Number of Players


What Is It and Why Use It?

Machine is a game in which students connect multiple simple, repetitive body motions in a sequence to represent an idea, theme, or process. In Machine, students explore vocal and body theatre skills – like projection, articulation, level and shape in space, quality of motion, and tempo – as they consider how an individual action is part of a larger connected system.


Invite the group to sit facing an open space or in a large open circle. Ask: What is a machine? Develop a definition together, naming different types of machines as examples. Based on their suggestions pick a machine to explore. Ask the group what simple sound and gesture–or movement–might appear in this machine. Invite a volunteer to move to the front of the space or the center of a circle and make this simple, repetitive sound and movement; this is the first piece of the machine. Invite another person to find a way to add another sound a motion to the first person’s action. Then, either continue to call students into the machine or encourage them to enter on their own. Ideally, each student’s motions relates to what the other students are doing, as pieces of a machine do. Students can be invited to link to the machine in any area or be instructed to just build onto the last player to be added. When a large portion of the group has joined in, play with tempo—turn up the speed so the machine must work quickly, or slow down the machine so it must work very slowly. After a bit, freeze the machine and asks students who are watching to name the machine. Thinking about the types of movements we saw, what kind of machine is this? It may be the original machine idea or it might have become something else. What else could it be? Encourage another interpretation. All students return to the outside circle and the group dialogues about what worked well in the machine creation. Build another machine. This time explore a less-familiar machine, such as a spaghetti-making machine, a winter machine, or a happiness machine, or let them make a machine that gets named at the end. If making a themed machine, it might be helpful to brainstorm actions that relate to the given theme. Continue to explore cause and effect, levels, tempo, and quality of movements throughout the activity. 

  • How would you describe our machine?
  • How did each student add to it?
  • What does this machine say about our larger topic of exploration?
Possible Side-Coaching
  • Keep doing your sound and motion so others can join in!
  • Think about how your sound and action relates to our theme. What do you see missing that we need to add?
Possible Variations/Applications
  • Try taking out a piece of a machine and observe what happens. This becomes a strong metaphor for interdependence.
  • Reading/Writing: Create a machine that relates to an event, theme, or character from the text. For example, students might create a gossip machine for The Scarlet Letter, or a Big Bad Wolf machine for The Three Little Pigs.
  • Science: Create a machine that relates to an environment/setting or cycle. For example, students might create a rainforest machine or a water cycle machine.
Source Citations

Viola Spolin