Today’s audience is bred into a generation of one-minute videos, four-panel jokes, memes, and GIFs. Thus, more than ever, it has become necessary for any actor’s success to possess stage presence long enough to keep the contemporary audience captivated through the whole performance. But how do child actors learn to hold the audience’s attention whether they’re performing for a skit or an entire two-act play?
How to Develop Your Child Actor’s Stage Presence
Older actors constantly make the mistake of avoiding too much energy in fear of overacting, but usually, they end up “under-acting” because of this. Kids, on the other hand, are fortunately vessels of pure energy they can’t sometimes contain. Energy is a crucial component in stage presence. How does an actor manage to “fill” large theater halls when they’re the only character in the scene and they’re performing a monologue? Actors should always be mindful of the paying audience sitting at the farthest corners of the house, so they should ensure that their energy reaches that specific row. Lack of energy can bore the audience, so actors should avoid being passive and instead work on uplifting their character.
Introduce the stage as a playground to your child actor. Let them step onto the stage with the mind-set that they will be so much bigger than their usual self. Have them fill their movements with the energy they expel on an everyday basis!
Non-actors often assume that the amplification provided by microphones is enough to make their voices heard. On the other hand, stage actors, even ones who use microphones regularly, know that this is not the case. Even with a microphone working perfectly, swallowed or mumbled words will still be difficult to understand. In acting classes and workshops, theater actors are taught to project and modulate their voices so that even when speaking softly or tenderly, a resonance carries their words past the stage. Actors are taught to honor the playwright’s work of art by delivering lines clearly. Start by training your child actor’s voice with these exercises. Teach them the difference between yelling and projecting, and set aside time to practice every day. It can be as simple as reading a bedtime story or an ad from a magazine.
Even with a loud, cackling voice to personify a character plagued with mental illness, a uniform delivery of lines in this way from beginning till the end of the play will slowly desensitize the audience’s reaction and will still be considered as monotonous. It might even annoy some of them. Children learn fast. Teach them to vary their emotional expression when memorizing lines. Be careful, however: the intensity should also match the plot structure of the play. For example, the emotional intensity in the exposition should not overpower that of the intensity in the climax, and so forth. Also falling under this category is the emphasis of certain lines or words. Develop your child actor’s stage presence by making the audience listen to them and the message their lines intend to convey through a wise choice of emphasized words.
The beat is one of the most common words in the theatrical vernacular, unsurprisingly so, because it can mean so many different things. In theater, a beat is an added pause to a line or action—a brief break that changes the moment’s rhythm. Usually, it signals a shift in intention or emotion for the character, which can have major ripple effects. How do you connect with your audience through proper placement of beats?
Take Hamlet’s iconic “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. As Shakespeare instructed with his well-placed comma, there’s a beat after “to be,” as the depressive Dane considers the weighty contrasting issues of life in “to be” and death in “or not to be.” Imagine that line delivered in one rushed breath: “To be or not to be that is the question.” It doesn’t have the same effect, does it? With a beat, an actor makes the audience read what they’re thinking and feel their humanness. With a beat, an actor keeps them on the edge of their seats as they follow the character’s trail of thoughts closely through the timing of the actor’s delivery.
Study your child actor’s lines and determine the placement of beats as you go on, all the while keeping their director’s instructions in mind.
To be a truly great theater performer, an actor must have the magnetic power brought about by stage presence to ultimately hold a stage. This is no easy task, but once developed early, a child actor can use this valuable skill to go places. Good luck!