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There’s nothing quite like the excitement at the beginning of the school year. The latest supplies and clothes, a refreshed mindset, and plenty of opportunities for new experiences. If you find yourself at the helm of a theatre class and want to help your students feel both excited and at ease in your classroom, improv icebreakers are an excellent place to start. On The Stage presents a few to try.
Start with a low-pressure, low-stakes game to warm up and sharpen concentration. To play, have all your students get into a circle. One player – perhaps you – will start by ‘throwing’ the letter A to another player. The player then ‘throws’ the letter B to another player of their choice. Keep going until every player has had a chance to ‘throw’ a letter and you’ve finished the alphabet. For extra fun and to add a competitive edge, time yourselves and try to get the fastest time possible by the end of the quarter/semester.
Get into small groups or a large circle, and have each student say two facts about themselves, along with one lie. The rest of the group then works together as a team to sniff out the lie … while the person under scrutiny defends or explains themselves. Not only is this a great opportunity for your students to get to know each other, but it’s also a sly way to practice improv skills.
Start by getting all your students – bar one – into a circle, with the singular student in the middle. Have that student close their eyes while the rest of you collectively choose a ‘leader.’ Once the leader has been chosen, have the person in the middle open their eyes. Now, all other students will follow the leader in any action or movement they do. The point? Have the student in the middle find the leader. Ensure the leader’s movements are clear and not too fast, as that would be a dead giveaway to the person in the middle.
Begin by having two students start an improv scene. At any point, another student can call ‘freeze’ – tagging out one of the students and taking their place. Then, the two students must begin another scene, justifying their current positions. The best way to keep the game entertaining is by calling ‘freeze’ when the actors are in particularly funny or interesting positions on stage. If you’re leading a shy or hesitant class, you may need to call ‘freeze’ yourself and ask students to volunteer to sub in. Once your class feels more confident, they’ll be calling ‘freeze’ in no time!
With this exercise, you’ll all sit in a circle and create a story, one word at a time. This provides an outlet for a bit of silliness, as well as a way to loosen up your students with a low-pressure exercise.
Divide your students into groups, ensuring friends are split between groups. Give each a topic, situation, phrase, or plot to go off. Working together, teams can develop a quick script, later performing for the other groups. Teamwork, thinking on your feet, and overcoming stage fright are all great perks of this exercise.
If your class needs to get out some energy or is feeling particularly rambunctious, the Ministry of Silly Walks is a great exercise to try. Have all your students get into a circle, then loudly state: “Please clearly observe what I do.” You will then lead by example, performing a silly walk into the circle’s center. Make a clear stop, then return to your place in the circle – still performing your walk, of course. Next, your students will go around the circle and perform your walk themselves. After, the next student in line will begin again with their own silly walk. If you have a particularly large group, consider splitting it into smaller circles.
Have each member of your team stand in a circle and come up with a unique movement to associate with their name. Then, starting with one team member, go around the circle to introduce yourselves and perform your movement. Each sequential person must remember every person’s name and movement before theirs.
Get your students into a circle and number them off; everyone will either be 1, 2, or 3. You will then address one of the numbered groups, asking them to cross the circle performing an action. These can be as simple as pretending to swim to something more whimsical – like pretending to be chased by aliens. This is an excellent way to warm up the body and improvise without the pressure of solo attention.
Much like the game Telephone, Rumor Has It begins with students sitting or standing in a circle. Have one person in the circle volunteer to create a ‘rumor’ about themselves, and they can begin by whispering it into the student’s ear next to them. Each person will repeat what they heard from the student prior and add another element until it gets back to the person the ‘rumor’ was about. That student then gets to recite the entirety of the silly rumor. Remember to keep this one light-hearted and silly! You can also easily transform this into a game of Telephone by creating a plot thread and adding to it until it returns to the original creator.
If you want to get your students on stage with some simple improv, Questions Only is an easy way to start. First, your group decides on a scenario for the actors. Then, participants must act out the scene, speaking only in questions. Turn the exercise into a competition by deducting points or kicking players out of a scene for hesitating or answering in statements. You can also add the ‘Freeze’ exercise into this scenario to ensure all actors get the chance to play.
Give your students thirty sections to find and grab an object within your classroom. Then, each student must create a convincing sales pitch, aiming to sell the rest of the class the item. The student with the most convincing sales pitch wins! To ensure maximum challenge and fairness, randomly select students throughout the class, in between other activities, so they have less time to plan/prepare in their heads.
A great chance to get a bit wacky, Excuses begins with two or more actors on stage. One will ask other questions like “Why are you late?” or “Why didn’t you do the dishes?” The second actor then must make up an excuse on the spot – and the sillier, the better. If you want to involve more students, have them join the scene to ‘corroborate’ the student’s story or challenge it. Make sure every student gets a chance to ask the question, answer the question, or challenge the answer.
This scene requires three chairs and three students at one time. The exercise starts out with two students sitting in chairs – a driver and a passenger. Have them improv a conversation, then encourage the third student, the ‘hitchhiker,’ to approach the chairs. The hitchhiker must have defined characteristics, whether it’s a strange walk, a funky accent, or a hilarious backstory. Once the hitchhiker gets in the ‘car,’ i.e. sits in the third chair, everyone within the car takes on that character’s mannerisms … while still improving a coherent conversation. To get all students involved, have the driver make up an excuse to ‘pull over’ and get out of the car. Then each student will move over a seat and allow a new actor to play a new hitchhiker.
Whether you’re a theatre teacher, director with a community theatre, leader at a professional non-equity company, or an independent creative looking for some assistance, On The Stage can help. With robust tools at your fingertips, you can create unique and unforgettable experiences that will not only draw in theatregoers, but also keep them coming back for more. With On The Stage’s management tools, you can make your theatre journey truly special.
Excited to get started? Chat with our team today to see how these tools can take your theatre to new heights!