I love doing tableau work with kids because it’s a fun, easy way to get them up on their feet and creating quickly. Tableau vivante (or, frozen picture) is where kids use their bodies to create, as it says, a frozen picture. Tableau may not use movement or words — just your body and your imagination. Tableau can be used as a warm-up activity, as a game, or even in productions as a different way to tell a story!
Fairy tale tableau is a game that I use to introduce young actors to the concept of tableau. It has rules and limits, but allows for creativity. It’s a great area to start with if you have a new class or cast.
Fairy Tale Tableau
Divide the actors into small groups (3-5 kids per group) and secretly give each group a fairy tale or nursery rhyme to act out. Some examples might include:
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears
- The Three Little Pigs
- Sleeping Beauty
- The Princess and the Pea
- Hansel and Gretel
- The Frog Princess
Each group must create three different tableaux: Scene 1 is “The Beginning,” Scene 2 is “The Middle,” and Scene 3 is “The End.” The groups will usually try to ask for more scenes — nope! Only three! This forces the group to think of the most important parts of the story.
Each member of the group must be something in the scene. If there are not enough characters to go around, then the extra members need to think creatively as to what they will be in the scene. They could be a set piece, a piece of furniture, a new character… whatever they want! For example, a group of 5 actors is presenting “The Three Little Pigs” — four of the actors are generally going to be the pigs and the wolf, so what is the fifth actor to do? I’ve seen actors be a house, the chimney that the wolf falls down, the pot of boiling water that the wolf falls into… the possibilities are only limited by the actors’ imaginations!
Give the groups a time limit to figure out their scenes, then have each group perform for the other groups. Make sure the group holds each tableau for a minimum of 10 seconds (one-one thousand, two-one thousand…). Ten seconds doesn’t seem like a long time, but try to stay frozen when your foot suddenly starts to itch… or you get the giggles… or somebody burps mid-tableau!
Once the three tableaux are presented, the other groups have to guess what the story is that was just presented.
It’s up to the leader of the game to decide whether or not props and/or costumes can be used. I’ve done this game both with and without props and costumes. I sometimes allow the actors to use “what’s in the room” or “what’s on their person” (i.e. sweaters, hats, and so on) to switch it up.
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