Deirdre Moore | May 2014

Stage Direction Charades: Teaching Children Stage Areas and Directions

I’ve taught lots of theater over the years but never in a school setting so this year is a fun challenge for me to address some of the California Theater Standards.  One of the grade 3 standards is for students to know the term stage direction and know the areas of the stage.  I designed a game I am calling “Stage Direction Charades” and it worked beautifully.  The students got to have fun and practice being an audience, entering and exiting the stage (or performance area), moving to various stage areas following stage directions, and pantomime skills (acting without speaking using exaggerated movement).

In preparation, I separated the classroom into the audience area and stage area.  I labeled the “stage” with signs showing Upstage (the area farthest from the audience), Downstage (the area closet to the audience), Stage Left (the left side of the stage from the actor’s point of view) and Stage Right (the actor’s right).  I then took a cube and wrote the abbreviations UC (Upstage Center), DC (Downstage Center), UR (Upstage Right), UL (Upstage Left), DR (Downstage Right) and DL (Downstage Left).

Then I created some easy to act and easy to guess pantomime or charade ideas since the purpose is really to become familiar with the stage areas and following stage directions.  I created 20 so that I could have 5 groups each performing 4 different pantomimes.  I wrote them in big writing on 8 1/2 x 11 paper so I could hold them up to the actors like cue cards.  Here’s a list of the ideas I used just to give you an idea:

Be a pregnant woman trying to sit down
Play football
Dance hip hop
Paddle a canoe
Raise your hand in class
Blow out candles
Put out a fire with a hose
Eat corn on the cob
Comb/brush your hair
Do sit-ups
Dance to music on your iPod
Do jumping jacks
Be a dog barking
Wave like a queen in a parade
Eat an ice cream cone
Dance ballet
Take a shower
Sing opera
Brush your teeth
Tap dance
Kill a mosquito on your arm
Play baseball
Read a book
Jump rope
Win a race
Type on a computer
Play basketball
Jump like a frog

Once the students arrived I talked to them about the fact that stages used to be “raked” or built so that Upstage was actually elevated and sloped down to Downstage and that all stage areas are designated according to the actor’s point of view so that right and left stage are the opposite of the audience’s right and left.  I assigned one student the role of director to be in charge of rolling the dice and giving the stage directions.  (I provided a cheat sheet so s/he could easily give the stage directions based on the abbreviations).  In some classes I kept this child the same and in others I alternated the role depending on the behavioral needs of my students.  The five groups of students sat in five rows in the audience area.

To begin the activity I called up one row at a time and directed them to enter stage right and proceed to center stage.  From there they received their stage direction from the student director and the charade cue from me.  The actors proceeded to the stage direction (which the audience heard) and pantomimed the action (which the audience did not see).  After 5 seconds I hit my chime to indicate the actors should go back to stage center.  The actors chose audience members to guess.  It rarely took 3 guesses but that is the maximum I would allow.  After the group had performed 4 pantomimes they went back to center stage to take their bows and receive their applause.  They exited stage left as the next row of actors entered stage right to begin the process again.

I only have 30 minutes with my third graders and we were able to squeeze in all five groups in that time frame.  I loved the activity for its simplicity and its fun factor.  If you are planning to put on a production at the end of the year with your students and want to be sure they can follow stage directions, this could be a great way to practice!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.