by Varsha Simha
Odyssey of the Mind is an international education program for students in kindergarten through college, providing creative problem-solving opportunities in a competitive environment. These competitions take place worldwide, and on Friday, January 30, NC State’s University Theatre program had the opportunity to educate an elementary school’s 4th grade level Odyssey of the Mind team about acting and stage direction techniques.
Mia Self, Assistant Director of Acting and Directing at NC State, took the kids on a tour through Frank Thompson Hall, which houses two of NC State’s theatres.
The group first met up in the lobby and then moved to Titmus Theatre to learn about stage direction, construction, sounds, and lighting.
As Mia described the process of set construction, lighting, sound engineering, stage direction, and general backstage work, the students were engaged and pitched in with frequent comments and questions. They discussed the props they saw on stage and the pros and cons of materials used when creating sets.
From there, Mia led the students to the Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre, where they watched theatre students actually constructing and painting props.
Here, the kids learned about terminology such as stage right and stage left, upstage versus downstage, and centerstage. Mia explained that stage directions are actually the opposite of what the audience sees—”stage left” to the audience is actually “stage right” to an actor, while “upstage” and “downstage” are reversed as well! The students realized that theatre revolves around the actor’s point of view, not the audience’s. Mia also explained some theatre history, like the true meaning of “break a leg,” which actually meant to “break” the side curtains referred to as “legs” while rushing onstage.
The students then went backstage of the Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre and into the props room.
Mia showed the students sample props from previous shows and explained their construction and how the props needed to be lightweight for easy transportation and handling.
Next, Mia and the students explored the theatre’s wood shop, where the props are made.
They met with David Jensen, who demonstrated the making of props for an upcoming show, Little Shop of Horrors. Most of the props were made with foam, layered with fabric for further smoothing and shaping, and then painted. The props varied in sizes from small to large to very large, showing the kids the flexibility of materials and sizes in prop-making.
After the students observed the wood shop, Mia led them to a private rehearsal room where she coached them as a group on vocal projection, facial expression, enunciation, gestures, and breathing techniques.
Mia teaching breathing exercises to loosen the facial muscles and diaphragm.
Mia reviewing efficient stage direction and movement in groups.
The students practiced what they had learned and then settled down for a review to conclude the tour.
Mia’s coaching was an invaluable asset to the team and provided an exemplary learning experience about the workings of theatre. The Odyssey of the Mind students definitely benefitted from the lesson, experiencing NC State’s University Theatre and gaining extensive knowledge for their own projects.