Step One: Warm ups
There are literally thousands of warm up exercises already written up and thousands of variations still to be discovered. Any activity that unatiffens both physically and mentally is a warm up. It also drastically alters the learning environment; students are doing something with their bodies at all times. This should be done every time you begin a drama session.
To heighten awareness of all parts of the body. To encourage physical rather than verbal description.
Sample Warm Ups:
Whatever the Weather
The students become a forest of trees under your direction.
Procedure: Plant students in many patterns (circles, lines, etc.) but with lots of room to move. Remind them that their feet are roots; bodies are trunks; arms are major branches; hands, fingers, head, even hair are smaller twigs and leaves.
Assign different types of trees to different people (or let them describe themselves as particular trees in a writing assignment prior to this warm up). Now, the teacher-director (making appropriate sounds, of course, sets the forest in motion by changing the weather: a hurricane, a breeze, an early morning calm, a drenching rain, a sunshower.
This exercise may take several minutes at first. Shorter warm ups, involving only a couple of minutes, can be used after several sessions. Flexibility and relaxation are essential if more complicated activities are to succeed. Here are two such exercises:
Students are directed to shake each part of their bodies, including toes, noses, elbows, eyebrows, until they feel completely “shaken out.”
The Fat About the Thin
Students must make parts of their bodies as thin as possible while making other parts wide and fat.
Then, they must use their entire bodies to “become” a fat thing or a thin thing.
Step Two: Theatre Games
Once the juices are flowing, your students are ready to join forces. You don’t want to rush them into “thinking” too hard. Dialogue interfere at such an early stage because they are still battling with their bodies. You want them to enjoy experimenting with ways to discipline their movements. Coupled with warm ups, the games should be used in the first two or three classes. They can be re-introduced whenever the students need to “discover” some new movement or to simply relax during a tense session.
Using an imaginary rope and a real floor boundary, divide the group into two lines at each end of the rope. As they begin to pull, the teacher-director announces which side has the advantage, which is growing in strength, losing ground, and so on. The group must follow both directions and the “feeling” the line shares.
Beginning with pairs of students, have partners each create a facial expression that matches a feeling (e.g. frustration). Sweeping both hands across the face, each clears his/hers face of the old expression and a “mask” of a new feeling appears as the hands are removed. The pairs discuss whether or not they successfully portrayed the chosen feelings. Suggestions and comparisons aid in establishing a usable repertoire of expressions for more complicated activities.
Step Three: Role Playing
Logically, the combination of the games (very physical) and personal observations leads to this next step: creating characterizations. Role play allows students to use imitation as a learning tool. They also begin to feel related to the characters they are attempting to make believable. Role playing should start when the teacher-director senses that the students are beginning to establish character types in their games. Step three should continue until many characters types have been tried by all. These exercises easily overlap into the realm o improvisation when they are expanded to include some kind of change during the scene.
Sample Role Plays:
A student has an imaginary basket of groceries. Objects must be placed on the conveyor belt (different sizes weights, and so on). The cash register is watched with trepidation. As each item is rung up, the student becomes more concerned with the final cost. Money is counted and recounted.
The final resolution is up to the actor. Suggestions include: stopping the checker for subtotals; trying to add items still on the belt; removing specific items after the total is reached; discovering with relief that there is enough money.
At the Library
The student must find the shelf that contains the titles on his/her list. Two or three volumes must be identified.
Step Four: Improvisation
I have isolated Steps four and five on paper where, in practice, they work together. Every improv that one student begins, others may join. At first, however, the teacher-director will want to take time to see if each member of the group can, after working through a warm up, begin to piece together an activity. Here, the link to role-play is very clear. “Exact Change” can easily become a group improv if any other participants and/or dialogue are added. Dialogue does become the major new element. Language (except for sounds) has, to this point, become secondary to movement. It is now time to reintegrate the two most obvious “real” activities—talking and moving—that our students do all the time. The “truth” of the improvisation comes from the link between their real world and their created ones.
Improvisation should follow warm ups. Use the technique by itself or as a prelude to specific cuttings.