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“Why do we have to play so many games?”

“When are we going to do some ‘proper acting’?”

These are the most frequent questions from students and their parents.

When I ask them what ‘proper acting’ means to them, they can get a little bit vague, “well, last time we did this scene…we worked on these characters…”, or it the very direct, “we want a ‘proper’ script”.

If your students are asking these questions, they are ready to hear the answers.

A young actor recently brought a parent in to bemoan the excess of games and lack of ‘acting’. We talked. I asked questions along the lines of “what do you mean by ‘proper’ acting?”. He and the parent were uncertain. It had something to do with ‘seeing progression’ but definitely didn’t include games. 

I had a brainwave. “Why are warm-ups important for actors?”, I asked him. 

“They can raise energy levels, get your cast focussed, ready to work”.

“Good. Are they exercises or games?”

Pause.

“Maybe both?”

I’d known that this meeting was coming so I’d sat in on his class to observe.

I chose a game that I’d watched him play in class. ‘Situation Murder’. Very popular amongst drama teachers and a personal favourite of mine. 

I pointed out that this game is actually an improvisation. I asked why when he played The Detective he didn’t act at being a detective, he was just himself. I suggested that next time they played the game, he should imagine that he’s acting his role on our main stage in front of a paying audience. I set him the challenge that, during any game or exercise, he gives his characters the same level of detail and commitment that he would if he was in a play BECAUSE this particular game requires actors to

1). Create and maintain a scene
2). Create and maintain a character
3). Act and react to changing circumstances within the scene
4). Act and react to other characters within the scene.
5). Listen for the cue line
6). Have the self discipline to count to five before reacting to the cue line (novices often die immediately due to sheer excitement, right next to the murderer).
7). Be aware of what’s around them, i.e. don’t bump into the furniture, other actors or trip over ‘dead’ people.
8). Keep the action moving – The Murderer must find ways to keep on killing even while under the scrutiny of the Detective. 

In ‘proper acting’, an actor must do all of the above. Learn their lines, their moves, their cues, what props to interact with and when all of this should happen. There are crew members relying on them to give the correct cue lines at the correct times in order to get the sound and lighting cues on time. They should only bump into furniture, scenery or other actors if it’s in the script. If something goes wrong, they must keep the scene going while working out ways to discreetly help ‘fix’ the problem. Eg. A Chair broke during a production I was in and became unsafe to sit on. It couldn’t be removed during the scene, but we couldn’t let anyone sit on it either. We had to adapt and avoid. 

What I’m trying to say is that these apparently simple games often have complex lessons to teach and are invaluable for developing skills. Please don’t belittle or underestimate them without thinking through what they really involve.

And who said learning has to feel like ‘work’!?

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