Ask most theater junkies if you can act without warming-up and they will laugh in your face. The warm-up is an essential aspect of theater. Although dismissed as silly play by many, warming-up lowers actors inhibitions, develops group trust and is just plain fun!
However, be prepared for group resistance to some warm-ups. The warm-ups, for example, might seem too silly and pointless for some members of the group. (Translated: Some people get embarrassed when asked to step out of their comfort zones.) Don't forget, though, that having fun and "acting silly" are an integral part of the theater process. Warm-ups are highly effective, especially if done in conjunction with a more concrete popular theater exercise. Warm-ups are fun, but they are more than that; they function to lower the inhibitions of the group, enhance group trust, increase performance ability and self-esteem.
If time allows, always begin with a warm-up activity. The activities that follow will generally run more smoothly, the team will develop trust, inhibitions will lower, and everyone will have fun. Do not be surprised when group members rebel against certain warm-up. Some group members will be too cool for "silly" activities. Don't pay too much attention to this resistance. Usually if you continue with the participating group members and the activity proves to appear fun, the rebellious group members will join in soon enough. If you give into their will, however, the rest of the group will begin to think of warm-ups as ridiculous and warm-ups will be less and less successful.
Another potential problem is groups that become so obsessed with the fun of warm-ups that they don't want to do anything else. Beware, warm-ups can become addictive (for both the group and facilitators). Although these preliminary activities may be a huge hit, be firm about ending them after 10-15 minutes. If you allow warm-ups to go on too long you will never get any work done and you run the risk of having too much fun. If you allow the team and yourself to get caught up in the joy of the warm-up, you may ruin your chances of using that particular activity again. When you overkill an activity it is never as fun again, and you are likely to experience some backlash if you try. Rotate your warm-ups and keep them brief.
One last hint: don't be afraid to be silly!
Name Game with Movement (10 minutes)
This is a good exercise to start off with, especially if the facilitator is not familiar with the group, or vice versa.
Organize the group into a circle. Have each person go around and say their name, incorporating their name into a movement. The group repeats both the name and the movement of each person until the circle is complete. At the end, test the facilitator to see if he or she remembers each persons name and movement.
The Cross and the Circle (5 minutes)
This exercise requires no preparation, and actors feel no fear participating in this exercise because they are told that it is very difficult to successfully complete. This exercise demonstrate how we are not always in control of our own bodies, and that our movements are often very mechanized.
Ask participants to describe a circle with their right hand; the size does not matter. Everybody does it with ease and is asked to stop. Participants are asked to describe a cross with their left hand. Everyone does easily and is asked to stop. The group is then asked to describe both the circle and the cross at the same time. It is virtually impossible. Only one or two in the group will succeed.
Electric Marker (10 minutes)
This exercise is a great energizer, focusing tool and fosters group development.
Separate the group into two even teams. Each team stands in a line, holding hands. Opposing teams should be facing each other. At one end of the two teams, place a table and on the table stand a marker upright. A facilitator stands at the other end of the two teams, opposite the table and marker. The facilitator is the coin flipper. If the coin lands on heads, the team members begin to squeeze their partners hands, until the hand-squeeze reaches the other end. When the last person's hand is squeezed, he/she grabs the marker. The two teams race to see which one will grab the marker first. If the coin lands on heads, the first team to grab the marker wins a point.
Only the two team members beside the coin-flipper can look at the coin. Everyone else must direct their attention towards the marker. If the coin lands on tales and a team member accidentally squeezes his/her teammate's hand and the team grabs the marker, a point is lost. Anytime the marker is knocked on the floor or does not end up in someone's hand, it is a foul. Neither team gains or loses a point. The teams race to see who can squeeze hands and grab the marker the first.
Before beginning the game, set a point limit. Otherwise you could end up playing all night. This game is addictive!
Zip (10 minutes)
This is a focusing and team-building activity.
Organize the group into a circle. If the group is unfamiliar with each other, go around once and have each person say his or her name. Establish a beat by slapping one hand against your thigh. Have the group join in the rhythm. Group members place their other free hand up by their shoulders, with the index finger and thumb extended as if it were a gun. One person starts zip by pointing to an individual across the circle and saying his or her own name. Without missing a beat, the person who is pointed to points to another person and says his or her own name. Gradually pick up the pace of the rhythm. A person is out if he or she falters on a beat, or neglects to say his or her own name properly. The group's instinct will be to say the name of the person pointed to, but the point is to maintain focus enough to escape that mechanized response and say one's own name without missing a beat.
Sensory-Trust Hike (15 minutes)
This exercise helps to develop trust within a newly formed group. It is a useful preliminary exercise to help a team learn to depend on each other and to respect the fears and desires for safety of team members. This exercise helps us realize how much we depend on our sight and fosters the development of other senses.
The group breaks out into partners. One partner is blindfolded, and the other is the leader. The leader is told to take his or her partner around the area, giving the partner sensory experiences that do not involve sight. For example, leaders might take their partners to drink from a water fountain, to taste a piece of fruit, to feel the bark on a tree, etc. Blind partners are asked to make mental notes of what they come in contact with, but their leaders may not speak to them at any time. The exercise is to be done in complete silence. Leaders are told to use caution, and care for their partners. No one should get hurt, but instead a relationship of trust should be established. At the end, partners switch and leaders are blindfolded.
Cat Game (10 minutes)
This game is strictly for fun, but is also a good focusing tool and helps a group to let go of inhibitions.
Organize the group into a circle sitting on the floor. The goal of this game is to keep a straight-face, and not laugh. Someone starts by going into the center of the circle to do their best imitation of a cat, without using any words. The individual advances on one person and tries to make him or her laugh. If the cat is successful, the laugher becomes the cat. If not, the cat chooses another member of the group to amuse. If the cat has a difficult time amusing anyone, congratulate the group on their focus, and choose another cat.
Partner-Dodge Ball (10 minutes)
This exercise enhances the development of a "group feeling," showing how members of the group will sometimes be responsible for protecting their peers, and thus should always be aware of their team members' needs. It encourages a group to work together to achieve a goal and not just focusing on self-interests.
Organize the group into a circle. Two people get into the center of the circle. One stands in front of the other; this persons goal is to protect the other from getting hit with the ball. The person in front can use any part of his or her body to prevent and insure that the ball touches no part of his or her partner. The two should move in unison, and will have to turn quickly when the ball changes sides of the circle. The group also can work as a team to hit the protected person with the ball. Whoever succeeds in hitting the person with the ball enters the circle and becomes the protector, while the previous protector becomes the protected. The individual hit with the ball joins the group.
Trust Circle (15 minutes)
The trust circle develops movement skills while building group trust and cooperation.
Organize the group into a tight circles (4-7 people in each circle) with everyone shoulder to shoulder, facing the center, holding their bodies absolutely upright. The group must the lean towards the center of the circle without bending at the waist, arching their backs, or lifting their heels off the ground. Next, the group must lean outwards, away from the center, in the same manner. Then repeat the sequence.
Then the group does the same thing towards the left and right, still without bending in the middle, without out lifting their heels.
Ask the group to describe a circle with their bodies, leaning into the center, to the left, outwards, and then to the right. Then the same thing the other way around: to the center, right, outwards, and to the left.
One volunteer goes into the center of the circle and closes her eyes. The volunteer spins around in a circle a few time, becoming disoriented. Then, remaining fully upright, she falls towards one side of the circle. The group catches her, pushing her to the other side of the circle, and so on. Each group member gets a chance in the center of the circle.
Making a Machine (10 minutes)
This exercise helps a group work together and become aware of each other as parts of a whole. It is also a good exercise for developing voice and movement.
Organize the group into a circle. One person goes into the center and performs a repetitive movement with a corresponding noise. It should be a movement that is easily sustainable for the duration of the game. One by one members of the group join the ³machine² by attaching themselves to the machine and incorporating their own noise and movement. This is continued until everyone in the group becomes part of one machine, with separate movements, actions, and noises.
The facilitator can demonstrate for the group what happens to the whole machine if several parts of the machine are removed or obstructed in some way. What happens to the machine if it has to work faster or slower?
Trust Fall (20 minutes)
This exercise challenges individuals to realize their dependence on the group, while it increases the group's sensitivity to the needs and safety of individuals.
Get a table. Have one person stand on the edge of the table with her back to the group and her hands folded across her chest. The group should have their arms perpendicular to their bodies, ready to catch her. On the count of three, she falls backwards into the arms of the group. The group catches her, and places her on the ground. Everyone in the group should attempt the trust fall.
Variation: Individual runs from across the room to jump into the arms of the group. When she gets near them, she yells "HUP," jumps and turns around backward in mid air to land in the groups arms with her back down.
Racing on Chairs (10 minutes)
This exercise develops movement techniques and team-building.
A group of five actors in a line, one behind the other, each standing on a chair. There is a sixth, unoccupied chair at the front of the line. Each actor moves along one chair, so that the empty chair becomes the last one; then the last actor passes that chair to the next actor, until this last chair is at the front of the line. Then the actors step one chair forward... and so on, so that the line of chairs is always advancing.
Apple Dance (10 minutes)
This exercise requires two people to work together to achieve a common goal.
Two people dance with an apple pressed between their foreheads. No hands can be used. The apple must not fall.
Pushing Against Each Other (10 minutes)
This exercise show exactly what actors must do during a forum theater session - neither give way to the intervening spectator, nor overwhelm her, but rather help her to apply all her strength. The exercise is about using all of one¹s strength and still not "winning."
The actors arrange themselves in pairs, facing each other, and hold each other by the shoulders. There is a line (imaginary or real) on the ground between them. They start pushing with all their strength. When one person feels her partner is weaker, she eases off so as not to cross the line, so as not to win. If the other person increases his pushing, the first does the same, so that together both actors are using all the strength they can muster.