On Stage: Theater Games and Activities for Kids

On Stage: Theater Games and Activities for Kids

by Lisa Bany-Winters

ISBN: 9781613740736

Publisher Chicago Review Press

Published in Entertainment

Are you an AUTHOR? Click here to include your books on

Sample Chapter


Getting Onstage

This chapter is about basic theater words, and it also has games to help you learn them. The words in quotation marks in this chapter, such as "blocking" and "cross," are used by professional actors and actresses in plays on Broadway, in your hometown theaters, and around the world. These words help the cast and crew talk to each other about their jobs. You can use them when you put on plays at school, in your home, or anywhere else.

You can practice your theater knowledge with the games in this chapter. Blocking and Upstage Downstage are games that explain the basics of movement onstage (which means the part of the stage that is visible to an audience, as opposed to "offstage," which is the part of a stage that is not visible and lies behind the scenes).Stage Picture reminds you to never turn your back to the audience. The Directing Game puts you in the director's chair, and Who's Who in Theater explains everybody's important role in creating and performing a play.

You don't need a stage for theater games. Just pick an open space and decide where the (pretend) audience is sitting. Poof — instant stage! For example, if you're in your backyard, the audience can be where the door to your house is, and if you're in your classroom, the audience can be the desks.

And now, let's get onstage and discover the magic of theater.


"Blocking" means where you stand and how you move onstage. "Stage directions" tell you where to go.

"Upstage" is the area on the stage that is furthest from the audience. "Downstage" is the area closest to the audience. "Stage right" is the actor's right, not the audience's. "Stage left" is the actor's left. "Center stage" is in the middle.

Why is it called "upstage" and "downstage"? In the nineteenth century and earlier, theaters had "raked" — or sloped — stages. That means upstage was actually higher than downstage, and the stage slanted down as it got closer to the audience. This made it easier for the audience to see everyone onstage.

In theater, the word "cross" means to walk to a place on the stage. For example, you might say, "Cross the street," while a director might say, "Cross to stage left." In a script, stage directions are usually written within parentheses and italicized or written on the right side of the page. Actors don't read them out loud, but they follow the stage direction instructions. For example, the script might read:


I wonder what will happen if I drink this. (Drinks from the bottle and grows taller.)

However, the actor portraying Alice says, "I wonder what will happen if I drink this," and then performs the action described in parentheses.

Stage directions can be written in the script, or you can get them from the director of the play. The director is in charge of the actors' movement onstage. The director also gets to cast the play. This mean he or she gets to decide who will play each part.

A stage direction or director might say, "Cross from downstage left to upstage right." See if you can do this without turning your back to the audience.

Upstage Downstage

Two or more actors

Learning stage directions is an important first step to staging a play. Here's a great way to learn them so you can understand where to go onstage.

This game is best played on a stage. If a stage is not available, chose a large space and decide where the audience or downstage is located.


* Paper

* Pen or pencil

* Hat (or a bowl if you don't have a hat)

Write the following stage directions on nine separate pieces of paper:

* Upstage right

* Upstage center

* Upstage left

* Center stage right

* Center stage

* Center stage left

* Downstage right

* Downstage center

* Downstage left

Fold each piece of paper and place them all in the hat. Choose one player to be the director. The director pulls out a stage direction from the hat. She reads aloud whatever stage direction she has pulled out of the hat, and all the other players must quickly move to the area that the director calls. For example, if the direction is upstage right, everyone must go to the back of the stage and to the right side when facing the audience. Then the director pulls out another stage direction and says, "Cross to ...," then says the stage direction chosen. The other players cross or walk to that area of the stage, and the game continues from there.

After a few turns, let someone else be the director.

Stage Picture

Three or more actors

This game is best played on a stage. If a stage is not available, chose a large space and decide where the audience is seated. During a play, if the audience clearly can see everything, that means the performers have created a "good stage picture." It's very important to face the audience and to make sure the audience can see everyone onstage. If you are blocking someone from being seen or if someone is blocking you, that's called "upstaging." The important things to remember in this game are

1. Face the audience;

2. Don't upstage anyone; and

3. Don't let anyone upstage you.

Choose one player to be the director. The director tells everyone to walk around. The other players walk around the stage, going wherever they want but staying where the audience can see them. At any time the director calls out, "Stage picture!" and everyone must immediately freeze and strike a pose in a good stage picture. The director can move from side to side in the "house" (which is where the audience sits) to make sure it is a good stage picture from any and every angle.

You are out of the game if, when the director calls "Stage picture," you (a) have your back to the audience, (b) are upstaging someone, or (c) are being upstaged by someone. You must leave the stage. But then you can help the director decide who's out. When he's ready, the director says, "Walk around," and the game continues.

Acting tip for making a good stage picture: If you're downstage (see Upstage Downstage), you may want to kneel down so you don't upstage anyone behind you. And, if you're upstage, you may want to strike a nice tall pose (but be sure you're not right behind anyone).

When Is It OK to Cheat?

A director will often tell an actor to "cheat out." This phrase means to face the audience as much as possible, even if her character is speaking to another character on her side or behind her.

The Directing Game

Three or more actors

One of a director's jobs is to give the actors ideas for how to say their lines and how to move onstage. This game lets you do just that.


* A chair

Pick one person to be the director and have her sit in the director's chair. Everyone else makes up a short scene — one that includes a lot of action. Here's one example:

Two kids are playing in the park, when all of the sudden there is an explosion. The kids faint. Another person screams and runs to get the firefighters. The firefighters come in, put out the fire, and wake the kids.

Once the scene has been created, the director calls out, "Places!" This means everyone goes to his or her place for the beginning of the scene. Then the director calls out, "Action!" and the scene begins. The actors go through the entire short scene, and when the scene is over, the director calls out, "Cut!"

Next, the director assigns each actor a direction, such as, "Slow motion." The director then calls out, "Places!" Once everyone is in place, she calls out, "Action!" and the actors begin acting out the same scene. But this time, they do it in slow motion. The actors continue to perform the scene until the director yells, "Cut!"

The director also can assign two directions at once, such as, "Slow motion, opera style." The actors act out the same scene in slow motion, and instead of speaking or making regular sounds, they sing like opera singers — even for the fire engine or police siren!

The director can even assign three directions at once, such as, "Slow motion, opera style, while pretending to hula hoop." It doesn't take much to make this a wild and crazy game!


* Fast-forward

* Overdramatic

* Doing the chicken dance

* Walking through Jell-O

* Laughing hysterically

* On one foot

* Under water

* Very nervous

* Backward

You can think of a lot more!

Who's Who in Theater

From the first idea for a play to the final applause, there are all sorts of important jobs involved in creating theater. Each job is important and must be completed to create a successful performance. (We'll explore most of these jobs in more detail in chapter 10, "Behind the Scenes.") Here's the rundown on who helps the curtain go up.

Producer: The producer is in charge of the business part of theater. He or she hires the staff and manages all the money, which means paying the staff and making sure tickets are sold. To sell tickets, a producer might advertise in a newspaper or online and make posters for the play.

Director: The director is in charge of all onstage movement other than dancing. He or she casts the show and blocks the play. The director will coach the actors in developing their characters in the beginning of the rehearsal process, and he or she will also give them notes about how to improve the play during later rehearsals.

Actor: Actors are the performers. They memorize their lines and develop their characters. They also get to take bows (called "curtain calls") and get a lot of applause for their contribution to a play production. Boys and girls can both be called "actors." (It's easier than saying "actors" and "actresses" all the time, and it makes everyone equal.)

Choreographer: The choreographer stages all of the dances in the play. He or she works with the director and musical director to make sure the dances will work well in the production; then the choreographer teaches the dances to the actors.

Musical Director: The musical director works with the director and choreographer to see that the music in the play fits in with the acting and the dancing. He or she helps the actors learn the songs for the play and gives them musical instruction. The musical director is also in charge of the musicians.

Stage Manager: The stage manager helps the director during rehearsals. He or she writes down the blocking so there is a plan of movement on paper and so that everyone can remember it. The stage manager writes up the rehearsal schedule, makes sure the rehearsal space is set up for rehearsals, checks all the lighting and sound equipment to make sure it's in working order, and makes certain that anything the actors or director need is available. During performances, the stage manager calls the show. "Calling the show" means telling the light and sound-board operators (see "crew") when to fade or bring up the lights and sound throughout the performance. The stage manager is like a police officer who directs traffic backstage.

Designer: There are different types of designers. Some designers make the sets, costumes, lighting, sound, props, and makeup. First, the designers meet with the director to come up with ways to make a show look and sound just right. Then they design or create their part of the show.

* The set designer creates the scenery — the background or setting for the play.

* The costume designer is responsible for what the actors wear. Costumes are important to help recreate the look of the time period. For example, if the play takes place in a castle in the 1800s, it wouldn't be right for the actors to wear gym shoes.

* The lighting designer creates the lighting, which can set the mood or let the audience know what time of day it is.

* The sound designer is in charge of any sound effects or recorded music needed for the play. Perhaps the play takes place on a stormy night. The lighting designer could make the stage look like nighttime, and the sound designer could create the sounds of the storm.

* The properties (or "props") designer, sometimes called a props master, is in charge of getting or making any items carried on the stage by actors. For example, in The Wizard of Oz, the witch's broomstick is her prop because she carries it.

* The makeup designer makes the actors' faces look like their characters. For example, by wearing stage makeup, young people can be made to look very old. You can also become animals or other characters with the help of makeup.

Crew: During performances, the crew has a number of important jobs. The stage crew changes the set in between scenes, the lightboard operator fades the lights up and down, and the sound-board operator runs the music or sound effects. There might also be a spot-light or follow-spot operator who shines a spot light on the actor who is speaking. These people are usually in the light booth, where the light and sound boards are located.

Understudy: The understudy is like a substitute actor. He or she learns specific parts so that, if an actor gets sick or cannot perform for whatever reason, the understudy can replace the actor.


Twisting Your Tongue and Warming Up

Just like athletes warm up before a game, actors warm up before performing. But they don't just warm up their bodies — they warm up their voices, too. It's very important that the audience understand every word an actor says so they can follow the plot (story) that is being told onstage. Practice speaking loud and clear and enunciating every word. "Enunciating" means pronouncing or clearly saying every syllable and consonant.

This chapter is full of fun warm-ups — some for your body, some for your voice, and some for both!

You can try out Tongue Twisters with your friends or parents. Practice them and see how fast you can say them. Then warm up by shaking it all out with Father Abraham, a song that uses the body as well as the voice.

Energy Ball is an especially good transition game for those times when you need a fun, quiet thing to do. You can pass the energy ball around while waiting in the doctor's office or backstage before your show begins.

Mirrors is a focus activity that gets players concentrating. The Number Game is a focusing and listening game. It's a challenging game for people of all ages.

Warming up and concentrating on one part of the body at a time is called "isolation." The Isolations activity is a great way to stretch out and relax from head to toe. Actors warm up their bodies so that they will be ready to make their bodies become different characters or move freely — whatever a script demands.

Echo helps you learn about projection, which means to speak loudly. This is an important skill for the theater, because the audience always needs to be able to hear and understand you.

Character of the Space is a way to get used to the space you're working in and help you get focused at the same time. In this game, you'll explore your environment while concentrating on different ways to move your body.

Space Walk, Silent Disco Dance Party, Attention!, Little Sally Walker, and Show Us How to Get Down! let kids express themselves through their own kind of dance. Great Minds will show how wonderful it is when "great minds think alike.

Once you warm up with a few of these activities, you'll be ready to get down to the serious work — and fun — of acting.

Tongue Twisters

One or more actors

For stretching out your mouth and getting ready to speak in front of an audience, actors use tongue twisters to warm up. Try the tongue twisters in this activity. As you get better at them, try saying them faster and faster. Think of some tongue twisters of your own.

Start by saying this phrase ten times in a row:

You can find a lot of great tongue twisters in Dr. Seuss books, such as Oh Say Can You Say and Dr. Seuss's ABC.

Unique New York

Repeat this phrase five times (be sure to pronounce the consonants like the d sound in "red," the p sound in "copper," and the t sound in "kettle," "brittle," and "brattle"):

Red leather, yellow leather, copper kettle, brittle brattle, scadadilly dee (clap), scadadilly doo (clap).

Repeat this one five times. Then repeat it five more times while snapping your fingers along with the rhythm.

A knapsack strap, the strap of a knapsack

Excerpted from "On Stage: Theater Games and Activities for Kids" by Lisa Bany-Winters. Copyright © 2013 by Lisa Bany-Winters. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Thanks for reading!

Join BookDaily now and receive featured titles to sample for free by email.
Reading a book excerpt is the best way to evaluate it before you spend your time or money.

Just enter your email address and password below to get started:


Your email address is safe with us. Privacy policy
By clicking ”Get Started“ you agree to the Terms of Use. All fields are required

Instant Bonus: Get immediate access to a daily updated listing of free ebooks from Amazon when you confirm your account!

Author Profile

Amazon Reviews