Blocking is keeping track of the actors’ movements across the stage. Now, this may look a bit intimidating, but I will show you how I write down blocking. It may not be the best method for you. You will have to scour the internets for samples and templates and examples until you find or amalgamate a system that works for you. The first thing you must know is left and right, down and up.
These directions are universal. Everyone at any theatre in the U.S. should understand UR is Up Stage Right, C is Center, DL is Down Stage Left, etc. Those are the easy ones.
You also need a short hand for the Characters. I usually take the first two letters (or consonants) and circle them. It distinguishes them from the other letter symbols. For Example, CH is a circle is Charles, VN in a circle is Vinnie, and so on.
Actors also do more than cross from one side of the stage to the other. They pick up props, sit in chairs, lean on desks, drink excessive amounts of alcohol (the fake kind! See my post “Whiskey and Other Liquor”). You will need a way to notate all those actions as well.
Here is my Blocking Key for Mrs. Warren’s Profession (George Bernard Shaw). This shorthand works great for me because it’s quick (only a couple of strokes per character) and it looks like what it is. (I studied Japanese for a couple of years, so that may count as cheating.
So using what you’ve learned so far, let’s put it into practice. Write the following in blocking short hand:
Mrs. Warren crosses down stage left and sits at the chair.
Great, now scroll down and see if you’re correct!
One of the best websites I’ve found so far for SM paperwork has been: http://rmusitt.org/resources/stagemanagers/6-smpaperwork
They have a few other samples of how to do blocking notation, as well as some other great resources.
Here’s a sample of my blocking notes for “Life with Father”.
Notice how I have the text of the script on the left and the form I use to write blocking on the right. This is because I am right handed and it’s easiest for me. There is also a place to put the blueprint of the set in the top right corner, a place to write down descriptions of lighting or sound cues, and a place for notes and/or props that are needed. That form is here: Blocking Page
As an actor moves, I notate on what line they move, associate it with a number and write the blocking code at that number.
CHORUS: “Two households, both alike in dignity,|_________________(1) 1: (CH) raises hands
In fair Verona | where we lay our scene. |____________________(3) (5) 3: (CH) bows, R hand out
From ancient grudge, break to new mutiny, 5: (LM) Ent UL, XDR; (LC) Ent UR, XDL
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
I like to skip a few numbers in between because invariably, the director will go back and tweak things and add little extra movements here and there.
Important Tips: Write everything in PENCIL! A lot of blocking will change. In fact, invest in a large eraser. I also use a ruler to draw the lines. And make sure you keep a copy of your blocking key in your prompt book. Not just to remind you, but in case something happens, someone else will be able to read and understand your blocking notations. Once a show goes up, I keep my prompt book at the theatre. You never know.
Hope that was helpful. Please comment if you have questions!!
The Awesome Stage Manager