Engage & Learn

Hektoen Workshop

On October 16th the Goodman in collaboration with The Hektoen Institute held an ensemble building workshop for critical care nurses and practitioners.  The four hour workshop introduced theatre games, writing, and group building activities as methods of problem solving and team building in the work place.

Hektoen Institute / Goodman Theatre Workshop. Photo by Julie Schnidman

A Message from Willa J. Taylor

First, let me thank all of you for participating in the workshop on Saturday. Megan and I commented several times about how you were so willing to risk and to try something new. That is not always the case in workshops and we really appreciated your openness.

We hope that this was an interesting experience for you and are looking forward to working with each of you again in the near future.

For now, we hope that you got some tools and strategies you can use in your work/school settings.

Below are explanations of the games and activities we did on Saturday, along with some additional suggestions and resources you may want to explore. Please let us know if there is something missing, if something is unclear, or if you just want to respond.

We will be sending out a more formal survey in the coming days. Please be as honest as possible with us so that we can shape this work into a useful and usable curriculum for you.

Workshop Games

Below are the descriptions as well as the purpose of each game from our workshop:

Hektoen Institute / Goodman Theatre Workshop. Photo by Julie Schnidman

Name Games: Domino

Involved associating a name with a gesture. A memory and familiarity building exercise.

Name games are important not just as a way to learn the names of people in the room, but they are a low-stakes strategy that gets everyone involved and allows each participants name to be spoken out loud at least once during the workshop. Adding the gesture allows you to assess the physical capabilities of participants so you can adjust to who is in the room.


This activity allows all the elephants in the room to be voiced. We often do it with cards (in the way we did it on Saturday) but sometimes it is good to have them up on the wall so you can revisit them throughout the day. Just put up two sheets of paper and allow about five minutes for people to list their fears and hopes. Try to make this as unstructured as possible so no one feels pressured. You can also combine the two methods – have participants write them on individual sheets, then have one person write them all onto the larger sheets.

Spectrum Activities

These activities involved placing oneself in a spectrum, and worked on group awareness. The first spectrums involved the four directions: North, East, South and West. The others worked on a binary structure, involving only two extremes and the space between. Participants had to place themselves within these parameters according to where they stood on the topics of certain questions. Throughout the exercise, every participant’s position was determined not only by proximity to each extreme but in relation to each other. They had to use soft focus, or awareness of everything in the environment.

These questions used the four point spectrum:

  • Where are you from (State)?
  • Where do you live (Chicago neighborhood)?
  • Do you: feel your age/feel younger than your age/feel older than your age/not believe in age?
  • Do you: journal and write often/only write for work/text often/feel writing has no part in your life?

These questions used the binary spectrum:

  • Do you think that your private self matches your public self?
  • Do you have what you feel you need at your current job?
  • Airport or farm?
Other Favorites:

These games were not used in the Workshop, but practice many similar ideas and are excellent ideas for further theatre game exploration.

Hektoen Institute / Goodman Theatre Workshop. Photo by Julie Schnidman

Story Telling

This is a staple of ensemble-building exercises. There are variations on this basic structure, but the most basic is played like this: Players stand in a circle. A story idea or title is given. One player begins the story with a word, and then the story goes around the circle in one direction, each player contributing one word to forward the story as it travels around the cycle. This exercise works on group storytelling, and builds communication as well as creativity and ability to adapt and work with group decisions.


A Viewpoints exercise which aims to improve focus, ensemble movement, creative problem solving and listening. It involves changing speed, starting and stopping with a group. One player at a time enters the playing area, establishing a simple sound and movement. Each member of the ensemble builds on this “machine” by contributing another movement and sound that leads either from or into a previous player’s movements. When the entire ensemble has become a part of the machine, they should be involved in a chain-reaction movement and be able to slow, speed up, stop and start cohesively.

Bird Talk

This exercise focuses on energy passing,  commitment, and self-accountability in an ensemble group.A participant begins the game by pointing across the room to a single person and saying “talk.” The single recipient accepts the energy by standing on their tip toes, putting their hands in the air and wiggling their fingers. As they receive the energy, they create the sound “BRRR,” by buzzing their lips. As soon as the single recipient receives the energy,and initiates their buzzing and wiggling action, the people to the immediate left and right of said recipient must lean in toward the energy holder, put their hands in, and wiggle the hands (fingers) of the single recipient, while also saying “BRRR.” Once all 3 people have participated, the initial recipient passes the energy by pointing with their full body to another person in the circle. Elimination happens when you do not receive the energy, or support an energy receiver next to you, within 10 seconds. As the tempo increases, the “BRRR,” should start sounding like bird talk.

Bacon & Eggs

This game is similar to the Dominos game, in that it requires memory and repetition. It is done as “All play”, which can include the whole ensemble or break it down into groups of between 10 and 20. All participants stand in a circle, and a player begins the game by saying “Bacon and Eggs,” or any 2 nouns. This phrase continues in a direction around the circle as Bacon, Eggs, Cheese, etc., with each player adding another noun in the sequence. When something is repeated correctly around the entire circle, everyone jumps in the middle and sizzles like bacon. The cycle repeats.

Book Resources

You can find activities similar to the ones above, further information on what we covered in the workshop, and more from these resources:

Spolin, Viola. Improvisation for the Theater: Third Edition. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1999.

Boal, Augusto. The Rainbow of Desire: The Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy. Translated by Adrian Jackson. London, New York: Routledge, 1995.

Boal, Augusto. Games for Actors and Non-Actors: Second Edition. Translated by Adrian Jackson. London, New York: Routledge, 2002.

Bogart, Anne and Tina Landau. The Viewpoints Book. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2005.