Games are an important part of any curriculum made for children. In theater, they’re equally as valuable in imparting skills while allowing students to have fun, build confidence, stretch their imagination, and grow as an ensemble. Have fun trying these theater games out!
10 Theater Games for Child Actors
Meisner’s Repetition Activity
Two actors sit across each other and respond to each other through a repeated phrase. The phrase is about each other’s behavior, and reflects what is going on between them in the moment, such as “You look unhappy with me right now.” The way this phrase is said as it is repeated changes in meaning, tone, and intensity to correspond with the behavior that each actor produces toward the other.
The Repetition Game was developed by Sanford Meisner in the US to train actors to actively listen to each other and pay attention to their stage partners. Through this device, the actor stops thinking of what to say and do, and responds more freely and spontaneously, both physically and vocally. The exercise also eliminates line readings, since the way the actor speaks becomes coordinated with his behavioral response.
Two Truths, One Lie
Have each actor go before the class and share three brief stories no more than one minute long—two of them real and one made up. At the end of the stories, the other actors have to determine which stories really took place and which one was imagined. Tell the actors that the stories or experiences they share can be very outlandish or farcical so the other actors will have a hard time guessing which is real and which is not (e.g., “When I was little, I used to eat a lot of paper whenever I got bored,” “I once peed in my pants in church,” etc.). This game helps with the actors’ improvisation skills and sense of inner truth.
“Why are you late?”
Ask six players to take the stage. Choose four of the players to be “officer workers,” one player to be the “boss,” and one player to be the “late worker.” The officer workers should sit facing the audience, miming typing on a computer and come up with a reason why the late worker is late (e.g., “Her hair got caught in the dishwasher!” “Her car got crushed by a dinosaur!” etc.) Once the office workers have decided, they go back to typing at their computers. The boss enters and stands with his back to the office workers so he can’t see them. Then the late worker enters and faces the boss. The late worker can see the officer workers, but the boss can’t.
The boss asks the late worker, “So why are you late?” The officer workers mime out the reason for the late worker’s tardiness behind the boss’s back, and the late worker has to guess what it is. At any time, the boss can turn around to face the office workers. If he catches one of them not typing, that officer worker is fired and must leave the office. The game ends when the late worker guesses the correct reason for tardiness or when the boss fires all the office workers.
A Night at the Oscars
Onstage, create three groups of two and one “host.” Everyone else should sit in the audience. Have the audience suggest three fictitious titles for movies and assign them to each of the three groups (e.g., Planet of the Apricots!, A Taco Paradise, etc.). The activity then plays out like a night at the Oscars, with the host presenting. The host, one at a time, introduces the movies, and the groups come up and present their Oscar-winning scene.
At the end, the host tells the audience to vote on the winning scene. The winning group comes forward and gives an improvised acceptance speech.
Straight Face Introduction
Have the class stand in a circle. Instruct the kids that they are to go around the circle one by one introducing themselves. However, the catch is, instead of using their real name, they will introduce themselves as the most disgusting food (or any silly category) they can think of. Each introduction should follow this format: “Hi, everyone. I’m [“anchovy pizza with mustard on top” or “pickled toenails with tartar sauce,” etc]. It’s great to meet you.” The goal is for the student who is speaking to always keep a straight face, never laughing or breaking character. The rest of the class of course can laugh.
Lie to Me
Ask two players to take the stage and face the class (the audience). The two players have a close relationship (siblings or best friends). Explain that you will ask the players a question about something mischievous they did, and together they must come up with a lie (explanation). For example, “Josh! Amanda! How did my favorite jewelry end up at the bottom of the pool?”
One player starts then turns to the other, who continues the story, then they continue back and forth. The audience may raise their hands and ask questions along the way. Encourage the two players to work together to craft a consistent (or crazy) story.
Other sample questions that could be asked (the sillier, the better!): “How did little Timmy get locked in pantry?” “How did our couch get stuck on the roof?” “Why are the keys on the piano painted purple?” “Why is the paparazzi gathered outside the house?” “Why are all of our doorknobs missing?” “Why are you wearing my wedding dress?”
Scene from Real Life
Divide the class into groups of 3 to 4 students each. One member of the group must tell the others a true story about an event in their life. Encourage them to describe it in as much detail as possible. This person becomes the “director.” The director then chooses members of the group to play the various characters involved in the scene, including him/herself. The actors then improvise the scene in front of the director. After each run-through, the director should give notes. Then the group improvises the scene again.
The goal of the director is to make the scene as believable as possible. Because the director is vividly familiar with the real life event, it becomes easier to give notes and adjustments. The skill being developed is the ability to effectively communicate these ideas to actors. Once the directors of each group are satisfied with their scenes, have the groups share in front of one another.
Chain Story (Theater Version)
Select an actor to start a story with just a line or two. The actor has to pick co-actors, when needed, to play as characters who will act the story line out in front and improvise dialogues or monologues while acting. Each actor in class then takes a turn adding to the story. Work your way around the circle until the story ends.
Have the class stand in a circle. Ask one player to stand in the center. Tell everyone in the circle that they have 15 seconds to think of a specific relationship and situation they have with the person standing in the center (e.g., a robber breaking into his house, a young sibling asking for help with homework, a parent reading his terrible report card, a stranger asking for directions, etc.). One by one, each player steps into the center and interacts with the center player with one line of dialogue. The center player, without being told the relationship, must respond with one line as quick as he can. The game ends when everyone around the circle has had a chance to interact with the center player.