The first exercise in each lesson plan is a theatre game, so altogether you have a dozen games to choose from. Some games are faster than others; if everyone looks tired choose a calmer one. Most of the time my groups (any age) needed to let off steam after a day in the office or a classroom, so I generally started the class with "The Cartoon Run", then stretching. "The Mediator" is arguably the most important exercise of all, where participants act out both the Bully (oppressor) and the Victim (oppressed). The third actor, in between the two, is The Mediator.
Which of the three would you rather be?
Always begin by stretching the body in all directions, reach up, lean to the sides, down, twist the head and neck... Tai chi, yoga, marshal arts, boxing, are all good stretchers. If you don't know much about it, do some research, invent, learn along with your students, invite a master.
Pretend you are picking up a large beach ball. Hold it in front of you, then twist to either side, as far as you can. Make certain you maintain the size of the ball, and the tension - feel in your arm muscles you are actually holding it up.
Discover the muscles in your face, roll your eyes around in a circle, look up, down and side to side. Wiggle your fingers. To stretch is a good thing before one starts anything, even before going to bed.
Stand. Begin with breathing exercises: breath deeply into the stomach, inhale through your nose and exhale slowly through the mouth. Breath in deeply, and blow on an imaginary candle so the "flame" flickers but does not extinguish.
Ask students to make faces using all the face and neck muscles while they say:
Pause between letters so they come out like shots: A! E! I! O! U! A! E! I!...
Take a deep breath, say the same as above, sharp and clear but in a very low tone, a whisper, urgent.
Again. This time as if giving orders where to to put things. Point to different spots around the room as you say the vowel.
Black, bleed, blimp, bloat, bluff
Blame, bled, blind, blob, blush
Choose and write words on the board that are spelled differently but have the same sounds
Bait, Flake, Straight, Slate, Cake, Make...
Use the same routine as above to conjugating the irregular verbs found in the story.
I.E. To do, To run, To see
First the words are all together: dodiddonedodiddone....Then as gunshots: Do! Did! Done! Do! Did!...
Then put all three verbs together as one and repeat several times ...Do! Did! Done! Run! Ran! Run! See! Saw! Seen! Do! Did! ... until it's second nature.
Begin with the whole group, to practice the movements without feeling observed. For example if the mime involves pulling on a rope from the ceiling everyone goes through the motions of reaching up high, grabbing the rope and pulling down, one hand over the other, in slow motion. Ask the group to express tension, so the audience can "feel" the effort of pulling down. Make certain to pull straight down, and to leave a space in the hand for the rope, not just clench the fingers. If the mime involves opening a car door, allow space for the knob. Pay attention to detail, make sure the door is completely open before sitting in the car, close the door, search for your keys...
You can't find your keys, you can't get back in the house, you're late for an appointment, you just miss the bus. There's a glitch in the rope, it won't pull down, tug at it, a bit harder, look up and see a humongous water balloon falling fast over your head. Too late to move, you get hit. You are wet all over.
Actor A passes sees the rope, backs up, considers pulling it, hesitates, pulls, it's stuck. Pulls harder, looks up, sees the balloon...
Actor A doesn't notice Actor B, who passes just as the rope gets stuck and stops to observe. B looks way up, and we can follow the trajectory of the balloon as B follows it with his/her head and eyes.
In a circle
Choose one sentence: i.e. Who, me? or What's that? and go around the circle with it: in how many ways can it be interpreted? Curious, angry, shy, fearful?
The last times around the the circle the group must say the sentence without pause in between, be prepared to speak as soon as your neighbour starts to speak. This doesn't mean rush the words; it must move quickly but still be a clear sentence, with emotion.
For two to five actors
Start with two then up to five actors, sitting facing each other, each with a copy of the dialogue.
Have two groups speak simultaneously, facing the audience
This exercise can be acted throughout the year, under different conditions. The actors can be lost in the woods, shlushing in a bayou afraid of gators, sitting on a bus or hiding in the back of a truck. If they are in a moving vehicle add movements as the driver stops ( lean over) starts up (lean back) turns left...
- Who, me?
- Why not?
- Where's George?
- What's that?
- Good Lord!
- Where to?
- Over there!
- Oh my gosh!
- Up here.
- Up there? Why me?
Add more words to the sentence, and emphasize particular words:
What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?
- What are you doing here,in the garden?
- Who, me?
- What's that noise?
- What noise?
- Over there! In the bushes.
- Where? I don't hear anything. What are you doing? Wait for me!
Ask: What is Actor A doing in the garden? Choose an answer.
- It's Aunt Hilda's birthday.
- What! When?
- Today. Now. She's waiting...
- In the house.
- I thought she was in the Bahamas.
Add a third or fourth character, who is it? A vacuum cleaner salesman, a mouse catcher, the FBI?
Use contrasts to keep an improvisation going. If you are stuck, just ask a question and/or change the subject.
Two actors, A is a guard, B is the boss. The guard is supposed to be guarding the warehouse but falls asleep. While A is snoozing a water pipe breaks. Boss unlocks the door and walks into the warehouse, only to realize s/he's shlopping through ankle high water. Furious, B quickly turns off the main valve, wakes A and yells: Look at what you've done...! What is the guard's reaction? Does s/he apologize profusely, say it won't happen again, or belligerent; not paid enough, too much work during the day, old pipes...
The phone rings, it's a customer, Boss's voice turns to honey, reassuring the shipment is on its way. When B hangs up, it's back to arguing with the guard. The phone rings again, Boss picks up and is all professional and calm, hangs up...
What can happen after? A knock on the door? Who is it? An important customer, a lawn mower rep, Jehovah's Witnesses, a detective: Where were you yesterday at three p.m.?
WORD GAMES, SONGS and CLAPPING GAMES
Crossword puzzles, word scrambles, mazes, and songs with themes that pertain to the stories.
Practice traditional clapping routines and invent your own in class.
Watch the cat, catch the rat, under the mat, who fought back. What’s that? How’s that? Where’s my hat?
On the mat, with the rat, who fought back, how about that. What’s that? How’s that? Where's the cat?
Pass the mustard, hold the custard, spill the salt, not my fault. It's Fred, she said.
The discussions are on ethics and personal responsibility. In the first, Traffic Lights, the subject is rules and laws. Why is it important to follow rules, and what do we do if we see a law is fundamentally wrong. Do not underestimate the capacity of children to comprehend, more often than not it's untapped.