Playing improv games is a common method of warming up for actors. They help achieve focus, strengthen connections among actors, and allow them to practice performance skills. They can also serve as ice breakers among novice actors. Improv games are entertaining for performers and audiences alike; just look at the well known game show Whose Line Is It Anyway. Whatever your reason for playing improv games, we can sometimes draw a blank when trying to decide on which one to play.
Over the years, I’ve developed quite a repertoire of improve games, but when put on the spot, without a physical list, it’s sometimes difficult to think of just the right game For that reason, having an online list to draw from has come in extremely handy more times than I can count.
Improv for Medium to Large Group
The number of actors present may help to determine which improv game will work best. Here are some of my favorite improv games suited for medium to large groups (5 or more actors), great for including everyone who is present. They work well as warm ups before rehearsals. I also use them as ensemble building activities.
1. Wax Museum/Night Watchman
For Night Watchman, one person is designated as it (the Night Watchman) and everyone else will play as a wax statue. The Night Watchman will cover their eyes and count to 10 while everyone else strikes a pose somewhere within the room/playing space.
Then the Night Watchman will walk about the room attempting to catch anyone moving. Everyone else will attempt to change poses and/or move to a new location when the Night Watchman has their back turned to them. If caught moving, they then become the Night Watchman and the game starts again. The Night Watchman can try to get people to move, but may not touch anyone. Blinking, breathing, sneezing, and coughing cannot get a person out.
2. Party Guests
For Party Guests, choose one player to act as host. Everyone else will be a guest at the party and must choose a celebrity personality or quirk to portray. Each guest enters the party about a 30 seconds after the previous guest and mingles with each other and the host. The host has to try to guess who they are or what their quirk is. If the host guesses correctly, the guest takes a seat until everyone is sitting.
Players divide into two teams which sit in lines facing each other. One person not playing/not on a team sits at front of the two lines to flip a coin and act as the referee. Place an object, (book, shoe, etc) at the opposite end of the lines. Players hold hands with their teammates and close their eyes. The lead players next to the referee will have their eyes open to watch the coin flip.
If the coin lands on heads, they pass a squeeze to their teammates. The first team to pass the squeeze all the way down and slap the object rotates the last member to the front. However, anytime a team sends a squeeze all the way to the end when the coin flip was tales, they have to do a reverse rotation. Whichever team makes a full rotation of all members first wins.
Players stand in a circle and one player is designated it. That player puts their hands together to make a finger gun and points it at someone else in the circle (can’t be the person directly to their right or left) and says bang. That person is to duck. If they fail to duck, they are out and the shooter goes again. If they do duck, the players on either side of them are to turn to each other with finger guns and say bang. Whoever says it first becomes it and the other person is out.
The game continues until only two players remain. At this point, they stand back to back and someone counts as they take steps away from each other (like an old western shootout). When the counter says a word that is not a number, they are to face each other and with a single breath, say bang as many times as they can. The first to take a breath is out, and the other is the winner.
Players stand in a circle and look down or close their eyes. Someone counts to three and everyone must look up at someone eyes. If anyone makes contact, they are to say “Dude” and take a seat. A variation of this is instead of saying “Dude”, they pretend to die dramatically. Elimination continues until everyone is out.
6. I Like My Neighbor
Everyone except for one person sits in a chair in a circle. Whoever is not in a chair is inside the circle and says “I like people who ___.” They fill in the blank with things like “wear tennis shoes” or “have bangs”… etc. (They can’t pick anything that a person has no control over such as skin color, gender, and the like. Players also can’t give descriptions of things that aren’t physically visible, such as underwear, personality traits, family history, etc.) Once said, anyone fitting the description has to change seats, and whoever is it has to try to take a seat. Whoever is unable to get a seat is now it.
7. Billy Billy Bop
Everyone stands in a circle except for one person who is it; they stand inside the circle. The person in the center goes around to people in the circle and say “Billy Billy,” and each the person is to respond “Bop.” However if the person who is it says a variation of Billy Billy, such as Illy Billy, and the other person says Bop, they are now it.
To get people out, the person who is it can instead say Charlies Angels, Kamikaze, or McDonald’s and the person they say it to and the people immediately to their right and left have to the count of five to strike the appropriate pose as follows, or they are out:
- CHARLIES ANGELS: All three have finger guns and pose as the Charlies Angels (center facing forward and the two on either side with their back to the center person)
- KAMIKAZE: The person in the center makes finger goggles and the people to their immediate right and left become the airplane wings using their arms.
- McDONALD’S: The person in the center reaches up their arms to make the center portion of an M, and the people to their immediate right and left reach up and connect their arms to complete the M.
8. Pass the Energy
Players stand in a circle and one person in that circle starts by passing the energy to their right or left. Anytime the energy is passed, the passer presses their palms together and then swings the energy to the left or right and says “Schwing.” Players continue to pass the energy in this way. Anyone can then block the energy by crossing their arm and saying “Bonk.” When this happens, then passer must then pass the energy in the opposite direction. Another option to passing the energy is to say “Bounce” and to throw it with both hands like a big ball across to someone. Whoever catches the “Bounce” says “Ker-Plop,” and they then pass or bounce it to someone else.
Players stand in a circle. One person starts by raising their hands above their head. The players to their right and left press their hands together and make a swing motion to the center person’s midsection (not actually touching them) and both say “Wah!” The center person then leans forward and points their palms toward someone across the circle from them and says “Wah!” The recipient of the “Wah!” the raises their hands above their head, and the game continues by them the people to their right and left swinging, saying “Wah!” and the center person choosing a new recipient.
10. Cow, Alien, Tiger
Players break into groups of three or four and turn their backs toward one another. On the count of three, all members of all groups turn to face their group members to show whether they’ve chosen Cow, Alien or Tiger as listed below. The goal is for all group members to all choose the same without communicating your individual choice ahead of time.
- Alien: Represent antenna with index fingers upright on your head, wiggle them, and say “Bleep Bleep”
- Tiger: Use your hands out to represent claws and say “Roar!”
Regardless of your reason for using improv games, they’re fun and a great method for building rapport among your actors. I hope that these two lists helps you in choosing just the right improv game. In the classroom setting, I have a slideshow full of improv games and their directions to pull from whenever I need them. If you’re interested in improv games for small groups, be sure to check check out my article Improv Games for Small Groups!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like my post Actor’s Challenge: Competitive Improv Games.