Share with the Audience
In our experience with young performers through the work we do with them through theatre, we find that very few have the natural tendency to be keenly aware of the presence of an audience while maintaining their focus within a scene. So often in children’s theatre, one may hear repeated over and over again the following phrases, “You’re back is to the audience,” “We can’t see your face,” or “There’s no butts about it.” Unfortunately, such direction does very little by way of actually teaching the young performer what they need to know and put into practice.
Think about the most common scenario in which a group of young performers might find themselves on stage when participating in an improvised scene, when given a scripted scene, or, to make the situation much more common, when speaking in public. In an acting situation it is common to see a group of young performers (without guidance from a director) blocking the person speaking with at least half of them facing away from the audience so that the only thing an audience can see is the performer’s back. In a public speaking situation, as I see so often as an English teacher, a group of teens or preteens are presenting a project and when they are speaking they are looking at the project or reading off of their notes, rather than actually engaging their audience.
As directors and educators, it is very easy for us to tell the group directly that they need to face the audience, yet in all of our experiences, does that ever teach them to intuitively and naturally practice this? Rather than tell a group of young performers or presenters that their backs are to the audience, we prefer Viola Spolin’s idea of directing the group to “share with the audience” (Improvisation for the Theatre), translated to mean, speak up, create a nice stage picture (by not blocking anyone), and to position their bodies so that they are not facing completely away from the audience. Once the meaning of this has been learned, the young performer (or public speaker) can, with the right guidance from their director, theatre teacher, or classroom teacher, begin to think and put into practice the idea that he or she has something important to share with the audience, and in order for this to happen, the performance has to be presented in such a way that the audience feels included in the drama of the play, or the truth of the presentation.
Once the young performer understands that what he or she has to share is important, and, even more important is the fact that he or she (not anyone else) is personally sharing this through a performance, then the young performer can begin to approach the stage with the confidence to command the attention of the audience because the audience has come so as to share in the young performer’s story as it unfolds on stage.