Warm-up games

Sometimes people feel that if there’s too much stuff flying around, I can’t catch any of it. This is something I like about using the Great Fanzinis with non-actors. It provides an opportunity to point out to people, ‘You don’t actually have to be paying attention to all of it, you just have to be paying attention to the thing that’s going to require you to respond.’ This is what makes warm-up games interesting. They are fun but also full of teaching moments.

— Catherine Graham, TSDC research team lead and artistic director, School of the Arts.

TSDC workshop warm-ups are designed to transition the group from the informal gathering and prepare them to enter a phase of physical creative exploration: After a period of sitting, warm-ups provide participants with a playful opportunity to gently wake up their bodies and get their breath flowing (fun games that generate laughter are great for this!). Warm-ups help participants learn a range of performance-related skills. They can also act as workshop scaffolding that supports participants as they enter the creative devising portion of the workshop. If we think of performance as a language, warm-up games are a playful way of providing participants with an opportunity to practice simple sentences before you ask them to practice something that’s more complex.

TSDC warm-up games serve several purposes:

  • They energize the group.
  • They foster a sense of familiarity with participation in structured collective physical activities.
  • They are a playful and embodied way of learning performance-related skills.

Things to keep in mind when selecting warm-up activities for TSDC workshops:

  • The project’s focus is to facilitate a process that will enable participants to perform a collective created story based in their experiential knowledge to a public audience — The goal is not to train professional actors.
  • Activities need to take into account the physical, emotional, and cognitive capacities and wellbeing of participants.

Menu of warm-up activities

Below is a small sampling from the multitude of warm-up exercises available to theatre practitioners and teachers through a range of theatre workbooks and online resources. The first three are some of our go-to warm-up activities, followed by two examples of ‘scaffolding warm-ups.’ Complete the Image, for example, is an ideal scaffolding warm-up exercise for introducing participants to Image Theatre’s basic method of creating physical still images; and Group Walk (with imagination prompts) is designed to introduce participants to the content of the creative devising process they are about to engage in.

The Great Fanzinis

The Great Fanzinis
Duration: 10-15 minutes
Materials: A bag of soft silly objects
Source: Luc Gaudet of Théâtre Mise-au-Jeu in Montréal.

The Fanzini Family’s juggling ‘rules’:

  1. The Great Fanzinis assemble in a circle and toss a large soft stuffed ball from one person to another until each member of the Fanzini family has had the ball passed to them.
  2. Each time a Fanzini passes the ball, they first say their own name, followed by the name of the person they are passing the ball to: “Catherine Fanzini to Paula Fanzini; Paula Fanzini to Melanie Fanzini…”
  3. The last Fanzini to receive the ball passes it to the first Fanzini to pass the ball.
  4. The pattern created in the first round is repeated until the game ends.
  5. As the game continues, the “Ringmaster” adds additional silly soft objects (dish scrubbers, stuffed animals, folded garden gloves, hair rollers) which the Fanzinis integrate into their juggling pattern. As the senders pass each additional flying object, they continue to announce their name and the name of the object’s intended receiver.


  • The first thing participants learn from playing The Great Fanzinis juggling game is — They are not alone! They are part of a performance family that works together.
  • They learn each other’s names and how to connect through a performative activity.
  • They practice recalling spatial patterns.
  • They are provided with a playful opportunity to embody a character who is confident and deserves attention.
  • They warm-up their bodies and voices.
  • As it inevitably becomes impossible to keep all the silly objects in the air, they learn that the workshop is a space where it’s okay to ‘fail’ — nothing bad will happen.
  • Through laughter, they breathe deeply which both relaxes and energizes the body/mind in preparation for the deep-diving play/work of generating performance scenes.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Tone and posture are very important when introducing this exercise. Using their voice and posture the facilitator should demonstrate how the “Great Fanzinis are a proud people!” as they introduce the Fanzinis juggling rules.
  • Pay attention to participants’ physical and mental comfort and adapt the game accordingly. Variations might include doing the game from a seated position, juggling in slow motion, placing the object in people’s hands instead of tossing them.
  • Introduce new objects slowly so that participants don’t become overwhelmed.
  • After a few initial rounds of passing objects, invite participants to share reflections about what helps them to successfully perform their juggling task.

Zip Zap Zop

Zip Zap Zop
Duration: 5-15 minutes
Source: Michael Rohd

The game:

  1. Invite participants to come together in a circle.
  2. Have everyone to repeat the words “Zip, Zap, Zop” 4 or 5 times in unison.
  3. Ask everyone to imagine that they have a bolt of energy in their hands.
  4. Demonstrate how the game will work by telling everyone that you will pass a bolt of energy out of your body to someone else in the circle (using your hands and voice) and saying “Zip.” Make eye contact with the person you are passing the energy to.
  5. Explain that the person you passed your “Zip” bolt of energy to, will take that energy and immediately pass it to someone else saying “Zap.”
  6. The game continues as the Zip, Zap, Zop sequence is repeated and energy passes around the circle.
  7. Encourage everyone to imagine they are receiving and sending energy with their whole body. Remind them to make eye contact.
  8. Practice game and try to maintain a steady rhythm.


  • Because of its simplicity and playfulness, this a good game to use when introducing the idea of theatre games to non-performers.
  • The game energizes and focuses a group and is a great activity to do after a break or period of sitting.
  • The game generally creates laughter and enjoyment that brings the group together.
  • The game helps to develop the ensemble skills needed to perform as part of a collective.
  • When repeated through different phases of the workshop process, the game provides participants with a sense of collective agency as they see their performance, ensemble, and concentration skills increase.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Can be played standing or seated.
  • As an energy raising activity, Zip, Zap, Zop is usually played at a quick pace. If speed is a barrier to participation, the game can also be played in slow motion while still working to collectively maintain a steady shared rhythm.
  • Messing up can also be fun! If someone says Zop instead of Zap — make a game of it. Have everyone put their hands up in the air while saying Woooga (or some other silly sound) and then start again.


Duration: 10-15 minutes
Source: Unknown

The game:

  1. Invite participants to stand in a circle.
  2. Demonstrate (show and tell) how the game will work by telling everyone that first you will make clear eye contact with someone in the circle and then you will point to them and walk toward them while firmly saying “Go!”
  3. Explain that as soon as you say “Go!” the person you made eye contact with and pointed to will make eye contact with someone else in the circle, point, walk toward them and say “Go!” The person who points and says “Go!” always takes the (vacated) place of the person who they pointed to.
  4. As the game continues, encourage everyone to try out different tones of voice and emotional expressions when they say Go! Encourage them to notice how this affects the way they move.


  • The game energizes and focuses a group and is a great activity to do after a break or period of sitting.
  • The game helps to develop the ensemble skills needed to perform as part of a collective.
  • The game supports participants to project their voices.
  • During the rehearsal phase of the workshop the game helps with character development and with the spatial and relationship awareness that is important to performing.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The game can be played at any speed.

Complete the Image

Complete the Image
Duration: 15-30 minutes
Source: Augusto Boal (adaptation)

The game:

  1. Everyone sits on one side of the room facing a large open ‘playing’ (or performance) space.
  2. Ask for two volunteers and invite them to come into the playing space, stand, face one another, shake hands, and then freeze.
  3. Turn to the group and tell them to imagine that the two people in front of them are an image in the newspaper.
  4. Ask the group to say what they see by completing the sentence, “This is a story about people who … in a City where…”
  5. Unfreeze one of the people by tapping them and ask the other to remain frozen. The person who was tapped leaves the image.
  6. Invite another volunteer to enter the playing space and “complete the image” by placing themself in a new position in relationship to the frozen person.
  7. The two bodies create a new image.
  8. Ask the group, “If this was a story in the newspaper what would the headline say?”
  9. Repeat several times using various prompts.


  • This is a great scaffolding activity to introduce participants to the Image Theatre work they will be doing throughout the performance creation workshop series.
  • Participants get a taste of how they can ‘tell’ (perform) a story by using their bodies.
  • Since the images can be read in multiple ways, it performatively communicates to participants that there are no wrong answers in image work.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Encourage participants to expand their explorations by using the entire playing space.
  • Remind them that their full body is part of the image, including their face.

Group Walk

Group Walk
Duration: 15-30 minutes
Source: Unknown

The exercise:

  1. Prior to beginning the exercise, place chairs at random locations in the workshop ‘playing area.’
  2. Introduce the activity with this imagination prompt: “You are in Hamilton 10 years from now (it’s a better City). Imagine that you’re going to your favourite place to hang out with friends in this much better Hamilton.”
  3. Ask everyone to start walking, but without saying where they’re going.
  4. Encourage participants to notice the other people who are also walking to their favourite places, and to imagine that, like you, they are characters in a play about a better future Hamilton.
  5. Tell them, “When you encounter another character, do an action and freeze for 2 seconds, (like starting a conversation through gesture), then let it go and continue to walk.”
  6. Have participants repeat the encounter action a few times.
  7. Invite them to “Imagine you’ve reached your destination and arrived at a place where you really feel like you belong” and then to sit (or stand) and enjoy this space.
  8. Give participants a moment to sit (or stand) in their place of belonging and then ask them to complete the following sentences: “What I like about this place…” and “It’s so much better than it used to be because…”


  • This is a great scaffolding activity to introduce participants the future-oriented content of an Image Theatre exercise.
  • Participants get to experience how gestures can be used as a way of communicating.
  • Provides participants with a non-verbal opportunity to explore character development.

Things to keep in mind:

  • As in most TSDC workshop activities, prompts are an important element of scaffolding warm-ups.




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Transforming Stories, Driving Change Copyright © by Helene Vosters, Catherine Graham, Chris Sinding is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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