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Ensemble and Group Dynamics

In theatre, the group dynamics process occurs regularly. A unique cast is thrown together for the first read-through on day one of rehearsal. Perhaps a few cast members have worked together; perhaps a few cast members are brand new...

While a review of group dynamics – a system of behaviours within or between social groups – may not sound appropriate in a directing text, I can assure you it is beneficial to directing.

While generally associated with psychology and sociology studies, group dynamics is finding application in business, education, sports, and even theatre practices.

Classic group dynamics four-stage model includes:

Forming – Group members initially get along, as they sort out what their role will be and how they fit into the group.

Storming – Group members begin to abandon feigned politeness and friction begins, sometimes to the point of tempers flaring.

Norming – Group members begin to get used to each other, developing trust and productivity.

Performing – Group members are working together toward a common goal.

Any group will go through all four stages, and in fact, it is a healthy process. As a director, having this knowledge will help you assist and lead your cast through all four stages. By learning to read your actors, you can then incorporate a series of warmups and exercises into your rehearsals, helping to keep your cast from getting stuck in one stage and to move swiftly to the next. Your overarching goal is to build a safe and trusting environment for your ensemble so that collaboration flows freely.

There may be excitement and eagerness; there may be apprehension and even confusion. Some of the actors are outgoing, confident; others are a bit introverted. Welcome to the Forming Stage, where your cast will be spending precious energy sorting out exactly how they fit into this production.

Inevitably, you will have some sort of rehearsal drama – the Storming Stage. Cast members begin jockeying for power positions. Insecurities can cause egos to flare. Bickering, hard feelings, tempers, and bad attitudes can rear their ugly heads during the Storming Stage and waste valuable rehearsal time.

Once you are able to ease through the tension of the Storming Stage, your cast and staff can finally begin to focus on the project at hand. You have entered the Norming Stage. At this point, actors and creative staff begin to feel secure in their roles and are learning routines. Feeling safe in their work environment, they trust each other and you, and focus on the rehearsal process. These are the goals of the Norming Stage.

The Performing Stage, when the cast and staff finally work as a whole toward the success of the project, is every director’s dream. Your cast is performing at peak energy, tuned into their highest levels of imagination and creativity, and are fully supporting each other. Sometimes a production never gets to this stage and the rehearsal process is pure drudgery. True, the director and cast may put together a decent show, but sadly, the group never realizes its full creative potential. The goal, then, is to move as efficiently as possible through the Forming and Storming Stages, to get to the more comfortable and creative Norming and Performing Stages.

How can you, as director, gently guide and lead your actors through these stages? Is it possible?

If you wish to get a deeper understanding of ensemble building processes and techniques, check out our 3-Months Distance Learning Course "The Director and Ensemble Building" where our teachers will guide you to a practical understanding and application of this knowledge and methods to your creative work!


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