25 Drama Games and Activities
If you need fresh ideas to get your thespians up and acting, look no further than this list of ideas to inspire creativity and fun. These low- to no-prep drama games and activities can be used as warmups, team builders or to get your group thinking and creating together.
For Building Improv Skills
- Freeze - Make a circle. Two people go into the middle of the circle and begin a scene (the leader can have premade characters and situations to help inspire the actors if needed). Anyone in the circle at any time can yell "freeze," and the two in the middle literally freeze into place. The person that yelled "freeze" then goes in and taps out one of the frozen characters and then starts the scene in the exact physical position of the tapped-out character, but changes the storyline to something different. This continues until everyone has had a turn.
- Luggage Surprise - The leader needs to have a suitcase and a trash bag full of random props. Before each actor comes on stage, sneak props into the suitcase. Either as individuals or in pairs, have actors arrive at a destination and give them two minutes to get out the suitcase and improvise reactions to what is inside.
- Duck, Duck, Cereal! - This is a fun variation from author Mel Paradis — instead of "goose," the student that is "it" tags another actor and assigns a category such as cereal, fruit, sports, musicals, song names, etc. There isn't a chase, but the tagged student stays in place and tries to name three items in the given category before the "it" student runs around the circle and gets back to them. If they can name three things, then "it" repeats the process with a new category. You can assign a higher number if three seems too simple. (From "Teaching Improv: The Essential Handbook" by Mel Paradis.)
- Hey Let's... Always Yes - One of the best skills you can have in improv is the ability to say "yes" to whatever your partner is doing and roll with it. Make a set of notecards with an activity suggestion like "Hey let's... try to ride this tandem bike!" and then the partner must agree and act out the activity for the group. Set a timer for one minute per scene and quickly hand the next pair a card to keep the fun rolling! A variation: Have one person say "Hey let's…" and keep adding members who join in, or add members who suggest a new activity that everyone then joins the new activity.
- Story, Story, Die! - Choose four students to be storytellers and one pointer. The pointer picks one person to start the story and then randomly switches between people. The goal is to continue telling a cohesive story, picking up where the last person left off. A participant "dies" if they make a continuity error or if they hesitate too long before picking up the thread of the story. The audience can be the judge and participants can "die" an exaggerated stage death for more fun. The last person standing wins.
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For Building Character
- Taxi Cab - Set four chairs in two rows of two (like a car). You can divide your group into fours. Actor one is the driver. The driver creates a unique character and begins the scene. Person two gets "picked up" and interacts with the driver as a new unique character (for example, someone who just got their wisdom teeth removed). The twist is the driver must take on the character of who they pick up and they begin to interact together (as in the example, now they are two people who just got their wisdom teeth removed). Then the third person gets picked up with a whole new character and the two people in the car become that character that just got picked up and again for the fourth person. After a minute or two (and the comedy unfolds), the fourth person gets "out" of the cab and the three remaining characters return to the third person's character and so on, until only the driver remains and ends the scene in their original character.
- Fake News - Bring magazines with lots of people or print pictures of characters that will make for good storytelling. Have actors select a picture and give them a few minutes to create a backstory about this character and one minute to "become" that person for the group, whether just introducing themselves or putting the character into a situation. For added fun, have another actor get up and have their characters interact together for some fun improv.
- Cross the Street - The leader gathers the actors on one side of the room. Each actor is instructed to cross the street as the character the leader calls out, "Cross the street as _____." These can be famous people, animals, even inanimate objects. For a twist, the leader can also call out if there is heavy traffic, rain or another factor influencing the scene.
- Where Did You Come From? - Have actors select three items from a grab bag or from a table with props (wigs, hats, beards, etc.). You could even offer pots of color and cotton swabs for some simple theatre makeup. Have each student create a character and give them a few minutes to work up their story. Then each has a turn to introduce themselves to the audience, sharing where they came from and where they are headed.
- Hair Apparent - Have students create some kind of crazy style with their hair. If you are in a camp setting, assign the actors to bring a hair accessory with them for the next day, but don't tell them why. Then actors walk around the room, creating a character that emphasizes that physical feature, really having the hair take over their entire persona.
For Concentration Skills
- The Noise Machine - All actors stand in a circle with space to move between them. One actor begins the "machine" with a sound and a movement that they do simultaneously. Have the person next to them repeat the sound or movement and go around the circle till all have done the combination. The last person, however, instead of doing the sound or movement that has been passed around, makes a new combination and that new combination travels around the circle as quickly as possible, continuing on until everyone has had the chance to make their own noise machine combination.
- Crazy Party - Divide the actors into groups of five with one person as the party host. The host leaves the room and the four remaining characters each choose a personality and persona. The host then re-enters the room and the four characters exit. One-by-one the guests enter the "party" and the host has to concentrate on hints and clues to guess the person's character. For a twist, have two characters come to the party at once and be a famous couple, like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.
- Whoosh - Actors stand in a circle. Start with one person, who waves both hands to their neighbor, saying "whoosh." The next person passes the whoosh to his neighbor and the whoosh is passed around the circle. Add in additional noises to keep the action moving:
- Whoa! - Hold up both hands in a stop motion. A "whoa" changes the direction of the whoosh around the circle (i.e., if it was clockwise, the order now goes counterclockwise).
- Zap - Instead of passing the whoosh to your neighbor, it gets zapped to the person you point to with your hands clasped together. The receiver continues with either a whoosh to his neighbor, or another zap to another person. A "whoa" after a zap returns to the zapper.
- Groooooooovelicious - For this one the whole group bends down and up again in a kind of groovy way, all saying "groooooooovelicious." Afterward, the person who started the groooooooovelicious sets the whoosh in motion again, in any direction.
- Freakout - Indicated by waving both hands in the air, everybody starts screaming and moves to the center of the circle. When everyone has freaked out, a new circle is formed and the starter of the freakout sets the whoosh in motion again.
- Memory Train (Musical Theater Version) - The group sits in a circle and the leader selects a commonly known musical such as "Aladdin." The first person says, "I am putting on 'Aladdin,' and in my show I will need ____." They can pick prop items, backstage equipment, costume pieces or even something obvious like the script! Each subsequent person repeats the phrase and adds an additional item, those that drop an item are out and scoot back out of the circle until a memory wizard is found.
- Lights, Name, Action! - Form a circle with your actors. Each one must share their name and a unique four-beat action such as tapping an elbow four times, patting their head four times, etc. After everyone has gone, have your first volunteer make eye contact with someone else, say their name and action, then switch places with that person. That named person continues the pattern as quickly as possible with another name and the four-beat action. This is a great way to get to know names, you can start each session with this activity and speed it up as your time together goes along.
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For Developing Physicality
- Mirror, Mirror - Have two actors stand facing each other and assign one to be the mirror and the other as the person looking into the mirror (or get creative and make it an animal looking into the mirror). Give them a minute for the mirror to try to perfectly copy the actions of the "looker." Then have them switch roles.
- What in The World? - Have actors sit in a circle and have either a real or imaginary box (a shoe box is perfect). Have the first actor open the box and mime what's inside, using only the face and upper body to reveal what they are finding in the box. Then have them close the lid and pass it to the next actor who also opens the lid, but finds something else inside and reacts to it. For an extra challenge, give all actors a golf pencil and notecard and have them guess what each actor is finding. Reveal answers at the end to see whose guess is closest to correct.
- Pass the Popcorn - Actors sit in a circle and each creates an imaginary object that must be passed around the circle without talking and using only physical expressions. They indicate its size, texture and even if it tastes good (or bad). For example: pass the water balloon, egg, beach ball, etc.
- Life as Art - At your local library, find a collection of artwork in a book (search for Louvre, Metropolitan Museum of Art, etc.) and select paintings with several people in them or even a large group. Have your actors take on one of the characters in the painting and see if they can recreate the scene. Once they have hit their mark they must freeze. For added fun, snap a picture of the group and then compare to the real art.
- Cheating Out Challenge - This activity is good for teaching actors to always try to face their audience (i.e., "cheating out"). First set up a simple, goofy obstacle course on stage. Actors must complete the course while facing the audience the entire time. To add to the challenge, have them sing a familiar song as they do the course to see if they can project their voice while moving and keeping their audience as their main focus.
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For Pure Fun
- Drama Circles - Drama circles are done with a set of cards which set the story into motion. The "Start Card" usually says something in a narrator's voice, explaining the story. Card two continues on the story with something like, "When you hear (or see) _____, say (or do) _____." That word or action is the clue to set the next card in motion and so on and so on. You can search for card ideas online.
- Animal Scramble - Players find a partner; partners separate and run around. The leader calls out a phrase and the players must find their partner and depict the scene. The last pair to depict the scene is out. Examples:
- Frog on a log - One student gets down on all fours (log) and the frog sits gently on their back.
- Bird on a perch - One student gets down on one knee (perch) and the bird sits on the perch.
- Lion in a den - One person stands with their feet apart (den) and the lion lies down on the floor.
- Background Quiet - Often actors are asked to "converse" silently in the background while the action is out front. Have some fun with this by having one actor do a simple pre-selected monologue (or they can sing happy birthday). The challenge is to have two background actors have a silent conversation, trying to add to the scene, but not distract from the main actor. Have audience members give constructive feedback on whether they added or distracted from what was going on out front. Throw the audience for a loop by having the actors try to interrupt the action or actually start interacting with the main action and chat about what that does to the scene.
- Conga Character Line - Have all your students form a conga line. The actor in the front of the line must invent a character walk. This can be a limp, a skip or a combination of several things. Every person in the conga line must take the form of the person in front of them. Once the entire conga line of actors has taken on the characters walk at the front of the line, the teacher says, "next." The actor in front of the line goes to the back and the next actor in front of the line takes on a new character walk.
- Jump In, Jump Out - Have actors form a circle and hold hands. There are only four jumping commands: In, Out, Left, Right. Sounds easy? Have the group say what you say and then do what you say to start. Have the group jump in, out, left and right for 30 seconds to get used to the concept. Then increase the challenge by telling your group to say what you say, but do the opposite. Go slow at first, but then speed it up for some comical fun!
Drama games and activities are a great way to decrease inhibitions and increase confidence. As the leader, don't be afraid to participate — when they see you getting involved it inspires them to let loose and try new things. Enjoy using some of these games and activities at your next thespian gathering!
Julie David is married to a worship pastor and after 20 years in ministry together with three daughters, she is still developing the tender balance of thick skin and gracious heart. She currently leads a small group of high school junior girls.