Drama Games for Drama Teachers #2

part 2 of 2

By Emma Wright

Welcome back! This article is a continuation of Drama Games for Drama Teachers Part 1, so be sure to check that out first. Part two will cover: energy, physical, ensemble building, working with text and voice focused games.

Energy

Inevitably you’re going to want to take your students through some energy based drama games. These are great for lifting a class up towards the end of the day, to use before a performance, or even to expend and re-center the class’ energy after your lunch break. My favorites in this category include ‘Zip, Zap, Boing’, ‘Yes, Lets!’, and ‘Bang’ (or ‘Zap’).

Yes, Lets! is a simple game and great for younger students. Going around the circle, each student makes a physical or vocal offer, for example “Let’s wobble like a jellyfish!” or “Let’s roar like lions!”, and the class respond with “Yes, lets!” and then all together act out the activity.

Zip, Zap, Boing comes in many variations. I play it this way: standing in a circle, a “Zip” and a hand-clap to the person either side of you sends the ‘energy’ clockwise or anticlockwise, “Zap” and a hand-clap to anyone across the circle from you sends it diagonally or skips a person, and a “Boing” with an arms-crossed gesture rebounds the energy to the sender. Students can change the direction of the “Zip” at any time. A “Boing” cannot be responded to with another “Boing” as that halts the momentum. My big insistence here is that you must always make eye contact with the person you are sending the energy to. No eye contact, you’re out. Students should project their voices and make sure to inject energy into the physical actions, and if they’re too slow sending on the energy or say the wrong word, they are eliminated.

Thirdly there’s Bang, also played as Zap. As any parent, educator or person working with young people knows, we have a responsibility to not encourage or condone violence. Because of this, many drama teachers have shifted the popular game Bang, which is often associated with a gun, to Zap, which is a little less explicit. With younger groups I’ll often tell them to imagine they’re using water pistols. To play the game, students stand in a circle with the teacher standing in the middle. The teacher calls out a student’s name. That student ducks, and the people on either side of them turn inwards and direct a “Zap” to each other, working as quickly as possible to be the first person to respond. I work the elimination order as follows: if a member of the circle who wasn’t the person called on or one of the two people on either side flinches, they are out. If the person whose name I called doesn’t duck quick enough, they are out. And if no one flinches and the duck-er ducks, it comes down to whoever gets their “Zap” in first, so the slowest is eliminated. 

Let’s Get Physical

To get a class working physically, there are a few drama games I regularly return to.

Firstly there’s the ‘Stage Directions’ game. Start by introducing the class to stage directions, what constitutes stage left and stage right, upstage and downstage, centre stage and then combinations such as upstage left, downstage center and so forth. It’s then an elimination game where I call out a stage direction and the last student to make their way to that position is eliminated. This is generally a game best played with younger students as it’s not designed to test who the best runners are, rather who can listen to and follow instructions quickly and remember which stage direction is which. For older students this won’t be as much of a challenge.

Then there’s ‘Leading Body Parts’. Students move around the space in a neutral state and I then name a part of the body that I’d like them to lead their movement from (e.g. their nose, their chin, their left leg). Ask your students to explore moving in different directions, at different speeds and working at different levels. Encourage students to interact with each other and to take on the persona of someone who they instinctively feel may possess this physicality. I’ll often ask the students as they’re moving “what kind of person moves like this”, which could provide you with a personality trait or mood (e.g. someone who is shy) or a specific character (e.g. a troll). 

A third physical game is ‘Animal Play’. This one is inspired by the work of the likes of Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. I ask the class to each choose an animal. This may be a game you return to over a few sessions, or something you work on just the once. If you like, you can ask students to spend some time researching the animal or just dive straight into the work using what they already know. Ask your students to begin exploring the space with the physicality of their selected animal. You want them to be very literal, so if they’ve chosen an animal that moves on all four legs, have them do that. Once you’ve spent some time exploring the animals physicality, ask them to start thinking about their personality and voice. You can finish the exercise here, or you can introduce degrees of “human” into the animal. Start at say five percent human, and then move to fifty percent, seventy-five percent and finish perhaps at ninety. As more human is introduced into the mix they should become less obviously their animal, but still hold onto some of the physicality/personality/vocal qualities.

Fun for the Ensemble

Sometimes you want to run a game to have a bit of fun and bond the ensemble, which is important in a drama class. These games still have relevant learning outcomes, but the focus is on the fun. A few of my favorites in this category are ‘Ninja’, ‘Stop/Go’, the ‘Belly Button Game’ (I learnt this one from Nathalie Fenwick) and ‘What Are You Doing In My Kingdom?’. 

Ninja is a silent game in which students move in a clockwise order that stays the same throughout the game, the objective being to use your move to tap the hand of another player, thus eliminating them. On your turn you are allowed to make a single movement, which may include a single step towards or away from another player. Once your movement is complete you must freeze, and when it’s not your turn you can only move your hands out of the way if someone moves towards you (like in Bang/Zap, there’s no flinching allowed). This one probably makes more sense in practice, and there are sure to be many YouTube tutorials should you require further explanation.

Stop/Go involves a few basic instructions. First you have “Stop”, which requires students to freeze, “Go”, which is an instruction to continue walking or stand up and walk if they’re in a seated position, “Sit”, students must sit down on the floor, “Lie”, students lie down on their back, “Clap”, students clap, and “Jump”, students jump. There are ways to make this more accessible, so feel free to alter the instructions to suit your class. Once the class are familiar with this set of six instructions, you can play opposites. In this version, “Stop” means “Go” and “Go” means “Stop”, “Sit” means “Lie” and “Lie” means “Sit”, and “Clap” means “Jump” and “Jump” means “Clap”. For older students I like to introduce “Duck”/“Reach” so they either crouch down or reach up to the ceiling, and also the stage directions, “Stage Left”/“Stage Right” and “Upstage”/“Downstage”.

The Belly Button game is super simple. Simply call out an instruction “Put your belly button on…” and fill in the blank for the class to follow. For example “Put your belly button on something green”, “Put your belly button on something soft”, “Put your belly button on the floor”. This ones super popular with my younger students.

Finally there’s What Are You Doing In My Kingdom, a more complex version of Red Light, Green Light. This one has a few great learning outcomes, including world building, improvisation and teamwork. Start by building the world of your kingdom with your class, with you as the teacher taking on the role of the ‘Ruler’ of the kingdom. Typically, together I get the class to decide on what my castle, drawbridge, moat, throne, crown, gown and chandeliers are made out of, then what kind of creature lives in my moat, my biggest fear, biggest secret and the thing I love most in the whole wide world. Quiz the class and make sure they remember these facts. Then the game begins. The objective of the game is for the students to retrieve the keys to your kingdom, which you will place at your feet. You will stand at one end of the room, the students will start at the other. When your back is turned to them, they must creep forward, freezing when you turn back around. If they’re spotted moving, it’s back to the starting line. Their objective is to fetch the keys and then get the keys back to the starting line, with every student having touched them and it never being obvious to the ‘Ruler’ who is holding them. The catch is, when the Ruler turns around, they will point at the intruders and ask “What are you doing in my kingdom?”, to which the student must give a good reason (perhaps using the information decided upon in the world building stage), which will allow them to take a select number of steps forward. If their reason doesn’t satisfy the Ruler, they will be told to take a certain number of steps back. The trick to the game is that once the keys have been seized, the class will want to stop giving “good reasons” and start giving “bad reasons” (e.g. “I will reveal to the kingdom your biggest secret of…”), as at this point in the game they want to be taking steps backward, not forward.

Working Text

Next we move into games revolving around working text. For this, I often find myself returning to ‘A/B Scenes’, ‘Action Swap’ and ‘Objective VS Counter-Objective’.

For A/B Scenes you’ll need to have printed copies of a selection of A/B scripts, which you can either find online or write yourself. A/B scripts are two or three-hander scenes with no set given circumstances, just lines or dialogue attributed to a character A, character B and potentially a character C. For this game, send your students off in their groups and ask them to select a scene to perform. Give them ten to twenty minutes depending on the length of the scene to answer Stanislavski’s given circumstances, the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. You then want them to block the scene, working in their given circumstances. When their time is up, ask the students to take turns performing their scenes for the class and ask those in the audience to try and guess the circumstances the group decided on.

Action Swap is a fun game for older students and should be preceded by a lesson explaining actions (actions are tactics, active verbs designed to elicit a specific response from your scene partner that leads them towards you achieving your objective). This can be played with a scene or monologue. You play by stopping and starting the actor/s every few lines to give the actor/s a new action to play. This is a great way to demonstrate how much an action can change a performance and introduce dynamism and variation.

Objective and Counter-Objective is another game suited to older students, and which also works with a scene or monologue, though requires two students to partake. Discuss with your students what their chosen objectives are for their characters. Then introduce two contrasting physical objectives for them to play, for example “I want you to hug me” and “I want you to stay away from me”. This is an exercise that explores creating and sustaining conflict, and requires students to vary their choices and actions in order to achieve their objective. Constantly ask the students in the game to vary their tactic. If something isn’t working, try something else. Obviously with two students working towards such opposite objectives, they’re unlikely to be successful, but it’s all about the journey and the motivated pursuit.

Voice

The final category I’ll introduce is drama games that revolve around using the voice. I have three tried and tested’s here: ‘Sound Circle’, ‘Greetings Your Majesty’ and ‘Creating a Soundscape’ or ‘Making a Machine’.

Sound Circle is appropriate for all ages. Students stand in a circle, and a student starts by offering a sound (you may ask them to accompany it with a gesture) which is then repeated by each student one at a time moving clockwise around the circle, until you get back to the sound originator who finishes that sound’s cycle. The next person then offers a new sound which is passed around, finishing with them, and so it goes on. I find this to be a great way to prepare an ensemble for a performance, to get them making full use of their vocal instrument whilst lifting their energy.

Greetings Your Majesty is fun for your youngens. Ask your students to stand in a line, and ask one student to take a few steps forward and stand with their back to the group with their eyes closed. Point to a student in the line, who must sneak forward, stand behind their closed-eyed peer, and say the words “Greeting your majesty” in their most creative voice. They then quietly return to their place in the line. The student can then open their eyes, turn to face their group, and must try to guess who it was that spoke. This game is a little silly (we love silly in drama), but it is great to get your students having fun and experimenting with their voices.

Finally we have Creating a Soundscape or Making a Machine. These games are very similar. For Creating a Soundscape, I ask a class to sit in a circle and decide on a soundscape to create (e.g. a rainforest, a storm, or a busy city). Moving clockwise around the circle, have one student add a sound to the soundscape at a time, so that when everyone has contributed you have something representative of the environment you have chosen. Making a Machine is based around a similar premise, but this time your class are entering the space one at a time and working together to build a machine, contributing both a sound and a movement. This game is more about building on offers, and working cohesively and collaboratively as an ensemble.

Conclusion

Whether you’re about to teach your very first drama class or you’re buckling down for yet another year, we hope these pieces inspire you to take a look at your repertoire and give you some new games to build into your lesson plans. And if there are any all-time favorites we’ve missed that you’d love to see included, we’d love to hear from you!

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