As a high school theatre director, teacher, and playwright working with young actors, I've encountered a challenge that has become increasingly prominent in today's tech-savvy world: the omnipresent smartphone. In this digital age, it's not uncommon for students to be glued to their screens, even during rehearsals and performances. The era of "nothing to do" has transformed into an era of "everything to do on your phone." But fear not, fellow directors and educators; there are solutions that can keep our actors engaged, focused, and committed to their craft.

The Smartphone Conundrum: A Modern Distraction

Smartphones have become a double-edged sword in the world of theatre. While they offer a plethora of entertainment and connectivity options, they also pose a significant distraction to young actors. It's not uncommon for students to check social media, post selfies, text friends, play games, answer emails, and even chat on the phone during rehearsals. As a result, their mental presence in the rehearsal room diminishes, making it challenging for them to immerse themselves in their characters and stay attuned to the production.

Smart Scheduling and Respect for Time

One effective way to tackle this dilemma is through smart scheduling. While it's crucial to have all hands on deck for key rehearsal phases like initial read-throughs, blocking, and tech week, it's equally important to demonstrate respect for your actors' time. This is particularly essential in high school settings where students juggle various commitments.

However, some situations may require the presence of all actors at every rehearsal. In such cases, offering constructive options for actors during their downtime can help maintain focus without disturbing others.

The Backbone: Enforce a Firm Rule

The key to mitigating smartphone distractions is to create a clear and firm rule for your rehearsal space: upon arrival, actors must relinquish their cell phones to a designated person, such as the stage manager or assistant director. This rule immediately eliminates the temptation for actors to use their phones when they should be fully invested in the production.

While students may raise concerns about emergencies, you can designate a responsible person in your crew, like the assistant manager, to keep their phone on hand for such cases. All cast members can provide this designated number to their parents or guardians for use in emergencies. In addition, consider incorporating the following points into an audition or role-acceptance contract:

  • I understand I will store my phone out of sight in a designated safe space during all rehearsals and performances.
  • I understand that family members will only be able to reach me during rehearsals under emergency circumstances using a designated phone number I will provide to them. Pickup and other transportation issues are not considered emergencies.

With this rule in place, you create an environment where actors are fully present and focused on the production, eliminating the lure of smartphones.

Productive Activities During Downtime

Now that smartphones are out of the picture, you can guide your actors toward productive activities during their downtime. Here are some suggestions:

  • Assistant Director Engagement: Appoint an assistant director to work with actors who aren't in the current scene. They can run separate scenes and provide coaching for dialogue, body language, and movement.
  • Lines and Blocking Learning: Actors in smaller roles can learn the lines and blocking of leading characters. High school productions often lack understudies, so these actors play a vital role in case of emergencies.
  • Script Exploration: Offer a "Script Box" containing various scripts in different genres. This allows students to read plays in their entirety, preparing them for future auditions and roles.
  • Character Backstories: Encourage actors to work on backstories for their characters. Even minor characters can have rich histories that enhance their performances.
  • Audience and Peer Feedback: When not onstage, actors can serve as an audience for their fellow performers. They can offer specific, positive feedback, boosting morale and the overall quality of the production.
  • Tech Support: Engage actors in various backstage tasks, from assisting with props to helping with sound and lights. These experiences deepen their understanding of the collaborative nature of theatre production.

In conclusion, the smartphone dilemma is real, but it's a challenge we can address with firm rules, respect for time, and engaging activities. By keeping our actors focused and committed to their craft, we can create memorable and successful productions. It's not just about directing; it's about nurturing the next generation of talented and dedicated performers.

- Joe