How to Act Out a Storybook With Beginning Actors
One of the easiest (and most fun!) things to do with a group of beginning actors is to have them act out a story that they already know. Although students may be breaking out of their comfort zone by getting up onstage and playing a character, it can be helpful to present them with a character and a storyline that they have heard before. There is always comfort in the familiar!
Below is a quick How-To Guide on acting out a storybook with your students. The beauty of using a storybook as the basis for a script is your performance can be ready to go after a quick workshop, or you can spend weeks of class time on it. It’s up to you!
Step One – Select Your Book
When deciding on which book to use, it is best to keep a few key factors in mind:
- How many characters are there? How many students are in your group? Look for a book with a similar number of characters. Keep in mind that more than one student can play any “part.” For example, instead of the Three Little Pigs, you could have the SIX Little Pigs and they could build their houses in pairs, etc.
- How much does each character do? If you have ten students of similar ability, it may not be equitable to pick a book where one character has the majority of the action and the rest do very little. Try to look for a book where the action is maximized for as many characters as possible.
- Are there “lines?” Has the author already written what each character says, or is there room for improv? If the lines are already written, are they longer and wordier that what your students may be comfortable with? If the lines may not work for you as written, make sure to have edited lines ready ahead of time, and be prepared to be flexible.
One of our favorite storybooks for beginning actors is The Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson. There are a lot of different characters, each character has about one line, and the staging pretty much writes itself.
Step Two – Read the Book Together
Even if you are using a book that is familiar to your students, you should all experience it again to begin the scaffolding process. This will help to reinforce the characters and the details of the story.
Step Three – Assign Characters
This can be tricky, especially when it seems like everyone wants to be the same character! In some groups it may work to ask for volunteers, but in most groups we use one of our favorite sayings: “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!” Characters should be assigned based on students’ individual strengths. As a leader, trust that you know best. A few tips:
- Don’t hesitate to buddy up multiple students on the same part when necessary. There is no reason that five Big Bad Wolves can’t go blow the house down!
- If a student is non-verbal, you can always have them act the part while you narrate.
- One way to accommodate students who are extremely tentative is to have them participate on stage in the role of the “sound effects team”. And the cold winds howled – cue SFX team!
- Feel free to have creative license… if you have two Big Bad Wolves but someone wants to be a fox, then have “the Big Bad Wolves and one Fox” blow the house down. The emphasis is to experience acting over complete accuracy.
Step Four – On With the Show!
The leader of the class should always act as narrator to the story (ie Teacher, Parapro, etc). This helps to cue students on exactly what they should do and when they should do it. You can also add prompts like “and then the duck said…”, even when they may not exist in the actual storybook itself. To add a flourish of music at the end of the production, take a look at our songs.
Single Day Workshop
In a single-day workshop, the students’ first time acting out the story may be their only time. In this case, students may remain seated in the “audience” (we prefer sitting in a circle), and stand when it comes to their part in the story. In this scenario, we suggest having actors recite their lines call-and-repeat style: The narrator prompts the entire line (breaking it into small chunks if necessary) and the actor then repeats it word-for-word.
If you have more rehearsal time, you may be preparing your story for presentation in front of an audience. In this case, you can spend the extra class time in learning actual staging – telling the actors where to stand on stage, coordinating entrances and exits, etc. When you have time for a more thorough rehearsal process, you can also spend time encouraging line memorization and character study.
Acting out a storybook can be a really fun introduction into the world of theatre, in the context of a safe and familiar environment. Have fun bringing those stories to life!