I Am Walking
I learned the original version of this game from a colleague on the internet, and that version works great. This version, which is my own creation, while very similar in structure, teaches a very different set of skills. It works great for building ensemble, and especially for developing the kind of unselfish ensemble awareness young actors find so difficult to learn.
Before playing the game, prepare a set of cards, each containing the second half of a sentence. Below are a few examples, but you will think of more.
". . . through a blinding snowstorm, looking for a lost child."
". . . across the Great Plains on the way to Oregon."
". . . to school on a cool late fall morning."
". . . down a dark alley, looking for an escaped prisoner."
". . . through the Amazon rainforest, in search of rare species of animals."
". . . to the platform to receive a gold medal."
". . . down an empty highway, running away from home."
". . . along the Boardwalk near the beach on a summer evening."
". . . across the deck of a sailing ship during a storm."
(The idea is that the first half or each and every sentence is "I am walking...")
Play the Game
Divide the class into groups of three or more. The groups will "perform" one at a time.
The first group enters the performance space. A representative draws a card from the pile, and they share it around so everyone can see it, but there is NO DISCUSSION.
On the instructor's cue, the group must create an instant scene (using pantomime, and, if the instructor chooses, sounds, props, etc., but no words) that will convey the COMPLETE sense of their sentence. This can be done, obviously, in lots of different ways. One person might become the person who is "walking," while others become the environment, or "supporting" characters. The challenge comes in the fact that the group is not allowed to discuss or plan. If each individual in the group decides that he would be the best person to be the "lost child," for example, the group will almost certainly fail to communicate the snowstorm. Each member of the group must evaluate what the rest of the group is doing, and respond by contributing, not in the way that makes himself look best, or in the way that is most "fun," but in the way that best reinforces the effective communication of the group. The most effective groups will therefore be the ones in which everyone is able to sublimate their own individual stardom to the stardom of the group.
Once the group has performed, others in the class try to guess the sentence. The group who performed should try not to react positively or negatively to the guesses until everyone has guessed. In this way, no one changes or suppresses their guess once they know it is "wrong." This is important, because the "guesses" are the best kind of descriptive feedback on the effectiveness of the performance. I often use this as a jumping-off point for discussing the idea of communication, and of responsibility for the messages one sends, whether intentional or not. If the group intended to convey the sentence "I am walking on the deck of a sailing ship," but most of the class guesses "I am walking on top of a locomotive train, chasing a train robber," it is not because most of the class is "wrong" or "stupid." It is, in fact, because what the group actually conveyed, intentions notwithstanding, was this second idea. By knowing what the audience saw, the group can judge how effectively they have communicated.
Obviously, this process is repeated until all groups have had a turn to perform.
The original game I based this one on works the same way, except that the group is given time to discuss, plan, and rehearse their sentence before the "performances." This works very well, too, but it emphasizes different skills. Obviously it doesn't teach improvisation or thinking-on-your-feet as well as my version, and it makes it easier for some group members to sit back and let one or two "leader types" do all the work. However, it results in much more polished scenes, and provides excellent training in directing and pantomime.
You can make either version into an exercise in rewriting and using criticism by having the groups go "back to the drawing board" after the guessing sessions, and revise according to what they have learned from their classmates about which parts worked and which didn't. For a more detailed idea of how this might work, check out Three Words.