1. GENERAL HEADING: Performance Exercises

2. TITLE OF EXERCISE: "Melodrama"

3. GOALS: To dramatize the language in playful exaggeration and energize meaning. To elevate playing to a level beyond "talking literature" or recited text.

4. NUMBER OF STUDENTS: From pairs to small groups.

5. EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES: Advance scenes or speeches set in memory and pre-rehearsed.

6. CLASS TIME NEEDED: Allow ample time. This may be more of a rehearsal than a class exercise.

7. STEP-BY-STEP DESCRIPTION: Participants need to feel warmed-up, animated, and willing to undertake a playful experiment that will ask them to spontaneously hyperbolize -- i.e., "ham up" or melodramatize without constraining inhibition -- the text and action of a scene. Point out, however, that the melodrama will play better if they use references in the text as cues for how they exaggerate the evocation of words and the signals of their gestures. For example, when a reference is made to "I" in a speech, accompany the hammed-up delivery of that first person pronoun with a bold self-referential gesture. All subject and object references should be specifically and energetically pointed to, even if it means violating the confines of taste. Verbs can also be acted out or boldly depicted in gestural language -- e.g., thoughts radiating from the brain; passion spewing from the heart; and so on. Actors must commit themselves to driving the action forward and to playing along with the goofy spontaneity -- avoid laughing at others or self on stage; stay in the character of the style. Director/leader can "coach" to encourage release of energy and to ask actor to repeat a word or phrase that is not specific or fully energized. "Who?," "What?," "Where?," or "How?" are simple coaching prompts.

8. POINTS FOR OBSERVATION, DISCUSSION: This exercise can be very successful with all levels of actors. It encourages release of tensions and inhibitions and allows actors to play at a highly energized level that they understand is not to be critically evaluated. Some actors who feel tensely protective of interpretive boundaries may resist. Most actors will find the exercise liberating. In many cases, actors discover new possibilities that they can actually carry over into performance.

Most actors understand the value of going over-the-top in rehearsal as a means of growth -- it is easier to restrain the fullness of emotion once that fullness has been found than it is to try and press a feeling into dramatic dimension from an insecure base. Growing playful with language and action fosters dramatic immediacy and diminishes actor self-consciousness. If an actor gets "on a roll" with melodramatizing, others get infected and the energy level becomes radiant. For those who might fell uncomfortable speaking Shakespeare's "heightened verse," inflating it to exaggerated proportions can help make it work when pulled back a bit.

9. SOURCE/REFERENCE: Paul Nelsen, Marlboro College


11. VARIATIONS: Singing the words in mock opera style can generate some of the same results. Images of opera may be foreign or distorted for some and produce awkward, stilted results.