Theater Games for Teaching Artists

By Sam Marsden, drama teacher from the UK, and author of Acting Games for Improv, Drama Games for Early Years (4 -7 year-olds), and 100 Acting Exercises for 8 – 18 Year Olds.

Drama is not just for those who want to be actors, it’s for all of us. It helps with, awareness, confidence, concentration, creativity, critical thinking, diction, empathy, listening, literacy, problem solving, social skills, storytelling, and teamwork. During my many years of teaching drama in the UK, and now in France, I’ve seen children and young people go from: 

– Shy to confident. 

– Afraid to brave. 

– Blocked to creative. 

– And voiceless to empowered. 

Here’s to getting more drama taught throughout the world! And here are three exercises from my Pocketful of Drama teacher resource books. 

Magic Box!

(For four to seven year-olds)

Ask students to sit in a circle. Explain that you’ve bought something very special to class. Get up and retrieve an invisible magical box. Mime holding this heavy box and sit down in the circle, placing it in front of you. Explain that in the past, children have pulled all kinds of things from this box. You might say something like:

“Once, a child pulled out a cute baby bunny. Sometimes children find things to eat in here, or sports equipment, or musical instruments. And there was this one-time a

girl pulled out a broomstick and went flying around the classroom! We couldn’t get her down! I’m going to open this box now and see what comes out.” Slowly and dramatically, open the invisible box and pull something out. You might start licking an ice cream cone, for example. Ask students to raise their hands if they know

what it is, then choose someone to guess. Once someone has guessed correctly, you can add a little more magic by saying something like, “Yes, it’s ice cream, and it’s very special ice cream! It changes flavour with every lick. I tasted chocolate, strawberry, and bubble gum!”

Explain that the box will get passed around the circle and that students need to remember to open the lid before pulling something out and to close the lid when they’re done. Reassure them that they can pull anything out of the box—there is no right or wrong answer. If a child doesn’t want a turn, they can pass the box to the

next person. Praise students for their ideas and create a safe space; that will make it more likely that everyone will choose to take a turn. Once the box has been around the circle, pick it up and put it away out of sight to maintain the illusion. When you

return, ask the students to put away whatever they took from the box with their coats and bags. Tell them that they can take the items home and keep them!

Imagination – Creating New Lands with Music

(For four to eleven years-old.)

For this you’ll need a speaker to play music, and a playlist of emotive music. A cinematic playlist with a mix of dramatic, melancholy, celebratory, simple, complex, epic, fast, and slow music works well. I have put together a playlist to accompany this exercise which you can access via this link if you have a Spotify. https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6zJeFhcYYLVmpEJ8kBEUOk?si=2e675c1365794cd0

Explain that you’re going to play a piece of music and that students will lie down and listen to it until you say “Okay.” Then they can get up and start acting out what the music makes them imagine. While lying down and listening to the music, students allow their imaginations to create new characters and places to explore. The music will be their inspiration, the soil from which their ideas can grow. For example they may listen to a soft piano solo and imagine being a fairy dancing in the snow. After you say “Okay,” keep the music on, and the children will get up and become what they have imagined. A single piece of music will inspire different characters and places for different children. A soft piano might inspire one child to become a sleepy puppy. Another might be inspired to become a falling snowflake.

After a few minutes of exploring with the soft piano solo, ask students to stop and lie down again. When you change the music, they can create new characters and places in their minds. You might play an epic piece of music that inspires one student to become a king returning to their land after a great victory and another student to become a witch who just got their first broomstick. Or you might

play a magical piece of music, and students will imagine dragons, fairies, pirates, and superheroes. Explain to students that there is no right or wrong way to

do this exercise. I find that using four or five pieces of music works best,

devoting one to two minutes to each piece.

I Found This…

(For students aged seven plus, adults might enjoy this too!)

Ask the group to sit in a circle, either on chairs, or on the floor is good. Ask for a volunteer. Approach this volunteer and say, “I found this…” and finish the sentence with a word: dog, cake, football-size egg, magic wand, diary, wedding ring,

wallet, alien…all ideas are welcome! Ask the person you’ve approached to react to what you have found. Maybe they’re surprised, afraid, in awe, or delighted. Hopefully a conversation will develop. It might go something like this:

“I found this dragon’s egg.”

“A dragon’s egg? You should return it, dragons are dangerous!”

“Oh my goodness, it’s hatching! What shall I do?”

“Put it down!”

“I can’t leave it!”

“What if its mother comes for you?”

“It’s not an it!”

“You can’t keep it!”

“I know, please come with me to take it back.”

In my experience, students take this exercise to all kinds of places, from the mundane to the magical. Once the improv is over, the person who said, “I found this…” sits back down in the circle. The person who was receiving approaches someone else and says, “I found this…” changing the object to something new. “I found this lost fairy,” they might say, holding their palms together, looking at a little fairy standing on their hands. The game continues until everyone who wants a turn has had one.

About Sam Marsden 

Sam hopes to empower and spark people’s creativity, whether through her drama teaching, teaching resources, or fiction. She’s dyslexic. Sam went to The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She’s taught drama for fifteen years in variety of settings. She’s the author of 100 Acting Exercises for 8 – 18 Year Olds, and the Pocketful of Drama book series, which includes Acting Games for Improv, Drama Games for Early Years, and Acting Exercises for Creative Writing. Instagram @pocketfulofdrama. Twitter @SamMarsdenDrama  

Drama Games for Early Years (4 – 7’s Years).  

Teach early years drama with these easy-to-use drama games. You will find 30 drama games divided into four chapters – Games, Focus, Imagination, and Story. With a foreword by Dr John Spencer, author and podcast host of The Creative Classroom.

“This fantastic and diverse collection of games is the perfect toolkit for educators to introduce young performers to the magic of theatre and inspire them to unleash their creativity!” Yale Children’s Theater

Acting Games for Improv

Teach students improvisation with this easy-to-use book. Thirty improvisation exercises for the classroom and rehearsals. These exercises are suitable for all ages and skill levels.  

“This is a great guide to teaching improvisation. It offers a nice variety of different ways to stimulate players of all ages to find more freedom, creative expression and joy through play.” Chris Heimann, Improvisation, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London

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