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Tableau Scenes from a Book Come to Life

This exercise was inspired by one of my favourite theatre games, Tableau Scenes from a Book. If you haven’t tried that game with your students yet, do that first!

In the original version of the game, students were tasked with re-creating a photograph in tableau (frozen picture) format. In this version of the game, students start with re-creating the image in tableau. Then, they’ll take that a step further and use the tableau image as a jumping-off point to create their own short acting scenes in their small groups, without any previous directions or context from the source of the photograph. What do the students think is going on in the photo? What stories will they bring to life? Let’s find out.

What You Need:

  • A book of photos of people, like a souvenir show program book (my favourite is the annotated script book of Peter and the Starcatcher as it has lots of photos of the original cast)

    A scrapbook album or selection of photographs of groups of people (photos can be black and white or colour, modern or vintage)

    A collection of magazine or catalogue tear-outs with photos of people.

  • Helpful Hint: You may wish to make copies of the selected images for each group, so they can refer to it without having to keep coming over to you.


1. Divide the class into small groups. Each group needs to have the same amount of people as in the photograph.

2. Select an image that has the same number of people as students in each group. All groups will use the same photo. If you know the history/background/story of the photo, do not share it with students in advance.

3. Each group will start by replicating the photograph in tableau and hold the pose for five seconds. Then, they will unfreeze and create a scene no longer than two minutes that is inspired by the photograph. The scenes will likely end up being “work in progress” scenes, with a basic outline and some improvised elements during the performance. We aren’t expecting polished scenes, but rather focusing on quick, creative thinking, teamwork, and evidence of effort.

4. Scene requirements:

  • Each student must have at least one line in the scene.
  • Students need to make choices about who their character is, and what their relationship is to the other characters. These choices need to be evident somewhere in the scene.
  • Scenes must have a clear beginning and end.
  • The beginning of the scene needs to make sense with the starting poses from the image, but from there, it can go in whatever direction the students wish.

5. Groups will have 10 minutes to prepare and rehearse their scene. They will need to work collaboratively to have their scene ready to go in time. If you wish, you can assign one student in each group to be the director. They’ll still participate as a performer in the scene, but will be the deciding vote in decisions if the group can’t come to a consensus.

6. Once the 10 minutes have passed, each group will present their scene to the rest of the class. As with the rehearsal, each group will start in the tableau replica of the image for five seconds, and then move into their scene. Even with the scenes being “work in progress” scenes, students should still remember theatre basics such as clear diction, good volume, and body awareness (cheating out towards the audience, clear character postures and movements, etc.).

7. If you wish, after all the scenes are presented, have a discussion with your class. Some topics you might wish to explore include:

  • Which presentation intrigued you the most?
  • Which presentation did you think was the funniest?
  • Which presentation would you like to see developed into a longer scene or a full-length play?
  • Which presentation do you think is most related to the content/context of the photograph?
  • … and WHY?
  • If you know the history/background/story of the photo, share it with the class now. Which group’s presentation was closest to the real context of the image?
  • Compare and contrast the portrayals of each character in the image. How were they similar? How were they different?
  • What was one moment from any of the presentations that surprised you?

8. Optional: Repeat the exercise with a different image. You may also wish to swap out the group members to mix things up.

9. At the end of class, each student will complete and submit an exit slip (found below).

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at

Click here for a selection of exit slip questions.
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