Break the Theatrical Ice

Rituals, Games, and Ice Breakers

Stage Partners Education Director, Maria McConville, shares her thoughts on starting a new school year and how theatre games can help break the ice.

And just like that, another summer break has come and gone. They don’t seem long enough, do they? I always find the beginning of a new school year to be quite exciting, though. There is so much possibility and potential.

Your approach to the first few weeks of class or residency can set the tone for the rest of year. How will you introduce this group to the ideas of theatre? How will you begin to guide them to trusting one another in order to collaborate and create? Do you want your space to be peaceful and focused or bursting with energy?

Establishing a ritual at the beginning and end of each rehearsal or class session has always proven to be a successful tactic when creating a new ensemble. Rituals, Games, and Ice Breakers can bring everyone’s focus into the room, but can also help get a tired group’s energy going or can corral the wildness into a perfect calm. These games can build listening skills, spark creativity, and can help transition students from one task to another.

Once your students become familiar with your ensemble’s rituals, they become an excellent opportunity for individuals to take on a leadership role and lead the game. It’s also an opportunity for students to make mistakes and not be right! Most of their day is spent making sure they have the right answer. With these rituals they can find out something new about the game, themselves, and each other through play and exploration. Who cares about being right anyway?

One ritual that I have found to be popular amongst students and teachers alike is called Hey, Hey What Do You Say? This is a great ritual for the top of a rehearsal. Students can share what they feel, what is bothering them or what they are so very excited to tell the whole group. Students might be surprised about how many students are feeling and thinking the same things as they are. It is also a fantastic way for you, the teacher/director, to take the temperature of your ensemble.


    1. In a circle, as a group, establish a clapping rhythm and chant, “Hey, Hey what do you say? Tell us what you did today!” OR  “Tell us how you feel today.”
    2. The teacher should start and share one thing about their day. “I taught 3 classes this morning.” OR “I’m feeling hungry.”
    3. After the statement, the group claps and chants again, “Hey, Hey what do you say? Tell us what you did today.” The student to the teacher’s right shares.
    4. This moves around the circle until everyone has shared. Try to keep the sharing at a max of 2-3 sentences.

It’s really hard not to react to the thoughts and feelings that are shared. This just drags the ritual out. Perhaps, at the end of the game, the students have 30 seconds to share with their neighbor what surprised them.

Modification: You can use this at the end of rehearsal or session and have students say “Hey, hey what do you say? Tell us what you learned today.” This is a great tool to see if what you taught/rehearsed stuck and to have your lessons and themes repeated back to the rest of the group.

Probably my favorite game to help build trust and focus with a group is


    1. The group stands in the circle in “actor’s neutral.”
    2. The teacher has “The Energy.” To pass the energy to the next person, you must make eye contact and use body language to communicate with your partner.
    3. Clap together!
    4. The student who received the energy now passes it along to the right the same way.
    5. The clap or the energy moves around the circle this way and gains speed. Ideally, it will end up sounding like one person clapping.

There will be mistakes. Students won’t clap at the exact same time, or one may anticipate receiving the energy and clap before it is officially passed to them. These are learning opportunities! Like a hiccup during a live performance, how do we work together to keep the game going?

Rituals are not easy to establish. Quite often the school environment makes it more difficult to give the time to it. But if you can stick to them, you may find your students more productive and present for the time you have to work.

Care to share your favorite ritual or ice breaker below?


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Maria McConville (Education Director) is a native New Yorker who has lived in every borough…yes, even Staten Island. She started out at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and received her BA in Performance from Fordham University at Lincoln Center.  Maria has performed all over New York City from Shakespeare in the Park-ing Lot to Theatre Row and across the country with Theatreworks USA. She is the playwright of Stage Partners’ play #VIRAL and #Censored. She also a member of AEA, Army wife, proud mother, and an inspired teaching artist.