Whether you're teaching acting to a group of kids, or you just want to use some theatrical games to help your students break the ice and get comfortable performing, you'll quickly find that most kids really enjoy these types of games. The best part is that students may not even realize they're learning valuable acting skills - they just know they're having fun.
These games allow students to get comfortable on stage while also introducing them to some basic theater fundamentals.
Learning basic stage directions will serve students well if they go on to act in a production. For this game, have everyone stand center stage in a group. Call out basic stage directions, starting slowly at first, and then give directions faster until everyone is scrambling around on stage.
Here is an example of a sequence:
- Start center stage
- Go downstage
- Go stage left
- Go stage right
- Go center stage
- Go upstage
- Go down left
- Go up right
- Go stage left
- Go downstage
- Back to center stage
After everyone has a good idea of their stage directions, allow students to take on the "director" role one at a time, calling out stage directions from the audience.
Projecting your voice onstage is a learned skill. This game is simple, serves as a great ice breaker, and gives students practical experience with projecting their voice so everyone in the audience can hear them.
Seat students in the back of the theater or room. One by one, a student will take the stage and proudly stride to center stage, face the audience, and proclaim, "My name is (name), and I am an actor!" The student then bows and exits while the other students applaud.
- Tell students to project their voices to the back of the theater or room. This trick ensures the entire audience can hear them.
- Teach students that projection should be partnered with clear enunciation, and that projecting is different from yelling.
- Have students practice saying their names while projecting; many people are so accustomed to their names that they don't say them clearly when on stage.
- Encourage the students in the audience to go wild with their applause. This may be the first taste of thunderous applause your students receive, and for some of them, this may be the encouragement they need to keep going with acting.
Staying in character can be difficult for young actors, especially when they are first learning about acting and don't necessarily understand characterization. This game may seem like a fun, competitive game, but it teaches students the importance of taking on a character and not "breaking" it.
- Have the students choose a spot on stage. They should be facing the audience area, as this is an important lesson to learn in acting overall.
- Tell the students to assume the pose of a statue. They can be a noble statue, a silly statue, or whatever type of statue they want. They must stay standing with their eyes open (allowing for blinking, of course).
- When everyone is in place, they must freeze as statues. It now becomes a challenge to see who is the last person to move. As the teacher, you walk around the stage, looking for people who break character by moving or adjusting. When you catch someone moving, they go sit in the audience. The last person standing as a statue is the winner.
If you find that the game is taking a little longer than you thought, you can start making silly faces or doing other things to try to make the kids break character.
Storytelling is an important part of acting, particularly for those who plan on pursuing improv, where there is no script and the actors make up the story as they go along. Many students also act with a little more enthusiasm and exuberance when they're allowed to create their own characters.
This game allows for one storyteller and one actor. The storyteller stands to the side of the stage while the actor takes center stage. The storyteller retells his or her day - this can be a true retelling, or can be a completely made up story. The actor then acts out the story as it is told.
Demonstrate to the students that even the simplest of stories can be made into hilarious retellings when done correctly. For example, "I ate pancakes for breakfast" might turn into the actor pantomiming out the act of eating so many pancakes that a stomach ache ensues.
You can add more players to this game by allowing the storyteller to bring other people into the story. For example, the storyteller might say, "Then my mom walked in the room," pointing at another actor who then goes onstage and takes on the role of the mom.
Listen to Me!
Stage actors need to have a certain charisma that draws the audience's attention. This game teaches students to use their voices, bodies and storytelling abilities to capture the attention of the audience.
- One person sits in a chair, with one actor standing to each side of him.
- When the director says go, each actor starts to tell a story to the seated person. This results in the seated person simultaneously hearing two stories from two different actors.
- The actors should try to capture the attention of the seated person with their engaging storytelling, body movements and voice inflections.
- When the director says stop, the seated person announces which actor held his attention best and why. That actor then gets to take the seated position.
Set some rules beforehand such as no yelling in the seated person's ear, no touching the seated person, and so on. This game can get quite loud, so keep this in mind and don't place a student in the seated position if she has trouble with loud noises or people in close proximity to her.
Taking on a character and making it a believable performance can come easier to some students than others, but with the right skills, it gets easier each time.
Two Truths and a Lie
Being able to convince audience members that what you're saying is true, even when it isn't, is an important skill for actors.
- One students comes to the stage and presents three statements about himself. Two of the statements are true, and one is a lie.
- The students in the audience guess which statement is a lie.
This works best when all three statements are believable and not common knowledge. Don't use statements that are opinions. Here are three statements you can give as good examples:
- "My grandfather's middle name is Henry."
- "The night I was born, it was snowing."
- "My dog has one blue eye and one brown eye."
Acting and Reacting
One important acting skill that is often overlooked is the skill of reacting. It's one thing to act, but students also need to learn to react to the other things going on around them on stage instead of just waiting to deliver their next line.
For this game, one person is crowned king, and the other is crowned queen. The rest of the actors are all partygoers.
- Tell the actors that while the king is benevolent and well-loved, the queen is cruel and hated.
- Actors should be instructed that whenever the king approaches them, they are comfortable and at ease, smiling and bowing to him.
- When the queen approaches them, they stiffen up, frightened, yet they still have to bow to her as queen.
- When the director says go, everyone walks around on stage, chatting with one another as though they are at a party, keeping in mind the requirements when the king or queen walks near them.
This is a particularly fun game to watch as a teacher. You may be surprised by how quickly students take to this game, and how easy it is for the students to get into character when there's no script. Allow everyone a chance to play both the king and queen.
This is another acting game that helps kids learn about staying in character. Give each student a folded piece of paper that they don't open until they're on stage, ready to act. Each student gets a different paper, and each one is something unusual about the character they're playing. For example:
- "Your pants are on fire."
- "You see ghosts."
- "You think you're in a musical."
- "You start every sentence with, 'In my humble opinion...."
One student takes the stage while the other students act as the media in the audience. The media members start asking questions, trying to figure out what the unusual thing about the actor is.
The actor should not only respond to the questions as the character, but should also act out the unusual thing. For example, the actor with her pants on fire might respond to questions hastily while trying to put out the fire. The media member who correctly guess what's going on gets to then take the stage.
The Grand Finale
Give students the opportunity to do things onstage that they don't normally get to do in real life, and you'll likely have students who develop a real love of acting.
This scene is simple: an actor lies on the stage, seemingly dead, while another actor comes on stage and discovers the body, then screams a horrific scream.
You may be surprised to discover that your students are initially apprehensive about delivering a good, blood-curdling scream. There is a good chance that they'll at first give a half-hearted scream. In fact, you may have to demonstrate to the students how to give a good, loud scream. After you show them that it's OK to really put some passion behind the scream, they will likely follow suit.
This is a simple game, but it's an incredibly effective one. It teaches students that there are things on stage they can do that they aren't supposed to do elsewhere. For many budding actors, this game can be freeing.
Lighting the Theatrical Fire
Teach students that the stage is a safe place where they get to be someone else. Students who learn to be comfortable in front of an audience may not necessarily go on to be professional actors, but they will have an easier time conveying confidence and poise, which are two characteristics that will certainly serve them well into adulthood.