An Acting Exercise for Opening up Actors: The Name Game

An acting class can be frightening.
An acting class can be frightening.

One of the most difficult goals to achieve with an acting class designed for beginners is to open them up to taking risks. In essence, you’re trying to get each member of the class to be open enough to put themselves on the spot by doing things for which they might be judged negatively.

One problem for the instructor is that you may have a class where people are there for various reasons. Some may simply want something different to do, others may be more serious about acting, and there may be those to trying to use the acting class to open themselves up.

You can set a tone that is supportive, yet, also critical. You can offer them positive feedback, as well as information on how they might improve. But, still, the fact is when you walk into the acting class filled with new people, no matter what their goals may be, you always have to remember that most if not all are frightened, intimidated, and confused.

Here is one warm up that gets the class to take small risks, opens up communication, and requires active observation and immediate interpretative skills.

Passing the Gesture

This is a good example of a gesture that can be successfully passed.
This is a good example of a gesture that can be successfully passed.

Passing the gesture is a basic warm up exercise. Have the class stand in a circle. The instructor is part of the circle. The exercise starts with some choosing a simple gesture, such as a salute, turning to the person to their right and performing the salute. The person to their right watches them and then takes that gesture, and preserving it as much as they can, they pass it to the next person to their right. The gesture is passed from one person to the next until it has been around the circle twice.

Once it has been around the circle two times, someone may change the gesture. When they do so, they turn to the opposite direction (in this case it would be to their left), instantly create a new gesture, and pass that. The person to their left sees it, turns and passes it on to the next person and so forth. Again, it travels around the circle twice and then anyone can change it, reversing the order.


  • Gestures should be big enough so that people can see them
  • Gestures should be uncomplicated
  • Encourage students to use sound with their gesture
  • Coach them towards creating a seamless movement of passing a gesture

As the gesture is passed note aloud to the class if they are being clear in movements, if they are taking the gesture and actually passing it on or anticipating taking the gesture, if they are carefully observing what is being passed and keeping it as close to what they saw as possible.

Eventually the class will open up and take more risks.
Eventually the class will open up and take more risks.

Eventually you would like to see the gesture being passing in a smooth and flowing manner, quickly but without being rushed. When it’s change, it should be done without hesitation and the flow should simply continue but this time in the opposite direction.

This is an exercise that you can use as a warm up over numerous weeks. As the class works on it, they will improve and eventually, it will be as if they are acting as one while they perform individual movements, carefully observe, take small risks, and learn to communicate with their fellow classmates.

Creating Trust

It’s important to create trust in the acting class. That’s does not mean holding back on criticism, coaching, or insights, but it does mean making sure that everyone knows what to expect, that your critical eye is geared towards helping your students grow, and that you’re able to give them feedback that will allow them to see the positive as well as things on which they have to work. This basic exercise can help develop trust, as you coach students and they see themselves and the class grow.