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Wait a minute…I thought we already graduated college…

March 16, 2012

Okay.  I’ll admit it: I don’t always get “Actor” things.  I mean, I get most of them, and relate to actors very well having had a well-rounded education with my roots in acting [I’ve done it: rolled on the floor, talked like a whale, improv, filled the space, Alexander technique, everything that an outsider would say “what the #%!* are they doing in that class?!?”] I understand the fantastic toolbox college professors provide the actors with varieties of techniques and methods of acting.  I understand that they teach this to prepare you for the “real” world, so you can pull out something appropriate from your toolbox and apply to any role you are cast in.  I understand the “Theatre Games” that warm you up, get your mind in the right place, and help you discover your emotion.  I also understand that this is the reason we went to college – to learn this stuff so we can apply it in real life.

That being said: please – acting and directing community – answer me this: why am I sitting in professional rehearsal watching hours pass with actors playing everything from “The Party Game” [you know… the one where you get a slip of paper saying who you’re supposed to be and you walk around trying to guess everyone’s “assignment”] to Meisner Repetition of the same lines for 15 minutes straight?  Usually, these games come with half the cast super into it [usually the youngest or recently graduated ones] while the others roll their eyes along with me as if to say  “Seriously??? Why are we wasting rehearsal time, I have questions about my character!?

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Now, I’ve done a stint with Educational Theatre [MFA level with student actors, directors, and playwrights].  Whenever one of these “Theatre Games” started, my PSM would stand up, wink at me, and say “I’m going to have a cigarette…text me when they’re done with this crap.”  But I understood – the entire cast had the same training, were learning the same things, spoke the same “language” and the director knew which method the Acting Professors used to get a particular emotion out of a particular student.  It’s a specific case-scenario where this works.  Also, they were rehearsing in classrooms – no producer was paying for rehearsal space, and the only thing lost if the show didn’t turn out was a less-than-great grade before you’re shoved out into the real world [unless it was a disaster… that’s a different story].  But, they also had about 20 more hours of rehearsal time than the average one-act gets out here in the “real” world.  I understand why these MFA students played Theatre Games occasionally.

But…out here, in professional theatre?  When on some contracts you only get 48 hours of rehearsal before tech?  And those hours are already broken up with Costume Fittings, Staging the Scene, and blasting through Table Work?  I mean, I get an ice-breaker game for ensemble casts.  And I’ve even seen where a director incorporated what the cast did in the “game” into the blocking of the show.  But, why are directors forcing Meisner technique on an actor who may very-well be Method?  What is the point of playing “Big Booty” during rehearsal for A Doll’s House?

I watch rehearsals.  That’s what I do.  My belief is that the Actor needs to do work outside the rehearsal room and come to rehearsal with several techniques from the toolbox to try for the Director, hoping to fulfill his/her vision.  My belief is that the Director needs to use their skills to pull a certain emotion out of the Actor: to help them realize what tool is appropriate for this section of a scene.  We all went to different schools and/or took different classes.  We all use different methods [small “m”].  We don’t have to force an entire cast to work the same way [musical choreography excluded]. So tell me:

Actors – how do you feel when a Director asks the cast to play a Theatre Game during rehearsal?

Directors – other than an ice-breaker, why do you use precious rehearsal time for Theatre Games?

Help shed some light for this pencil-sharpening Stage Manager.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2012 9:23 am

    I actually HATE actor games–don’t even *mention* “Zip Zap Zop,” to me. Warming up for a rehearsal or show has always been a really private event for me, and games–while sometimes useful for generating energy, or in rehearsal to get people thinking “outside their box”–tend to distract me from getting into the proverbial zone. I understand a sense of play, and a director wanting to get his actors on the same energetic page to create a good base to start from, but for myself (and I’m happy to read from your assessment, other actors as well) don’t like working this way. And if people aren’t available to doing something, it won’t make a difference if they play games for 20 hours straight: they won’t be present in them, and therefore any effect will be lost anyway.

    Regarding a director running an exercise from a different acting background than what an actor may be used to, this is a little trickier. A director is trained to speak to an actor in a specific way, using their own tools to reach people. If a director is using a tool from one school of acting to draw out something from an actor who came from a different school, it may be because that’s the best way a director knows how to articulate something to the performer. But a good, experienced director can figure out how to navigate around any communication/terminology barrier between their own training, and that of the actor(s) in question. The actor has to trust that the director is doing the best they can, and attempt to translate what’s being asked of them as something useful in their own process. There always seem to be some sense of filtering going on.

    The situation is different, however, when you have a director who says, “THIS IS HOW YOU MUST WORK,” or an actor who says “I REFUSE TO DO THAT BECAUSE IT’S NOT HOW I WORK.” Then you just have two people who shouldn’t be working together. Period.

    How is that final example different from me wanting to hide a in corner whenever I’m asked to throw around an imaginary ball of sound? I’ll be honest: it’s not that different. But I guess I justify it in my head by thinking that a director asking me to try an exercise from a different school of training is actually trying to have me APPLY something to performance. Whereas a game feels like nonsense that is only meant to create a blank slate for the day. And I can clear my slate on my own, thank you very much.

  2. The College Theatre Dork permalink
    March 16, 2012 11:13 am

    The last time I played a theatre game was for an audition! The game was Bus Stop; but it was also sensible since the audition was for a comedy-improv, so it gave the directors a sense to see how quick people were on their feet.

    Thinking about it some more, I can’t say I’ve ever played a theatre game in my classes or a non-children’s theatre rehearsal before. Workshops, yes. My classes are more “exercise-oriented”, play with a purpose, I guess is what makes the difference. No games of Zip Zap Zop!

    I see games as mostly useful for breaking the ice, getting the energy up there, for a newly gathered cast who’s just getting to know one another before settling down into actual rehearsal.

    That being said…anyone up for a good game of Ninja?

  3. California Triple-Threat permalink
    March 16, 2012 11:40 am

    I’m happy to say I’ve never had to play games in a professional rehearsal setting. Like the Reflective Artist I like taking my own time and process to get ready to perform. I could see myself getting really frustrated in the scenario you described!

  4. March 17, 2012 10:49 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to play theatre games in a professional setting, either. We’ve done things that are more like “exercises,” but never really “games.”

    I’m also one of those (perhaps, annoying?) actors who prefers not to warm up in groups. It always bugged me in school that we were FORCED to warm up together before every show. Eh, c’est la vie.

  5. March 19, 2012 12:08 pm

    One of the reasons I love Green Room Blog blog so much is because of how much I can relate to these posts. This one certainly is no exception. I am so glad to see that I’m not alone in this.

    Up until now, I always thought I was a stubborn actor set in my own ways of doing things (still likely the case). Because of that I thought I was a rare breed who didn’t like warming up with others. I don’t oppose to meeting up as a cast breifly before a show or rehearsal. But not if it’s to mimic a sound and a gesture on repeat for ten minutes.

    More often than not, I find myself using my personal warm up to get rid of frustration from playing theatre games or other warm ups. I learned in college one day that holding hands with my fellow cast members and sending a pulse while we all closed our eyes just made me sleepy – not the state of mind I want to be in if I’m about to do a farce.

    I agree with all these comments – warm ups should be personal. Or if you find you work better in groups, get together those actors who do enjoy group warm ups and work together. Forcing people to warm up a particular way or play a certain game defeats the purpose and does not get you where you need to be for your work.

  6. The Practical Artist permalink
    March 20, 2012 1:11 pm

    SO glad I’m not alone in this! Thanks for your comments all, and I wish you all productive rehearsals with directors who are open to using methods that work for you!

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