If you’ve ever found yourself backstage in the excited, nervous, energy directly preceding an opening night for a middle-school, high-school, or college play, you are likely to know (and know very well) that ever-popular mantra of theatrical warm-up: “Zip-Zap-Zop.”
If, however, you’ve NEVER found yourself in such a time and place, you might think “Zip-Zap-Zop” are just words thrown up on the TV screen whenever Batman and Robin punch a bad guy. But, trust me, these three Z words have a lot to offer in the theatre and in the classroom.
Zip-Zap-Zop is about connection, focus, and energy. We often use this game as to open a workshop, class, or rehearsal. Whether the participants are 7, 17, or 67 years old, this game is a terrific way for a teacher or director to rally the troops into a “team,” in a simple yet active way. Essentially, students use their “pass energy” (in the form of a Zip, a Zap, or a Zop) clearly and rapidly across the circle. As students “shoot” and “speak” this energy to one another, you’ll hear the energy passing through the group following the sequence of “Zip,” “Zap,” “Zop,” “Zip,” “Zap,” “Zop.”
The goal is to keep the Zips, the Zaps, and the Zops z’moving. To do this, students must be clear with their intentions, making eye contact and connection with the person they send the energy to, and work together to keep the Zip Zap Zop rhythm going. Zip Zap Zop is also a great exercise to explore pace, interpersonal connection, specificity, and clarity of choice. Moreover, it is a great, easy demonstration of the bright, positive, connected energy wanted for creative collaboration.
So, how to play…
Gather the students into a large circle. Have them repeat the words, “Zip, Zap, Zop” three or four times, all together. Say, “Congratulations! You’ve got the pattern we’ll follow throughout the game!”
Discuss and demonstrate the physical and mental “readiness,” used in the game (and in performance), then instruct the students to ready themselves and their team. They do this by looking around the circle, making eye contact, affirming, and “checking in” with every teammate.
Here’s some good language to explain the game…
“In my hands, I have a bolt of positive energy. To start the game, I will clearly use my hands, body, eyes, and voice to make contact with a ready teammate in the circle and instantly shoot them that energy. Like this, “Zip!
“The next person receives that energy and immediately connects and passes it to someone else in the circle saying, “Zap!” That person passes it to another on a “Zop!” The game goes on and on passing energy clearly and quickly all around the circle to the rhythm of “Zip-Zap-Zop! The challenge is to keep the energy moving throughout the team, keep it positive, and don’t let it drop!”
Allow the game to start slowly; remind the students that the game is more about connection and being clear than it is about speed. The pace should increase as the team finds that connection. The fun of the game comes in how clearly yet RAPIDLY the energy can travel among the players. If students have difficulty, pause the game, discuss, and try again.
When a mistake occurs, direct students to simply “Keep the energy” going by resuming play without discussion. Encourage players to “Stay Focused! Be Ready!” To “Make eye contact! And also use your body to send energy!” And to “Keep that energy bright!” And to “Connect with the team and keep that energy flowing!”
Some questions for post-game discussion and reflection:
- How successful were we as a team with this game?
- When did we work best together? What helped us succeed?
- What was the most difficult? What can we do to help this?
- What did you notice about “communication” in the group? How does eye-contact or using your body help communication to be clear?
Zip-Zap-Zop is one of those theatre games handy in every theatre artist’s bag of tricks. It is always a useful go-to to assess a group’s readiness to work/play.
Perhaps you’d be interested in some Zippy variations or other Zappy applications? Zop on these…
- Add a “BOING!” In “Zip, Zap, Zop, BOING!” a player can choose to send back the energy. To do this, they simply hold their hands out and say, “BOING!” to whomever sent the Zip, Zap, or Zop. Thus, the energy moves back to whomever passed it and that person must find another recipient for the energy.
- Practice Counting! I’ve read of math teachers using the concept of Zip-Zap-Zop to practice “skip counting.” (3, 6, 9, 12…)
- Learn a Sequence! I’ve also read of science teachers, government teachers, etc. reworking the sequence to put their information into students’ muscle memory. For example, the “Zip-Zap-Zop” could be replaced with stages in an insect life cycle (“Egg, larvae, pupa, adult!”) or the phases of any election process (“Nomination, Candidate Selection, Final Vote!”)