Developing the acting skills of young dancers takes time. Most are reluctant to talk much, being so used to communicating with their bodies. Which makes part of the acting training a little easier, they know their own bodies. But then they also like using their bodies in their own set ways. Try to give them a different style of dance they’ve come across and it can take them a while to get the right body placement and weight transference, and some may never acclimatise to the new genre. During Musical Theatre I like to try and get my dancers thinking about the drama surrounding it, often we’ll incorporate a little scripted piece to set up the scene for their song and dance routine. As time goes on I’m finding dancers are less and less confident to ‘act’ on stage. They just don’t really want to talk. This may be a trend due to society, ie, we’re doing less face to face interacting so the children just don’t really know how to, and secondly, it may just be that they’re not being nurtured into acting as well as they once were.
One of my goals this year has been to get my musical theatre group acting. Properly. Full script. I want to encourage them to be confident and develop their improvisation, so they can create scripts that they enjoy. I’m not going to throw them into the deep end though. I want to ease them in and help along the way with mini games to help strengthen these skills. You may have heard of some of these games before, but below I’m documenting some games I’ve found and will be trying out on the children.
1 – Character Creation
There’s a few variations of this, you can get individuals to come up with a whole character themselves, or give them some prompts. You may give them each a different prop that will inform them about their character, for example, a hula hoop prop could lead the students to create a character that’s a child or an acrobat. Other times giving them a picture of their character and getting them to fill in details about that person may give them the right inspiration. Lastly, you could do this as a group activity give each student a sheet of paper and get them to write down the hair colour and eye colour of the character, fold it over and then pass it on. Repeat this with lots of different prompts and then ask them to unfold it and think how this character would act. This could become a very random one!
2 – Dice Roll
This is for more intermediate students who have a good knowledge of musical theatre. Grab a printable dice, and change the numbers to be pictures of musical films or Westend musicals. Tape it up to be 3d, then get students in turn to roll it and improvise a scene from the musical or improvise to a song from the show.
3 – Job Interview
You need one student to be interviewed for a very important job role, as well as someone to do the interviewing. Have them sit in chairs opposite each other and have the interview. Questions and answers can be completely made up and don’t need to make sense. As well as this going one, a third student stand behind the interviewer and tries to make the interviewee laugh. The distractor isn’t allowed to make a noise, but can use mime to try and make the interviewee laugh. Swap once there’s been some laughter.
4 – Machine
A good game for groups that have lots of people in, the more people the more inventive the children have to be. Give the students a ‘machine’ to make, this could be anything from ice-cream to sunshine. Then in turns they join the machine doing a repetitive movement and sound. By the end it should come together into a big ‘machine’ of some sorts. From here you can ask them to speed up, slow down, get louder, etc.
5 – Finish My Song
I’ve completely just made up the name above, but the activity is one you’ve probably seen many times. One student stands in the middle of the circle and starts singing a song, others around can sing along too, clap along, or dance a little to the rhythm. If any of them become inspired they can then come in and start singing the new song that they were inspired to start. For those a little less confident this might be a little bit different but small steps should get them there.
6 – Slow Mo Races
Get them to race across the floor using only facial expressions and body movements. They need to be able to react to each other in order to get this one to work well, if not they may all just run straight for the finish!
7 – One Minute Fairytale
In little teams give them each different fairytales then tell them they got to act out the whole story in less then a minute. As they get better and better at it, give them less planning time, until eventually they’re improvising it.
8 – What is this?
Give them a fairly neutral prop, and take it in turns for them to use it as something. Every time the prop is guessed pass it on and see how many you can get.
9 – Treasure Chest
In pairs they take it in turns to take items out of their treasure chest. The object of the game is to get as many as possible without repeating anything, the partner counts each item. As the item is pulled out, encourage the students to act out pulling that item out, ie, is it heavy? can it fit in your hand?. You can add extra caveats to this, they cannot say any item already in the room, each item need to be unrelated to the one before, etc. The smaller the time the easier it is, the longer they have to sustain thinking of random items the more stuck they’ll become.
10 – 3 Line Scene
Get the group to think of a scene and start acting it out for you. Then cut it off after just three lines, and tell them what you think is happening. Or get other members of the class to. They need to get across as much information to you before the end of the 3 lines as possible, encouraging the use of non-verbal communication.
Some of these games are harder than others, so do pick and choose which you think will work with your own dancers. If you’ve anything else that has worked to help your dancers come out of their shells, please do share! My hope is that if they feel more comfortable improvisation and talking in character they’ll be a lot better and showing their true emotional performance during class.