Acting is such a fun profession in that it’s rooted in play. As owner of an acting studio for kids, teens, and young adults, I always prioritize the joy of the craft of acting with my students. If we aren’t having fun, then why are we doing it to begin with?
We love playing games as warmups in our classes. The following are some of my favorite games to play with child actors. These encourage creativity and help to build physical acting skills.
1. Zip Zap Zop.
This is one of the most popular games in the world of improv comedy and helps to build listening skills and response instincts. In Zip Zap Zop, all participants stand in a circle. The starter begins with the word “zip!” and does a hand motion while making eye contact with someone on the other side of the circle. That person then immediately sends a “zap!” to the next selected player. And of course, the third person sends a “zop!” to another player. This pattern repeats itself until a player either misses a signal or loses track of the ordering of the words. The goal is to move at a rapid-fire pace so that all players are in sync and alert! This warmup works wonders before live shows. Actors really connect to one another and step into a place of active listening and responding!
2. Build a story.
Build a story is exactly what it sounds like: a group of people building a story! For this game, everyone stands in a circle. The first player starts with the first line of a story. This can be any line at all. For example: “Once upon a time there was a girl named Sally.” The next player then adds to the story by either adding a detail about Sally or an action that she takes. I always encourage students to think out of the box. For example: “Sally was the youngest squirrel in an enchanted forest.” Or: “One day, Sally discovered a secret doorway in the back of her kitchen pantry.” As we go around the circle, one at a time, each player builds on the detail that was just shared. These stories can get really fun, creative, and even wacky!
3. Freeze dance.
This game is great, especially for very young children who have a lot of energy. It encourages free movement and expression and serves as an awesome physical warm-up! It’s best to use a variety of different types of music so as to inspire and encourage different types of dance. For example, you might want to use some Disney songs as well as classical music and rock and roll songs. It can sometimes be fun to let students take turns calling out the word “freeze” or pausing the music.
There’s a variation on freeze dance that you can use with teen and young adult students that lends itself to scene work. When the music stops, and the actor freezes, another actor will approach that actor and strike a physical position alongside them. From that position, the two actors will initiate an improv scene, inspired by the poses they have taken on.
4. Mimicking other people’s walks.
This is also great for teen and young adult actors. You can start this exercise by having everyone simply walk around the room. Then, you can call out a command that everyone must secretly choose another person in the room and observe the way that they walk. After that, you can call out names one at a time. The name of the person you call out is the name of the person that everyone must copy, in terms of movement and posture. You can then cycle around until everyone gets a turn.
5. Animal study.
This activity involves some prep work outside of class. Ideally, each student will observe an animal at home, near their house, or even at a zoo. If this is not possible, of course, students can use videos online. The actor must observe the animal closely and take notes on the way that the animal moves, and then work to copy the movement. Each actor returns to class and presents their animal without sharing the identity upfront. The rest of the students must then guess the animal!
Playtime is the best time. I hope you enjoy these games and any other games that inspire connection, creativity, and expression!
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