My kids (and I) have been on a Shaun the Sheep kick recently. If you’ve never seen an episode of this claymation brilliance, you MUST. Here’s a preview:

[youtube = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4RN5mkyrSg&feature=related]

One of the (many) programming elements I love about this show is the fact that for the most part, dialogue doesn’t exist.

The storyline is played out through the actions of the characters who never say a word. There are great sound effects and verbal grunts and groans and screams and laughs, but all the dialogue is implied.

Now, don’t figure that my next thought is to suggest that pantomime be the next kidmin craze. (Read: NEVER!) However, what we DO or DON’T DO on stage by way of non-verbal cues is often more important than what we say in our dialogue.

When you’re planning a story, don’t just think about the words you say. Think about the movement and expressions that will enhance the story for the kids in the audience. Making a story come alive may mean key hand gestures, pivoting, or walking to a specific point on the stage.

Here are a few tips:

1. Center Stage is your strongest stage position. Use it wisely. MUCH LIKE USING ALL CAPS, IF YOU ALWAYS STAND IN THE CENTER OF THE STAGE, PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU’RE SCREAMING AT THEM. Vary your stage position to make the story meaningful. For example, if you’re comparing two things such as Old Life vs. New Life, try always talking about each of those from the same side of the stage. It’s a visual clue to the audience which “life” you’re discussing.

2. Know where you’re going and why you’re going there. Don’t wander aimlessly around the stage unless it’s part of the humor or to prove a point. Doing so will frustrate your audience who won’t know where to look – eventually they may stop looking. Make each movement on purpose and at critical points in your story. If you can’t think of a good reason for what you’re doing, stop. Go through your script ahead of time and plan out where you want to go and how you want to move to make the story better.

3. Standing still can be powerful. I’m talking about movement, yet sometimes what you need to do is stand still. Standing still at key moments will clue in your audience to the fact that what you’re saying is important.

4.  Enact your story. Use your movements to add life and character to your story. If you’re telling a story about riding a surf board, think about how a surfer stands, where his arms reach to balance himself, etc. Do that. If you’re telling a story about Zacchaeus, think about keeping a crouched profile when you refer to his dialogue in the story. Let your non-verbal gestures help the audience enter into the story with you.

5. A tip for having multiple actors on stage: Having several people on stage at once can easily bring chaos and clutter. A good rule of thumb is to group people in triangles and differing “heights” (sitting, standing, etc.) to add dimension and balance to your stage. Avoid straight lines of actors. The straight-line blocking technique is usually reserved to enhance a comedic moment (think hear, see, speak no evil as a punch line in a TV show). If it’s not to make a point, the straight line will make your actors feel awkward on stage, not to mention the awkwardness your audience will feel as well. They won’t know why they’re not connecting with the story, but they won’t be connecting with the story.

Really, when all is said and done, having a game plan for how you will use non-verbal movement will take your story to the next level. How well kids connect with your story is directly related to how well you’re prepared on the choices you’ve made for telling the story. Sometimes our guts are right and they become better with practice, but until we can fully trust our gut instinct, we need to make our storytelling prep include how and when we’ll move during the story.

Oh, and seriously, all kidmin (and storytellers for that matter) should watch Shaun the Sheep.

How about you? What are some of your best practices for storytelling and movement? Comment below!

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