How To Teach Your Students To Take The Best Script Notes

Have you ever seen a serious actor's script after a production? Depending on who you ask, it could seem like a work of art or maybe the work of a mad man. Either way, they can get pretty overwhelming. While I don't expect my students to shred their script with notes, I do expect them to take extensive notes on their blocking and character. 

Over the years, I've figured out the best system to teach students to annotate their scripts. Here's the reasons I harp on this strategy so much with my students

Structure

As you'll see in the explanation of this note taking strategy below, it creates an exhaustive map of your show from one character's perspective. This is great for your actors, as they have a written diary of the work they've done. But there's a great benefit to this that most people don't think about: if and when you have to bring in an understudy for a role, the entire character's existence onstage is documented. So think about that. This script can be passed on to help an understudy later on. 

Memory

People forget things. Students forget things. Actors forget things. Imagine trying to keep up with your own life as well as a fictional character's life that you are playing. So continually making notes in your script will help students remember all the developments you have made in rehearsal. Also, it is a great reference tool to work off of when 

Grades

Let's be honest, y'all. Grading students on their progress in a theatre class when you're deep into a production, can be difficult. I hate to admit it, but a lot of the time, daily grades are based on simply participation and don't go in-depth on effort because it is so hard to measure and compare acting students. So I take advantage of this strategy to take a grade. Once a week, students are expected to turn in their scripts with all their notes. I try to do this mostly during the beginning of a show, when we are going over lots of blocking directions. After the blocking period of production, I do a check in bi-monthly to see the progress of their acting notes. You'll see what I mean down below. 

How To Do It

The process works best with a script you structure specifically for this process. If you image your regular page broken down into four vertical columns, I use the middle two for script text and the outer two for notes. You can see the example below to see the spacing. 

Once you have your script properly formatted, your great note-taking adventure can begin!

Phase I: Blocking

The first step to this process is blocking. This is typically the first context in which the script is read, so we always start with blocking when we begin to annotate our scripts. 

You can see the example image below. On the left margin, Quince's stage direction and blocking is noted next to each corresponding line. I continually repeat "write that down!" through the blocking process. I want each character to have a step-by-step explanation of their movements onstage. Like I said above, this is not only a great grading opportunity, but a perfect road map to hand off to an understudy should a casting issue arise. 

Here's an example taken from A Midsummer Night's Dream. These are the example notes of Peter Quince. 

Here's an example taken from A Midsummer Night's Dream. These are the example notes of Peter Quince. 

Phase II: Acting 

This part of the annotation will come later. You will most likely not be adding acting and characterization notes on the first day of rehearsal. This natural progression between the two will help you and the students keep up with making complete notes on both sides. 

We use the right margin to add acting notes. These could be quick jottings about character development, the emotions a character is dealing with at that moment or a thought your actor wants to explore deeper. 

These notes are the ones I like to look over as we move deeper and deeper into our show. When a student is having a hard time making progress in a character, I ask them to refer to their acting notes. If they have any, or at least more than the last time I checked their scripts, this tells me they are working on diving deeper into their character. If no progress is being made still, I try to find another route to help this student. This is a little classroom management strategy I like to use with actors, because the structure of an acting classroom is very different from that of a normal set up.

Take advantage of these little measuring systems in your classroom! How do you make sure your students stay on top of their acting? We want to know! You may even be featured as a guest blogger.