Families in Isolation: Bring Theatre Home

Tanya Saari    May 10, 2020

Hi, folks, and welcome to isolation lockdown, week 372! Okay, I know it hasn’t actually been that long, but it certainly feels like it some days, doesn’t it? Along that same vein, is anyone else out there actively missing theatre (community, professional, or otherwise)?


Yeah. Me, too.


On top of that, many of us have junior family members at home, who are likely beginning to get a little squirrelly (or is it just me?). Well, I’ve got one way for you to both get your theatre fix *and* occupy those kidlets at the same time: welcome to improv games!


“Wait, what?” you say. “What’s that?”


Improv games are a staple of any drama class or theatre group. Improv, which is short for improvisational theatre, is a form of theatre—which is most often comedic—in which most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted. This form relies almost completely on spontaneity by the performers. The dialogue, action, story, and characters are created collaboratively by the players, which requires genuine teamwork.


Techniques used in improv are often an extensive part of drama programs to train actors for stage, film, and television, and are often also useful in the rehearsal process. Outside of the performing arts, improv can also help to develop communication skills, encourage creative problem solving, and strengthen teamwork abilities.


“Well, that’s all fine and dandy,” you say, “but what does that have to do with us being at home 24/7?”


What it means, Dear Reader, is why not try some improv games at home with the family? You can do these just for fun, or, depending on the nature of your household, you can attempt theatre sports, which adds a competitive edge with points scored for achieving certain goals or including certain required elements.


One of the great things about the Internet is the plethora of options and ideas available, so feel free to search. However, in the interest of giving you immediate results now, I’ve gathered a few great examples of some fun games you can try today.


Improv games for kids:


One Word

Ages: 7+

In this game, children work together to tell a story. With everyone sitting in a circle, each person says one word, adding to the ongoing narrative.

Example: Child A says “Once”, child/person B says “upon”, child/person C says “a”, and child/person D says “time”, and so on, until either the story is complete, or a time limit is reached (anywhere from one to five minutes is likely plenty). Play this game quickly, to encourage free thinking!


Nursery Rhyme Charades

Ages: Preschool/kindergarten

In this game, children take turns pantomiming well-known nursery rhymes, and the remaining players try to guess which one it is.


Accepting Circle

Ages: 7+

Here, everyone stands in a circle. The first person makes a small gesture, perhaps with a little sound. Then the next person mimics the gesture and sound, followed by the next person, and so on. We don’t expect the gesture and/or sound to change, but they will! See what’s different by the time you’ve gone around the circle a couple of times!


Improv games for tweens/teens:


Paint Me a Picture

Ages: 12+

Start with one person alone, pretending they are in a specific scenario or environment. This person mimes their actions that they would normally do in their chosen setting. They cannot speak or make noise during this activity. As each spectator figures out what the first person is doing, they can then join in and pretend to be part of the environment. The game continues until all players have determined the original scenario. All actors should not do anything to change the original scenario/environment, so as to not add confusion to those still watching. For example, the first person could be selling snacks and drinks at a baseball game.


Ten Strikes and You’re Out!

Ages: 10+

All players stand in a circle, holding all ten fingers up in front of them. One at a time, each person will state something that is true about themselves, but is hopefully not true about the other group members. For example, I could state that I own a dog. Whoever can say “I, too, own a dog,” is safe. But whoever does not own a dog has to put a finger down. When someone runs out of fingers, they are out. The last person to have a finger up, wins. The goal is to say something that is true of you, but NOT true about others, so the more unique you can make it, the better.


Rumor Has it…

Ages: 12+

All players sit in a circle. The first person points at an individual and whispers, “Did you hear…?” to the person next to them. That person affirms and adds to the silly rumor. For example, the game might start with a player pointing to the person across from them and whispering to their neighbor, “Did you hear Joe has reverse aging disorder and is actually over 200 years old?” The neighbor might then gasp dramatically and whisper to their neighbor, “Did you hear Joe has reverse aging disorder and is actually over 200 years old and is from Mars?” This would continue until the person sitting next to Joe would tell the audience the collective rumors she/he heard about Joe. 


Remember, with improv games, try to stay openminded. Always respond positively to cues/suggestions (a hard “no” or denial ends a scene/game pretty quickly!), and there are also no wrong answers. Most importantly, just have fun!


Finally, when you’re tired of playing the games yourselves, you can always look up videos online of other groups playing improv games (beware of viewer discretion; some games may include adult themes or elements) and watch them together.


In the meantime, stay home, stay safe, wash your hands, and it won’t be long before we’ll all be able to head to the theatre once again!


Tanya is a freelance fiction editor by day, and an amateur thespian by night, with 17 community theatre productions under her belt. She also currently sits on the Board of Directors of Sudbury Performance Group as Treasurer.