From the Prologue
It is the nature of theatre games to transform and change shape as they pass through hands and cultures and decades. Theatre games stay alive via the oral tradition, through action. Who knows what the “true original” is any longer or where or when it was conceived? (I imagine many of these exercises can probably be traced back to Viola Spolin.) What I do know after relying on these games for so long is that they work. These games inspire laughter, spontaneity, ensemble building, physical and vocal expression, concentration, self-discovery/reflection, self-esteem, and, ultimately, I believe, good health. They get adults, and teenagers too, playing again, which is no small feat. I wrote down these activities on paper (finally) because students and colleagues have repeatedly asked me to. My hope is that Zoomy Zoomy will serve as a resource for anyone who works with groups as well as encourage us all to keep playing….
The Art of Teaching Games
Teaching a theatre game to a group has its own skill set. It is an intuitive art first and foremost. One has a “lesson” but to find a satisfying flow and groove with a group, we need to tap into our felt sense. It is also true that the teaching happens in both directions: from teacher to student and from student to teacher. In the end, as Spolin says, it is each person’s own experience that becomes the main instructor, or “informer.” In addition to tapping our intuition, there are other important considerations. Each warm up has an objective. There is a reason for using a particular activity at a particular time–we are not pulling games out at random only because they are fun. A good facilitator stays attuned to the group’s pulse and rhythm at all times; in other words, she listens to what the collective need is while keeping in sight the session’s curriculum objective or main lesson. It is like the captain of a ship whose destination is charted but who has to navigate through ocean waters and various weather conditions to get to the distant shore. In addition to curriculum, for every class or workshop there will be considerations about group size, demographics, skill level, energy level, stage of the group’s development, and time constraints when choosing the appropriate warm ups and games. Here is a list of nine factors I consider important when facilitating a group or workshop—whether a one- or two-hour workshop, a five-day training or a multi-week college class.
Exercises from Zoomy Zoomy
Teams of two
For this exercise you will need a beret (or flamboyant hat) or two, a pair of sunglasses or two, and a drum. Each actor takes a turn at being a “beat poet” (reminiscent of the 1960s Soho beat poets) donning the beret and sunglasses and making up the worst poem imaginable on the spot. It need not make sense in the least but it is physical and dramatic and often an embodied piece of free association. A “musician” accompanies on the drums offering “beats” to the poem. The poems often resemble pieces of performance art. This is a liberating exercise for most people because you cannot do it wrong. There is absolutely no pressure in having to create a “good” poem. Just put on the sunglasses and follow your imagination. (Robin Aronson)
This is an exercise that raises awareness in different parts of our body and warms a group up to the idea of embodying emotions/ideas/inanimate objects (a key component of Playback Theatre acting). The facilitator cuts up small pieces of paper and asks students to write down 1) a body part and 2) a feeling. The pieces of paper (two from each person) are put into two separate hats. Each person, one at a time, picks a piece of paper out of each hat (an emotion and a body part), and then this person “moves” this emotion across the stage with the assigned body part. So the person might be articulating “anger” with her knees or “joy” with his pelvis. You can have people write down ideas instead of emotions.
30 seconds each person.
Also an endowment game as well as a great way to brainstorm metaphorical uses for the Playback fabric. (In Playback Theatre there is often a collection of colorful pieces of fabric on stage, which the actors use intermittently throughout a performance to symbolize certain aspects of the story.) People pass a piece of fabric around the circle endowing it as different things (abstract not literal), such as: tension between lovers, the lost engagement ring, family ties, someone’s crippling guilt, the burden of a child (parent) on a parent (child), the light at the end of the tunnel, instrument of flirtation, someone’s sharp tongue. Each actor shows and then explains each idea. You can go around the circle a few times.
30 seconds each person.
One person in the circle claps once, pointing with his hands to someone else in the circle and saying “Wah!” The recipient responds (on the next beat) by raising her arms overhead with her palms together, also saying “Wah!” Finally, the people on either side of the recipient bring their palms together and swing their arms towards the mid-section of the recipient, as if about to “slice” her in half (their arms become like a baseball bat and they are taking a swing towards the recipient without touching her) together in unison, also saying “Wah!” The Wah’s are happening on a beat and the rhythm is moderate. So it sounds like “Wah! Wah! Wah!” After the recipient person gets “sliced” by her neighbors, she sends the Wah out to a new person. (Student)