New Victory Arts Break: Spontaneous Storytelling

Storytelling inspiration can come from anywhere—the world around you, the conversations you overhear, even your own memories. In this Arts Break we’ll explore the art of storytelling through spontaneous games the whole family can gather to enjoy, from your cousins around the dinner table to your grandparents in the living room. Ready, set, story!

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New Victory Arts Break: Spontaneous Storytelling

Some of the videos in this Arts Break were filmed at the New Victory Theater. We acknowledge that New Victory resides on the seized homeland of the Lenape people and the intertribal territory of many First Nations. We celebrate and pay deep respect to all Indigenous peoples, past, present and future.

Storytelling Surprise!

When you create a story from scratch, sometimes it’s helpful to have specific boundaries to play within. This can make it more fun and accessible for you and your audience. But how can we stay specific while keeping the storytelling spontaneous? Let’s figure it out together in a game we call Storytelling Surprise!

Materials: A piece of paper and something fun to write with, or you can use our Storytelling Surprise template!

Step One: Decide who will be performing and who will be writing. If you’re writing, you can see the paper, and you’ll also be in the audience. If you’re performing, you’re not allowed to see the paper yet!

Step Two: We’re going to brainstorm ideas for a story in four specific categories or acts.

  • Act 1: Introduction
    • Choose a setting, a character and something your character is going to do.
  • Act 2: Rising Action
    • The journey begins! Introduce an obstacle for your character to overcome.
  • Act 3: Climax
    • Something super important just happened!
  • Act 4: Falling Action and Resolution
    • A happy ending. Phew!

Brainstorm three or four possible examples for each act and write them down. You’re not connecting ideas together into a single story yet. In fact, the more disconnected or random your choices are, the more amusing your final story will be! Here are some examples we chose for each act:

Storytelling Surprise template with sections for Introduction, Rising Action, Climax and Falling Action/Resolution

Step Three: Create your surprise story! The writer should use a pen or pencil to tap each example in the first act, cycling through the list one item at a time, over and over. When the performer says “Stop!” wherever the pencil lands becomes the choice for that act of your story. Circle it and move on to the next act until all four are completed.

Step Four: Now it’s time for the performer to act out their chosen story! Arty, Aleks and Mana from the New 42 Youth Corps created a surprise story about two ushers encountering Mrs. Leslie Carter, the ghost who haunts the New Victory Theater!

How did it go?! Were you able to get through each act and tell your story? How did each act fit together?

Playful Performance Art
A little bit of planning plus some playful randomness can result in a one-of-a-kind performance! Let’s apply this principle to a more advanced form of storytelling. Follow along with theatermaker and New Victory Teaching Artist Lauren Sharpe as she approaches the enigmatic and task-based world of performance art through play, using a special device you have seen before!

Lauren used a decider (sometimes called a fortune teller) to introduce the element of play into her and her friends’ performance art happenings. To create your own performance art decider, grab a piece of paper and follow along with Emily from Inner Child Fun.

On the inside of your decider’s flaps, write down eight different options for your performance. You can create your own or use the bank below for inspiration. If you start running out of space when writing, feel free to reduce your ideas to just a few keywords!

  • Waddle like a penguin.
  • Pretend to eat a never-ending with lots of extra Ps
  • Run and jump over hurdles in place.
  • Pretend that you are in a clear glass box. Use imaginary tools to get yourself out!
  • Pretend to climb up a tall rope with something amazing at the top!
  • Pretend to be a ballerina, but the floor is slippery.
  • Eat an imaginary meal with only your hands.
  • Drink something that turns you into a friendly (or not so friendly) giant.

Great work! Now you are ready to use this special decider to create a spontaneous piece of playful performance art just like Lauren, Siobhan and Melissa.

Memory Play

There are stories that we tell over and over and that never get old. Even when everyone knows how the story ends, the fun is in the telling! In this next activity, we’ll focus on shared memories and how we can dramatize them with family and friends.

Step One: On small pieces of paper, write down specific memories you have with your family and friends. For example:

  • When your aunt played ping-pong using their hand as the paddle.
  • When your cousin dressed up as a monster and scared everyone by groaning from the backyard.
  • When your sibling fell in a river during a hike and had to finish the hike wearing a sweatshirt as pants.
  • When you all played hide-and-seek, but everyone forgot to find your uncle.

Step Two: Fold up your papers and place them in a bowl or hat in the center of the room.

Step Three: One at a time, come up to your performance space and take one piece of paper. In the span of 15 seconds, act out what you see on the paper. Add dialogue, and physicalize the memory in as serious or silly a way as you want! If you’re in the audience during the performance, guess what memory is being performed.

Challenge: Can you try to perform the memories without speaking? Here’s Arty acting out the time he, Mana and Aleks all played the game “Mafia.”

We hope you’ve enjoyed adding the sparkle of spontaneity and the festivity of family games to your storytelling in this Arts Break. Keep sharing those stories, and remember that, if you’re having fun, your audience will have fun, too!

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.