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  • Chris Wilkins

Crossing the Line

How I’m going to get my novice, or younger members, to be the great performers that I want them to be (when they are older and more experienced) is one of the things I am constantly thinking about as coach. Not everyone is brilliant from an early age—not everyone has an easy time understanding acting techniques. I’ve spent a large amount of time trying to come up with some of the best possible things that I can try to get younger students to learn so that they have this talent as they continue to grow and gain competing experience. Time and time again I will have students run into the same problem—and I’m not the only coach who has run into this issue—my students somehow don’t possess the ability to yell.

Now I understand that yelling isn’t a substitute for real emotion, and that yelling will never be a replacement for good acting, but in my experience getting someone to yell is one of the better ways to teach them how to truly commit to an emotion. Since most of us rarely ever even raise our voices, yelling is—in my opinion—a good way to teach kids how to commit to an extreme level of emotion. The trouble is, for some reason, most kids are entirely uncomfortable raising their voice when someone is watching.

Maybe it’s because they are in a classroom, somewhere they would normally be quiet as a mouse—perhaps it is because they feel silly yelling with me watching them; there have been multiple occasions where I have tried unsuccessfully to get a student to yell during their piece.

The funny things is, I remember the exact night the same thing happened to me as a student.

I was a sophomore and a novice, and I had been on the team for a few weeks when Ryan and I were assigned a coach to work with our duo. I had never really worked with a coach before, and also hadn’t really ever performed before; I only had my brother (who joined the team the year before) to help me figure out how to put our piece together and how we should perform it. Well, we got to a point in our duo where I had to say something like, “And it just makes me so upset.” The coach we had stopped us and started explaining that line and everything that was implied by it. He really emphasized how important that line was, and said that he wanted me to say it with a great deal of emotion and to say it loud. We started over and this time when we came to the line… I managed to say it exactly how I said it before.

I had never been one to yell (or even raise my voice), and it was very difficult for me to do that. So our coach stopped us and made us try it again. This happened a few more times before he eventually stopped us all together and asked me to yell that line at him. After a few unsuccessful attempts I tried to tell him that, “I am yelling.” He yelled back at me, “No you’re not! This is yelling! Do you know how to yell?” Finally I burst out, “Yes! I know how to yell!” The whole process took just under thirty minutes, but finally I did yell at him. I left practice that day feeling very upset. Mainly because I felt I looked stupid trying to yell for half an hour and not being able to do so. Today, looking back on that day, I’m thankful that our coach didn’t give up halfway through and label me as a “lost cause.”

Though I don’t recommend yelling at students, I do recommend trying to get students to yell! Ryan has said this many times before and I completely agree:

“Almost every kid has a line when they perform. And they’re comfortable performing right up until that line. Getting over that line is one of the hardest things you can do, but once you cross it there’s no telling the things you could achieve.”

Most kids performance line is yelling. They’re comfortable doing lots of things, but when it comes to yelling they can’t quite seem to cross that line.

Because being confident is so crucial to performances, and because holding the room’s attention is so necessary, it’s important to be able to get over that line. If you can’t yell in front of a coach—can’t say something so loud that you immediately get my attention—how are you going to keep an entire audience from looking away?

Again, I realize that simply “yelling” isn’t going to teach your kids how to be brilliant performers. But it’s a pretty good first step. Especially since explaining complex and difficult acting and performance techniques usually gets met with blank stares. Yelling is a pretty effective way to build kids confidence, get them to understand committing to a difficult emotion, and also helps them understand how volume works in a room.

One of the things I’ve tried to do to help this is (Ryan came up with this idea) to get a kid to yell at a chair. Surprisingly enough, it’s easier to get kids to take something seriously if that thing is not serious at all. I’ll ask them to yell at a chair, they’ll get confused, and I’ll say, “Let me demonstrate!” I’ll walk up to the chair angrily and I usually say something along the lines of, “I hate you, Chair! I never loved you! I’m only sitting on stools from now on and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!” After that they usually get the idea and say something equally as ridiculous to the chair. Once they do I try and talk to them about how it felt to get loud, how it felt emotionally, and then I try to transfer that volume and emotion to the part in their piece where they need to get loud. It’s a process, but I believe it to be helpful.

Training kids to become better performers is harder than it should be. There are many things that can be done to teach kids, but I believe that this is one of the more important ones.

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