Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Drama Exercises for Singers

Singing is unlike any musical instrument in the world.  Not only is our instrument a part of our body, but we are able to synthesize music and text in one.  For centuries, composers and librettists have collaborated to create opera, zarzuela, operetta and musical theater, heightening the text and music into drama.

Many of my high school students are interested in musical theater and beg to sing excerpts from the latest hit on Broadway; some of my other students have a favorite opera or operetta aria that they have longed to learn. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the semantics and technique of the music while learning a piece, and sometimes the final performance of that piece lacks the drama needed to truly liberate the performer and communicate with the audience.  I have found that infusing my teaching with drama games and exercises gives my students, both young and old, tools to find freedom in the communication with the audience and connection with the character they are playing.

Here are some excellent drama games for your voice studio’s next studio class, workshop or group class. Each exercise is geared toward a different goal, such as group cohesion, warm-up, or improvisation.  Before beginning very extroversive activities, make sure the class is familiar with each other and has developed a small level or trust between each other.

NAME GAME

Game Type: Group Cohesion

Age Range: 10+

Number of Participants: Unlimited

Materials: None

Explanation: A game for the first day of class, so that everyone learns each others’ names.

How to Play: The participants sit or stand in a circle. The leader says, “We are having a party, and everyone has to bring something for the party that begins with the same first letter as their name. My name is JANINE, and I am bringing a bag of JELLYBEANS.” The person to the leader’s right says his name and item, and then repeats the leader’s name and item: “My name is ERIK, I am going to bring EGG SALAD. This is JANINE, who is bringing JELLYBEANS.” Each person in turn introduces himself, announces their item, and repeats the name and item of everyone who preceded them. This means that the last person has to remember everyone in the group, or at least try. The leader should encourage others to help out when participants get stuck on someone’s name or item, with verbal or pantomimed clues.

ANYTHING FABRIC

Game Type: Warm-up

Age Range: 5+

Number of Participants: 5-20

Materials: A piece of fabric, about a yard square, solid color or pattern

Explanation: This game stimulates imagination by encouraging multiple answers for the same question.

How to Play: Participants stand in a circle. The leader shows the fabric to the participants, saying “What could this piece of fabric be? We’re going to pass it around the circle and each of you will show us something that it could become.” The leader demonstrates, turning the fabric into something (for suggestions, see list below) and stating what it is. The fabric is passed from person to person, with each participant sharing an idea. If an idea is repeated, such as “a hat”, the leader asks the participant to be more specific (a turban, a bonnet), thereby making the participant come up with their own idea. If the number of participants is small enough, the fabric can travel around the circle twice. A variation on this game is to limit the ideas to a category such as clothing, or things that are the color of the fabric.

Notes: Here are some of the answers to the question, although the possibilities are endless.

  • A Superman cape
  • A Diaper
  • A Magic carpet
  • A Flag
  • A Picnic blanket
  • A Dog’s leash
  • A Toga
  • A Leg cast
  • A Wig

MIRROR

Game Type: Warm-up

Age Range: 5+

Materials: None

Explanation: Encourages students to hone their focus on their performing peers.

How to play: Two players face each other. They can move (arms, legs, eyebrows) slowly, and the other player will mirror them. This is a game of give and take – no-one should be continuously leading. Keep movements slow. Variations: Do this with the whole group: everyone in a big circle, and everybody mirrors everybody else.

EMOTION PARTY

Game Type: Improvisation

Age Range: 10+

Number of Participants: 5-15

Materials: None

Explanation: The host of a party and the guests acquire the emotional state of whoever enters the party.

How to Play: One person begins, as the host, with a neutral emotion. The first guest knocks or rings the bell (saying “knock-knock” or “ding-dong”), and enters in highly charged emotional state. Emotions that work well with this exercise include, excitement, fear, anger, jealousy, joy, sadness, etc. As soon as the host picks up on the emotion, she “catches” it, and interacts with the guest. The next guest enters with a different emotion, and the host and guest “catch” it. Things get more chaotic as more guests enter, as each new guest causes a different emotion to permeate the party. Once the first guest has entered, the participants can interact with different people until they notice a change in the emotion, and then they must adapt that emotion. The participants should not watch the new guests for the emotional state, rather, they should let the emotion “travel” to them as it will. To make things really tricky, two guests could enter at the same time with different emotions. The participants will be really wired after this game, so plan accordingly to use that energy.

Notes: If this has not been discussed before, it might be a good time to discuss with the participants how to express negative emotions such as anger without hitting any other participants- what verbal and physical things show anger (in performance) without hurting anyone in reality.

PARK BENCH

Game Type: Improvisation

Age Range: 10+

Number of Participants: 2

Materials: A Bench

Explanation: In this game, one person decides the character for both participants. The other participant has to react to this while trying to determine their character.

How to Play: One participant sits on a bench. The setting is a park, and the person on the bench has no character until the second participant enters. The second participant has decided who she is, and who the person sitting on the park bench is. For example, the person entering could decide, “The person on the bench is a famous author, and I am a great fan of their work.” In this situation, the actor would recognize the person on the bench, react to seeing their favorite author in person, ask for an autograph, and tell the author about which books she likes best. The actor on the bench, meanwhile, has to adapt to the situation, developing their character bit by bit. The improvisation ends when one actor exits, hopefully after everyone figures out who they are.

Notes: With younger or less experienced actors, the leader may want to supply the person entering with characters, so that there is no worry about clear characters.

Do you encourage drama exercises in your voice studio?  How do you prepare your students for singing onstage?  Give us your ideas and feedback!

About the Author

Sarah Luebke
Nebraska native Sarah Luebke completed her MM in vocal performance at the University of Kentucky, and her BM in vocal performance at St. Olaf College. Recently she has been seen performing the female lead, Jane McDowell, in "The Stephen Foster Story" and the ensemble of "Big River" with Stephen Foster Productions. Other performances include the soprano soloist of Bach's St. John Passion, La Fee ... [Read more]

2 Comments

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