Silent Games

Aaron Grant once took the stage across from me, making eye contact but planting his feet firmly just beyond the stage right wing. I mirrored him on stage left. He mimed the mimeclassic flirtatious fishing move. I played his fish but broke his line bashfully, the stage’s distance remaining between us. I danced as someone with a club; he played my seal. He loaded his heart into a gun and shot it at me. I loaded my heart into a mortar and launched it at him. He shot me with a bazooka of love. I put love in a centrifuge and then in a bomb that erupted in a mushroom cloud of hearts. He built and climbed into a B-52 bomber than rained love upon me. We both stood up from the rubble and traced out hearts to one another. Never a word was spoken.

How does one teach Silent Games? Read on!

The Johnsons, by their nature of joining one another without fear of where the scene will go, have started many a silent game only to force “sense” though dialogue, afraid the audience wouldn’t follow them otherwise. I wanted to spend a practice focused on silent games and at first wondered how to do it. Then it was obvious: You teach Silent Games the same way you teach Verbal Games.

We did it and it was awesome. I wish I have video running at all times but I am unfortunately neither Big Brother nor Tech Savvy. So here it is in text.

We warmed up, like always, with Crazy 8s, making eye contact with each other person at least once.

Next came Kick The Duck, Red Rover. This is already a gibberish game so making it silent is an easy port. Visit the link for instructions on how to lead the exercise, but here are the four key takeaways that can help find focus and clarity in any group game:

  • Seek symmetries
  • Empower asymmetries
  • Establish rules of cause and effect through repetition
  • And – if you’re ever lost in an improv woods – you can always go back to where you started and Reset

Then we revisited our three typically language-leveraging Rubric Group Games.

To The Ethers were built heightening mime and emotions. The Johnsons built one with progressively taller players petting progressively bigger animals; it ended with their shortest player reaching, jumping, and then getting a chair.

In Help Desk games focused on mime and emotion, the sequence of interactions in silent scenes proved easier to remember and subsequently follow and heighten. The rules of cause and effect were often crisper. Through Tag-outs, Pivots and Walk-Ons, the progression of subsequent players was cleaner without dialogue; such as when multiple players showed up with magic tricks prompting heightened astonishment from the central player. It was easier to see whose emotional reactions to heighten and how to heighten the catalysts to that emotion.

The Johnsons also did Split Screens. In a first beat, one kid builds a sandcastle while another disruptively flies a kite; in the second, a woman does home repair while another disruptively flies a drone; in the third a spaceman repairs a satellite while another disruptively drives the shuttle.

Silent Hey Everybody games were less a sequence than a series of interactions. It had an overlapping organic energy since players weren’t waiting for their turn to speak. It had more controlled chaos than the sometimes stiff verbal-based Hey Everybodys.

We should court chaos in our Hey Everybodys. In our runs, players quickly chose someone to react to. Multiple players ended up reacting to the contributions of a single player, which in turn set up multiple reactions. And everyone had their own thing to Reset to and heighten in series. Given the suggestion “Bus Stop,” The Johnsons quickly took stage and made choices – newspaper guy, anxious lady, watch checker, nose blower and smoker in the back. The nose blower coughed and newspaper, anxiety and watch recoiled toward the smoker who took a long drag. Reset. Repeat. Hilariously, thanks to the silence and the stage picture, the progression made it clear to the audience – and not all players! – that it appeared that the smoker was less offensive than the cougher.

And finally we did a run of Silent Organic Games, remembering to:

  • Seek symmetries
  • Empower asymmetries
  • Establish rules of cause and effect through repetition
  • Reset and restart
  • Build progressions out of heightening fellow players’ mime and emotions
  • Heighten interactions through a progression of catalysts triggering a player’s emotions
  • Finding fun in allowing one cause to have overlapping effects
  • And making interesting stage pictures.

Give silent games a try. At the very least it’s a new lens through which to practice the old pattern mechanics.

Remember always though that our pattern mechanics are tools, not rules. Follow what feels right to you in the moment – even if it’s the opposite of the exercise.

Picture this chestnut:

Player One enters stage silently playing a flute. Player Two enters wailing on a saxophone without making a sound. Player Three noiselessly blows a trumpet. A trombone. Tuba. Cymbals. All silent. All of them at it at once – loudly quiet. Then Player Seven silently enters to place an amp center stage, fiddle with knobs and then stretch the cord toward an outlet. The moment the amp’s plugged in? Cacophony! Beautiful, beautiful cacophony.


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