Game Library: “Counting Circle”

This exercise, Counting Circle, encourages a greater awareness of the group and invites everyone to selflessly work towards a common goal.

The Basics

Players form a tight circle – if you’re comfortable being in each others’ personal space we’ll usually play this game in a huddle with our arms draped over each others’ shoulders. A target number is set that is greater than your membership. Players work together to count up to this target with any random player providing the next number in the sequence at any random moment. If two or more players contribute at the same moment or speak over each other (even slightly) the game is reset and starts again at the number one. The exercise continues until the goal has been accomplished.

The Focus

This games embodies the concept of Groupmind and finding a collective flow or connection. Every now and then the target is quickly reached as if by magic, but more often than not it will take many restarts. I’m wary (possibly needlessly) to offer up this game unless I know there’s sufficient time to get to a “victory” as it can be a little bruising if you use it as a closing ritual and everyone leaves the space feeling thwarted. Select your target number accordingly, especially with groups that are still building rapport and trust, as you can always let the game extend beyond the target if everyone is in the zone and this is preferable from having to set a less formidable goal after the fact if the vibe isn’t with you.

Traps and Tips

1.) Listen. I like to play this game with my eyes closed as it tends to build the group’s overall awareness and presence – although eye contact can definitely help the cause. Regardless of your preference, there should be a sense if some voices have been absent or if a player is anxious to contribute. This is perhaps a little metaphysical but it can be helpful to think “does the group need my voice and number now” as opposed to serving your own desires to contribute.

2.) Play. Avoid “solving” the dynamic with strategic choices or patterns. Moving around the circle in order would be the plainest example of avoiding the challenge, but players can seek other patterns as well that have a similar effect: “I’m always going to quickly take the next number each time this other particular player contributes.” Yes, there is a goal that the ensemble wants to reach, but this shouldn’t eclipse the process of working together with calm attentiveness. Embrace the risk: risk “failure.”

3.) Breathe. Be wary of the game becoming a little manic or aggressive, especially if the group has experienced a handful of re-starts in a row. Invariably a strong centering breath can get everyone out of their heads and back into the space and will often allow a more measured build. There are certainly no guarantees with this game but often such a reset will get you closer to the finish line if players use it as an opportunity to calm their inner tempos and frustrations.

4.) Include. I’m never quite sure what goes without saying but just in case, reaching the target without everyone participating isn’t really a success. Once in a while I’ll have a player confess that they just stayed silent for the whole game after it’s all wrapped up and this always leaves me feeling icky as a facilitator. Win or lose, the ensemble needs to arrive at the destination (or not) together.

5.) Celebrate. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if you get to that exact target number, especially if there is a palpable sense of trust, connection and joy. There will be something worth applauding, perhaps even just releasing the need to “win,” so be sure to cap the exercise with a suitably sincere celebration or acknowledgement.

In Performance

If the concept of groupmind feels a little alien to you, Counting Circle can provide a little taste of this intoxicating feeling. When your troupe has had a rough rehearsal or is in need of just reconnecting, this could well be the circle game for you!

Cheers, David Charles.
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© 2021 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Groupmind

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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