Society & Culture & Entertainment Education

"What Are You Doing?" - A Theatre Game that is a staple in the field

Most seasoned Theatre educators know this game. For those who do not, here is a detailed explanation of how to give directions for its use in classrooms.

Provide students with an overview of the activity. Explain that the name of this game is “What are you doing?” and its purpose is to give participants practice in listening, observing, taking cues, maintaining concentration, and thinking.

Model the process

1) Invite students to stand with you shoulder-to shoulder in a circle. Have each student to look at the person to his or her left. Explain that this is the person to whom they will each ask the question “What are you doing?”

2) Model by miming a simple activity that can be done in place, like snapping your fingers.

3) As you mime your simple activity, ask the student to your right to ask you: “What are you doing?”

4) Continue miming and respond by identifying not the activity you are miming (“snapping my fingers”) but a completely different activity like “throwing a ball.”

5) Then instruct the student who asked the question (“What are you doing?”) to mime the simple activity you named (throwing a ball) notthe activity you are currently miming (snapping your fingers).

Demonstrate further with some more examples

6) The student to the right of the student now “throwing a ball” asks that student (who is on his or her left) “What are you doing?” The ball-throwing student must continue to mime “throwing a ball” while answering with a completely new activity like “combing my hair.”

7) Continue modeling how this theatre game works with three or four students:

1: (Mimes combing hair)

2: “What are you doing?”

1:  “Making a phone call.”

2: (Mimes making a phone call)

3: “What are you doing?”

2: “Smelling a rose.”

3: (Mimes smelling a rose.)

4: “What are you doing?”

3: “Practicing ballet.”

8) Each student stops the miming when the next student begins his or her mime.

Involve the entire group.

1) After the modeling/teaching portion of instruction, ask each student to think of one simple activity that can be done while standing in the circle. Warn them to keep their activities simple, quickly do-able, and not overly physically challenging (like “Doing 10 push-ups!”) Tell them to hold their ideas in their minds for later use in the game.

2) Conduct the game by miming a different simple activity and progress around the circle so that each student gets a turn.

Pause to reflect on the activity. After a round or two of the game, ask participants to reflect on their work with these questions:
  • What is challenging about this activity?
  • What contributes to success in this activity?
  • When we resume this activity, how can we work more effectively?

Advanced Activity Option

Once students have practiced “What are you doing?” and reached a level of proficiency, raise the stakes and require them to maintain an established beat like:

“What are you doing?” (beat) (beat)

“Brushing my teeth.” (beat) (beat)

“What are you doing?” (beat) (beat)

“Writing a letter.” (beat) (beat)

“What are you doing?” (beat) (beat)

“Walking a tightrope” (beat) (beat)

“What are you doing?” (beat) (beat)

“Rocking a baby.” (beat) (beat)

Theatre Skills Addressed in this Game: Taking Direction, Observation, Concentration, Cooperation, Adjusting Body and Voice, Following cues

See this article for more Theatre Circle Games and Ice Breakers.

Here's a list of articles that provide detailed directions for Theatre Games, Improvs, and Warm-ups.

You may want to begin with this theatre warm-up that works well with large groups: “Bah!”

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