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When In Doubt, Act It Out!

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

Theater Games for Parents and Children to play during the Holiday Break By: Ms. Mary Sherg

Brace yourselves, it’s the holiday season! With this most wonderful time of year, there will be opportunities for you and your children to spend some quality time together. Maybe your savings account has quite a dent in it from all of the cyber deals? Here are Ms. Sherg’s top 3 theatre/acting based games to play with your children to chase away those holiday blues that are absolutely free to play! You will need a living room sized space to play all of these games. Or if it is warm enough, play outside and be sure to work on projection of your child’s voice!

1. Zip Zap Zop

Zip, Zap, Zop is about focus and energy. As the children pass the energy across the circle (in the form of a Zip, a Zap, or a Zop), they make eye contact with the person they send the energy to, and work together to keep the rhythm going. The activity also provides an opportunity to explore pace, specificity of choice, “energy” and sequence.

Group size: Minimum 4 people

Directions: Invite everyone to stand in a circle. Ask the group to repeat the words “Zip, Zap, Zop” three or four times, all together. Introduce the activity: Imagine that I have a bolt of energy in my hands. To start the game, I will send the bolt out of energy out of my body with a strong forward motion straight to someone else in the circle (use hands, body, eyes, and voice to make contact across the circle) and say, “Zip.” Explain that the next person takes the energy and passes it immediately to someone else saying “Zap.” That person passes it on to another participant with a “Zop.” The game continues and the “Zip, Zap, Zop” sequence is repeated as the energy moves around the circle. Encourage all plays to use their whole body to send energy and to make eye contact. They can send the energy to whomever they want but the goal is to include all players. Practice the game. If there is a mistake, encourage students to simply resume playing without discussion. The group challenge is to go very quickly and stay consistent in rhythm; if students struggle, pause the game, discuss strategy and try again.

Expert Mode: Instead of just standing in a circle, move around the room while keeping focus on the game! Super challenging!

2. Emoji Symphony

Group Size: Minimum 4 people

Preparation: Slips of paper with different emotions written on them

Directions: One player is the ‘conductor’ of the orchestra. Everyone else picks a slip of paper and that is their assigned emotion. Each ‘Emoji’ gets one word to say that corresponds to their emotion. For example, if my emotion was ‘anger’ my word might be “SMASH” as I hit my fists together. Every time the conductor points at me as ‘anger,’ I would say SMASH. Meanwhile, the other players would have their emotions and phrases. The conductor will ‘orchestrate by pointing at the individual players. The fun comes from the conductor orchestrating a ‘symphony of emotions’. Switch turns and emotions after each ‘song’. You can play for as long as you want.

3. Imagination Ball

This is Ms. Sherg’s favorite game!!

Notes: This is a fabulous game for developing concentration and focus, and for exploring what Stanislavski (the great Russian director who developed The Method style of acting) said is the essence of theater — Acting is Believing. The moment when the imaginary ball becomes real is pure magic.

The Imagination Ball is also a quiet game, and can be useful for settling down a very active group. I have played this game with groups of kindergarteners to senior citizens, and every age in between. I’ve played it with young adults with mental illness, and youth in detention centers. Teachers often tell me it helps their students with ADHD focus. It’s a perennial favorite. Even middle school students think it’s cool!

Object of the Game: To pass an imaginary ball around the circle, maintaining its consistent size, shape, and weight.

Time Needed: 5-15 minutes

Skill Development: Concentration, Cooperation, Creative Imagination, Participation, Self-control, Spatial awareness

How to Play: Facilitator stands in the center of a circle and lifts up an imaginary ball – the size of a basketball – for participants to see. Give them a moment to see it. Tell them the object of the game.

COACHING NOTE: I coach my students by displaying the ball in front of them and saying, “I’m holding an imaginary ball. Can you see it? I’m holding the two sides. Can you imagine the top and bottom? If not, look closer. Challenge yourself. Use your imagination. It has weight. It has mass and volume.” If they’re still not buying it, I cajole them further. “I’m not crazy. I know there’s no ball here! My job is to make it real. Acting is believing. We’re going to pass this ball around the circle as actors, pretending the ball is absolutely real.”

Explain that the challenge of this exercise is to keep the ball a consistent size – to not allow it to get as big as a beach ball, or as small as a softball. Demonstrate the changing sizes as you instruct them.

Begin to pass the ball, by handing it, from person to person, around the circle. If one person is holding the top and bottom, the next person should take hold of the two sides. Side coaching is helpful to keep the ball visible and consistent. Point out moments when the ball is particularly clear. Note when the ball gets larger, or smaller. Encourage the players to take their time to feel the weight of the ball.

Once the group is able to hand the ball from person to person around the circle maintaining focus and size, try incorporating simple passes – a chest pass, a bounce pass, a roll, an arch pass. As you introduce each type of pass, discuss the basic physics of the move. Encourage them to notice the amount of force used in the pass, in order to judge how quickly the ball will travel. Pass the ball around from person to person, trying different throws.

An important key to this game is eye contact. Encourage the students to be intentional in their actions, and make it clear to whom they are passing the ball.


Sources: -Comedy Sportz LA/ Chicago Game Archive -Excerpted from: ACTIVELY ENGAGED by Priscilla Kane Hellweg -ENCHANTED CIRCLE THEATER

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