If you dropped by the Free Class at Westside more than once in 2015, you probably noticed I followed the same outline every time. The owners of the theater and I designed this class, occasionally swapping out one game for another but always hitting the same beats. As the class continued, I found myself repeating some of the same lines over and over, but because the mix of students changed, it never felt old to me. I already wrote about how I started class every week, so I’ll pick up where I left off, standing in a circle:
While we’re in this circle, here’s a game called Bippity Bippity Bop.
(I jump into the middle of the circle.)
When I point to someone, I’m going to say “Bippity, Bippity, Bop!” If I’m pointing to you, your job is to say “bop” before I have time to say “bop.” If you beat me, you stay where you are, and I try someone else. But if I beat you, you take my place in the middle of the circle.
(Seldom does anyone have trouble with this, though people who haven’t played before tend to tense up visibly, usually locking their knees or jaw. It’s unlikely anyone will get out this round, but I cheer whenever it happens eventually and every time afterward. The rest of the players follow suit.)
Good! You are awesome at this, so I’m going to add something. This time, I could say “bippity, bippity, bop!” or I could say “truck driver.” If I point to you and say “truck driver,” you grab a steering wheel and honk a horn. The person to each side of you is going to come and be the wheels of your truck. It looks like this.
(I try to find a clump of two or three people I recognize to demonstrate.)
If all three of you aren’t in place by the time I count to ten, the person I pointed to is now in the middle of the circle. This is true even if it was the left wheel in their own world. The person I point to is still It.
(I mix “truck driver” up with “bippity bippity bop” and hopefully get someone out after a couple of tries. People are forced to unlock their knees to get quickly from one side to the other.)
(I add “Charlie’s Angels,” which makes only a moderate amount of sense to me since I’ve never seen that show, but that is the move I inherited. Three people go back to back, pantomiming weapons of some sort, and say “Thank you, Charlie!” After the group gets the hang of it, I add “Little Mermaid,” which is a person singing on tiptoes with people on either side hold their hands. When I teach this elsewhere to middle school kids, I pick fewer dated pop culture-y things, like “elephant” or “fighter pilot,” anything that three people can do symmetrically.)
(By this time, fake grudges have formed, and most people have relaxed their jaws enough to laugh. I add a twist.)
Since you seem to have all four of those moves down, I’m adding one last one. If I point to you and say “Bop!” without saying “Bippity, Bippity” first, you say nothing. If you say “Bop,” start singing on your tiptoes, reach for your steering wheel or your gun, you’re in the middle.
(We play until several people have gone. Ideally, people are swapping into the middle frequently, and everyone is still cheering every time there’s a swap.)
What made that game easier or more fun?
Eye contact made it easier. Just like earlier! It’s still true. It will always be true.
Staying loose made it easier. Yes! You have to be ready to do one of several things, not just be a robot who says “bop.”
Listening made it easier. Especially near the end when we had so many possibilities! You don’t want to get caught saying “bop” when you’re supposed to be driving a truck. You can’t assume you know what someone is going to say before they say it, so listen!
Who were you relying on? The people around me. Who was relying on you? The people around me.
What was the worst that could happen if you messed up? I ended up in the middle. And when did we get most excited? When someone got in the middle. The worst thing that can happen on this stage is you say something dumb and maybe people will laugh at you. Look around. You’re in an improv theater. People come down here to laugh. That’s a pretty good worst-case scenario.
Confession: Of all the games we played, this is the only one that felt tedious to me at times. Every week, I tried to think of another game that rewarded being alert, focused, responsive, supportive, silly, and energetic all at once. I never came up with one. Most beginner exercises I know work two or three of those skills at a time. Bippity Bippity Bop is an efficient game.
The downside of Bippity Bippity Bop is that it takes for. freaking. ever. to teach to a new group, and the nature of this class is that every group was a new group. If there was one person who had never played before and nine who had, I still considered it a new group.