Scenes from a Bag is one of my most favourite theatre games. It can easily become one of those “takes over the whole class period” games because it’s simple and fun for students. This game is useful for practicing improvisation skills, working with different people, thinking on your feet, and exploring lots of different characters and scenarios in a short amount of time.
Scenes from a Bag is exactly what it sounds like – an improvisation game lovingly adapted from the improv television show Whose Line Is It Anyway. (The original game from Whose Line was called “Scenes from a Hat” but I changed it to “bag” because the first time I played this game in a classroom, we had only a brown paper lunch bag to draw slips from. Whatever works!) Students divide up into pairs. For each pair, draw a slip of paper with a two-person scenario from a bag and have that pair improvise the scene. Each scene needs to have a beginning, middle, and end, and should be timed (between 1-2 minutes) to ensure all pairs get a chance to perform, and to keep the scenes from going on too long.
The key to ensuring that the scene works is to remember the most basic improv rule: “Yes, and…” Whatever is established in the scene is the reality for that scene, and students must go along with it. For example, if one partner says, “Oh my goodness Kate! I can’t believe we’re on an African safari!” the other partner cannot turn around and say, “What are you talking about? My name is Ben and we’re working in an office right now.” That totally kills the scene. Go with whatever is brought to the scene!
Scenes from a Bag can be played as simply as each pair drawing a slip and then performing in turn, but there are lots of variations you can employ in your classroom. If you come up with a great variation, please share it with us! Here are just a few variations to get you started:
- Partner Variations:
- Students choose their own partners.
- Two students’ names are drawn from a second bag to become partners.
- Students divide into two teams. Each team selects a member of the opposing team to perform in the scene.
- Scenario Variations:
- Students choose scenarios prepared in advance by the teacher.
- Students brainstorm a list of scenarios and submit them to the teacher, who selects the best ones to put in the bag.
- Students choose their own scenarios out of the bag.
- Someone else (the teacher or another student) chooses the scenario for the pair.
- Gameplay Variations:
- Partway through the scene, the teacher calls out “switch” and the pair switches roles. For example, if Partner A was playing a dentist and Partner B was a patient, after “switch” is called, Partner B becomes the dentist and Partner A becomes the patient. They then continue the scene.
- One pair starts the scene. Partway through, the teacher calls out “freeze” and another pair “tags in” and finishes the scene.
- One pair starts the scene. Partway through, the teacher calls out “ailment!” and gives one of the partners an ailment to add to their character. For example, the students may be acting out a scene where they are paddling a canoe down a creek. Suddenly one of the partners has a broken arm / comes down with a case of the chicken pox / realizes they are being chased by a shark / etc. (The possibilities are endless!)
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. Check out her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.