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Monday, April 29, 2013

We Got the Beats: the importance of a stage director finding the beats of a play

Hello and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I will be your host at this blog.  I am a theater teacher, a playwright, an actor, and a director, and I hope to share with you some things I have learned over the years.  No big whoop. 

Today, I wanted to talk to all the community theatre and school theatre directors out there about the importance of doing your director's homework.  Some preparation even before you begin will make your rehearsal process more efficient, and, therefore, will make your production run without so many bumps along the way. 

After I have read the play a number of times, I personally work on finding the "beats" in a play.  A beat, when speaking theatrically, is related to the timing and, more imporantly, the movement in a play.  A beat alters the way the protagonist, or, really, any other character pursues their goals, and, in some cases, how they behave.  I think it is smart to think of a beat as a transition--- in fact, it is any change in a script, and there are many. 

Why is it important to find beats in a play?  Well, for a director, it is essential, because it not only strengthens the director's awareness of the script, but also allows him or her to break the play down into rehearsalable pieces, enabling everyone to see not only the forest, but each individual tree as well. 

I think is important to note that every director is different.  In fact, you could give 10 different directors the same script, and they would probably all determine a different number of beats in a play.  Having said this, I do think they would all be in agreement about the really important beats.   In fact, some directors may even create some beats that they find important for the show, by staging certain business that may not be completely fleshed out in the script.

Here are some tips for determining beats:

1.  Remember, a beat is any kind of significant CHANGE in the direction of the play.  So, when it feels like something has shifted in the scene, you are probably sensing a beat changing.

2.  Whenever a new or returning character enters or exits, that is usually a good indication that a new beat is starting, or an old beat is ending. 

3.  Changes in lighting as indicated in the script is a good indicator that the playwright feels that the beat is changing.

4.  Set changes and costume changes are clues toward determining beats, particularly if they happen within a scene. 

5.  The start of a new scene is always the start of a new beat as well.

6.  A shift in the subject of conversational dialogue is often a clue that a new beat is starting.

7.  Beats can be very long or very short--- again, much depends on an individual director's intrepretation of a script.  Having said this, most scenes, unless very short, often contain more than one beat.

Let's see if we can find the change of a beat in the following short scene:

JOHN:  Good morning, June.
JUNE:  Good morning, John.  It is good to see you.

(suddenly, a strange whirring sound occurs, and THREE ALIENS enter, grab JOHN and drag him away)

JUNE:  John!  No!

Okay, so that was pretty obvious, right?  Let's look at another example:

(Lights up on JOHN and JUNE in mid-conversation)

JOHN:  I'm not trying to antagonize you.  I love you.
JUNE:  I know you mean well, John...
JOHN:  Wait, no, that's not fair, I do more than just MEAN well...
JUNE:  You know what I mean, John.  (sighs)  Do you remember when it was easy?
JOHN:  What?
JUNE:  This.  All of it.  Getting up in the morning, kissing each other goodbye, talking to each other at dinner... all of it.  Being in love.
JOHN:  We ARE still in love.  Aren't we?
JUNE:  You know I love you, John. 
JOHN:  But what about being in love, what about that? 
JUNE:  (softly)  I don't know.
JOHN:  Well, let me know when you do.  (starts to leave)
JUNE:  Don't walk out on me now, don't...
JOHN:  (spinning back around)  What do you want me to do?  What do you WANT, June?

Okay, so this is a bit more of a complex scene.  Let me know where you think the beats are in the comments below, and we can talk about it.

Thanks for tuning in to theater is a sport.  If you would like learn more about me, you can go to,, and and search for me, Bobby Keniston.  You can even read free samples of my plays on these sites.  You can also find Theater is a Sport on Facebook by going here:!/TheaterIsASport

Until next time, remember that having the beats is important, and alos remember that theater is not only a craft and artform---it is also a sport.

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