty of time to get to the school. Particularly if you have to travel across a large city like London you need to plan ahead so there’s no last minute panic. Wear something comfortable that you will be able to move in (often audition days include a movement workshop) but be reasonably smart. Once you’re in the room with all the other prospective students remember that everyone is probably feeling just as sick as you are, but people show it in different ways! Keep breathing, drink plenty of water (it’s a good idea to do this the day before too so your voice is well-hydrated) and, if you can, enjoy the experience.

Remember that the people on the panel are looking for people to give places to. The panel will be looking for potential as much as polish. Walk into the room with confidence and give it your best shot.

If you’re asked to perform your speeches in front of other candidates watch how other people perform and listen out for speeches that you might be able to do in the future. If the panel wants to direct you, be open and listen carefully to what you’re being asked to do then try and respond as well as you can. Sometimes you might be stopped early – that’s not necessarily a bad sign – they may have seen enough to know that they want you.

Top top #9 Don’t take rejection personally

Don’t expect to know that you’re in on the day. Sometimes a school will take some time to decide who gets in based on everyone they see. Sometimes you might be invited back for a recall. Sometimes you’re not what they are looking for and you will be asked not to stay on for the rest of the day. If this is the case, try not to view rejection as something personal, or a mark of utter failure.

There are all sorts of reasons why you might have been rejected – there may be a similar actor to you who has already been given a place, the panel may feel that you need more life experience so that you can make the most of the place or they may want to test you to see if you’re persistent. They may just think you’re not good enough yet. As an actor. Not as a human being.

Persistence is often the key to getting work so take on board any feedback you get and use it to propel you into the next audition. There is no point in feeling bitter or angry. Disappointment is natural, but see this as an opportunity to prove the panel wrong by honing your skills and trying again next year.

Top top #10 Perform for the audience of one

The acting industry is full of people who are striving to find their identity through applause, perfectionism and climbing over everyone else. Don’t be that person. There’s a brilliant book by Rory Noland called Heart of the Artist that I always recommend to fellow artists who love Jesus and want to be the most excellent performer they can be. In it, there’s a quote I love from The Divine Comedy:

It is because you focus on the prize
of worldly goods, which every sharing lessens
that Envy pumps the bellows for your sighs.

But if, in true love for the Highest Sphere,
your longing were turned upward, then your hearts
would never be consumed by such a fear;

for the more there are there, who say “ours” – not “mine” –
by that much is richer, and the brighter
within that cloister burns the Love Divine

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

*For Top Tips #1-3, click here. I’d love to hear how you get on with the auditioning process, and if there are any other top tips you might have for other budding performers. Let’s be the ‘more there are there, who say “ours” – not “mine”‘ and help each other out!

Top Tips for Drama School Auditions #1

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Tis the season! No, not Christmas, but that time of year when budding thespians who want to learn their craft start applying for drama school. It’s a nerve-wracking and thrilling time. The prospect of spending all day, every day with other performers looms. People who will burst into song at the drop of a (top)hat. People who enjoy speaking in foreign accents in public places. People who think nothing of lying on the floor for hours on end in order to feel centred, grounded and expansive. People just like you.

And all you need to do is get through the dreaded audition process.

To help you through this tricky time of life, the Creative Fool has put together a list of top tips for people who are considering applying to drama school. So, read this list, stop procrastinating and get yourself in gear!

Here we go:

Top tip #1 Think it through

Acting is a tough career choice. You don’t walk out of college straight into regular, well-paid work. For every Benedict Cumberbatch there are 9 other people, who are probably just as good, struggling to get by working part-time jobs, doing odd bits of voice work and running after-school drama clubs for 8-year-olds. Success doesn’t just land on your plate and you need to be prepared to work long hours and be committed to constantly improving your skills. You’ll miss out on important family occasions and you probably won’t make much money. You may spend a lot of time folding jeans in Gap before you get your big break. You may not ever get your big break.

It can’t be about the money. It can’t be about the fame. It has to be about a deep desire to tell stories, to perform, to use the gifts you’ve been given to contribute something to the world.

So if, after thinking through the reality,  you still have that burning desire to act, then you need to start looking for the right training.

Top tip #2 Choose your school well

There are hundreds of performing arts courses out there, but you need to be confident that you’re applying for the school that is right for you. If you’re applying straight from school you might want to consider doing an HND or similar course at a local college. These courses are generally pretty good as a means of gaining performance experience and working on your audition technique. Plus, if you choose a course near to where you live, it’s a much cheaper option, and if you decided to stay on, you can probably keep going and eventually gain a degree.

If you know that you want to pursue a career in theatre or film remember that there are lots of ways to skin the cat, and plenty of jobs that don’t involve straightforward performance. If you’re more of a generalist, or you’re not sure exactly what you want to pursue longer term, then you might be better to gain a university degree in a related subject first of all. You might want to look at Theatre Studies, English or even something wildly unconnected that you love doing. You can gain experience as a performer by immersing yourself in university theatre groups or by making your own short films. You’ll also be older and have some more life experience tucked away if you do decide to pursue the route of conservatoire training as a postgraduate.

If you decide to apply for drama school (whether straight from school or later on) you are best to apply for those listed in the Drama UK (NCDT) list of accredited institutions. The advantage of this is that the training is of a high standard, your qualification is recognised across the industry and you will have the opportunity to work with fantastic tutors and directors. Actually, this is an excellent website to spend some time on if you’re considering applying to drama school – there’s lots of advice and guidance to help you make the right choice.

As well as investigating the various courses available you should think about where you want to live for the next 1, 3 or 4 years and how affordable it is to live there. Remember, too, that some schools specialise in particular areas (e.g. musical theatre, film, classical acting etc.) – going to an open day will give you a good sense of the type of environment you’ll be studying in, and you’ll probably have the chance to speak to some current students. Spread your applications – you may have your heart set on RADA, but if they’ve already given a place to someone who has a similar look to you, you don’t stand a chance. You’ll also find that as you audition you get to know the style of school that will suit you so don’t close off your options too early.

Remember that even auditioning is a costly business. Schools charge an audition fee of around £50 which is non-refundable, but at least that means that you are guaranteed an audition. You’ll also have to budget for your travel to and from auditions, and for overnight accommodation if you can’t there in one day.

Top tip #3 Prepare thoroughly and properly

Give yourself plenty of time for preparation. When you’ve decided which schools you want to apply for check what they are looking for at audition. It’s a good idea to put together a portfolio of monologues and songs as each school will have different requirements, and if you are asked back for a recall you may have to perform something new. Try not to go for the bare minimum – look on this time as good preparation for the industry you’re hoping to be part of and start building a toolbox of performances that you can pull out when asked to audition. At the very least you should have 2 pieces of Shakespeare, 2 contemporary pieces and a couple of songs. You may also be asked to do a Jacobean (post-Shakespearean classical) speech so look for one of these too. As a general rule your speeches should be under 2 minutes long (the school will specify this).

Try to choose monologues that fit your casting type and show that you have done some research into the part. For example, lots of girls choose to perform one of Helena’s monologues from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Helena is described in the text as being tall, so if you’re very short in height it’s probably not an ideal part for you. Similarly, if you’re 38, you’ll probably not want to play Juliet. Try and find a good mix of comic and tragic speeches, and look for a monologue where something happens for the character or something is revealed about him or her.

So, that’s probably a good start. You don’t have to do everything at once, but when you’re facing a big task like this it’s helpful to start by doing one thing every day. It is daunting, but it’s manageable.

The next post will focus on how to learn and get yourself ready for your audition, but in the meantime, why not take some time to think about who you are an artist and a human being. Psalm 139 talks about how we are put together by God, and all the days of our lives are known to him. In an uncertain world where it can feel as though everything hinges on how we perform a 2 minute speech it’s hugely comforting to remind ourselves:

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

The Message, Psalm 139:13-16

If you are someone who prays, then make sure you’re trusting your future in the hands of the only One who knows your past, your present and your future. And who loves you beyond measure.