They’re short. They’re accessible to all ages. They have great messages.
So when my time came around to put an activity together for the ancient history homeschool group that my family participates in, I thought doing something with Aesop’s fables would be a lot of fun.
The ages of the kids in this group range from eleven to two. With that age spread, I still wanted to do something interactive for everyone but that would still be a valuable learning experience for each kid. So I decided to do impromptu theater.
Impromptu theater is when a group of people perform a story with little to no rehearsal time. Usually a narrator is included to help everyone remember the plot and move the story along. Props and costumes are kept to a minimum (we didn’t use any at this activity).
I love impromptu theater because it works for all ages. And I’ve done it successfully with just my family of four, as well as large groups of thirty (although the larger groups require more adult supervision). It’s a fabulous way to help kids remember plots, characters, and messages from the stories that they read. And it’s a lot of fun.
Here’s how to do impromptu theater:
- Choose the story or selection that you want to perform. Shorter segments work best for younger children and larger groups. Stories with fewer characters are easier to work with–although kids don’t seem to have too much difficulty taking on multiple roles if the plot is more complex.
- Read through the story several times so you are familiar with the basic plot and characters. Because there are so many potential unexpected moments, you want to know the material well enough that you can compensate on the fly if necessary.
- At the beginning of the activity, explain how impromptu theater works and how the kids will get to participate.
- Read the story out loud to everyone who is participating. This gives them a chance to hear the entire plot and to start to think about which characters they want to be. When you are done reading, you may want to point out any key points that you hope they will focus on. (If you have a large group and multiple stories, break the kids into groups and then have the story read to only the group that will be performing it.)
- Have each kid choose which character they want to portray. This is often the trickiest part of the entire experience. Inevitably, you’ll have multiple kids want to play one character, while other characters are left unclaimed. Sometimes you just have to make assignments, but sometimes you can also be flexible. (My family performed “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse,” but in our version there was a cat AND a dog that tried to eat the mice!)
- If you have time, take a few minutes to decide how you want to portray the story. This step is not always necessary–particularly if the narrator can direct what happens while the action is going on. However, it is often a good idea to give everyone a few minutes to decide on what they want to do. A five-minute run through will help those with stage fright feel more confident.
- Laugh and have a good time while you perform. There are inevitably going to be some funny moments–and some goof ups. They’re all part of the experience!
[Note on the special role of the narrator: A narrator simplifies the process of telling a story. He (or she) stands to the side of the performers and keeps the plot moving along. Because he talks directly to the audience, he can explain the setting, what the characters are doing, or information that happen in between scenes. He can either read the story or retell it from memory. In many cases, he will explain everything in the story except the actual dialogue of the characters. By using a narrator, just about any story can be turned into impromptu theater.]