Thespian Lifestyle

Six Powerful Acting Exercises for Teenagers

Whether you’re an actor, drama teacher, or theatre enthusiast, it’s always a good idea to keep a few solid acting exercises in your back pocket. So to start with, here are six acting exercises for teenagers that will help them become better and more confident actors. Before starting, make sure to encourage students to leave their fear and judgement outside of the drama studio and to enter the space with the freedom and curiosity of a four-year-old.

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1. Packing a bag with given circumstances

An acting exercise where students do a simple action and add dimension to it by applying given circumstances.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Creating a character, focus, improvisation, mime and imagination.

Participants: This can be practised alone or in a group.

Time: 10–20 minutes.

You’ll need: A room large enough for students to spread out and find a quiet space in.

How to: The students find a space in the room and sit down on their own. The student imagines that they are packing a bag for an event; perhaps they are going on holiday, on a school trip, to school, to the gym, travelling for a year, or even that they’ve been assigned to a spy mission.

Explain that they can be any character they want, but they must know at least three of their given circumstances. For example, it’s your first day at high school, you’re in your tidy bedroom with everything neatly laid out on the sofa bed, and you have stomach cramps. Or you are leaving home, you are in a rush because you don’t want your parents to find out, you have a headache, and your stuff is spread all over the room because you threw it all over the place in a rage.

Give the students a few minutes to mime packing their bags under a certain set of given circumstances, and then ask them to try again with a brand-new set of circumstances.

2. Changing the tempo

A fun warm-up game where students explore the different speeds people operate at.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Creating a character, imagination and movement.

Participants: This exercise can be done alone or in a group.

Time: 5–15 minutes.

You’ll need: A room big enough for students to walk around in.

How to: Students find a space in the room, and the teacher explains how different people move at different speeds. Ask the students to think of someone they know who moves around at top speed and someone they know who moves around very slowly. Now explain that they are going to move around the room at different speeds, which will vary depending on what number the teacher calls out.

If the teacher calls out number one, students will move at a very slow speed, and if the number ten is called out, they will move at a fast pace. Students then add a character inspired by the speed. If number two is called out, for example, a suitable character might be a person who is at ease on holiday at the beach or a person who isn’t very enthusiastic about going somewhere.

Then, if the number eight is called, the actor might walk around the room quickly as if they are late for a meeting or excitedly on their way to the gates at Disney. Running isn’t allowed in this exercise, even when the number ten is called; a fast walk is the maximum speed allowed. The teacher calls out all the different numbers, asking students to come up with characters and situations for each number.

Ask the students to choose their favourite character and speed from the ones they just experimented with. Some students may choose a slow character, number one or two, and others may choose a fast one, nine or ten. Ask the students to walk around the room as their chosen character. Instantly, the diversity of speeds will create an interesting scene and annoyances, and conflicts emerge as people get in each other’s way.

3. Favourite feature

An acting exercise to encourage the actor to move in new ways.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Creating a character, movement and mime.

Participants: This exercise can be done alone or in a group.

Time: 10–15 minutes.

You’ll need: A room students can move around in.

How to: Start by asking students to walk around the room. Explain that when you call out a body part, the student is to imagine this is their favourite feature about themselves. Let’s say the teacher calls out ‘eyes’; the students will then walk around imagining that their eyes are their favourite feature. Now ask the students to all shake hands with another student and introduce themselves, still with their eyes as their favourite feature.

People’s movements are often influenced by what they like and dislike about themselves. If your favourite feature about yourself is your eyes, you may open them wide, make them expressive while you talk and be keen to make eye contact. Ask the students to move around the room introducing themselves to as many different people as possible with their eyes as their favourite feature.

Then after a few minutes, change the body part so that now the hands are their favourite feature. Carry on like this, changing the favourite feature every so often. Other body parts may include the feet, waist, collarbone, lips and hair. When working with under 18s, it is important to avoid the more sexual areas of the body in this exercise.

Variation: What you don’t like about yourself can also influence movement. A fun variation of the above exercise is to call out a body part that the student can imagine they don’t like about themselves. So if you called ‘lips’, for example, the actor would imagine they don’t like their lips; they might keep touching and covering their lips when introducing themselves, or they might bite their lips or turn their head down slightly to draw attention away from their lips.

4. Status Pairs

A fun acting exercise where students play at being people with different statuses.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Listening, spontaneity, imagination, social skills and improvisation.

Participants: This needs to be practiced in pairs.

Time: 10–20 minutes.

You’ll need: A space where students can stand in a room in pairs and improvise.

How to: Ask the students to get into pairs. Name one in the pair A and the other B. A will start by being a person with high status and B will be someone with low status. For example, A might be a queen and B a servant. Or A could be someone interviewing people for a job and B an interviewee. It is important to note that a job title doesn’t necessarily give someone higher status. For example, A could play the higher status as a student and B the lower status as a teacher, perhaps because it’s the teacher’s first day at school and B is a student testing the teacher’s boundaries. Ask the students to come up with a one or two minute improvisation where A has higher status than B.

Now ask the partners to swap over so that B has a turn being the person with higher status and A the lower status. Examples include: B could be the head cheerleader and A is trying out for the squad. Or B is a cleaner who has just spotted her boss, person A, stealing money from the safe.

Once the pairs have both had a turn at playing with both statuses, ask them to choose the improvisation they thought worked best, then ask them to practice once more and then show these to the rest of the class. The audience can guess which character had the higher status.

5. I’m sorry I …

A fast-paced improvisation exercise perfect for a group warm-up.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Listening, spontaneity, imagination and improvisation.

Participants: This needs to be done in a group of five or more.

Time: 10–15 minutes.

You’ll need: A room big enough to sit in a circle.

How to: The group sits in a circle, and one person – let’s call her Rania – starts by standing up. Rania approaches a person sitting in the circle, and she apologizes for something. Let’s say she approaches Maya. Rania might be very sorry because she has lost Maya’s pet dog, she’s smashed Maya’s phone or she’s cast an irreversible spell on Maya’s brother. Maya can react in any way she likes. She could be sad, cross or maybe even pleased about the accident. What’s vital here is that whatever Rania is apologizing for, Maya goes along with it.

Once the short improvisation comes to an end, Maya will then pick someone else in the circle and approach them to apologize for something. Maya might go over to Vadim, for example, and apologize for getting mud on his coat. But if Vadim asks to pass, that’s okay; Maya can pick someone else. Improvisation must never be forced onto anyone as that could put them off for life. Chances are if Vadim is given a few weeks in class just to watch, in a few weeks’ time, he will join in with an improvisation exercise on his own accord once he’s ready.

6. Adding history to a relationship

An improvisation exercise where two people bump into each other in the supermarket but there is some negative history between them.

Age: 10 plus.

Skills: Improvisation, spontaneity and character building.

Participants: This exercise needs to be practiced in pairs.

Time: 15–20 minutes

You’ll need: A space big enough for students to rehearse a scene in pairs.

How To: Ask the students to get into pairs and explain that they are both going to play a character who is shopping. Ask them to think of at least one given circumstance and one objective to help them create their character. For example, maybe one of the characters is a poor law student at the nearby university (given circumstance) and they are trying to stretch their weekly food shop as far as possible (objective). The other person might be a mother and owner of a cafe (given circumstance) and they need to buy lots of milk as the cafe has run out (objective).

Once the students have come up with a character each, both with one given circumstance and one objective, together the pair can think up a past history between the two characters. Perhaps the student used to work at the cafe, but they got fired; or the cafe owner is an old family friend who the student misses dearly; or the cafe owner once caught this student stealing a piece of cake from the cafe. Once they’ve had five to ten minutes to rehearse, ask them to share it with the rest of the class.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to add more depth to drama and improvisation games to stretch a student’s acting abilites. In my book 100 Acting Exercises for 8 – 18 Year Olds, you can find simple and advanced techniques for the classroom and rehearsal studio.

About 100 Acting Exercises for 8 – 18 Year Olds➝

Theories and techniques of some of the greatest theatre practitioners including Sanford Meisner, Constantin Stanislavski, Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen provide a basis for Samantha Marsden’s original exercises. The exercises have been tried and tested in the author’s own classroom. Focus points used in leading drama schools such as voice, movement, relaxation, character development and understanding text are recreated for a younger student. The book features a foreword by Paul Roseby, CEO and Artistic Director of the National Youth Theatre.

“Here is the book that every drama teacher should have on their shelf” –  Sylvia Young, OBE

“An excellent resource. In it, acting coaches and their young students will find daily inspiration.” –  Robert McKee, author, lecturer and story consultant

“Every young actor that wants a working instrument should do these great, fun and practical exercises” –  Michelle Danner, Artistic Director of the Michelle Danner Acting Studio

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Which of these acting exercises for teenagers are you going to try out?

Or do you have any other great acting exercises for teenagers that you’d like to share with us? Feel free to tell us all about it in the comments below!

Headshot of Samantha Marsden, Author of Acting Exercises for Teenagers.
Author: Samantha Marsden

Samantha Marsden studied method acting at The Method Studio in London. She went on to study Drama, Applied Theatre and Education at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She worked as a freelance drama teacher for eleven years at theatre companies, youth theatres, private schools, state schools, special schools and weekend theatre schools. In 2012 she set up her own youth theatre, which quickly grew into one of the largest regional youth theatres in the country.


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