For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, Resources

P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box Time: Front and Center


Acting effectively on a stage requires a special set of skills. Most of the time if we are watching actors they are on television or a movie screen and their faces are always perfectly framed. No matter if they are whispering or shouting, the audience can always hear exactly what is being said. But, being in front of a real audience without the benefits of a microphone or a cameraman is another matter completely.

Stage actors must have an awareness of where they are in relation to the audience at all times. All too often I have seen P.A.R.T.Y. skits with a good story get muddled because the actors turn their backs to the spectators. No matter how good the acting, it is wasted if the audience can’t see the actor’s faces. In a real conversation people usually face each other, but during a play the regular rules don’t apply.

Actors must remember to “cheat out” and angle their bodies so members of the audience can see everything they do. Whenever I take the stage I pretend someone is trying to sneak up behind me from the wings (the technical term for the areas beside the stage), so I make sure I can see off stage from my peripheral vision. This keeps the shoulders turned squarely to the front and most of the body open to the audience. All of the action of the show must be directed at the spectators even if it feels unnatural.

During P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box performances, teams should be provided with a minimum of 8×10 feet area in which to perform, but often get even more space. While doing their performances, students should endeavor to “fill” whatever space they get by ensuring the characters move around the stage. Oftentimes teams end up “stuck” to the backdrop holder which can end up functioning like a security blanket. The audience (and judges) will be much more engaged by a show that features people moving confidently around the stage. It is also possible through movement and props to delineate separate settings on a single stage, so if the action is occurring stage left, stage right is free to be prepared for the next change of location or scenery.

But, being seen is only half the battle– actors must also be heard. Fear of public speaking (glossophobia) is the most commonly reported phobia of them all. When a person is nervous their throats begin to constrict and it can be very difficult to get the words out. This is one reason that professional actors always engage in warm-up activities before a performance. These release tension and stretch muscles in the throat and the rest of the body in order to facilitate locution. Tongue twisters are a great way to get the lips and tongue ready for a performance, and ensure the throat muscles are relaxed enough to carry a voice to the back row and beyond.

Below are some of my favorite tongue twisters that I picked up in acting classes over the years. Speed is less important than precise pronunciation when it comes to using them to warm-up before a performance, but challenging students to race each other or beat a set time adds another dimension of challenge. They are also just plain fun to say and even making mistakes usually results in giggling so they are a nice way to break tension.

1. Unique New York, unique New York, you know you need unique New York

2. The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.

3. The teeth, the lips, the tip of the tongue,
The tip of the tongue, the teeth and the lips (x3)

4. I sit in solemn silence
on a dull, dark dock
in a pestilential prison
with a lifelong lock
awaiting the sensation
of a short, sharp shock
from a cheap and chippy chopper
on a big, black block

5. About Socks (Dr. Seuss)
Give me the gift of a grip-top sock,
A clip drape shipshape tip top sock.
Not your spinslick slapstick slipshod stock,
But a plastic, elastic grip-top sock.
None of your fantastic slack swap slop
From a slap dash flash cash haberdash shop.
Not a knick knack knitlock knockneed knickerbocker sock
With a mock-shot blob-mottled trick-ticker top clock.
Not a supersheet seersucker ruck sack sock,
Not a spot-speckled frog-freckled cheap sheik’s sock
Off a hodge-podge moss-blotched scotch-botched block.
Nothing slipshod drip drop flip flop or glip glop
Tip me to a tip top grip top sock.

Do you know any great tongue twisters you’d like to share? Please leave a comment!


For Coaches and Teachers, For Hosts and Facilitators, For Kids, For Parents, P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, Resources

P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box Time: Theater Etiquette

When I was a kid competing in USAT, my favorite event was always the P.A.R.T.Y. performance. I loved getting up in front of the crowd of parents and other teams to share our interpretation of the PA.R.T.Y. in a Box problem. I went on to do two professional plays as well as many school and community performances over the years and I know that I achieved some of the confidence I needed to even try out based on my time in USAT. In addition to my own acting chops, I have also been a judge for USAT performances several times and I plan to share some tips to help students do their very best at each competition. Over the next several weeks I will be giving advice about creating costumes, backdrops and props, and making performances memorable.


But, let’s start with the basics. Getting up in front of a big group can be incredibly intimidating even if you have done it lots of times. The best way to help everyone feel comfortable and give it their all is to have a respectful audience. Many of the participants in USAT have never been to a formal performance of a play, orchestra or other event that would demand proper theater etiquette so they probably don’t even know the right way to act unless parents, coaches or facilitators tell them (and show them) how it is done.


1. Turn off all electronic devices. Smart phones, MP3 players, tablets and all manner of electronics have become the norm, but they have no place in a theater setting. Not only are the noises the devices themselves make distracting, but how many times have you seen parents leave their seats in the middle of a team’s performance when it isn’t their kid’s skit going on? It is distracting to the actors and to the audience members, and a gentle reminder from the host facilitator at the beginning of the performances can go a long way to keeping this from happening.

2. No talking during a performance. Unlike a real theater, the spaces like libraries, gyms and classrooms where most USAT performances take place have not been designed with noise in mind. Even a whisper in a small space can pull focus from the actors and derail their trains of thought. A policy of quiet during performances will also help ensure that teams who perform later due to their assigned letter will not have time to do additional planning and preparation during the performances of others.

3. Respect the rules about eating and drinking. In many school spaces there is no eating or drinking allowed. These rules should be respected by the coaches, teams and their family members throughout the Meet, and especially during P.A.R.T.Y. performances. Besides the potential for mess, many snacks come in noisy packaging and the unwrapping of a candy bar or crunching of potato chips can be just as distracting as talking.

4. Always applaud. We want students to gain confidence in their creative abilities and problem-solving through the course of the USAT season to promote positive risk-taking. Even performances that fall short of solving the problem, are difficult to hear or even are giggled through by the actors deserve the attention and respect of the audience. Every team should applaud and encourage the others, and in the rare case of heckling or booing this should result in a penalty against the offending team.

Unlike other types of performances, USAT teams also need to be sure to clean up after themselves. As soon as they are done with their performance they must clear the stage area and make it easy for the next team to set up. The facilitate clean-up, hosts can often arrange to have extra garbage cans brought in before the performances begin and set up near the staging area so the materials can be disposed of as soon as the students leave the stage.

Looking for more P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box tips? Check out the rest of the series: Front and Center, Make it Memorable, Backdrops Set the Scene, Costumes Make the Characters, and Props Add Pop.