5 Tips To Help Learn Names Quickly

5 Tips To Help Learn Names Quickly

As a director and teacher, one of my first priorities at the beginning of a new session or rehearsal process is to learn everyone’s names as quickly as possible. It makes young actors feel important and that they are a vital part of the team. Here are some tips that I use all the time to help me learn my actors’ names as fast as I can!

1. Take photos at auditions.

At auditions, either ask your actors to submit a photo of themselves, or even better, take photos of each actor holding up a card with their name written on it, police-lineup style. That way you can start putting names to faces.

2. Once your cast is set, study the cast list to familiarize yourself with the names themselves.

If you go into rehearsals knowing that you have, say, Jessica, Kyle, Mary and Stuart, it is less intimidating that trying to remember every name in existence. Granted, most casts have more actors than that, but even learning 30 names is less stressful than trying to recall hundreds of names.

3. At the first rehearsal, have actors introduce themselves, and then you repeat the names out loud.

Muscle memory! At your first rehearsal, have your actors sit in a circle and introduce themselves. Just a simple, “Hi, I’m Amanda,” is all that’s needed. Then you (the teacher/director) will repeat the name out loud to stick it into your brain. After a few people say their names, go back and repeat the names out loud, and then continue around the circle, going back every few actors and repeating the names. For a challenge, after everyone has introduced themselves, go back and try to say all the names in a row. For an even bigger challenge, close your eyes and have your actors change spots in the circle, and then go back and try to identify them again! Like learning lines, repetition is so helpful for memorization.

4. Repeat and use their names.

When answering questions or asking for thoughts, be sure to practice calling on people by name. If you forget their name, get them to say it out loud again before answering, and you repeat it. You could also have them say their name out loud before they answer during the first few classes/rehearsals.

5. Play name games.

Try the ABC Name Game or the Action Name Game, found on this page, or the Silent Line-Up Game, as follows: start by having actors line themselves up across the room WITHOUT SPEAKING from shortest to tallest. See if they can do it in 30 seconds or less. Then, have them repeat the exercise, only this time they must line themselves up in alphabetical order according to first name, again WITHOUT SPEAKING. Once everyone is in place, have each person say their name out loud to check and see if everyone is in the correct spot! Keep a tally between each class you’re teaching or show you’ve directed and see which group is the fastest!

If you forget someone’s name or feel embarrassed for mixing people up, ask the group to be gentle with you, and remind the group that there are ____ of them and only one of you and you’re trying your best! It happens to everyone. You will get there!

What are your best tips for learning names quickly?
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8 Quick Tips for Organizing Costumes Backstage, For Community & School Productions

8 Quick Tips for Organizing Costumes Backstage, For Community & School Productions

The backstage area can quickly become a veritable tornado of costume chaos with big casts. I’ve been there; the biggest production I’ve directed so far was The Wedding Singer last year, which had 36 high school-aged actors and lots of costume changes! Yet that’s small potatoes for some; I’ve seen school productions which include entire grade levels… 100+ kids!

Unless you are fortunate enough to have individual dressing rooms for each actor, it’s pretty much a given that there will be one common area where all the costumes are kept, and where actors get dressed before and after a show (separate gendered rooms if you’re lucky, but that’s not always the case — keep these items in mind in that case!). As well, most community and school theatre productions are not staffed by a team of costume designers and dressers; more likely it is the responsibility of a group of dedicated volunteers and/or parents, who need quick and easy ways of keeping the chaos to a minimum.

To keep your costume area sane and tidy, here are some quick tips to help you out.

8 Quick Tips for Organizing Costumes Backstage, For Community & School Productions

  • Start with preventative measures. Make it a rule that actors must help tidy the backstage and keep their costumes neat. Reinforce the idea of teamwork — everyone pitches in. The backstage team are not the actors’ servants. Remind actors that if a costume piece gets dirty, wrinkled, or goes missing, it’s the actor’s responsibility to figure out the situation (and get help, if needed) BEFORE the next performance!

 

  • Keep a written list of each item that each actor has, so the actors and costume team can refer to it. For example:

    Kevin – white button down shirt, black pants, piano key necktie, black dress shoes
    Sophie – white button down shirt, black skirt, white apron, black character shoes
    Kyla – burgundy corset, red leather jacket, white tutu, black booty shorts, black character shoes 

    This way, if something goes missing, you can refer to the list and see who it might belong to.

 

  • If you store items on a costume or clothing rack, make a divider with the actor’s name, and keep all their costumes hung up behind it to keep them separate from the other actors. Simply cut a slit to the centre of a paper plate and then a small circle in the centre and pop it on the rack, or use a piece of paper or cardstock folded in half with a notch cut into the top, hung over a hanger.

 

  • Label each item. Ideally, this would be a sewn tag on the collar or waistband of each item, but many amateur companies simply don’t have the time/money/resources to do so. Many times, putting a piece of masking or painter’s tape labelled with the actor’s name on each actor’s hanger AND a bit of tape on the collar/waistband of each item with the actor’s name on it will suffice for a shorter production run. Make sure to remove the tape before laundering, to avoid sticky residue wrecking the costume.

 

  • Give each actor a garment bag (labelled with their name, of course) to store their costumes in. Each item gets hung up and stored inside the bag — even shoes can go in the bottom of the bag — and this way items can be kept somewhat condensed and easy to store in between shows. Just be sure that items actually get hung up and don’t end up in a knotted pile at the bottom of the bag!

 

  • If your changing area has hooks on the wall (for example, in the school’s gym changing rooms), assigning each actor a hook to hang their items can be useful.

 

  • During the show, if there is room, each actor could get a laundry basket with their name on it to throw their stuff into during quick changes, and then after each performance, the actor takes their basket and sorts everything and hangs it up.

 

  • If all else fails and items don’t get hung up or properly stored, after each show, collect all the items that are not hung up and put them in a box. Before the next show, the actor has to “buy back” each item, either with actual cash (usually 25 cents to a dollar per item!) or with a task/dare/”punishment” (like singing to the director, push-ups or sit-ups, etc). I’ve found that this tactic works extremely well. 🙂

8 Quick Tips for Organizing Costumes Backstage, For Community & School Productions

How do you keep your costumes and backstage areas organized?
Share your tips on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below!

Extra Credit: Theatre Etiquette: Concerning Costumes, A Young Actor’s Toolkit, 9 Items That Should Be In Every Actor’s Hair Kit

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5 Fun Theatre Things To Do In The Summer

5 Fun Theatre Things To Do In The Summer

Yesterday (June 21) was officially the first day of summer! School is out, long days are ahead, and the world is your oyster!

But wait… something’s looming in the distance… it’s the great, gaping jaws of THE BOREDOM MONSTER!

Fight that monster off! Here are five ways to have fun and stave off boredom… summer style!

1.  Go see a show.

There are TONS of shows going on in the summer! In the London, Ontario area alone, here’s just a taste of what’s going on!

2.  Go to theatre camp/dance camp/vocal camp.

‘Nuff said.

Or there’s this one (but it’s already sold out for summer 2015 — I think that says a lot!).

Note: There are lots of camps out there, and they’re awesome. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find lots of great ones. I’m just partial to Camp OK and Kamp Kidlets. What can I say?

Extra Credit: Three things to consider before sending your kid to theatre camp

3.  Write a show for next year’s Fringe festival.

The London Fringe Festival is over for the year (*sniff, sniff*) but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead! Your brilliant idea is no good to anyone being stuck in your brain. So write it, why don’t you?! Having a due date really helps to force you to get your work out there and into the world! Check out the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals as well to see what other Fringes you could enter your work in! (Maybe you could tour your show someday… how cool would that be?)

Extra Credit: What to include with your script, So, you wanna write a show for young actors, eh?

4.  Find some new plays/monologues/songs.

Don’t get stuck with the same dull monologue that everyone else is doing. Find something new, fresh and original! MTI usually has the newest musicals available. And to find some new plays, get to your local library, or do a search online! Here are one, two, three, four, five sites to get you started! (Just remember, don’t pick the first monologue that comes up in your search — guaranteed that is the same monologue everyone else will pick!

5.  Adapt this list of things to do.

Here are 50 (count ’em!) more ideas! Just turn the winter ideas into summer ideas! If you’re still bored after all that, then there’s something seriously wrong going on!

Got any suggestions on how to spend a summer day, theatre-style?
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How To “Fringe” Like a Pro

How To "Fringe" Like a Pro

It’s that time again… the London Fringe Festival is opening next week! I can’t wait to see what this year’s Fringe has to offer. Every year, theatre artists from around the world come to London, Ontario, to share their unique stories and art with our community. It’s such a fun event, and I love participating in the Festival.

I’ve been a Fringe artist many times (Long Time Passing in the 2010 Fringe, The Rocky Horror Show and ASSASSINS in 2011, [THEY FIGHT!] in 2013, Ladies Room in 2014), as well as a performer in Nuit Blanche twice and The NO Show more times than I can count, and I’ve been a Trouper (Fringe volunteer) for many, many shows since 2008. You might say that I’m a London Fringe junkie. I feel that I can consider myself a “Fringe Pro.” As such, I feel that it is time to share my Fringe Pro knowledge with the world (or at least, with my blog readers).

So read on, for my tips on how to “Fringe” like a pro! (It’s totally a verb, you know.)

First and foremost, know the rules.

There aren’t many rules, but they are important!

The first and most important rule is BE ON TIME. The Fringe runs like clockwork, and even if you have driven for over an hour just to see THIS SHOW, if you are even 3 seconds late, you are not getting in.

The second most important rule is to HAVE YOUR FRINGE BUTTON at all times. You must have a Fringe button to see a Fringe show — no button, no show. The Fringe button supports the actual Fringe Festival, as the artists get to keep 100% of the ticket sales.

Other than that, the general rules of being a decent person apply — be nice to artists, volunteers, staff and patrons; be a good audience member; don’t be a diva (that goes double for Fringe performers, but that’s a whole different blog post!).

Get out there and get involved!

Once you’ve got the rules down, it’s time to get out and have some fun. There is SO MUCH to do at the London Fringe; grab a Fringe brochure and see what’s there! I recommend buying a show pass to save some cash. If there’s a show you desperately want to see, you should pick up an advance ticket, but remember that these are limited in quantity and will cost a little more (think of it as a “reservation fee”). Do remember that even if you have a pass or an advance ticket, if you’re late, you still won’t get in!

Getting out there and getting involved goes double for Fringe performers! Don’t assume anyone knows about your show — get out there and work those lines!

There are tons of fun events on top of the shows too! What’s great is that they’re all FREE!

  • Performer Showcase
  • VisualFringe exhibit (visual art)
  • The NO Show (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED BY ME!)
  • Old East Village Street Festival and Dundas Street Festival
  • Nuit Blanche
  • Fringe Fried Party & Awards (and The NO Show Circus of the Stars!)

Your problem won’t be boredom; rather, it will be trying to fit everything in!

Take a chance on what to see.

There are so many different artists and productions that get mounted at the Fringe each year, including comedies, tragedies, dance, magic shows, sketch comedy, one-person shows, huge-cast shows, sex shows (yes, I’m serious), shows for kids, shows for old people, shows with kid actors, shows with old people actors, local shows, national shows, international shows… the list goes on and on.

So read your brochure cover to cover and figure out what show works best for you… or just wander into a random venue and buy a ticket. Read reviews and see what the masses are saying… or ignore them completely. Try playing “Fringe Roulette” — open your brochure to the schedule page, close your eyes, point at the brochure and go see whatever show your finger lands on. You never know… you might find your next theatre obsession.

Support local.

Want to get even more involved? Volunteer at the Fringe as a Trouper. The Fringe needs tons of volunteers to assist with front of house duties, VisualFringe, Nuit Blanche, and all sorts of other duties. It is SO MUCH FUN — you get to meet tons of people, see some great theatre, and you get a free shirt to boot.

In between Fringe shows, be sure to support local businesses — restaurants and bars, gift stores and shops, charity shops, the library, and of course, the artists of VisualFringe.

Check out social media and follow the artists and companies. You never know… sometimes they’ll post a deal or password to get into their show for free! Be sure to share and like their work and help them out. And be sure to TELL YOUR FRIENDS when you see an amazing show — word of mouth is truly the best way to advertise!

Happy Fringe-ing!

What are your top tips for Fringe-ing like a pro?
Share them with me on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below!

“There Are No Small Parts, Only Small Actors”: Why This Isn’t True and What To Do About It

"There Are No Small Parts, Only Small Actors": Why This Isn't True and What To Do About It

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “There are no small parts, only small actors” before. We often tell this to young actors who have received their role in a show, counted their lines (ugh!) and have discovered that their friend has 36 lines while they only have 4. They truly have a small part.

If you are doing Romeo & Juliet and are the Apothecary, you have a small part. However, your part is still vital to the show. Without you, Romeo doesn’t get his poison and the ending is totally different. (For the better, actually… maybe we should re-write the show without the Apothecary!)

Just because your role is small, does not make it unimportant. If you fully commit to your character and know exactly why he/she is there in that scene at that time, you’ll be able to make each moment count. Your role could be the turning point of the show.

The Porter in Macbeth is a small role but has the potential to be extremely memorable and a hilarious comic relief in an otherwise heavy play. Lady Macduff and her son are only in one scene in the entire show. Macduff’s son doesn’t even have a name! Yet their deaths are extremely important to the rest of the show: it’s what urges Macduff to seek revenge on Macbeth.

This can be more difficult in musicals, especially ones with a large ensemble. When you are playing Fish #4 in The Little Mermaid among a sea of other fish, young actors may think, “What’s the point?”

Directors, help your actors to understand why their character is important and necessary; otherwise they may wonder why they’re even in the show at all. Remind them that being in the ensemble is awesome. Not everyone can be a lead or even a supporting role all the time. Some actors are just not ready yet or skilled enough for a certain part. Those people can learn from other more experienced actors and hopefully get bigger roles in the future. Or perhaps they are ready or skilled enough, but they’re not right for that particular part at that particular time. Acting is extremely subjective. It’s not a great answer, but it’s all I’ve got at the moment. Actors, it may help for you to remember why you do theatre. It’s up to you to figure out where you go from there.

My biggest piece of advice would be,

“Don’t count scenes or lines. Instead, make your scenes and lines count!” Click to tweet!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
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