Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I have a couple of complaints.

You know what makes me angry?  Teachers who assign students to write scripts without giving them training in how to do so!  And Teachers who assign acting students to either write a monologue or go find a published monologue are just as bad!

Script writing, even a short skit if it is to be effective, requires training.  Play scripts are not like any other kind of writing. There are certain special qualities that the lines of a script must have.  The students also need to know about the basics of story telling.  Things like a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  And things like a script tells a story in terms of what is happening, not in terms of what it being said.  A script is not conversation.  It is the emotional and physical responses the characters have to the situation.  Things like these are often neglected in the instruction of a student prior to his being assigned to write a script. And that is an educational sin of omission. 

Then acting teachers who assign students to write a monologue to perform in class also gripes me.  It is an acting class, not a play writing class. Monologues are parts of play.  If a teacher wants his acting students to perform monologues, the teacher should have a supply of appropriate monologues on hand to distribute to the students who best meet the qualities of the characters speaking the monologues.

Same for teachers who just assign their students to find a monologue and perform it for class. They need to have monologues on hand and distribute them as above.  Beginning acting students have not read a lot of plays and if they are in high school they haven't seen a lot of plays, either..  So where are they going to find monologues suitable to do?  They will waste hours looking for them.  The same is true for scenes for a class.  The teacher must have the scenes on hand and cast them.  I always had the entire class do the same scene and rehearse the scenes in class which helped everyone learn the scene and what they were supposed to do in it. Then there came a day when the scene was performed and graded.  After that we went on to the next scene.

Another of my pet peeves is doing monologues for high school play auditions or for musical auditions.  What a waste of time!  Play tryouts should be conducted in front of the entire group, the candidates have filled out tryout sheets and submitted a photo. The director casts brief scenes from the play and has those candidates read the scene. Then the director recasts  the scenes with different candidates until all have had a chance to read for a couple of roles. This may take a couple of sessions, after which the director should be able to cast the show.  Where did the nonsense of doing monologues come from?  Might be a good idea to use when doing Shakespeare, but otherwise, I have my doubts. 

Another casting peeve is callbacks.  Why bother? Make up your mind. In school theatre it is unlikely that those auditioning will greatly improve for a call back.  They only build up hope and then cause heartbreak.. I loved it when I moved from educational theatre into semi-professional directing.  I didn't need auditions.  I just called actors I knew who would be good for the roles and asked them if they would like to do it for a few bucks.  The only heartbreak was mine when I couldn't get an actor I wanted. But that never lasted very long, there was always another actor who could co the role.

These things may not make an impression on the educational theatre, but at least my steam has been vented.


  1. I think that you'll be pleased to hear that West Performing Arts (which teaches theater to children and teens in Santa Cruz, CA) does none of the things you complain about.

    There are no auditions—the teaching staff get input from the kids on how big a part they want, work with them for a couple of classes, then do the casting. All kids in the class get a part, just the size, difficulty, and number of the parts varies. When a selected play has few parts, the class size is capped, but generally there are more parts than actors, so many of the kids are double or triple cast. (For some popular classes, like Star Wars or Harry Potter, two casts are formed, with kids having leads in one cast and walk-ons in the other.)

    The kids don't write scripts, except in play-writing classes. (The kids do sometimes suggest script changes, which may or may not be accepted.)

    Monologues are done, sometimes, in the summer Shakespeare conservatories, but there are more scenes than monologues, and the monologues are not done as audition pieces, but as performances, just like the scenes are.

    There is one acting class in which it is appropriate to have the material coming from the actors: improv classes. West Performing Arts has a fine teen improv troupe.

    Disclaimer: my son has been involved with West Performing Arts for many years and is a member of the improv troupe. As a paying customer, I've been very pleased with the training he has gotten there.

  2. Hi Doc,

    Do you think Acting schools do an adequate job? I took a class in college (At a university) and found it incredibly challenging, so I agree that students might feel under-prepared when asked to write a play or a monologue.

  3. I agree... especially the part about using monologues for auditions. What a terrible way to select an actor. I don't think you can cast well without having the actors use the actual script.