Theatre games

Games for UU kids and adults
Compiled and written by Dan Harper
Copyright (c) 2014-2021 Dan Harper

An excellent resource for theatre games for all ages is Theater Games for the Classroom: A Teacher’s Handbook by Viola Spolin (Northwestern University, 1986). It is still in print, is available in many libraries, and is available as a preview on Google Books.

Tug of War

Tug of War (age 7-adult)

Create an imaginary rope. Have the players help you do this. Make it real for them!

Tell the players that we are going to play Tug of War with this imaginary rope. Ask the players to pair off with a partner who is of equal strength, or equal size. Pairs try this separately, in front of an audience composed of the other players. Each person in turn in the pair slowly pulls the other member of the pair towards the imaginary center line, exactly as in playing tug of war with a real rope. (You, as the director of the game, can call on them to switch if need be.)

When a pair has just gone, ask the audience: Were the players using the same rope? Did the rope connect the players? Was the rope merely in the players’ heads, or could you really sense the rope between them? Now ask the players the same questions.

Freeze-frame (age 10-adult)

This popular game has many variants. It works best with older kids, or younger kids who have done many theatre games together.

Two to three players begin in the stage area (which might be one end of a room, or the center of a circle). They are to enact a scenario determined by you, the director, or a scenario everyone agrees on at the beginning (this can be a wordless scenario, or a scenario with words). Sample scenarios: riding on the bus with a gorilla; sitting in a sinking rowboat; eating lunch in zero gravity; playing soccer in quicksand; etc. (I like to start with scenarios that force people to use their whole bodies.) Remind all players to both SHOW and TELL — that is, communicate with your body and your actions as much or more than you rely on words.

At any point during the scenario, any of the audience players can shout out “Freeze-frame!” All the stage players freeze. The audience player then taps one of the stage players on the shoulder, and takes that player’s place on stage, taking exactly the same body posture, etc. (When you start playing this game, you can invite the audience players to let the incoming player know when s/he has taken the correct position.) Once the incoming player is in place, s/he begins the action again by taking the scenario in a completely different direction, or by creating a whole new scenario based on the body positions; e.g., going from a scenario where a person on the bus is down on bended knees begging the gorilla to give back the banana, to a completely different scenario where the princess is down on bended knee asking the prince to marry her.

As the director, you may participate in this game. You should also coach audience players to call “Freeze-frame!” at frequent intervals. You can also coach stage players to use their bodies, to show rather than merely tell, etc. If things begin to drag, you can stop action and start with a new scenario.

The goal of this theatre game is to get players to express themselves with their bodies, to be very aware of what other players are doing, and to trust in other players. A desirable outcome is to build enough trust where a player can call out “Freeze-frame!” with absolutely no idea of where s/he is going to take the scenario, getting in to the scene, and trusting the other player(s) enough to make something happen.