5 Storytelling Improv Games to Improve Actors' Skills

A great low-stress way to build your acting skills

Students sitting in a theater

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Most theater games are improv-based. They're intended to give actors an opportunity to expand and stretch their skills in a low-risk, no-stress, collegial situation. At the end of a session, however, actors will have improved their ability to imagine themselves in new situations and respond appropriately.

Some improvisational exercises focus on a performer's ability to tell stories "off-the-cuff." These activities are often stationary theater games, meaning the actors are not required to move about very much. With this in mind, a storytelling improv game might not be as entertaining as other more physically dynamic games but is still an excellent way to sharpen one's imagination.

Here are a few easy-to-perform storytelling improv games, ideal for a class activity or a warm-up exercise at rehearsal:

Story-Story

Known by many other names, "Story-Story" is a circle game for all ages. Many ​grade school teachers use this as an in-class activity, but it can be just as fun for adult performers.

The group of performers sits or stands in a circle. A moderator stands in the middle and provides a setting for the story. She then points to a person in the circle and he begins telling a story. After the first storyteller has described the beginning of the story, the moderator points to another person. The story continues on; the new person picks up from the last word and tries to continue the narrative.

Every performer should get several turns to add to the story. Usually the moderator suggests when the story comes to a conclusion; however, more advanced performers will be able to conclude their story on their own.

Stagecoach

Somewhat similar to "Story-Story," this game involves collaborative story-building. It is also a chair-swapping and memory game, all at the same time.

Begin the game by sitting in a circle, with the moderator standing in the middle. Their task is to point at each sitting person and receive suggestions for items or people they would find on the Stagecoach—a gun, a sheriff, moonshine, and so on.

The game then proceeds as the person in the middle starts telling their story, including as many of the suggestions as possible, while making the plot coherent. To indicate that you just made use of one of the suggestions, spin around three times.

The main active piece of this game is that at any given point someone may and should shout "Stagecoach." When that happens, everyone has to swap chairs and the person from the middle tries to find a spot too, leaving a new storyteller in the center.

This improv game is over when all the initial suggestions have been used or when all the characters' perspectives have been described. It is a very fun game. And of course, you can change the title according to your imagination—Airplane, Castle, Prison, Fairground, etc.

Best/Worst

In this improv activity, one person creates an instant monologue, telling a story about an experience (either based upon real-life or pure imagination). The person begins the story in a positive way, focusing on terrific events and circumstances.

Then, someone rings a bell. Once the bell sounds, the storyteller continues the story, but now only negative things occur in the plot. Each time the bell rings, the storyteller shifts the narrative back and forth, from the best events to the worst ones. As the story progresses, the bell should ring more quickly. (Make that storyteller work for it!)

Nouns From a Hat

There are many improv games that involve slips of papers with random words, phrases, or quotes written on them. Usually, these phrases have been invented by audience members. "Nouns From a Hat" is one of these types of games.

Audience members (or the moderators) write nouns on a slip of paper. Proper nouns are acceptable. In fact, the stranger the noun, the more entertaining this improv will be. Once all of the nouns have been collected into a hat (or some other container), a scene begins between two improv performers.

About every 30 seconds or so, as they establish their storyline, the performers will reach a point in their dialogue when they are about to say an important noun. That's when they reach into the hat and grab a noun. The word is then incorporated into the scene, and the results can be wonderfully silly. For example:

BILL: I went to the unemployment office today. They offered me a job as a... (reads noun from the hat) "penguin."
SALLY: Well, that doesn't sound too promising. Does it pay well?
BILL: Two buckets of sardines a week.
SALLY: Maybe you could work for my uncle. He owns a... (reads nouns from the hat) "footprint."
BILL: How can you run a business with a footprint?
SALLY: It's a Sasquatch footprint. Oh yeah, it's been a tourist attraction for years.

"Nouns from a Hat" can involve more actors, as long as there are enough slips of paper. Or, in the same manner as "Best/Worst," it can be delivered as an improvisational monologue.

Oh, What Happened?

This is an improv storytelling game more suited for older participants. It helps students develop an awareness of the importance of multiple points of view.

The game begins with the moderator telling and acting out a story from their own point of view, including multiple characters and open ends. The catch is that by the end of the story, the storyteller has to die and their turn is over.

The next person picks another of the characters that were already mentioned and tells the story from their perspective, ending it again with that character's death. The game goes on until you run out of characters, your set time, or when everyone had their turn.

Guided Visualization

While this may seem like an unusual type of improv game, a guided visualization can stimulate students' imagination and give way to some unexpected stories.

Have your participants close their eyes and prompt them to imagine various things, people, trips, places, events. Don't specify anything, besides saying something like, "You find yourself in a place that feels safe. Look around. What do you see? Is it inside or outside?"

Feel free to employ a variety of questions, asking about other senses, such as hearing, smell, and so on. Or, make your own set of prompts adapted to the group you are working with.

After a few minutes of this visualization, set a timer for each person to share their story—30 to 60 seconds per person. Once the time is up, even if the speaker is in mid-sentence, the next person shares their story.

You can also vary this activity but inviting the participants to work in teams and combine their stories, then share with the larger group.

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Bradford, Wade. "5 Storytelling Improv Games to Improve Actors' Skills." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/storytelling-improv-games-2713209. Bradford, Wade. (2020, August 26). 5 Storytelling Improv Games to Improve Actors' Skills. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/storytelling-improv-games-2713209 Bradford, Wade. "5 Storytelling Improv Games to Improve Actors' Skills." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/storytelling-improv-games-2713209 (accessed August 2, 2021).