We recently discussed how to help students who rush their turns and moves. Now we solve the opposite problem: what to do when the scenes drag and the audience falls asleep. Let’s look at four common pacing problems and some tips for improving the flow of your scene.
1. Problem: Preparation (or lack thereof)
Pacing problems are often the result of student unpreparedness. If students don’t know their lines, struggle to remember their cues, miss their entrances or exits, or mess up their transitions, the pace of the scene will immediately slow down.
If this is the reason for the pacing problems, go back to the basics. Review the lines and directions and encourage students to continue practicing and revising at home. Run Italian line races where students say their lines as quickly and accurately as possible without blocking. (Check giveaway below for tips on how to be successful when doing an Italian line run, a great line-checking exercise.) Have students write down their entries, exits, transitions, and any other notes that they need in their scenarios. Post a playlist behind the scenes to help students remember what they should do and when.
If students are constantly missing entrances and exits due to goofs or distractions, consider adding a supervisor behind the scenes to monitor things like cell phone use and behavior. They can also be an extra set of hands for quick costume changes and the like.
2. Problem: Confused conversations and awkward pauses
Two common problems with beginning actors are students who go all-in on their lines and then check once their lines are complete and don’t listen to their scene partners in general. This can result in choppy, unnatural-sounding scenes with pauses at odd times.
If available, show students professional videos of scenes they are working on and ask them to notice how the actors make their lines sound natural and conversational, rather than staged. Try to observe each other by having regular conversations, noting things like breathing, pauses, skipping, interrupting, and other nuances. Have students work active listening exercises. Really listen or just hearing? Remind students that they will make themselves look good by making their scene partner look good.
And make sure students use dramatic breaks sparingly—too many and they lose effectiveness. Check this video about pause control.
3. Problem: Long transitions and scene changes
Scene changes and transitions must be quick and precise. The audience doesn’t want to sit in the dark or stare at the closed curtain while the stagehands struggle to change the scenery. It takes them out of the story and spoils the mood.
Set aside some rehearsal time for partygoers to practice completing scene changes. If they are really behind, time them with a timer and have them sit and wait at the same time. It can be very eye opening! If your students enjoy competition, challenge them to slow down on their next race while remaining calm and precise.
If the supporters physically can’t complete their transitions quickly enough, consider adding more students to help them (actors can help) or reducing the amount of scenery, furniture, and props they have to change. You can also try adding music to the transitions or adding some transition scenes to the bottom of the stage to mask the scenery changes that are happening in the background and give the audience something interesting to watch.
4. Problem: Too much “stuff”
Then we have the inverse problem. In an effort to keep our students engaged and active on stage, directors will often try to add more, more, more: more ensemble members to each scene, more costume changes, more furniture and props , blocks and grander choreographies. Unfortunately, this can lead to longer transitions, more onstage and offstage traffic jams, more backstage stress, and—you guessed it—pacing issues.
Sometimes less is more. Where can you simplify things? Where can you reduce? Do you really need two different couches for the two living room scenes, or can you reposition the same couch and throw a blanket over it from one scene to the next? Can you condense the number of costume changes? Sometimes adding or removing a jacket or hat is all you need. Do all seven characters in the reporter ensemble need a camera, a notepad and a prop phone? Can you ask each actor to hold only one item? Do you need all seven reporters on the scene?
Remember: Changes to the script (line edits, scene cuts, etc.) should only be made with permission of the playwrightregardless of any problem, rhythm or otherwise.
Click here for a free printable tip sheet for running Italian line races as well as an exit sheet.
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage fighter from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.
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