Theater and teens might seem intimidating, especially if you’re not an actor yourself. Although it could be argued we all are a little, just considering our jobs and who we work with. But there are levels in which you can do it with teens, some involving lots of time and effort and others not as much.
Icebreakers: All of us at some point in time have gone to an event or activity when we’ve had to participate in icebreaker games. A ton of them work as early level acting and theater – they require pretending to be a character (to varying degrees) or knowing information (such as popular YA literature). An example of this that’s more acting based is Whoosh. Instructions can be found here (and explained way better than I could manage).
Improv: The next step up from icebreakers is improv games. There are tons of possible improv games out there with varying degrees of difficulty and complications. Googling ‘improv games’ will get you tons of great lists that describe in great detail how to play them. Some that I’ve seen work to great effect are: a game when they come up with an initial situation and a few of them start acting out the scene however they want. Then, someone from the audience yells freeze and the actors stop in their tracks. The yeller then takes the place of any of the current actors and continues the scene. Another is called Party Quirks, where one player plays a character that is having a party. The other players will be the guests, and the audience provides us with who the guests might be or what their quirks might be. Of course the host does not know who the guests are. His task is to guess who the guests might be, based on hints the guests offer. The game is over as soon as the host has guessed all guests. If you’ve ever seen Whose Line is it Anyway, any of those games work well.
Short Theater: That’s not an official name, but it’s theater that takes place within one contained program slot. There are various possible elements to this, depending on what part the teens might be interested in. They could write their own screenplay. There are books and online resources that offer short plays that they could do. They could read a bit of Shakespeare (the teens at my last library absolutely loved Shakespeare) and act out scenes with fun silly props. Some of the teens could read and some could act it out. There are a variety of options here, depending on your group.
Full(er) Theater: If you, or your teens, are really into acting, you could put on a full fledged show for an outside audience. This obviously requires a huge time and energy commitment. The teens could write their own show or there are a variety of shows in the public domain or open for use. Again, the teens at my last library went back to Shakespeare fairly often because it’s all in the public domain. On a smaller scale, you could just do a reading for an audience so there would be limited props and costumes and the teens would not have needed to memorize their parts, but just be familiar with them, since they would have the script in front of them. This is the format for performances of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues if you want an example to YouTube for your own resources (not that I’m necessarily suggesting you do that with teens, but there are monologues from it that are very mild and appropriate and you could use as an example).
The amazing thing about theater with teens is that it gives them a great chance to be someone else for a while. Although it doesn’t work with all teens, I’ve watched some incredibly shy and quiet teens blossom while doing theater things. They find theater as a way to express themselves, even when they’re being someone else. On top of that, it helps teens develop skills that will make them more comfortable with things like public speaking as themselves without them even knowing.