Do you want to give your students fantastic acting material that they can really sink their dramatic chops into? Consider making a problem piece for your next production. Issue plays explore issues and topics that are current and relevant to your students, including body image, bullying, mental health, identity, individuality and human rights. Students are able to relate to the problems the characters face, and these plays can be a great way to entertain and educate at the same time.
While problem games are rewarding, they can also be challenging. Problem pieces can bring out some strong emotions when you and your students are working on them, and it’s important to approach them with care and attention. Here are some tips to play the problem:
1. Watch how often your character expresses extreme emotions. In a one-act play, characters should only cry once. Yell at each other once. Strike once. Scream once. If you abuse extreme emotion, it becomes ineffective. The more you shout, the less the audience will listen. All they will hear is the noise, not the content.
2. Fight the urge to “act” sad. Sad songs are already sad. The text is sad. Use all forms of emotion to react to the problem. Anger can be silent, sad people laugh and so on. This is what will make the moment alive instead of stereotyped.
3. Always remember the audience. The problematic piece can sometimes turn into an insular experience for the cast if they get too involved in what they’re doing. Always remember that your job is to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. This must be done in a variety of ways. Variety is the key. It’s always more effective to make an audience laugh before you hit them in the gut with something dramatic. Silence works in tandem with shouting. You always have a moment of calm after a moment of chaos.
4. Take the most dramatic moment in the play and repeat it with the opposite emotion. If there are two characters yelling at each other, turn the moment on its head and have the characters laugh at each other. It will give you a new perspective on the scene. You will find new rhythms in the rhythm of the dialogue. It’s a great way to create a break between the character going through the problem and the actor. On that note…
5. Remember that it’s the characters that are the problem, not the actors. Every time you replay a tense, emotional moment, create a clean break. Play a silly improv game at the end of rehearsals. Sing. Do yoga. Play duck duck goose. Create a ritual to get yourself out of character.
6. Have a stranger watch the show. If you and your cast are knee-deep in your issue, you might not think the show is veering into the overdramatic. A fresh eye (that you trust!) can tell you if the show is on track.
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