Improvisation games are a wonderful way to break the ice with your new cast, to review and build skills and to help your actors find themselves in the characters they are portraying and the script you are working on with them. Through improvisation exercises and games actors learn to respond quickly to changes in their environment and to create in the moment a new way of looking at or responding to or expressing feelings about a situation that has been equally as spontaneously created.
As the director of young performers I have developed a repertoire I would like to share here, of games that I feel work well with kids and teens. These are by no means all original products, in fact most of them have been around for a very long time, but I include them here not as my own inventions but as games I have found to be particularly useful for and popular with my young actors.
Park Bench – This is usually the first game I teach. It is simple, and is played happily by all ages – believe it or not I have known the 5 – 8 year old crew to go on with this game for an hour or more! I begin by asking for a volunteer to be the first innocent bench sitter. I tell the bench sitter that he is sitting there minding his own business when a new person comes and sits down next to him – and here I encourage the next child to come and join the first. The second person’s job is to say or do something to make the first person leave. The first person’s job – and this is an important point to make – is to allow the second person’s statement or action to make them want to leave. When the first person gets up and leaves, the second person moves into their spot and becomes the next innocent bench sitter and receives the next child in line who will now make him leave. The original innocent bench sitter goes to the end of the line of the rest of the future park bench antagonists to await his own turn.
Freeze – Another old standby, Freeze has been around forever and is enjoyed by actors of any age. It begins with two volunteers taking the stage. The director asks the audience to give the two volunteers a scenario to begin a scene with: A place, an activity and who the two actors are portraying. Without allowing time for the two actors to do much thinking, the director instructs the volunteers to begin the scene. The scene progresses for a few minutes and then when the actors are in an interesting physical formation the director yells “Freeze!” and the two actors must freeze their bodies at that instant.
One new volunteer is chosen and that person takes the stage and taps lightly on the shoulder of whichever actor holds a position that inspires him. The tapped actor leaves the stage. The new actor assumes his position and uses that pose as the stimulus to begin an entirely new scene.
The Martha Game – And no, nobody knows why it is called “The Martha Game.”
One actor is chosen to be the Martha. The Martha has the pleasure of choosing where she is, what she is doing and what she is and she announces this to the group and freezes in an action pose. The rest of the students one by one call out what they want to be in the scene – any character or environmental aspect of the Martha’s scenario is fair game including inanimate objects – and add themselves, frozen, to the picture. When all the actors have chosen their addition to Martha’s scenario, the director will clap her hands three times and the picture come to life, moving and talking, even the inanimate objects must talk as if what they are portraying could speak. This results in a wildly chaotic, wonderful crazy scene. This game is not for the faint of heart.
Tell Me Again? – This game originates with me and begins with a prewritten set of sentences on strips of paper that might be used to begin a scene. Some examples:
I don’t believe this. I’m tired. Don’t tell me that. What do you mean? Wow. What do you know? It’s great to see you.
Two students choose a slip of paper with a sentence printed on it, enter the playing space and begin a scene with their sentences. The catch here is that the only things the students are allowed to say at all are that one sentence they hold in their hand. They must use their bodies, faces, actions and inflection to vary the scene and portray different intents. The fun really begins as the director adds more actors, each with their own script of one sentence to play with. The game is great for teaching about the many ways a line can be delivered, as well as a delightful way to show that it is not what we say so much as how we say it.
The Game Show Game – An original variation on the old standard The Dating Game. Three kids are chosen to create characters, the identities of which they do not reveal. The characters may be anything from Sponge Bob Square Pants to a rabbit to macaroni and cheese. The three characters sit in a row of three chairs, with enough space between them to allow them to move around physically while portraying themselves. A contestant is chosen who then sits at the stage right end of the row of characters and the announcer – the director – begins the game.
Announcer: Welcome ladies and gentlemen to our show The Game Show Game where our contestant will have five rounds of questions in order to determine who these three characters might be. Here is our contestant for today: Tom. Character number one, please say hello to Tom!
The characters go down the line each saying a characteristic “hello” to the contestant. When this is accomplished the announcer says, “Tom, please ask your first question.”
The characters answer a series of five questions posed by the contestant who gathers information from the answers that hopefully leads him to the answer to who the characters really are. This game works well as it involves a lot of kids at once and even the kids playing the audience are participants as if the contestant is not able to guess the identity of a character the announcer says, “We turn to the audience. Audience members…do you have a guess for this character?” At the end of the round when al character have been disclosed the contestant goes back to the audience, the characters all move stage right one chair, character number one becomes the contestant and a new character number three is chosen from the audience, and the announcer launches into her introduction once again…
These games are a mere sampling of what is available for directors to play with their students. Some helpful improvisation game links are:
Improvisation games provide the director with a myriad of ways to stretch the rehearsal and performance skills of her fledgling actors into uncharted territory, while providing opportunities for building social skills and developing camaraderie among the students. The director will enjoy watching the student actors grow as they play, laugh with their cast mates, and become more spontaneous, creative performers.