A Simple Way to Upstage Yourself
Often in community theatre, high school performances and university performances, actors will upstage themselves, neatly destroying any effect that they might have on the audience.
What is upstaging?
An actor is upstaged when he or she delivers his lines upstage away from the audience. Careful choreography is needed to map out the ebb and flow of dialogue and movement so that actors don't upstage themselves, or each other.
An actor can upstage another actor by moving further away from the audience and forcing the actor closest to the audience, the downstage actor, to turn away from the audience to deliver his or her lines to the upstage actor. I would suggest that an actor that is frequently being upstaged on purpose by another actor, simply turn away from the offending upstaging actor and face the audience to deliver their lines. Unfortunately in theatre, there are actors who will deliberately upstage other actors to garner more attention from the audience, to weaken another actor's performance.
Another way for two actors to upstage themselves simultaneously is for them to conduct their scene in profile, face to face. Theatre is a highly artificial medium and the audience usually sits behind the fourth wall, outside of the action. The actors need to engage the audience with what they are saying and feeling.
The audience needs to see their faces. While many theatre people mistake profile acting for chemistry, it does little for an audience. An easy and natural fix is to have the speaking actor cheat towards the audience and the other actor focus their attention on the speaking actor. When the other actor gets their turn to say something important, he or she can cheat towards the audience while the other actor focuses their attention on them. Acting is like a game of chess where moves have to be plotted out in order to gain the best advantage for the audience.
Another simple way for an actor to upstage themselves is to make a gesture with the downstage hand across the body. This effectively masks the actor from the audience and weakens his gesture. To correct this simple mistake an actor should use his upstage hand to unblock his body and let the audience see the actor.
An actor that opens up to an audience is far more effective and engaging than one that closes themselves off either physically or vocally.
Upstaging is a problem because it minimizes an actor in their role and the whole play suffers. The play becomes less than what it could be. It becomes small.