Whether its training bored adults in the gentle arts of spreadsheets or taming a combustible room of 7 year-olds, the process is enough to wear down the most energetic of NQTs let alone a haggard old veteran (as you tend to be the year after QTS). At all times of year, the holidays can’t come soon enough. There are some ways that you can improve your performance (and longevity) with a few simple acting tricks. Here are 10 lessons from actor training that can help teachers to maintain their energy and effectiveness.
Your opening sets the scene and creates the atmosphere and expectation. With a strong start you’ll have the momentum to keep going, so start with an overture – a strong, motif-filled introduction that creates impact and gives hints at moments to expect throughout the show
Breathing is the most fundamental thing we do as human beings and when the external or internal environment changes its often the breath that’s the first to respond. Emotions are clearly indicated through breath particularly so learn to control it and it has the two-way effect of making you appear calm on the outside and actually feeling calm on the inside. Slow breathing to counts and following the breath with the inner-eye as it floats in and out of your body are good exercises to bring you back to the moment
Learn to control tone and you will never have to shout again. Even babies utilise this as their cries are perfectly pitched to be at their most irritating or upsetting (although babies can do volume too). Practice out loud at home within your natural range to see what responses you might get. What happens if you choose a pitch that’s outside of your normal range? How do others respond to tones that you have used in other areas of your life? If you’re brave enough you can record yourself…
Another technique that will prevent you from shouting and cut through the chatter and distance that can disrupt your teaching. Practice “speaking from the belly” rather than the throat, use your diaphragm to support breath and don’t use too much of the latter. Ever wondered how musical theatre singers belt out the final chorus? Practice holding a note or an ah sound for long periods at varying volumes and pitches. If you can feel it in your throat then you’re not quite there.
Teachers can suffer terribly with their vocal health thanks to extended periods of shouting, talking over conversation or simply talking animatedly. Look after it by using the above techniques to avoid shouting, always stay hydrated (if you feel thirsty you are too late) and when sore throats strike, you can’t do much better than honey and warm water (with lemon or ginger if you suspect an infection).
Physical presence is difficult to define but very easy to spot. People that own the room are instantly more noticeable and infinitely more effective and a few small changes can get you there. Calm, measured movement (or standing completely still) are better than nervous pacing, reassuring and extended eye-contact with a range of audience members and the belief that your audience WILL come to you if you invite them gently (rather than feel you always have to reach out to them) will contribute to that X-factor.
The science of space (in relation to objects and bodies) can really give you a boost in terms of the above and stop you from running around the room aimlessly believing it’s the best way to reach individuals. You follow many of the “rules” naturally anyway so a little thought can really boost your presence. Think about audience sight-lines (what can each of your listeners see from their position), use a variety of heights where possible, move within direct line of those that appear not to be listening (or right next to those that clearly aren’t) and you are giving a huge boost to your effectiveness. When working with individuals or small groups, position yourself so that you can see the rest of the room beyond them. Finally, dont forget that how you set the room out i.e. your auditorium can change the nature of the show completely – use it.
Hand-talkers are often seen as more passionate, more intelligent and more firm so get on the back of this. A simple trick to boost animation is to never let your hands drop below your waist. This can feel unnatural at first but will force you to find gestural ways of talking. Underline facts and demands with clear, emphatic movements using both hands and gesture with open, upturned hands until you need to play the villain. Open your arms and they will be invited in by your calm, confident presence.
The golden rule of teaching is to make the students do most of the work. If you’re running around and the audience is half-watching you, head resting on arms then you are performing in spite of them, rather than to them. Get them to talk to each other, teach each other, pick who will answer the next question and above all involve them physically, mentally and vocally. Make them a spect-actor in a drama that involves all of you not a passive observer of your desperate pleas for knowledge-transfer.
10.The Curtain Call
As with the overture, the end is important and what leaves them either hungry for more or dreading an encore. The bows in a theatre should be upbeat and focus on the audience and the unseen contributors to the show (technicians for example). They should also be done flamboyantly and with a smile. You knocked ‘em dead, kid!
So if you think that teachers are simply underpaid, under-appreciated actors then crank up your skills and perform like a pro by giving a few of these some thought. If you DON’T perform and the level of genuine communion is what gets you crawling towards the end of term, then go ahead and give “performance” a try. Even spreadsheets will feel like a Broadway show
Want more information? Get in touch through the comments page for help, advice and a shoulder to cry on…