After a few rehearsals of getting to know your actors, reading through the script and getting excited about your play, the budding director will quickly need to knuckle down and start blocking. Although it can be a slow and sometimes dull process for both actors and directors alike, blocking is an integral part of bringing your performance to life.
Fun Fact: The term ‘blocking’ derives from 19th-century theatre practices when directors would plan the staging of scenes using a miniature model of the stage with tiny blocks to represent each performer.
No matter how big or small your performance space is, it is important that your space is used effectively and so the positions and movements of your actors including where they enter and exit should always be carefully considered. For example, if you are working with a large performance space, you probably won’t want to cram your actors into one corner of the stage for the duration of the play. Such decisions fall under the process of blocking and can refer to any staged movements that your actors or performers make, from how they lie on the floor to which direction they walk across the stage. Effective blocking is what helps to reflect the behaviour and attitudes of characters, the relationships between characters and also contributes to conveying the mood of the play.
Typically, the director is responsible for choosing the actor’s movements although blocking may already be provided in the stage directions of scripts. Directors might choose to ‘pre-block’ scenes by making notes outside of rehearsals which can save a lot of time or they might work with the actors or performers during the rehearsal to set the blocking, allowing the director to fine-tune the behaviour of characters and the play’s mood. Experienced actors will have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t and so will tend to follow their own instincts when in the rehearsal space, making blocking a collaborative process.
Fun Fact: In Cantonese Opera, stage right is known as Yi Bin which means ‘the side of clothings’ and stage left is Zaap Bin which means ‘the side of props’.
If you are blocking a play for the first time, here are some tips to get you started…
Start planning as much as you can ahead of rehearsals
It’s worth having a good chunk of the blocking already planned out on your script before working with your actors so that you have a good idea of how you would like scenes to generally look. For example, you might want to jot down where actors will enter and exit the stage and which actors will be standing or sitting. As rehearsals progress, you will have the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t work for your actors.
During these pre-blocking stages, it might be a good idea to make a diagram of your performance space so that you can mark out your blocking. This provides a good reminder for yourself but will also help you to explain complex scenes to your actors or help you to organise large groups of actors appearing on stage at one time.
Use stage terminology
Using the proper stage technology and making sure that your young actors know the terms too will help you to save time and reduce confusion when giving instructions. Some of these terms might include:
- Upstage– The rear of the stage
- Downstage– The area nearest to the audience
- Stage Left– The actor’s left when facing the audience
- Stage Right– The actor’s right when facing the audience
- House Left– The audience’s left when facing the stage
- House Right– The audience’s right when facing the stage
- Cross– This means to move on stage
Make space for your set during rehearsals
It’s likely that your set won’t be ready during the early stages of blocking but you should make your actors aware of where set such as furniture will stand. Tape is useful for marking out these areas, but you could use objects such as chairs to represent any significant objects that you don’t have yet whether that’s to represent a table, a tree or a postbox!
Be aware of the strength that different positions and movements can bring to characters
If you want to bring emphasis to a character’s presence or words, add movement. Moving from upstage to downstage can strengthen a character’s stage presence as does moving them into an open or brighter area whereas moving away from these areas might be useful for when you want to weaken a character’s presence. The level at which an actor stands can also convey the strength of a character. Standing at high level will give more strength or emphasis to a character than those who are sat down or stood at a lower level.
Fun Fact: Stage managers, directors and actors use special codes when making blocking notes known as Blocking Notation. For example, MS stands for midstage.
We hope that our tips have been useful but if you’re looking for a bit more guidance or help, we recommend checking out the following links:
- 3 simple games to help young actors to learn stage directions from Theatrefolk
- A detailed break-down of blocking and movement for stage from Erik Sean McGiven
- A comparison of theatre blocking techniques
- A quick guide to blocking notation
Prague Youth Theatre
Prague’s only English speaking youth theatre. Empowering students aged 3-17 to connect with one another, develop confidence, and create impactful stories. www.pyt.cz