Budding Drama Students Learn Through Laughter

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"Lights, Camera, Action!" introduced eight elementary school students to acting basics during one of Frontier Elementary School's Wolf Impressions classes.

Travis Walton, a lanky senior with a quick wit, wanted to excite younger students with his love for acting and the stage.

He approached principal Gail Gorry last year with his idea to teach in the after-school program, and she was delighted.

"You've got sports all the way through school but ... there's really not that many drama things," Walton said. "I really wanted to get these kids excited about acting and learn about being on stage while having fun at the same time."

The first day of acting class was not scary for Karessa Armstrong.

"I've acted before," she said. Armstrong played a dwarf in The Hobbit musical several summers ago.

Coincidentally, Walton had his first leading role as Gandalf in the musical.

Over the four-week session Walton's enthusiastic students learned how to stay in character, on cue and not upstage their fellow actors by playing games.

Some exercises he knew from acting classes, and he found a couple in On Stage: Theater Games and Activities for Kids by Lisa Bany-Winters.

The complex movements of Schwing! helped children learn to be on cue by bouncing, catching or schwinging a pretend ball to one another.

Mirror, mirror helped teach movement. They were so smooth we often couldn't tell who the leader was, Walton said, adding that they were as good as those he'd played the game with in high school.

During a performance, it is important that each actor can be clearly seen by the audience.

To play the game Upstage, students wandered the room. They had to strike a theatrical pose, at the command "Freeze!" facing forward and without upstaging anybody.

"Perfect! That's like what they do on Broadway musicals," said Walton at the second round of the game. "That was awesome."

Walton gathered the class in a circle for the last game.

"Now don't flip out because the name of this game is ‘Baby, if You Love Me Smile,'" Walton said.

His caution was immediately met with "Ewwws" and "icks" from his students.

"Cooties, cooties, cooties, blah, blah, blah," he said and the class quieted enough for him to continue. "It's actually a concentration game."

"This is something that a lot of people from advanced acting (at PHS) cannot do. I make them laugh all the time onstage and break character, which is not good."

"No matter how funny the person in front of you tripped, unless it is in the script or you are blocked to laugh, you cannot laugh," Walton said.

The student in the middle of the circle was it. She had to face someone and say, "Baby, if you love me smile."

With a straight face the other student had to reply, "Baby, I love you, but I just can't smile."

The students erupted in laughter.

"Remember, you can try anything," Walton said.

He gave one girl whispered directions to act like she was going to speak her line to one girl then turn to another.

Students warmed up to the game quickly, making funny faces and trying out different voices.

Nicole Ray was the best at keeping her facial expression straight and steady over the 10 minutes of play. Of all the games played, she said it was her favorite.

"It's funny when people make weird voices," she said.

Ian Vogt was the only boy in class on the last day with six girls. He was a good sport, making the girls smile when it was his turn and managing to keep a straight face by the end of the game.

"Travis was gung ho to teach the class, but when it got down to the wire he was worried," said Christy Walton of her son. "It was nice as a mother to see his level of self esteem after the first class."

"Lights, Camera, Action!" was our test case of a high school student teaching, Gorry said. She hopes Walton will return to teach again.

Walton recently played Eddie Viola in the PHS production of Maxwell P.I.

As part of a class assignment, Walton wrote a deleted scene for Maxwell P.I., said former Payson drama teacher John Siler.

"It was so good, it was put in the show."

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