Please note: I’m just dumping my post class thoughts will little regard to organization. Eventually I’ll write something more composed & thoughtful about teaching kids improv!
Wednesday was the 2nd week of class, with the benefit of the kids having a better idea of what to expect. Last semester I started off most classes with a Free Association circle. It was a small routine that got (most) kids focused right at the beginning of class (I usually did it seated, as shown below, as it helped focus their energy better). With two classes this semester, I’m treating both classes separately. However yesterday I had an interesting point of comparison as one of my teens joined the younger class (his usual class was cancelled so I invited him to join the youngers).
I started the younger class yesterday with the drama game icebreaker Greetings. I like to begin with them walking around but avoiding eye contact, so they how we have a natural tendency to prefer eye contact. We then go through a series of greetings in different styles: business handshakes, meeting old friends, greeting villains, people with terrible breath, etc. With younger kids, their gestures tend to be muted based on their comfort level but it’s amazing how fast everyone copies the same response. They also have an innate push for quantity over quality, trying for as many greetings as possible despite guidance on taking it slow. Clearly more is better in their minds!
Next I tried a new game I found on Facebook recently, Do You Know:
Like with a lot of new games, they were a little unsure and semi-enthusiastic but the results were encouraging. I’m definitely going to try it again next week as the familiarity makes a huge difference.
This exercise was where I noticed the overriding theme from both classes, which was death. Someone died, someone’s dead, they’re not actually alive & on & on. I guess it was a nice break from poop jokes.
We moved on to Zip Zap Zop, which went much, much more smoothly than last week (plus I was intentionally alternating new & not new games). We went with the variants of passing the way ZZZ was passed to us, and accepting and running with variations (like Zippity Zappity Zoppity & other creative versions).
Then I decided to go for Face Pass because what kid doesn’t like making faces? It’s silly, it’s fun and they don’t even realize they’re agreeing with someone else by copying their face! However, like any circular game that includes the ability to reverse the direction, the kids will do that Ad. Nauseum. Not wanting to complicate things right off the bat, I’m saving passing across the circle or using an ‘oil slick’ for next week.
Next up was I’m Cool and So Are You, except we had no chairs. It probably would have been more effective with chairs, since kids seem to have the general inability to create an unbroken circle. Overall it went fine without chairs but as an icebreaker where people get to know each other it almost seems irrelevant to the kids. They just want to have fun and whether you love dogs or not doesn’t have much bearing on them.
Their second to last game was Booby Trap (which the olders did last week) and man – I really have to focus on object work with the kids. Half of their falls looked the same, though each had different & elaborate explanations (including tripping over not one but TWO gerbils). Props to the kids for creativity and a major note to myself to improve their object work tout de suite. The onus is on me to choose exercises & games to allow them to build their object work up.
We finished with Scorpion, one of their favorites from last semester. It’s imperative when playing this to remind the kids before and during the game to go SLOW. Otherwise they’re wont to run, waves their arms, crawl or move in some other way that will inevitably lead to bodily harm if allowed to continue.
I like Scorpion as a listening, focus-oriented game. The room is silent (again – the kids need to be reminded of this the whole time), eyes are closed and the scorpion makes a zapping sound when attacking a victim. It usually goes well but there will always be one or two kids who sneak looks the whole time (thus I also recommend noting that anyone looking is automatically out). The main issue with the game is that it’s fun to play but it’s hard to complete. At the end when there are two people left and a large space, getting that last victim can take forever. I might try the vampire variation next week.
Then came the teen class, where we started with a Free Association circle, followed by another attempt at Twenty One – which did not last long. Maybe it’s better served after some energy has been burned off because the kids tried counting as fast as they could.
Staying in the circle we did One Word Story and Conducted Story, then broke into pairs for Word Express. I thought breaking into pairs would be good but it might better when they’re more familiar with the exercise. At this point they need more guidance to get familiar with an exercise before they can tackle it themselves.
I switched gears to make better use of their energy, returning to last week’s robot scenes with one big difference: I advised that the first line needed to be a statement, rather than keep it open ended. That one change made a HUGE difference as most of the kids came up with opening lines that provided context for their partners to respond to. We processed after the exercise was done and they were aware of the difference. Hopefully this will be an important building block as we move forward. It also turned out that one of the students was a big Johnny Depp fan (keep that in mind for a bit later in the post ;)).
I then spoke a bit about Yes, And and segued into Character of the Space again. This time we processed a little first, discussing how we had some difficulty last week knowing what someone was doing. Following up the discussion of Yes, And, the kids were instructed to agree with the activity being performed. However, I was careful to note that agreement meant accepting & responding to what was being offered which did not blindly agreeing. For example: someone can mime breaking into a house, their partner could be a homeowner who decides to attack the intruder versus only running & hiding. Conflict, if an appropriate, natural response, works.
We had a big improvement from last week as the teens tried harder to establish an activity clearly – except for a mind-numbing focus on death & violence from a bunch of them. I implored them to challenge themselves to look beyond those topics but that didn’t make much of a dent (next week I’m going to ask them to do something boring and see how it goes :P).
The kids got steadily better the more the exercise continued, culminating in the photo to the right: one girl mimed being on a rollercoaster – which totally went over my head. But 5 others got it and jumped in – including the girl in the bottom right who was the ride operator! How cool is that?
We finished up with a scene paint, the audience suggestion for it being Johnny Depp’s bedroom. The kids are still getting used to the idea but did quite well overall. We closed with a couple of scenes in the described area, one with just Depp and a rabid fan who came in through the window (not coincidentally the aforementioned Fan pof Depp) and a second scene where a bunch of the kids decided on roles for themselves and acted it out.
All in all, a successful second week! I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next week!