Monday, July 20, 2015

Teaching Improvisational Theatre Part 1 - drama games - improv - #education

"Teaching Improvisational Theatre" (Part 1) by Todd Hermanson (Drama Games student)

After performing Improvisational Theatre during college I moved to New York City to be an actor. While there I continued to be an improvisational comedy performer. We would play numerous games with a goal to make the audience laugh. Always make the audience laugh. That was the sign of success for our performances. This need for laughter would be a struggle I would encounter as I continued to teach drama games into my later teaching career. After giving up my life on the road as a professional actor I was pulled in the direction of education.

Part of my training as a teacher was focused on after school and evening classes for students from 3 years to 60 years old. My main sources for my lessons were Improvisational Theatre games. Because of my training in improvisation, I focused on creating an ensemble with in a class. Firstly, I would try and break down barriers to success by making students comfortable with each other, as any teacher could do in any other class.

I have always thought that laughter can be a sign of risk. By making all students laugh and be silly it made the students feel comfortable with each other. With this comfort came less fear to take risks. And risk taking in the theatre world promotes the growth of the artist and their craft. After years of teaching these extra curricular classes I attained my teaching license and started substitute teaching. It was in these classes that I was able to utilize my previous experience as an improvisation comedy actor.

Due to the temporary nature of substitute teaching, I was to come in one or two days at a time. Due to this, I felt pressure to let the kids have a good time, not just down time. My main focus was to make the class laugh. But, hopefully, I did this with the activities that I taught and my own sense of humor.

Some of my favorite activities were ones that can now be found on the successful television program “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Emotions – Performers’ emotions are changed during the course of a scene. They must use the emotion as they continue the scene.

Props – Actors are given props that they use to create small scenes and use the prop as an object other than what it actually was created.

Fill in the blank – During the course of the scene actors are paused and the audience fill in the blank of the line. The scene continues justifying this new information.

Alphabet- A scene is performed and the lines of dialogue start with the next letter in the alphabet.

Expert Translation – An expert in a subject discusses their expertise in a foreign language. A translator then deciphers the statements of the expert.

Questions only – A scene is performed where which the dialogue is only questions.

Whose line – During the course of the scene the actors pull out slips of paper that have sayings that they must incorporate into the scene.

Fortunately, due to the recommendations I received because of my tendency to “entertain” I was able to land a couple of long term teaching assignments where improvisation was still effective but I was able to do activities that were more long term, such as scene work and short group theatre pieces. But due to this need to entertain I had pigeonholed myself into only doing Drama Games that I thought entertaining or comedic.

As I have mentioned previously, this need to entertain was the catalyst for some changes in my teaching style. This opportunity arose when I accepted a teaching position for a full time high school teaching job, that I have just completed my 17th year. I will discuss these challenges in my next post.

For more improv games and ideas, go to

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