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101 Improv Games FOR Children and AdultsFun and Creativity with Improvisation and Acting
By Bob Bedore
Hunter House Inc., PublishersCopyright © 2004 Bob Bedore
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWarm-up Games
The following games are designed to put players into the right mindset to play harder games. They also help players work on the basics of improv. For instance, Take a Walk (Game #1) gets players used to using their bodies onstage; Where Is It? (Game #4) lets them practice creating an environment on a bare stage using mime and other skills; and Fortunately/Unfortunately (Game #7) and One-Word Story (Game #8) teach them to work together to tell a story.
Sometimes students are reluctant to play warm-up games because they want to jump right into the more intense games. But if warm-up games are used correctly, at the beginning of the teaching process, they can become favorites. In fact, two of these warm-up games, Blind Sculpture (Game #5) and What Are You Doing? (Game #2), have actually made their way onstage for real shows.
These games are also a great way to get the whole class involved, since they can be played by a large group, while many improv games are for just a few players.
1 Take a Walk
Forthe Emcee/Teacher: Ask players to walk around the room. From time to time call out a particular emotion or character type and have the players change their walk to show the new emotion or character. Encourage players to exaggerate, making their movements and expressions as "big" as possible. Tell them that anyone watching should be able to guess right away what emotion or character was called out. Help players notice how their movements change instinctively when they act out different emotions. Point out that their hands clench when they are angry, or that they take smaller steps when they are afraid. Once players get the hang of it, speed up the game to give them practice changing emotions and characters quickly.
This game is mainly an exercise for the body, but there are a few variations that will give the players some added fun.
Have each player secretly pick out one person to be afraid of and another to be a "protector." Players should walk around, all of them trying to keep their protectors between them and the people they are afraid of. Now the players are learning to create blocking (where and how an actor moves) to go along with their characters.
Ask all the players to stand in a tight circle with their eyes closed. They should feel the face of the person in front of them until they are familiar with it. Then have players step back and spread out, keeping their eyes closed. Challenge players to reform the circle as exactly as possible with their eyes closed, finding their partners purely by touch.
Tips for Teaching: After students have made their emotions as big as possible, help them to understand levels of subtlety. For example, it is easy to show in your walk that you are seething with anger, but it is more challenging to show repressed anger in a walk. Give the students subtle emotions to express, and see what they do. This will help them add layers to their characters.
2 What Are You Doing?
For the Emcee/Teacher: This is perhaps the most perfect of all warm-up games, for reasons I'll explain in a moment. Invite a pair of players to stand onstage and assign them two letters of the alphabet-A and B, for example. One player asks the other, "What are you doing?" and the other player answers with an action phrase. The trick is that there must be only two words in the phrase, each beginning with one of the assigned letters: in this case, perhaps "Anchoring Bananas." The first player then acts out the phrase, maybe pretending to toss an anchor from a raft made entirely of bananas. Then the players switch roles and play again. You can add to the fun by giving players more letters to work with, creating three- or four-word phrases.
Tell players not to get stuck trying to think up the whole phrase at once. Encourage them to take the words one letter at a time, without worrying too much about whether the phrase makes sense. Remind them that it's up to the other person to act out the phrase, so they can make up whatever they want.
This game is great because it works both sides of the brain so well-intellectual and creative. On the one hand, your intellect must struggle to come up with words to go with the letters. Believe me, it is very easy to freeze when you're thinking up words: Remember to do it one word at a time rather than trying to come up with the whole phrase. On the other hand, acting out the phrases works the creative side of your brain. I love this game and often play it alone in the car, using passing license plates to get my letters.
For the Players: When acting out a phrase, think of all the different meanings a word can have. A good example is the word dog. It can mean a pet or a food (hot dog), or it can be used in slang terms to mean a buddy, an ugly person, or even to tease someone (to dog someone). Be creative-just do it quickly. And don't forget that you can talk while acting out the phrase to help get the point across.
Tips for Teaching: This game is a great way for students to experiment with looking at words in different ways. (See the example of possible meanings for the word dog in For the Players above.) Remind them about multiple meanings so that they will explore. Don't let them settle on the obvious.
3 What Is It?
For the Emcee/Teacher: This fun little game gets players used to handling objects without making them feel like they have to be expert mimes. Divide the class into small groups and have each group sit in a small circle. Hand one player in each circle an invisible lump of clay. Ask the player to mold the clay into an object, silently act out using the object, and pass the object to the next player. The next player takes the object, uses it for a different purpose, and then mashes up the clay to form a different object. The process goes around the circle for a little while.
Encourage players to make increasingly unusual objects after all of the more obvious ideas have been used up. Make sure that they are using the objects in an effective manner.
Variation: Instead of a lump of clay, hand the players an invisible ball to pass around the circle. Ask the first player to decide what the ball is made of and how heavy it is, using facial expression and body language to show this. Then players pass the ball around. Do they all react to it in the same manner? Let players experiment with this game and see what they can do.
Tips for Teaching: This game helps students learn to use mime to create an illusion of shape and mass. Help the student see that sometimes all it takes to get a point across are little things like facial expressions and gestures.
4 Where Is It?
For the Emcee/Teacher: In What Is It? (Game #3), players "created" single objects. This game challenges them to create an entire environment out of thin air. Ask one player to enter first, using dialog and mime to show where she is and what she is doing there. For example, the player might be a grocer neatening her bins of vegetables before customers arrive. The other players enter one by one and add to the scene, until all of them are doing something different in the environment.
Variation: Once players have the hang of the game, add to the challenge by asking them to play the same scene again, but this time in silence.
For the Players: The first player should pick a character with a strong personality and/or who plays a pivotal role in order to help set up the location. If the player comes in as just a customer in a store, he does not establish what type of store it is, and that will have to fall to one of the other players. There is nothing really wrong with this, but the creation of a strong "lead" character will help the players to have a solid foundation from the beginning.
Tips for Teaching: This game teaches students how to create an environment with small bits of mime. As in What Is It? (Game #3), help them see that sometimes small gestures are all it takes to get a point across. Players also learn to watch each other as they are performing together, because they must do so in order to develop an environment. This game gives them a feel for the important part each character plays in creating the big picture.
5 Blind Sculpture
Props: blindfolds for the members of both teams
For the Emcee/Teacher: This game is a competition, but as in all improv games, the point is to have fun. Bring two equal teams of about four players up onstage. Blindfold everybody except one member of each team: They will be the sculptures. Have the two "sculptures" strike a pose, and explain that each team will race to match its sculpture's pose-but team members can use only touch to figure out what the pose is. The blindfolded players take turns trying to match the pose until they all have it. The first blindfolded player feels the sculpture, figures out the pose and matches it, and then calls out to the next player. The next player does not go directly to the sculpture, however, but instead feels the person who went before them to figure out the pose. Each player in turn uses the player who came just before him as a guide. Everyone holds the poses until both teams are finished, because the team that wins the race in terms of speed may lose in terms of accuracy. It is fun to take off the blindfolds and let everyone see how good the other poses are.
For the Players: The game is simple: The laughs come from the audience's reaction to what is happening. The nervous tension they feel because of the race and the touching onstage gets them to laugh. This game might be well suited to open a show or a second act because of the energy it creates.
Tips for Teaching: This game does a great job of helping students feel comfortable using their bodies. It also helps them forget to feel self-conscious about how they look onstage. You may find that some students feel uncomfortable with the touching aspect of the game. If this becomes a problem, don't play the game until they are ready.
6 Counting on You
For the Emcee/Teacher: The name says it all. Have the players sit in a circle, and explain that they will count together, one at a time. All of the players should feel free to say the next number whenever they feel inspired, but they must listen and watch each other closely. If at any time two or more players speak at the same time, the counting must begin again at "one." Encourage players to see how high they can count.
Variation: You can add to this little game by having players shut their eyes. Now they must rely on acting instinct alone to make sure they don't call out a number at the same time as someone else.
For the Players: The only way the group can succeed is to start to think as one. Don't try to beat the system by choosing one person to say every other number.
Tips for Teaching: This is the perfect game to use when you find students are talking over each other too much. The exercise helps players learn to look for an opening in the dialog and to sense the subtle clues people give when they are about to speak. Notice how some players take to this game quickly and others don't grasp it as well. This is a good moment for you to see who needs to be given a little more training.
7 Fortunately/ Unfortunately
For the Emcee/Teacher: Have players stand side by side in a line, facing the same direction. Explain that they will take turns telling the good and bad news in a story. Invite a player at one end of the line to start the story by saying a sentence that begins with the word "Fortunately." For example, "Fortunately, my parachute opened." The next player in line has to tell the bad news: "Unfortunately, I wasn't wearing it when it did." The next player tells the good side again: "Fortunately, I wasn't skydiving at the time." Once you get to the end of the line, start over at the beginning. It's good to have an odd number of people in the line so that they switch the "Fortunately" and "Unfortunately" viewpoints each time around. Let the story go down the line at least twice.
For the Players: Know whether you are "Fortunately" or "Unfortunately" and be ready to go. Make sure that you are listening to how the story is progressing as it comes to you. The story may take twists and turns you don't expect. Also, think about adding twists and turns of your own. The "Unfortunately" side can really change the scene-you could even open a gateway into another dimension. As with most improv games, what you do or say must be accepted and added onto by the other players. Don't be afraid to say something wild.
Tips for Teaching: Encourage students to keep the pace quick. The story should flow naturally, without too many long pauses. This will help the class learn to work as a team.
8 One-Word Story
For the Emcee/Teacher: As in Fortunately/Unfortunately (Game #7), players stand side by side in a line and take turns telling a story about a topic chosen by you or the audience. This time, however, each player will speak only one word per turn. For example, player one says "once." Player two says "upon." Player three says "a." Player four says "time." And so on. Once you get to the end of the line, begin again at the start of the line. Stop the story when it reaches a satisfying ending.
For the Players: Always listen so you'll be ready. Sell your word-make it sound important. Don't be afraid to put in a strange word if it really does fit. Try not to have too much of a story in your mind, because you only have one word to get it going. Don't be surprised if you spend the whole game saying words like "and," "the," and so on.
Tips for Teaching: This game is a great way to teach players that they have to work together to reach a goal because no one person can be in control. Before players begin, give them a topic or title for the story. When the story is done, ask each player what she originally thought would happen in the story. It's almost certain that none of their guesses came close to the actual plot of the story. As with Fortunately/Unfortunately (Game #7), encourage students to keep the pace quick. The story should flow naturally, without too many long pauses. This will help the class learn to work as a team.
Chapter TwoExercise Games
Exercise games involve more player interaction and are thus are a step up from warm-up games. The games challenge players to develop characters and scenes. You can use games like Any Scene (Game #9) to introduce students to the rules of improv, as outlined in Part One. If students need practice with the "Never Say No" rule, Yesman Advertising (Game #16) is perfect.
These games are not just for students-they have all made it to the stage at one time or another. The exercise games are perfect for beginners who are ready for more of a challenge, as well as for seasoned veterans getting back in touch with the basics.
9 Any Scene
For the Emcee/Teacher: Put two or more players onstage and let them come up with their own scene. Usually, the first player to talk will establish the setting. And that's it.
See how the players work together. They will get used to having to fill the silence with words or actions, and it will become easier and easier for them. I always remind teachers not to stop the players during a scene. If players make a mistake, see if they can work themselves out of it. You'll be amazed by the way the survival instinct will help them reach an end.
This game is used from time to time to start a long-form improv. (See page 3.)
For the Players: There are no rules to this game, so just keep the scene going.
Tips for Teaching: Use this game to impress upon students the idea that every scene has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Have them look for these stages. Examine a scene and ask students to pinpoint where the middle was. Then have them identify the steps that led to the conclusion.
Excerpted from 101 Improv Games FOR Children and Adults by Bob Bedore Copyright © 2004 by Bob Bedore. Excerpted by permission.
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