THE MAKING OF: is a series of blogs outlining the development of Teenage orientated productions that I run through my Teen Drama Acting Classes. Here, I take you step by step through the experience my teens get over a term.
These programs are completely royalty free for you to use or pass on to any high school, drama school, youth or community group etc as my gift to performing arts. All I ask: If you run these programs, to share your outcomes with me.
This is a production of original teen monologues. The number of monologues is dependant on the number of students.
There are a couple of challenges teaching this age group. The "I don't want to look silly in front of my friends" syndrome and convincing them that the person on stage or set isn't them; it's a character they are playing!
Against Type helps them develop an understanding of the latter. Looking silly in front of their friends; is totally in the hands of how well they believe in the character they have created.
The time frame to develop this production and the time spent each session is limitless. I usually dedicate a nine to ten week term, starting with a half hour session during a two hour lesson and increasing as the performance date gets closer.
The whole concept of Against Type is for the teens to develop a character and subsequent monologue that is far from their own personality as possible. It is also the opportunity for them to play a character that they may never play. Unfortunately this industry classifies actors into 'Types'. Mainly from your looks. For a large portion of my career I was constantly auditioning for roles that were a 'Woody Allen Type'. The chance to be called for an audition for characters against your perceived type are very rare; in fact non-existent.
What is a Monologue?
It is the greatest gift for any actor. A time to shine; BUT it comes with great responsibility and danger.
A solo speech with limitless time constraints, anything from a couple of minutes to half an hour and longer. You have the weight of the entire production, at that point, resting on your shoulders; for the audience's focus is entirely and directly on you! There is no one to save you if you're struck by the stare of a thousand deaths (forget your lines). You must give the performance of your life (every time) to bare your character's soul, explain the situation or give the audience an insight into the many lives of those they have just met or about to be introduced.
Before we start: My golden rule
I am a believer that kids, especially teens, should play characters and roles their own age. It's all fine playing adult-style characters in acting exercises such as improvisations but although in productions such as school or youth group performances it's all very cute, especially with the younger ones, character acting draws on your own emotions and experiences.
Session One: Personal typeFor the teens to fully understand how to achieve a character against their type. They first must realise their own personality; how they see themselves and how others perceive them.
I prefer to have the students sitting in a circle for these sessions. It can be on chairs or on the floor. This gives more intimacy and greater concentration.
Each teen in turn describes themselves as it would appear in a character breakdown in a play or a script. Always using themselves in this description in the third person. Example: 'Mary is an outgoing person who loves sport'.
TEACHER NOTE - A word of warning: During this session YOU MUST keep reiterating that this character breakdown, although they are describing themselves, is how they would be seen written as a theatrical character. You will find a great deal of trepidation at the beginning as teens take everything personally and are prone to embarrassment at the drop of a hat.
Once you have their own characters the group then discuses from the breakdowns they have heard, the relationships that would be formed. Example: Which characters would be friends, which would not. All must be accompanied with reasons why.
TEACHER NOTE - A word of warning: Once again you MUST keep it on a level of the information they have heard, NOT their current relationships with each other. Watch out it does not turn into a 'witch hunt' session. Keep reiterating these are characters. Feelings get hurt very easily at this age.
The next step is the process of the group creating Against Type characters for each other from the information they gave been given. These characters are complete opposites and more character traits are invented and added.
Once each student has this basic breakdown of their Against Type character the group disbands to work individually for around ten to fifteen minutes on their character. This includes adding more thoughts and background to their character.
After this time the group reunites and each student describes their Against Type character, once again in the third person as it would appear in a character breakdown in a play or a script.
Session Two: Bringing the character to life
Through a series of improvisations the students begin giving their character a life, a history, a persona. I have always found that an improvisation set at a bus stop is always a great location to start the interaction with the other characters.
TEACHER NOTE: For reference in the writing of the monologues later on; you should commence taking notes for each character starting from these improvisations. You will find valuable material as the students need to 'think on their feet' answering questions and inventing their past during this process. You will also 'hear off the cuff lines' and catch phrases that may be utilised in the final monologue.
The Bus Stop
This improvisation opens with one character at a bus stop. A second character enters and a conversation commences. The characters, through the natural course of this improvisation must find out as much information they can about each other before the next character arrives.
As this character arrives the opening character must, in the course of the improvisation, find a reason to leave. The improvisation continues with the two remaining characters and the process of information exchange. Each character in turn arrives discovering the other characters' stories.
The longest serving character upon each new character arrival, in the course of the improvisation, finds a reason to leave. There must only be two characters in the improvisation for the majority of each section. Once all the characters have participated in this improvisation, it ends.
TEACHER NOTE: At this stage it is better for you to nominate a new character to enter the improvisation rather than leaving it to the students to time their entrance. Also ensure the students understand that, although it is for information gathering, it still follows all the rules of improvisation and still must be interesting and entertaining.
A group discussion then takes place. Each student discussing what they discovered about the characters they encounter but more importantly; what their character's reaction was to the other character.
Character Pair Up
This set of improvisations pairs up the characters. From the Bus Stop improvisation and the discussion it will be clear which characters would be a friend and which will not.
Starting with one character they first meet a 'friend' character in the street. Then an 'enemy' character. Each character then in turn meets their friend and enemy till all combination have been completed.
A discussion follows by the group to their reactions and feeling towards each character they encounter.
TEACHER NOTE: It is advisable for you to decide on the pairing at this stage. If a character has no friend then their improvisation set can be with two enemies. This also goes for a character that has no enemy's, the pairing can be with two friends.
This is the final improvisation for the session. It's an 'all in' improvisation for all characters. Set in one room of a party.
TEACHER NOTE: All in improvisations can get out of hand very quickly and become chaos. You will need to remind the students of the rules of improvisations, especially the rule of listening. You may also find the need to stop the improvisation a couple of times to get it back on track.
Session Three: Let the monologues begin!
By this session each student should have built a history for their character. The group become 'the audience' and each student in turn, in character, improvise the story of their life. Once completed, the group ask the character questions in regards to what they have just heard and/or more information they would like to know about the character.
When the final question has been answered by the last character. The student group forms a circle and add comments and ideas for each character one by one. The group then discusses a theme for each characters' monologue that will suit each character. These themes should be teenage orientated. Example: Bullying, depression, self hurt, loneliness, peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, anorexia, etc.
TEACHER NOTE: The Scripted Monologues
For the students to gain the full benefit and theatrical experience of performing a monologue. They should be independently written from the notes you have taken, either by you, if you have the skills, or a budding or experienced writer. Of course you can also have the students write their own. BUT you will need to do the final edit and ensure the deadline that will be ready for the first reading and that it is theatrically sound. The length of the monologue should be around three to four minutes.
Session Four: The first reading
This session involves all the students once all the monologues have been written. I find having the students all sitting around a long table, which is tradition for a reading, is the best for this session.
In turn, each student reads out their monologue. I usually nominate the other students in turn to read out the stage directions for each monologue.
Once all the monologues have been completed a discussion takes place with the teacher and the group with each student about their monologue. This discussion is to ensure the student understands everything in their monologue and what they think it is trying to achieve.
TEACHER NOTE: Depending on the number of students; this session may need to be carried over to another session to complete. The most important points to remember are: to ensure each student understands their monologue fully. Encourage full discussion by all the students. Explain this is a first read and performance level is not required. Some students will struggle with a 'cold read', so just keep encouraging them to keep going. Also tell them that some professionals also have trouble with the first read. Encourage the students to now start learning their monologue; although not completely essential until after the 'Blocking Session' but the sooner they can 'get the script down, the sooner they will be more confident to concentrate on their character.
Session Five: Blocking
Blocking is the precise movement and positioning of actors on a stage or Film/TV set in order to facilitate the performance. In essence, it's moving the student around the performing area to gain the most impact from certain sections of their monologue.
Depending on the number of students, a great deal of time needs to be allocated to this session. This is best done in four stages.
Block the moves as written in the script
The student performs their monologue, reading the script and moves around the performance area as they feel the urge to do so plus the scripted moves that were just previously blocked.
The student performs their monologue again this time as a stop/start with the teacher/director adding and/or adjusting moves for a more dramatic theatrical effect.
The student performs their monologue, reading the script with all the moves.
These four stages are repeated till all the monologues have been blocked.
TEACHER NOTE: If capable, you will take on the role of the Director and block the monologues and the direction in the following sessions. Otherwise you can bring in the assistance of someone to direct. As this is a long session; you may find some students will get bored just watching this session. To alleviate this; students who are interested in watching this process are welcome to do so. Those who are not; you pair up in a separate area for them to run through their monologues to each other. One of THE most important lessons for your students to learn in this session and the Director will need to keep repeating; is the student must find a reason for their character to do the moves. Not to move just because it is written in the script or they have been directed to do so. The student also now need to 'get off book' (learn their script) as soon as possible from the end of this session.
Session Six: Monologue Elements
This session is in two parts. The first is a group discussion around the long table. Each monologue is dissected under the guidance of the teacher/director. The students go through their scripts highlighting important elements such as, crucial lines, moves and attitudes. The main objective is for the students to understand the reason why their character is saying EVERY line and the purpose or 'motivation' for EVERY move.
Once all the monologues have been analysed, each student must decide on one emotion they wish to invoke from the audience. This will range from joy, anger, sympathy to disgust, outrage, sadness and many more.
TEACHER NOTE: Write down the emotion each student has chosen. During the rehearsal sessions keep that emotion foremost in the students mind. After each run through ask the student and the group; does this achieve the reactionary emotion they have chosen.
The second part involves basic techniques of a monologue. This is done through an improvisation which every student, in turn, improvises their monologue and moves.
First, create a performing space surrounded by a chair for each student. In other words, an 'in the round' performing space.
Each character starts their improvised monologue at centre stage. During the course of this monologue, they must walk over to each seated student, make eye contact and deliver a section or a line at that student. Prior to the commencement of this improvisation the teacher/director will also point out two specific eye lines in the room beyond the circle to which they must also deliver a section or line.
The words in this exercise are not the important element. If the student has memorised some of their script and uses it in this improvisation, that is accepted but they will need far more than is written to complete this exercise. The important element, the main aim, is for the student to relate to a member of their audience via eye contact and the breaking of 'the fourth wall' delivering this section or line directly to them. The two far off points will inevitably create the atmosphere of thinking or talking to themselves.
TEACHER NOTE: In a large class and depending on time restrictions, you may need to limit walk overs but no less than five.
Session Seven: First Rehearsal & Running Order
From this session on Against Type becomes a production. It follows all the usual elements of a production; rehearsals, directors notes, costumes, props, set etc.
By now the students should be 'off book' (no script). The format this rehearsal takes is up to the Director, with one exception. This is the perfect opportunity for the students to understand the role of a Director. So, for this session I have the students also take notes on each others monologue performances.
After each monologue performance the non-performing students present their notes. This is followed by the Director's notes.
DIRECTOR NOTE: Here, it is the role of the Director to ensure the notes are constructive and relate to the performance that has just been presented. Watch out for destructive and/or personal criticisms that do not relate to the character or the monologue but are more directed to the student.
The final activity for this session is for the group with guidance from the teacher/Director, to choose the order the monologues will be presented to form the production: Against Type.
TEACHER NOTE: Through this process you will need to guide to ensure the order chosen also is a theatrical. As a production it must be entertaining and diverse. It must take the audience on a ride of highs and lows. Also important to remember how you want your audience to feel at the end. So take care when choosing the final monologue. At this point, with the running order now finalised, program artwork and printing can now be done.
Session Eight: Rehearsal
As per a production this session is a complete rehearsal in the running order that has been finalised as Against Type. Depending on the number of monologues and/or time allocation. Aim for 2 complete run-throughs. Only the Director gives notes after each run-through.
Session Nine: Dress Rehearsal
This is a full rehearsal with all production elements. As in any dress rehearsal once the production starts there is no stopping until curtain.
Following this rehearsal the Director will give his final notes. This is also the time to solve any production issues with any of the mechanics (set, props, lights etc) that may have arisen.
Session Ten: The Performance
All the hard work will now showcased in front of an audience. There is no turning back now. Ensure the students arrive at least an hour before opening curtain. Check they have their ALL of their costume. If you are using a prop table. The student must check their prop is there. If they are carrying on a hand prop, ensure they have it. This prop is then their responsibility.... Chookas!
Production Note: The scale of this production can be as large or as intimate as you want. Anything from a full scale stage, set, lighting to an empty space in a room.
Against Type: 9 Teen Monologues
Performed by Greg Bepper's Thunderbolt Theatre Teen Drama Class
6 April 2013
Jordon - ‘Tinkering’ performed by Tobias HILTON
Jordon is an apprentice mechanic who left school to take up this trade. He is a doer not a listener. He finds it very hard not to have his hands occupied to the point of obsession.
Sammie - ‘Thin Line’ performed by Lanii STRONG
Sammie was a bright, loving child who loved doing new things, going new places and making new friends. This all changed in her teens when she became obsessed with her looks, especially her weight.
Caroline/Kazza - ‘Splitting’ performed by Abby JOHNSON
Caroline is twelve (a Twelvey) Her brother, Keith is 18 months old so she has virtually been an only child most of her life. At home she is a sweet young girl. Always helpful. This all changes when she is away from home with her friends. Then she becomes a real twelvey: Kazza.
Harriet - ‘Bitch’n’ performed by Tilly McCORMACK
Harriet is an only child. She is babied and totally spoilt by her parents. Her circle of friends are more followers than friends and that’s just the way she likes it.
Simon - ‘Simon Says’ performed by Mark BELL
Simon is a compulsive obsessive. He knows all too well that he has this syndrome and now and as a teenager is not coping with it very well.
Vicky - ‘Private Hell’ performed by Brittany WYNN
Vicki is a cutter. She does not cut for attention; in fact she hides the fact. It’s her own private hell. She doesn’t want to hurt herself to the point of being fatal but the cutting helps her cope when a major problem comes into her life.
Ellie - ‘The Note’ performed by Annie GORYUNOVA
Ellie doesn't have happy life. Her father left when she was two. Her mother is a nurse and through the pressures her mother is hooked on prescription drugs. Between her mother’s addiction and craziness and the protector of younger sister Jessica, she has fallen into deep depression verging on suicidal.
Annabelle - ‘Party Girl’ performed by Lizzie GRACIE
Annabelle is very likable, popular and loud with never ending enthusiasm. She is a born organiser and never shy to be the first to volunteer. She never tries to hurt anyone intentionally but sometimes, because of her enthusiasm, she can go a bit too far with her advice.
Nieve - ‘Lonely in a Crowd’ performed by Riddhi DUA
Nieve is an only child. Her father is a Captain in the army. He is presently serving in Afghanistan. Her mother suffers from Alzheimer’s. They live in a residence on the army base. As she is her mothers' carer, Nieve is home schooled by visiting tutors. She is very much a loner.
Author: Greg Bepper © 2013
Greg Bepper's Thunderbolt Theatre & Film Productions