New York Improv Theater: FIVE Warm Up/Group Circle Games

New York Improv Theater treats every class like a rehearsal and every rehearsal like a class. Whether learning Improv for the first time, or rehearsing with seasoned professionals these warm up games get the group working and playing together.

Bring one of our teachers to introduce Improv to your corporate team, or school group. Then play these games every day to continue building skills and bonds. Simply playing these games builds focus, creativity, critical thinking, communication and presentation skills. Develop better teams, leadership, sales and service.

Note: The #1 skill in Improv, life for that matter, is listening. Listen with your eyes. Listen with the full body, and send energy to your team in the same manner, connecting on a deeper level (aka empathy)

FIVE Circle Warm Up/Group Improv Theater

1. Zip Zap Zup

One of the most famous games of all time, ZIP ZAP ZUP breaks communication and passing energy down to the most basic elements. Like all warm up games, the most important element is listening and following the energy and flow with your eyes.

Teaching ZIP ZAP ZUP by Walt Frasier:

Everyone stand in a circle. On the count of three, clap one time. (1-2-3). Then clap, scuff through, point and make eye contact with anyone in the circle. (1-2-3) No do all that and say ZIP (1-2-3). Then ZAP (1-2-3) Now ZUP (1-2-3).

Now one person at a time will clap, point, make eye contact all in directions of the same person and say ZIP. That person will clap, point, make eye contact and say ZAP. That person will clap, point, make eye contact and say ZUP.

The game continues passing the energy, ZIP ZAP ZUP.

Here at New York Improv Theater we advice not doing the elimination version of the game.We feel this creates divas, not artists. Also, fight the urge to correct each other. Let it be wrong. Suspend judgement. Don’t strive for perfection, but connection. Remember, there are no mistakes in improv. Don’t get stuck on, rather celebrate, imperfect moments.

2. Harukasan

Start in a circle and pass energy to the left, by crossing the body with your right hand,and making gutteral sound, akin to martial arts. We are not mocking eastern fighting styles or movies, but rather calling upon their teaching and connecting with our CHI, center each other.

Them pass energy around to the right in similar faction, crossing your body with the left hand (using opposite hand to avoid smacking someone in the face)

Then add a block. Hold up arm, as if in a martial arts block and make an even BIGGER sound. A block simply reverses the flow from left to right or vice versa.

Lastly, we add the all powerful, HARUKASAN. This is the Dragon Ball Z of improv comedy games. Gather up all the energy of the room into your CHI, your center (traditionally for guys that is right at the belly button, for ladies, slightly higher, but not a steadfast rule in modern times).

So now when you play the game, you can pass to your immediate left or right with a HUH sound. You can block to reverse order. You can pass across the circle (2 or more away). Remember, you cannot block the HARUKASAN. It’s far too powerful.

3. NINJA aka THIS is a Knife.

It’s not an accident that many of these games take on martial arts themes. In many ways the great acting teachers of 100 years ago or so – Stanislavski, Chekhov etc – we’re tapping into a deeper focus through meditation, physical movement and breath that was heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy. Most great actors will study Tai Chi, Yoga or other martial arts/easter philosophy based physical movement to develop their physical performance instrument.

In a circle, someone starts by making eye contact with another player, then throws an imaginary knife at the face, right between their eyes. That player avoids the imaginary blood, gore and eyes popping out, by catching the knife in front of their face with a strong CLAP. Continue around the circle.

ONLINE this became a favorite game during quarantine. On ZOOM we call out a player’s name. When you hear your name, say YES. First player then says, I HAVE A KNIFE, then throws. Second player completes the transaction by catching, via clapping in front of their face, and saying THANK YOU.

After a round or two, change the knife into something else. Each player, after catching the object sent their way, lets the knife or other object melt into a ball of liquid metal or clay. Mold into new object. Name it. Feel it’s weight, size, texture. Pass it. Catch the same object, matching the energy, YES And… the pantomime.

Variation: Don’t verbalize what the new object is. Trust your pantomime skills. Make the air come alive simply using your imagination and physical performance.

2. Pass The Face

Pass energy around the circle. The leader/teacher/first player initiates a sound, gesture and face. When it is your turn , as best you can, mimic the performance of the previous player. Don’t change anything on purpose, however recognize things will change slightly as each individual passes along the offer. Don’t go backward by reinitiating the original offer. YES AND what is given directly to you.

This includes any and every thing that player purposely or accidentally adds/alters. If they laugh, start from arms crossed, hands in pocket or other position, do that.

We never mock. We mimic out of respect. YES And…

Our #1 Rule: Have Fun but never at another’s expense.

Celebrate each other’s experiences.


Similar to Harukasan, Whoosh starts by simply passing the energy around the circle left or right by saying WHOOSH and making a passing gesture.

Next we add a BONK. Similar to the block in above game, this sends energy in opposite direction.

At this point, there are infinite possibilities, but here are a few elements we add.

PIZZA – Call PIZZA Pass an imaginary pizza box across the circle. Receiver takes the box and says THANK YOU. You can now pass the energy amy way you like, as per established game parameters.

RAMP – Call RAMP while gesturing, passing over your neighboring player. Imagine a car or motorcycle is jumping over you, duck down and fearfully scream to avoid getting smacked in the head with a wheel. The next player in the circle has the energy to pass as they see fit.

SPIDERMAN – Call SPIDERMAN, than using your two web slingers shoot your webs towards another player across the circle. Make the sounds THWAP THWAP. The two players will switch spots in the circle. Imagine the elasticity of the webs pulling you from your chest.

BOOTYLISCIOUS – Call BOOTYLISCIOIS, the entire circle responds WHAT WHAT,then starts to break out and dance.

Everyone plays this and other games in their own way. Avoid the trope of WHEN I PLAY THIS… We learn nothing from talking and showing off what we think we know is the RIGHT way, right?

We will follow up with more games in future posts. Check the menu links for upcoming shows and classes in Times Square. EMAIL is to get more information and/or book a private event for your team building, holiday party or school.

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