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1 November 2021

4 socially-distanced ensemble building activities

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Alesha Tatum-Howe

Head of Theatre, Digital Theatre+

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One of the first things teachers do with a theatre class or production company is create an ensemble. This involves building communication, trust, collaboration, and respect. There are loads of games and activities which do this, but most involve close contact. So, how do you build an ensemble and remain socially distant? Why not try some (or all) of the activities below. 

Trust Walk

This activity builds clear communication, active listening, and trust. Using your classroom, stage, or another open space, designate the boundaries of the playing space and randomly lay out obstacles – toys, pillows, paper, etc. within them. 

Working in pairs, one student is blindfolded and their partner must stand to the side and verbally navigate them through the space while avoiding all obstacles and keeping them within the given boundaries. Have students take it in turns to be blindfolded and to navigate. To make it more challenging, provide a time limit to get across the space. 

Product X

This activity focuses on collaboration, compromise, and working towards a common goal within a given time limit (not unlike working on a show!).

Divide the class into production companies/advertising agencies and give the class a specific time limit to work with – 20-30 minutes should be enough. The team must come up with a new product that does not exist and create and present a 15-30 second commercial for it.

Decisions to be made: 

  • What is the product?
  • What does it do? 
  • What problem does it solve?
  • Why do consumers need it?
  • What is it called?
  • Who is the target market? - this will set the tone for the type of commercial you make

Once those decisions have been made, the team will need to create:

  • A sample product to appear in the commercial
  • A commercial jingle 
  • The commercial itself

All decisions and preparations must be completed within the time limit. Once the time is up, presentations begin.

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Mountain Survival

This activity builds collaboration, communication, and respect through compromise. You can complete this activity as one large group, or you can break out into two smaller groups.

Scene: You and your group are stranded on a snow-covered mountain in winter and a storm is moving in. Each person is wearing clothing not meant for these harsh conditions (no coats), as you did not expect to be here. You don’t know exactly where you are, but you are definitely not near civilization. Apart from what you are wearing, you have nothing else except a stockpile of items to choose from. The group can only carry ten items, and you have a limited time to choose what you need. The aim is to survive as a group until you are rescued.

You have five minutes by yourself (no consulting with others) to write down which items you want to choose. You will then have 15 minutes as a group to agree on the final list. 

Available items:

  • Notebook and pencil
  • 4 boxes of 75 matches per box
  • 1 crate of bottled water (2.5 gal/12 litres in total)
  • 1 large roll of plastic sheeting (9ft x 6ft/3m x 2m)
  • Small toolbox (containing a hammer, screwdriver set, adjustable wrench, large pen knife, hack saw)
  • Box of signal flares
  • Small basic first aid kit (containing bandaids, bandages, antiseptic ointment, small scissors, pain-killer tablets)
  • Sewing kit
  • Whistle
  • Transistor radio
  • Large full aerosol can of insect killer spray
  • Small half full aerosol can of air freshener
  • 1 box of 36 chocolate bars
  • Shovel
  • Small hand-held axe
  • 1 box of 24 bags of peanuts
  • Box of tissues
  • Tri-band mobile phone with half charged battery
  • Nylon rope (65ft/20m)
  • Laptop computer with unknown software and unknown battery life
  • Inflatable 4 person raft
  • Compass 
  • Flashlight with spare batteries
  • Box of 50 night-light 6 hour candles
  • Bag of 6 large blankets

The Floor is Lava

This activity builds collaboration and communication. Divide the class into teams of 4-6 people per team (you can add more if you are working in a large space).

Materials: 

  • Stepping stones – these can be any found items such as carpet squares, poster board, cardboard, or any other miscellaneous items that aren’t slippery and students can step on - they can be various sizes.
  • Islands (optional) – again, these can be found items, but you must be able to differentiate them from the stepping stones. 

Object: to get the entire team from start to finish losing the least number of stepping stones and team members in the process.

Process: Designate a starting and ending point. Teams are given one stepping stone per person and one island for the team (you can increase or decrease these numbers as you choose).

Use the stepping stones to cross the ‘lava’ to get the everyone across without losing any stepping stones or team members to the lava. You must maintain some kind of physical contact with each stepping stone. This means you cannot lay it on the ground and let it go before stepping on it, and you cannot step off of an object before a team member has made contact with it.

If a stepping stone is left unattended, meaning no one has any sort of physical connection to it, that stepping stone is lost to the lava and removed from the playing area. The team must continue with one less stepping stone. If any team member steps off of a stepping stone into the lava void, they are lost to the team as is their stepping stone. Both are removed and the team must begin again without the player or the stepping stone.  

Stepping stones can be picked up and passed forward to be used again as needed to continue across the space. To keep socially distant, two players cannot share the same space, players and stepping stones must remain the relevant distance from each other (3 feet, 5 feet, etc). If any team member comes within your designated safe distance, the entire team is sent back to start over again. Stepping stones cannot be slid, scooted, or otherwise moved with the feet. They can only be moved by being picked up and set down again. 

Islands (optional) are safe havens - they do not need to be in physical contact with a team member at all times, but once they are put down, they are fixed and cannot be moved again. To make things more challenging, assign a time limit to the island. It can only be in position for the given time before it is lost to the lava, so it must be used wisely.

This game can be played one team at a time or you can make it a competition by seeing which team can finish the fastest, losing the least number of stones and players. In order to keep too many players from being in the space at one time, have each team take it in turns and time them. The fastest time wins!

Ensemble building can be equal parts fun and frustrating. It takes takes time, patience, and compromise. After completing an activity, why not take a moment to reflect on how it went. What worked well? Which moments were challenging? How did you overcome adversity and reach a compromise? Reflecting on how we work in a group is essential to building communication, trust, collaboration, and respect. I hope these activities help you build a strong ensemble.