Middle School Mafia

When I subbed a Middle School Theater Arts class recently, the students played an improv game called “Mafia.”

Middle School Theater Arts students explore the tools of the actor: the body, voice, and emotional and sensory experience. They strive to bring these tools to bear on the work of the actor on stage. Emphasis is placed on the work of the performance ensemble: respect, trust-building, timing, and awareness within the group. The efforts of the individual actor and the work of the ensemble culminate in performances that give students a chance to experience both the rehearsal process and a theatrical event. Each class starts with drama gamed.

Improvisation is the the ability to take existing pieces and put them together in a new combination for a purpose. Improvisation teaches students how to make decisions quickly, how to keep calm in a fast and emotional situation as well as how to think, act and feel simultaneously.


improvise — 1 : to compose, recite, play, or sing extemporaneously. 2 : to make, invent, or arrange offhand 3 : to make or fabricate out of what is conveniently on hand

Improv teaches listening skills. Improv uses the technique ‘Yes, and….’ when responding to someone, which means you accept their idea, whatever it is and build on it rather than rejecting it. Improv is all about teamwork and is built on interactions between a pair or group of people. Students learn to work together to create something greater.

They learn ways to incorporate a variety of ideas into what they are doing. The practice helps kids learn to make eye contact, speak assertively, use polite language, and listen to others. Drama games gives students a safe space to practice using social skills, a difficult feat for many students who lack social skills, are shy, have social anxiety, or have simply had bad experiences in the past with social situations.

For some students, ‘failure’ is the real F-word. They want to be perfect at everything and when they aren’t their world starts to fall apart. In improv everyone fails sometimes. Sometimes things turn out strange, and everyone has a good laugh. A little failure is ok, and experience with failure teaches kids to embrace failure as a part of learning.

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