To Drama Parents from a Baseball Mom

Two of Seed Art Share’s missions are to support other theatre organizations and to connect artists’ families to the work we do. We are always looking for ways to educate and support the parents of the kids we teach.  In the same way that I really wish someone would have schooled me on the difference in metal and plastic cleats and where to buy catcher’s gear for less than a car payment, there are lots of “drama parents” who aren’t exactly sure how auditions, rehearsals, nor production calendars work.

For the next couple of months, I am posting some tips to to help parents navigate their child’s theatre experience.  Look for new posts on Wednesdays in July and August!  And mark your calendar for 10-11:30 am on August 27th    Join us  to hear from some of the theatre teachers and directors who cast, stage manage, and educate children all over the Triangle.  (Location TBA) Just in time for the slew of local auditions this fall, we want to give YOU some practical tips, encouragement, and resources to help prepare your child.

Back to my baseball. As someone who never played the game, the most important thing for me to learn was the rules and responsibilities of the game.  While I still don’t totally understand “balking” and why we never seem to use the actual scoreboard,  it’s been a lot more fun to watch my son now that I can theoretically speak his language.  So I am going to start these posts with some basic theatre vocabulary and etiquette.  They include things you may read on their production calendars, the chain of command, and notes you may find when helping your child read through the script between rehearsals.

  1. Warm-ups – Stretches, theatre games, breathing or singing exercises that actors to do to prepare mentally and physically for a particular rehearsal or production. These are important and usually happen at the beginning of each meeting so remind kids to be early to rehearsal ready to go with Warm-ups.
  1. Company meeting – That is them, too. It usually includes the cast, crew, design team, and everyone making the production awesome.
  1. Off-book – with lines memorized. If the calendar says “OFF BOOK”, it means that scripts are no longer to be on stage.  Memorization is actually a  very small part of an actor’s job.  But once it is done, that’s when the good stuff happens! Character development, relationships, movement, choreography, and music can all take off once the books are out of their hands.   What happens if someone forgets a line?  No worries – we have a universal plan for that!  Until the day comes when actors are told they may no longer “call line”, he or she simply stops, says “Line”, and the Stage Manager (never a scene partner!) will provide the next couple of words to the actor who continues speaking from there.  This is a great practice to implement at home when running lines with your child!
  1. Producer – The person or persons ultimately responsible for the productions’ budget, marketing, and place in the organization’s season.
  1. Director – The artistic leader of the team who will tell your kid where to stand, move, enter, exit, and coach them on the best way for his/her character to tell the story. While all directors have individual styles, unless otherwise specified, “directions” should be considered instructions and not suggestions.  One of the most important skills for a young actor to learn is to follow directions. Directors may ask a child to try different physical and vocal character choices.  They should work together to settle on what makes the most sense to the story and over all stage picture. At the end of the day, the actors should defer to the director’s vision and instructors.
  1. Stage Manager – The person who has your number and your back. During rehearsals, the stage manager runs the show.  She will call things to order, call you if you are late, coordinate fittings, schedules, and communication, and is your go-to for all things logistical.. If you receive an email from the SM – read it.  During performances, the stage manager literally runs the show. She will give cues to the folks running the lights, sound, and deck (scenery) crew every time something technical happens onstage.  Like the director, if an SM gives an instruction, it is not a suggestion.  In this case it could be a matter of safety.
  1. Blocking – Blocking is both a noun and verb. It is what the actor does, i.e. My blocking is to” cross Upstage Right and sit in the chair”.  And it is also what the director does i.e. On Thursday, the director will block the scene where I cross Upstage Right and sit in the chair.  Remembering blocking is as important as remembering lines.  And how does a nine-year old do that? They must write it down, write it down, write it down. (Some folks may hear the voice of longtime Raleigh director Haskell Fitzsimmons saying it that way, because once was never enough).   The stage directions included in a script are generally representative of the original production.  Your theatre space may be entirely different from that Broadway venue or Greek amphitheater so actors young and old must ALWAYS bring a pencil – not a pen, it may change – to rehearsal.  Remind them to write it down, write it down, write it down and then, for the love of all that is good, read over it again before the next rehearsal.
  1. Stage Directions – Remember that chair I crossed to “Upstage”? First of all, “crossing” means walking. In relation to the audience, Upstage is away from the audience.  Downstage is towards them.  Stage Right is to the right – from the ACTOR’S point of view.  Stage Left is likewise the actor’s left. Center Stage is exactly that – in the middle of the stage.  If you think of the stage as a ramped tic-tac-toe board, Upstage Right (and my chair) would be on the far right side of the stage, away from the audience.  Note: The audience or house has the opposite perspective of right and left known as “House Left or House Right”.  So if you really want to see me sit in that chair – you’re gonna want to sit House Left and look way upstage.  That’s where I’ll be. In my chair.  Not bitter that the director didn’t put my chair Downstage Center.

That’s obviously not all, but hopefully enough to get you speaking some of their language.  At the panel on August 27th, we will have some of our favorite local acting teachers show YOU some memorization and vocal techniques to help you coach your child.  I still can’t throw a baseball worth a darn but I relish every time he asks me to go to the batting cage.   Our hope over the summer is that we can give you some tools to enjoy sharing this experience with your theatre kids!