Top 10 Tips For Your RAPS Play

Top 10 Tips For Your RAPS Play

RAPS has been going for over 44 years, and during those 44 years, we’ve learnt a few things. Please find below some tips for preparing your RAPS production, and some of the pitfalls to avoid…

1. CHOOSE YOUR PLAY CAREFULLY. Choosing a good play for RAPS is vital. If you want to write a new play it is always good to think about adapting an existing short story  -  this will help give you the story for your play. If you want to do an existing play, do some research on established playwrights.  Avoid scripts that you find on the internet, and avoid plays that have been done to death over the years. Find a play with characters that are roughly the same age as you are, and find a play that has themes that you relate to and understand. It soon becomes very clear to the audience if learners don’t understand (or don’t care about) the play they are performing – it needs to be something you believe in!

2. GIVE SOME THOUGHT TO YOUR ADVERTISING. Don’t let your poster be an afterthought. This is how you are supposed to advertise your play, and the hard work of your cast and your crew. A shoddy poster makes a bad impression, and won’t encourage anyone to see your play. Keep your eyes open and think about what posters you have seen around town that have made a good impression with you. Brainstorm ideas around your poster as a group, and think of creative, memorable ways to communicate your message. The world of advertising has never been more exciting or challenging –shouldn’t your poster be too?

3. GET YOUR ACTORS TO LIFT THEIR EYE-LINE. The Wits Theatre, where RAPS is held, has a “raked” auditorium: this means that most of the audience is sitting on seats that are the same level as or above the level of the stage. Most school halls have the opposite: the audience sits below the level of the stage. This means that actors have gotten used to acting with the audience below them. In the Wits Theatre actors need to lift their eye-lines or chins to direct their performance and voices to the back row (and to the adjudicators!). If they don't do this, the audience will struggle to see faces and the actors will be throwing their voices down into the floor.

4. DESIGN YOUR PLAY WITH THE WITS THEATRE IN MIND. The Wits Theatre is a large space that is painted and masked in black. A set item that might look large on your school stage could easily be dwarfed or be too small for the Wits stage. Make sure you consider the height, width and depth of the stage when you design your set. You can get a plan or technical drawing of the stage from the Wits Theatre – this will give you all the measurements. Also take into account what colour palette you could introduce to help make your set work effectively on the black Wits stage. Some of the most striking sets at Raps are simple in the colour choice and economical in the design, but the designers of these sets have given careful consideration to the size, colour and layout of the Wits Theatre. Colour is important! You can get the exact measurements of the Wits Theatre by looking at the stage plan here: Use these measurements to mark out the dimensions of the stage on the floor of the room, hall or stage where you rehearse - that way your actors can get used to the dimensions of the Wits Theatre before your technical rehearsal, and won't be in for any nasty surprises!

5. USE THE THRUST. The thrust is the front area of the stage that juts out from what we call the “traditional proscenium arch” stage. It is wise to bring as much of the action of your play onto the thrust. This is because it brings the action closer to the audience, it helps improve the projection of the voices and it breaks what can be an awful divide between the audience and the action. It might be useful to think of the stage as a foreground, middle-ground and background. If you have a large cast, then thinking in this way will really help you stage a production that is visually interesting.

6. KNOW YOUR ENTRANCES AND EXITS. A well blocked and staged play will have a director and team who understand how to use entrances and exits. The Wits Theatre allows for some inventive and surprising entrances. The vomitoriums (also known as “the voms”) downstage right and left are two useful entrances and exits to consider – ask the Festival Director to show you the voms when you have your technical rehearsal. There are also the entrances from the side of the stage that lead down onto the area around the thrust. You may want to keep all the action of your play on stage. If this is the case, then we suggest you carefully consider where the actors will enter and exit from. You may need to construct new entrances and exits by designing a set that allows this.

7. PREPARE FOR YOUR TECHNICAL REHEARSAL. You are only given one opportunity to rehearse in the theatre before your performance in the RAPS Festival. The importance of the technical rehearsal cannot be overstated. COME PREPARED. This means: you arrive early and prepared, and are ready to work the moment your slot begins your cast and crew are briefed and know what to do during the rehearsal you have given thought and preparation to your staging, lighting, backstage and costumes you listen to the notes given to you by the RAPS technical crew

8. THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT YOUR LIGHTING. It helps if you know the mood you wish to convey to your audience through your lighting. We don't expect you to understand the technical resources of the Wits Theatre but you are required to make creative and appropriate choices when it comes to lighting. Being able to describe what you want with your lighting is important. It would be useful to the RAPS technical team who supports you in plotting your lights, if you could give them the following information for each lighting state you require:

a) What is the style of the production?,

b) Is the scene interior or exterior,

c) What time of day is it?,

d) What is the mood of the scene?

So, for example, you may be doing a comedy and require a lighting state for a scene set in a park, in the middle of the night, where the mood is eerie. If you can add to this information some sense of how bright the scene should be, then you are likely to get a lighting state that will help support the action in the play. The better you can describe what you wish to convey to the RAPS technical team during your technical rehearsal, the better the final result. Side and back lights give the space depth and help sculpt the set and bodies on stage. If you choose a lighting state that makes use of only front lights, you will be able to see the actors but they will look rather flat and the look of the production may become somewhat dull. Ask the RAPS technical team to help you to make use of some side lights wherever possible. Effective lighting can define and contain a particular part of the stage. Use lighting to help contain an area and to focus the audience's attention on where the main action is happening. This does not mean having one bright area and the rest of the stage in darkness -  subtle shifts in lighting while washing the rest of the stage in low light can be very effective. Remember that the audience’s eyes will naturally be lead to the brightest part of the stage.

9. AVOID BLACKOUTS. Avoid blackouts. A common mistake is to use blackouts between scenes – don’t! This often results in slowing down the flow and momentum of the play. A well-staged play will usually not rely on blackouts between scenes. Think of creative ways your actors can move or transition from one scene to another. One common solution is to cross-fade the lights and underscore this short cross-fade (about 5 to 8 seconds) with music, but there are also more inventive ways to deal with transitions. Of course, if you need to remove a character that has "died" or indicate the end of your production, then a blackout is most probably your best option.

10. CREATE INTERESTING VISUAL PICTURES USING LEVELS AND SPACE. Theatre is a visual medium and one of the most underused tools of the theatre at RAPS is using the actors' bodies to help create interesting compositions on stage. That doesn’t mean you should place the actors in odd positions purely to create a nice picture, but you can think about using the set or furniture in the space in a way that the actors can sit, stand and lie on. Sometimes the most interesting visual compositions on stage are made purely by a cast who has been helped to understand the value of using various levels, like sitting on the floor, lying on the floor, standing on a table, crouching, kneeling, etc. One game that might be useful in rehearsal is to give your cast a single furniture item (chair, table, stool) and challenge them to place themselves in different ways in relation to it and on it. This game can also work well if you give them nothing to use other than an empty space. How many levels can they find without the aid of any objects? Actors standing still in a straight line for 45 minutes can be very boring to watch! + + + + +


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The Wits Theatre, Nedbank and The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust