Andrew is a drama teacher with over ten years of experience. He has a teaching degree from Huddersfield University in the UK.
Clowning and Performing Arts Warm Ups
The following warm ups could undoubtedly help all manner of people in the performing arts and help release and enjoy the hidden clown within.
They will be especially useful to teachers and students of drama; they could be part of a lesson plan, for example. And they could also be used for pure enjoyment at family parties and the like.
All of them have been developed over time and are unique, so you won't find them anywhere else!
I learnt a new word the other day. Coulrophobia. Irrational fear of clowns. Not sure what the term is for a rational fear of clowns, but any fear of something that's supposed to make life more enjoyable is hard to fathom. It's a bit like having a fear of ice cream or chocolate or holidays. But if we face our fears aren't they supposed to go away?
Clowns in one guise or another have been around for thousands of years. Initially introduced by the ancient Egyptians as royal entertainers they evolved into symbols of chaos and absurdity—to contrast with the divine order of things in the world—in the late middle ages.
When we think of clowns today we picture those white-faced, red-nosed exponents of foolish behaviour in the circus ring or on stage. But is there a clown in all of us? I think so.
Each activity has been given ideal group numbers, resources needed, and further ideas. Feel free to use red noses whenever you like.
Warm Up The Warm Up!
Loosen up a little before the clown warm ups by standing and shaking hands and arms and legs. Follow that with a gentle stretch or two to get everyone in the mood.
Ten Original Clown Warm Ups
1. Chair and Applause
Group Number: 2–20
All you need is a chair for this 'audition' type of activity.
Place a chair in the centre of the room or hall and explain to the group that this is the Do Nothing chair. Any person who sits on the chair, or stands near it or walks by it has to stop and not Do Nothing.
Demonstrate by walking up to the chair (from the side, as if you're coming from backstage) and becoming involved with it. In any way you see fit. Sit down and wave your hands. Sit sideways and do a little dance. Pretend there's something wrong with the chair. Develop an itch. The sky's the limit!
You shouldn't indulge in anything that's
- Likely to injure
When you've finished whatever it is you're involved in—take about 1 minute—you stand, bow and receive applause from the group (the audience) lined up in front of you. Next person to the chair please. And don't forget the applause for each person, no matter what the routine.
Encourage each person to invent a short routine. Speech could be involved as well as mime, gesture and expression. Let each person be as natural as possible. You can expand this activity by asking people to pair up, or triple up if possible. The audience could be actively involved at some stage.
2. Chance Meeting
Group Number: 2–30
Resources: Curtains or blinds or use two doors. Soft floor or mat. Paper or card.
This activity involves two individuals meeting up in various environments and improvising a dialogue or routine.
The group should know beforehand what is expected of them so write down on paper or card the creature or entity or famous person you want them to become. For example, zombie, alien, octopus, tree, a bridge, a horse, a hare, a ghost, a comedian, the hunchback of Notre Dame, Einstein, Caeser Augustus, Superman, Bride of Frankenstein, Queen Elizabeth 1 or 2, Catwoman and so on and give them 1 minute to get into character. Ask each person to enter from either behind curtains or blinds and meet up unexpectedly.
Encourage each person to be flexible, expressive and dramatic. Meeting places could be in a dark wood, at a party, in the cinema, in a desert, at the Madhatter's Tea party, on a street, on the train, at a vending machine. You can suggest the use of simple props—hats, sheets, material, masks—if you want to develop this activity.
3. Park Bench
Group Number: 5–12
Resources: Bench or Two Chairs, Selection of Hats, Plastic Flowers, Basket, Newspaper, Bag or Box, Mobile Phone, Book, Assorted Everyday Objects.
An empty park bench becomes the focal point for lots of different characters.
Position the bench or two chairs side by side against a wall. Begin by explaining to the group that this is the Park Bench, and it sits in the middle of a Park. When the Park opens, different characters are going to enter the Park and make their way to the bench. You can write down the characters on card if you want and distribute these at random to the group. Simple suggestions could be The Reader, The Waffler, The Hard Luck Guy, The Lonely, The Lover, The Drunk, The Joker, The Fool, The Shopper, The Magician, The Gambler, The Hobo, The Silent, The Lost......and so on. Each person will use a prop to help them get into character, and they should all get the chance to sit next to each other on the Park Bench and interact for a short time before leaving. Wait and watch for what develops!
You can create a storyline around this activity and turn it into an improvised mini play, depending on the ability of the group. Alternatively, develop a simple narrative and fit this around the actions/dialogue of those on the bench. Leaving one character on the bench to meet all the others is sometimes a good ploy.
Feed back at the end is often very fruitful and any ideas generated can be used the next time.
4. Circle Duets
Group Number: 10–30
Resources: Enough Space, Music
A circle game with music and posing duos.
The first thing to do is pair everyone up, so they each know who their partner is. Give them a piece of paper or card with the duo written down, for example, Romeo and Juliet (male on bended knee, Juliet standing looking rapturous) Cowboy and Horse (one on all fours, the other on the saddle) To Tango (in classical tango pose, female leaning back) Mystic Yogis (seated in Buddha position in a trance), Hypnotist and Patient (you are feeling sleepy), Tenor and Soprano, Frankenstein and his Monster, and so on. Then ask them to form a circle. Make sure the pairs are split up at this stage, partners opposite each other, and that they all know what they are doing! Tell them that you are going to play some music. As the music plays, the circle starts to 'go round', i.e., people walk in a circle, and when the music stops, the pairs must get together and quickly pose in their various ways.
Alternatively, arrange a circle and name each person as a fruit or vegetable. The first person is an apple, second an orange and so on right round the circle. Remember these different names because you're going to call two out loud, say, mango and cucumber and get them to pose as one of the above. If your group is large enough, you may arrange two circles, an inner and outer, and get one circle to move counter-clockwise to the other when the music starts. Focus on one pair and give them a prize for the best pose, or encourage them to 'perform' their pose for the rest of the group.
Group Number: 1–20
Resources: Chairs or Benches optional for sitting down.
Individuals stand up and exaggerate. Can use mime, gesture and voice.
Have the group sit down. Explain to them that this is an activity in which each person will have to stand up in the performing space and exaggerate a particular action, trait, quality or state. They will do this for about a minute. So have some cards or paper ready or a written list of qualities and traits and allocate one each to every person randomly. You could for example have:
- Being silly, angry, sad, happy, tired, fed up, bored, restless and so on.
- Action of washing, stretching, scratching, discovering, eating, drinking, and so on.
- Patience, impatience, happiness, sadness, frustration, contentedness, itchy, restless, cold, hot, stressed out, giggly, cheeky, puzzled, enlightened, irritated, nostalgic, arthritic, childish, moody, indifferent, spaced out, burnt out, focused, concentration, anxious, concerned.
Try individuals to begin with then progress to pairs and possibly three- or foursomes.
6. Hats and Bad Luck
Group Number: 5–20
Resources: Enough Hats (any type), Chairs or Benches.
Bad luck is everywhere. A fun activity that, with good luck, will leave everyone happy.
Let half the members of the group choose a hat of their own liking. Give them time to get used to the hat then get them to walk not too quickly around the room/hall in a casual sort of way anywhere they like. The other half can be sitting on chairs or a bench with full view of the walkers. Tell everyone that bad luck is coming the walker's way in the shape of bird poop, a loose paving stone, and a lost lottery ticket. When you clap your hands, the walkers have to stop, take off their hats after having been pooped on, clean it off, carry on walking, trip over the loose flagstone, pratfall, get up, walk on then find they've lost their lottery ticket which was in one of their pockets.
While this is going on, those sitting and watching should react to each event. They may laugh, snigger, exclaim, rush to help, ignore or do their own thing as long as it is obvious that they have seen everything.
Swap the groups over after a few minutes or isolate one or two individuals and have them 'perform' a cameo for the rest.
You can also use mime and gesture in a silent version of the same activity.
7. Choir of Nonsense
Group Number: 5–15
A choir with a difference.
Get the group to form a line or semi-circle or circle. They should focus on you, the conductor, as you are going to be leading them through the 'song'. Start with a barely audible whisper and encourage the choir to copy you. Try to get into an early rhythm, if possible. Turn the whisper into a series of varying mouth sounds like tongue clicking, cheek shaking, ba ba ba's, cha cha cha's, me me me's, before smoothly introducing words like:
- Fleas and biscuits, fleas and biscuits, tins of gravy, tins of gravy, waldorf salad, waldorf salad, coffees too cold, coffees too cold, demerara sugar, demerara sugar, oh what a load of vegetables, oh what a load of vegetables, gobbledygook, gobbledygook, rappa rappa rippa roppa rum pum push,rappa rappa rippa roppa rum pum push.
- When you've reached this point, you may want to reverse the process and end up with faint whispers before ending the 'song'.
You could also transform your choir into cats but the end result won't be half as miaowsical.
8. The King's Marmalade
Group Number: 4–10
Resources: Table, Chair, Various Jugs, Mugs, Plates, Tablecloth, Napkins.
The King demands his marmalade for breakfast but has to put up with a very strange team of servants.
The King is up early and ready for his breakfast, but something is missing from his table. The marmalade. His day cannot begin without the marmalade, but where is it, and who can find it? You'll need to appoint a Highly Strung King and three or four servants, amongst them one who always tells lies, one who always speaks nonsense, one who is terrified of the King and one who is always creeping around (flattering) his majesty.
Have each servant enter the King's breakfast room one by one until they are lined up in front of him. The idea is for the King to question each one about the missing jar. After listening to the strange answers, he sends them all out to search for the marmalade. They return with their various stories expressed through their characters. Observe the lies, the nonsense, the fear and the creepiness with glee.
You may want to set up a court should the marmalade not be found, in which case you'll have to appoint a crooked judge.
9. The Magnetic Chain
Group Number: 5–20
Resources: Large boxes or chairs or a table.
Professor Svenson has invented a magnetising machine that can magnetise different parts of the body. Each time he switches it on, a person is drawn towards it by that part of the anatomy he announces!
Choose someone to play the role of the professor. The machine can be any reasonably sized object with a flat surface large enough (or nearly large enough) to 'hold' the size of the group. It could be a couple of boxes, a square of chairs, or a turned table, for example. Once switched on, the professor can alter the magnetic strength and state the part of the body to be magnetised—nose, head, ankle, shoulder, bottom, ear, knee and so on—for each person. When ALL are magnetised, the professor can then REPEL everyone at once by switching to REPEL!
Encourage each person to resist the pull. This could involve clinging onto people/things, expressing fear and horror, screaming, shouting, acting dumbfounded.
10. Clown Relay
Group Number: 6–20
Resources: Chairs, benches, hoops, hats, drums/cymbals, costumes, cones, wheelbarrows, blankets balloons buckets, mops, whistle.
A relay race that can be run indoors or out.
Divide the group into two equal teams of dressed up 'clowns' and demonstrate to them how to get around the obstacle course you have set up. You should aim for about 6 elements depending on space.
Indoors: First clown must set off between two cones, pick up a large newspaper, pick up bucket and mop, jump through 3 hoops, sit down and sing the first line of David Bowie's Starman (Ground control to Major Tom, Ground control to Major Tom, commencing countdown engines on), blow up a balloon and release it into the air, bang the drum or cymbal then rush back and hand over newspaper, bucket and mop to next clown.
Outdoors: Same as above except using a wheelbarrow.
Indoors: clown must walk backwards at all times.
During relay if the whistle blows the clown must stop and perform a dance or song of their choice for twenty seconds.
© 2012 Andrew Spacey