Author Topic: PEOPLE: How to keep kids *quietly* busy at rehearsal?  (Read 17445 times)

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PencilQueen

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I'm SM-ing a community theatre production where all but one of the 14 actors are kids (age 11-17 yrs, with most around 12-13 yrs).  We've done the best we can to call specific actors *only* when they'll be needed, but by necessity this still means we often have actors waiting off stage during rehearsal.  Keeping them occupied but quiet has been a challenge, especially since our rehearsal space has horrible acoustics, so echoes are a big issue.  Does anyone have ideas for quiet activities to engage kids while they wait...preferrably something they could easily leave and rejoin.  I've heard of one children's group teaching all the actors to knit, but this was a much younger group and I'm not sure my teens would go for it.  Ideas anyone?  Pleeeeease. : ^)  
« Last Edit: Jun 10, 2009, 03:30 am by PSMKay »

lydiaelaine

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Maybe bring a deck of cards or crossword puzzles? I've never actually been in that situation, but I imagine that could possibly take their minds off the talking.

Hope that works!
Stage manager: Totally responsible for everything.

nmno

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Cards can lead to noisy games as well.  Knitting is a pretty hot this to do right now and I would think you could get this age group engaged, but I wonder about the time to teach them, the cost of materials, etc.  I've not tried it so I don't know.  Magazines? Books?

My suggestion would be to talk to a few of the parents, lord knows they've had to keep their kids quietly entertained from time to time, and they might have suggestions.  Mom and dad might be interested to know that there is some down time at rehearsal, a perfect time to get a little homework done.  Not that the kids will be excited about it but now it's Mom and Dad pushing them to be productive with that time.  Obviously not a time to try to write a paper, but good for doing that vocab worksheet.

Rebbe

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I had a show with a group of 8 kids ages 7-12, who were only needed occasionally, but had to sit quietly in a relatively small room while we rehearsed other scenes.

While my group was a bit younger than yours, most of them brought in gameboys (I don’t know if they’re still called that, but they’re the hand held video game things  :)), and as long as they muted the sound effects on them or wore headphones, they could be happily and quietly absorbed.

I second nmno’s suggestion of getting the parents involved.  Let them know the situation, so they realize it’s OK for the kids to bring in ipods, books, magazines, games, laptops, anything quiet.

Make sure you have a frank, unpatronizing discussion with the teens as well; tell them that you know it’s boring, but waiting and watching are as much a part of theater as actually being onstage.  Tell them that you really appreciate their patience, and know the set-up of the hall makes it even harder to stay quiet.  Spell out the fact that noises are distracting to the people trying to rehearse on stage, so keeping their voices down is the considerate thing to do for their fellow performers.  Ask them for their own ideas on what they can do quietly, what the challenges are to staying quiet, and how they can help each other overcome them.   

If you have an ASM (or can recruit a rotation of parents, since it’s community theater), maybe you can have someone act as kid wrangler, so at least you don’t have to personally walk backstage every time the noise level goes up.  Any chance they could go into a different room for a while, if you had an extra person?

Good luck!
"...allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster."  (Philip Henslowe, Shakespeare In Love)

j-la

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My 1st Community theatre experience was a production of Annie. One hundred & fifty  auditionees later- we had a cast of 12 kids aged 5-13. We required as a condition of auditioning/casting- a commitment by the parents to sign up as BSP's- Backstage Parents. As this was community theatre- we had the parents sign the agreement at auditions- it layed out what we were requiring from the parents. It worked very well. Most parents were more than willing to be involved. They were the BSP's. They reported to the ASM. I think giving them a 'title' helped.
We used books, video games, 'homework', cards and 'quiet games' such as chess & checkers. However- we still needed to have an occasions 'chat' to remind the cast (as a whole) about the 'quiet during rehearsal & backstage' etiquette.

killerdana

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For the past 4 summers I've worked with a group that has a cast of 40-60 kids ages 11-19.  We have all of them in rehearsal for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, whether we're using them or not.  We make a lot of the control the kids' resposibility.  We put the onus on them.  A lot bring books, ipods, laptops, etc.  If they have a longer span when they're not needed, we have a green room where they can talk. 

I find that the more responsibility you give them, the more they can take.   
Science without art is sterile.  --Albert Einstein

Mac Calder

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Kid's are difficult. You really need to check out the kids - some times you end up with a responsible lot who will watch and observe or bring their own entertainment, others will not be quiet no matter what you do. I agree with (in part) putting the onus on the children. You are not a daycare. That said - bring along a hand full of books and maybe a couple of puzzle magazines.

sojess

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I have the same problem right now... I'm SMing Seussical! The Musical with a cast of 26, 23 of which are between the ages of 8 and 17. I have devised a "Green Room Moms" rotation for help during breaks, but in the rehearsal hall itself things get quite noisy. I suggested all of the kids bring homework or books to read which has helped the particularly noisy ones. My real problem, however, is with the teenagers! I find them to be the hardest age group to focus and control.

PencilQueen

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Thanks for sharing your ideas and experiences.  It sounds like I'm on the right track, but you've given me a few new avenues to explore.  If anyone else has a brillliant idea that hasn't already been mentioned, I'm all ears.

Tigerrr

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All excellent suggestions.  I particularly like j-la's and the BSP's.  Great idea giving them a title.

I've done several shows with as few kids as only one (with his own child wrangler) to as many as 80 kids from 5 to 17 years old.  To add to all the brillant suggestions already posted, let me also say that you have to lay down the rules EARLY.  I think back to when I was in elementary school, or doing summer camps and all the best teachers/leaders set out the ground rules clearly and early.  In the past I've found that a direct, no-nonsense approach works best for me, especially if I'm SMing and I have an ASM that works closer to the kids than I do.  I'm not there to become their best friend; I'm there to make sure we put on the best performance possible. 

Without going into details about what an SM does, I basically tell them that my job it to make sure they look as great as possible, and if they don't follow these simple and clear rules, then I can't make sure they don't look like dolts on stage.

I also sometimes explain the WHY of certain rules.  For instance, kids will want to check out the backstage as soon as they are able, and touch and play with whatever they can get their hands on.  I tend to put the fear of God in them by punctuating my points with stories of injuries.  Sometimes with a little exaggeration to get my point across: for instance on a show where I had 80 kids running around backstage, I got the flyop to let an empty pipe come in as fast as was safe, showing the kids how low it could go and how fast it could come in.  Then I pointed to the fly rail and said "Don't touch".  None of them did.

I also treat them as much like adults as I can.  Past a certain age, you can say to them that they have a responsibility to look out for themselves.  This often gets great results with teenagers, since they often feel like people aren't treating them like the adults they think they are.

Gina

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I never really had any problems during rehearsals, The kids I got were pretty seasoned so they would do their homework and entertain themselves...mostly they liked watching the "Big actors" in rehearsal. Backstage- a parent is great. If you have an older kid who is interested in tech at all, Put them by an asm to act as a runner if they aren't being used for a while. Some kinds find charging glow tape amazingly ineresting. I guess it really depends on the kid. I've had great ten year olds and terrible sixteen year olds so I try not to judge them on age anymore.

ljh007

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I have great success keeping kids busy with theatre-related activities.
- Stretching is great. You can probably get away with one session every 40-minutes, or take a few minutes before the kids will go on to stretch and focus. This lets them move their bodies and release a bit of controlled energy.
- If the show calls for confetti, special letters or other paper props that are destroyed nightly, or anything like that, you can have the kids work on the chore of tearing paper or scribbling fake letters. These easy tasks are useful and make the kids feel like they are contributing to the show.
- If there are dancers in the show, you can play "mirror" games once a night. The dancer makes movements and the kids try to repeat them - all SILENTLY. The kids' awe of the big dancer will keep them quiet. If you have a corps or group of dancers, you can bring in a different one each night. This game can take up as much as 20-minutes of backstage waiting.
- Activity books, coloring books, and scrap paper will keep scribblers happy for hours.
- Sometimes, the best thing to do is just to watch a video.

philimbesi

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I work with kids in shows lot, and what you need to find is an older responsible kid who can serve as a leader.  The younger kids will follow the actions of an older kid every time, and the older kid usually wants to please the adults will fall into the job.  Keep in mind though they are still a kid and will have "kid moments" as well.

The other thing is if you have an ASM that could be trusted with the kid wrangling job, do that.   I've found with the little ones, like 4th grade or lower... its a good idea to get them into the habit of putting their index finger up to their lips in the universal shhh sign while they are backstage.  They do it in elementary schools in the hallway and the kids are conditioned to staying quiet. 

If you see a kid doing the right thing make sure to thank them in public in front of the other kids... it's "positive reinforcement" and the other kids will try and earn your praise next time.

As a total last resort and only if you have an ASM / Parent / or kid helper keeping tabs on the show,  I'd let them listen to Ipods, play game boy or other hand held games, with headphones... but that can lead to HUGE problems elsewhere. 


smejs

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I once tried to keep a little girl quiet backstage by teaching her sign language (I knew all the letters and a few signs...gave me a reason to teach myself some additional ones).  Would work great until once or twice BACKSTAGE she said quite loudly "WHAT'S THAT ONE?"  Oh, well...

The very first show I ever did - when I was 7 - was a community production of The Wizard of Oz that included something like 50 kids (as munchkins, Ozonians, deadly poppies...even yellow bricks!  I happened to play the Witch when she shrank...all of about 7 seconds long).  One interesting thing they tried was they made up paper placemats for local restaurants that were like coloring book pages, and they had the double use of acting as advertisement as well as occupying the kids during rehearsals.  I'm not sure it went over that well for us kids (I remember turning them over and drawing my own things on the back...some of which I have as mementos of my first show; I drew the main characters and had them sign them), but it was an interesting idea.

Erin

killerdana

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what you need to find is an older responsible kid who can serve as a leader.  The younger kids will follow the actions of an older kid every time, and the older kid usually wants to please the adults will fall into the job.  Keep in mind though they are still a kid and will have "kid moments" as well.

I do this a lot when working with kids.  Yes, the older kids want to have fun and be crazy too, but I approach them as the adults they wish they were.  I go up to the older ones individually and just say, "I know you want to have a good time, but remember that all the younger kids look up to you.  You're a role model and I hope you'll set a good example."  Since most of them were once the younger kids in the show, and remember emulating the older ones, they're usually willing to rise to the occasion, once it's brought to their attention.
Science without art is sterile.  --Albert Einstein

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