Forest Theatre, Mindful Play in Nature

Forest theatre is a set of creative exercises and mindfulness based games to reconnect with nature and with yourself. In this article you will learn a range of interesting activities for nature play. The ideas have been carefully selected to suit all age-groups. In fact, it is a wonderful way to bring people from different backgrounds and ages together and make new friends.

With the increasing influence of technology in our lives, fewer time is being spent outdoors. The screens keep us hooked by creating easy rewards for the brain, and are slowly influencing our behaviour and lifestyle. These brain rewards create unhealthy habits which are extremely hard to break. It’s no wonder that obesity, anxiety, loneliness and many other lifestyle issues are on the rise. We desperately need a substitute for all the junk entertainment that is being fed into our brains.

Cartoon by Angel Boligan

Is there a simple way to unblock our minds and imagination so that we can move away from our old habits and create new ways of being? Perhaps with forest theatre you can choose a few moments to break free and learn to fly.

Benefits of Nature Play

The main benefits of nature play, besides having great fun and creating memorable moments is the positive effect on our observation and imagination. It builds our attention, and curiosity and will lead to higher self confidence, self awareness and self control. These may seem like simple things but as we shall see later in the article, they can make a big difference in overcoming addictions and breaking bad habits in life.

Forest theatre is a pathway to explore our inner selves by taking inspiration from nature. It is about learning with nature, in nature. And we all know, the best learning happens when it is fun.

Forest Theatre Rules

When you do theatre in any nature based setting, the one simple rule to follow for forest theatre which sets it apart from other theatre games is that in forest theatre only non-human nature sounds are allowed. You can choose to do all the activities in silence or pick up any sound in nature that you find interesting. e.g: wind, bird, cricket, bee. Except for the director or activity leaders all participants are only allowed to converse in their chosen nature sounds or through actions, for the entire duration of each activity.

Silent claps: At the end of each activity, even the applause is silent. We do this by raising both our hand in the air and shaking our fingers and palms like tree leaves on a windy day. This is an interesting way of bringing mindfulness to the theatre practise. It respects the soundscape of the performance space and integrates nature into your play.

Listen. Observe. Accept. Create. Enjoy.

A short film made after a nature play session

Forest Theatre Games

During the forest theatre games it is essential to create an atmosphere of trust and support. This is a space free of judgements and filled with acceptance. You are allowed to make mistakes, in fact in Forest Theatre there are no mistakes. Be spontaneous. In each activity, you can do the first thing that comes to your mind. You don’t have to edit yourself, as long as you are coming from a place of fun, love and respect.

And most importantly, remember we are playing together as a team and supporting each other. You don’t have to be clever or funny or make up jokes, just be true to yourself and do what comes naturally.

Nature Introduction
Ask the group this simple question “If you could be one thing in nature, what would you be? You can be anything you wish for – a cloud, a river, a butterfly, or whatever your mind can think of. Choose something that inspires you or something you relate to.”

The group stands in a circle and each person introduces themselves by enacting the one thing from nature that they would like to be. The others try and guess the nature object.

Creatures of the Deep
Everyone stands in a circle. The director does an impression of a creature from the deep to the person standing on his right side. They copy what they see to the next person on their right. Each person copies what they just saw, not the original, so they gradually change like Chinese whispers. The director keeps sending out loads of creatures (squid, octopus, shark, star fish and more) into the circle and they keep going around until they change and merge and underwater fun is had. Credit: HooplaImpro, London

Creative Object
Go for a silent walk in nature. Each person picks up any unusual or interesting object they find during the walk. At end of the walk all objects are placed in a small pile and everyone forms a circle around it. One by one the participants pick up any object from the pile and use creative visualisation to turn this object into something else. For e.g: A long stick can become a flying broom, or a microphone stand or a paddle for a boat. The others try and guess what the object is being turned into

Advanced: Repeat this exercise from the beginning, but add a new twist. When someone picks up an object and is enacting a novel use, another person from the group joins in and picking up another object from the pile builds upon the scene that is being created. This cycle is repeated in pairs. Any object which have been used once is not kept back in the central pile.

Super Advanced: In this round, one person starts with any object and begins the scene. Other people keeping joining in and adding to the scene by choosing other objects from the central pile. Go around the circle until all objects have been used up and all the people are part of the scene.

Volcano
Everyone is walking fast in a tight circle without crashing into each other. The director shouts out some object from nature and counts to 5 and everyone has to physically form that thing with each other before the director gets to 5. For instance “Volcano, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5! Dinosaur, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!”. It is used to get everyone moving around and having fun and also accepting and building on each other’s ideas. Credit: Marc Rowland at Montreal Improv.

A variation of this game is to divide your group into 2 teams. Each of the teams form the same object to the count of 5. This is a good way to observe how the same object can be interpreted and created in different fun ways.

You could also try whispering a different object to teams of 3-5 people. The team members have to move themselves to depict the object. Each team gets a count of 10, but they cannot talk to each other. Once a team creates their object the others can try and guess what it is.

Fairy Tale in 3 Frames
Divide people into small groups. Each group has to think of a fairy tale they would like to portray. They can only depict three still frames from any portion of the fairy tale. You can include one sound and one action in each of the frames. All the groups get only 5 minutes to prepare. The 3 still frames from the fairytale are played out in quick succession, one after the other. Rest of the participants have to guess the fairytale after watching the 3 frames. This exercise is a good practice in learning how to build story structures and scenes. Once participants are comfortable with creating scenes, they can move on to creating a short skit. Credit: Rebekah Lin, Teng Zi Ying, Arts for Good Fellows, Singapore

Music Video / Nature Play
One of the joys of forest theatre is being able to create something for nature. In the last activity for our Nature Play walk, we divide the group in small teams of 3 or 5. All the teams are given 10 minutes time to prepare a 2 min. short skit on a nature based issue. They can take up any theme that interests them – water, wildlife, pollution or more. Members of the group can choose any character they wish and can use human language for this activity. Or if you wish to stick to the rules of forest theatre then ask each group to choose one narrator, while the other members can only act out the scenes.

Here’s an idea that works out beautifully. Create a 2 minute play with these 5 characters – Human, Planet Earth, Aliens, Non-human nature element and a Narrator

Forest Theatre

A Curious Way To Break Bad Habits

In this TED Talk, Psychiatrist Judson Brewer explains a simple way of using curiosity to break bad habits.

He says, “Mindfulness is about being really interested in getting close and personal with what’s actually happening in our bodies and minds from moment to moment. And this willingness to turn toward our experience rather than trying to make unpleasant cravings go away, is supported by curiosity, which is naturally rewarding.

What does curiosity feel like? It feels good. And what happens when we get curious? We start to notice that cravings are simply made up of body sensations — oh, there’s tightness, there’s tension, there’s restlessness — and that these body sensations come and go. In other words, when we get curious, we step out of our old, fear-based, reactive habit patterns, and we step into being.

One current hypothesis is that a region of the brain, called the posterior cingulate cortex, is activated not necessarily by craving itself but when we get caught up in it, when we get sucked in, and it takes us for a ride. In contrast, when we let go – step out of the process just by being curiously aware of what’s happening – this same brain region quiets down. This makes it easier for us to take a step back and not indulge in our habit leading to another nice brain reward.

Now, this might sound too simplistic to affect behaviour. But in one study, we found that mindfulness training was twice as good as gold standard therapy at helping people quit smoking. So it actually works. The next time you get a notification, instead of choosing to see the message and compulsively send a reply , — notice the urge, get curious, feel the joy of letting go and repeat.”

BONUS: More Forest Theatre Games

Meet and Greet
Another very nice introduction game: The group leader picks any class of species (e.g: mammals, birds, insects, reptiles etc.) and everyone walks around meeting and greeting each other by becoming a character from the chosen type of living beings. This exercise breaks the ice and gets people used to trying out different characters without thinking about it too much.

You can even choose a specific animal and everyone in the group has to turn into that animal and move around in the circle for a minute without touching each other. Some choices that work well are: Frogs, Mosquitoes, Humming birds. And the best one to quieten things is the slow moving Sloth.

Prey and Predator
The group forms a circular ring. Two people enter the ring. One person chooses to be any creature and begins to act like it. The other person has to guess what the creature is and turn into it’s predator. Then the drama between the prey and it’s predator plays out inside the ring. This game can be made even more interesting if one or two members standing in the ring are designated to give background music score to the entire drama. This game provides a very good opportunity to observe and discuss the balance in nature.

To Be A Tree
A very good closing exercise in Nature Play is a 3 minute silent act. Ask each person in the group to imagine to be their favourite tree. You can sway gently in the wind or sit still. Feel the sun on your face, the wind on your skin, the earth beneath your feet. Open your eyes and become aware of all the life around you. As an individual you may be a tree, but together we all become a forest.

The essence of theatre is freedom. Freedom to express oneself. Freedom to imagine. Freedom to choose whatever one wants to be. Our day-to-day life is bound by routines, habits and the daily grind. But through nature and through creativity we find a stage to release the chains of thought that bind us. We give ourselves a chance to be truly free.

END NOTE: We are creating a small community of forest friends who share a close connection with nature. The aim is to learn from each other and share our experiences from around the world. Please feel free to add your own mindful nature play ideas in the comments section below. To get a monthly newsletter with new learning please sign up at this link.

*This post is part of our learning program on nature arts, games, meditations from around the world. The course is free for all school teachers and is available on a pay-as-you-like basis. It is a great resource filled with multiple ideas that also cover the art and science behind healing through nature. Please share this article in your circles with friends who might find it helpful.

FOREST STORIES – 7 Tales from far-away lands

Stories of forests, rivers, mountains, deserts and magical beings who call these places home. Journey to amazing places through these short stories and learn the wisdom of the forest. These stories have been collected or created to fill you with wonder and awe for nature. Every forest story contains within it, a tiny seed of wisdom. We hope you can plant it in your life and enjoy the fruits later.

FOREST STORY FROM VENEZUELA | Tree of life

Amazing Fact: Orinoco Delta is a vast fan shaped delta located in eastern Venezuela, where the Orinoco River meets the sea.  

Fable: The kids were lost. A group of children from a small village at the edge of the Orinoco River had stolen a canoe to have some fun, but the currents carried them far out into the delta. They shouted for help, but deep in the jungle there was no one to come to their rescue. As night fell the children were afraid they would never be found and end up being eaten by a jaguar. 

Tired and hungry, they were on the verge of tears when they heard a gentle whisper. They looked up to see a Moriche palm tree, waving in the wind. The palm offered the children its fruit. With food in their stomach, the children gained strength to look around. The Moriche palm introduced them to other members of the forest and soon the children had many friends. They learnt to use wood to build houses and leaves for roofs. They found places to find food and water, herbs for medicine and even ways to dress up and decorate themselves.

Many years later, a group of adventures canoeing down the river were surprised to see a small settlement on a forested island deep in the jungles. The children had learnt the ways of the forest and were now living comfortably amidst the labyrinth of waterways. The Moriche palm came to be known as the ‘tree of life’ and the children grew up to be the Warao Indians also known as ‘canoe people’.

Moral: When in trouble, look to nature for answers.

Keep reading for more forest stories and if you find them interesting, do check out our Nature Calm course with 100+ ideas and activities from around the world.

Li River – Picture by Sam Beasley / Unsplash

FOREST STORY FROM CHINA | Artist and the river

Fable: In ancient China lived an artist whose paintings were almost life- like. The artist’s fame had made him proud and conceited. One day the emperor wanted to get his portrait done so he called all great artists to come and present their finest work, so that he could choose the best. The artist was sure he would be chosen, but when he presented his masterpiece to the emperor’s chief minister, the old man laughed. The wise old man told him to travel to the Li River, perhaps he could learn a little from the greatest artist in the world.

Reduced to tears with anger and curiosity, the artist packed his bags and left to find out this mysterious master. When he asked the villagers on the banks of the river for the whereabouts of the legendary artist, they smiled and pointed down the river. The next morning he hired a boat and set out to find the illustrious painter. As the small boat moved gently along the river he was left speechless by myriad mountains being silently reflected in the water. He passed milky white waterfalls and mountains in many shades of blue. And when he saw the mists rising from the river and merging with the soft clouds surrounding the peaks, he was reduced to tears. The artist was finally humbled by the greatest artist on earth, Mother Nature.

Moral: We have a lot to learn from Nature, the most important thing being humility.

FOREST STORY FROM AFRICA | The Bushmen

Amazing fact: The Bushmen are one of the oldest inhabitants of Africa and have lived in the Kalahari Desert for over 20,000 years.

Fable: A long, long time ago the Creator was distributing the lands on the earth amongst various races. Some people got beautiful regions with plenty of sunshine and rain. Some were lucky to get big rivers flowing through the lands which were fertile for growing food. A few of them got thick forests rich with animals and birds. One by one the races came to the creator and went back happily to live in the land given to them. Only a tiny group of people were left. When the Creator looked on to Earth he only found a vast stretch of sandy desert left. It was a terrain that was very harsh to live in, with many difficulties. The Creator told the people that while all he could offer them was a life in the desert and the bush, he was going to give them a special gift. He would give them purity of heart and the joy of friendship. The people, now known as the Bushmen, were happy with the offer and learnt to live and love the land they call home. Many other races have not been able to survive in much better climates and regions, but the Bushmen have continued to live in the Kalahari for thousands of years.

Moral: If you have good friends, the harshest of places can become bearable.

3 Sisters, Australia – Pic by Dougie Frew / Pixabay

FOREST STORY FROM AUSTRALIA | 3 Sisters

The Three Sisters is a rock formation in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia. They are close to the town of Katoomba and are one of the Blue Mountains’ best known sites, towering above the Jamison Valley. Their names are Meehni (922 m), Wimlah (918 m), and Gunnedoo (906 m).

Fable: Long ago in the Blue Mountains, three Aboriginal sisters; Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo lived with their father, a Witch doctor named Tyawan.

In the same forest lived a gigantic creature that was feared by all – he was the Bunyip. Tyawan who knew where he lived would leave his daughters on the cliff behind a rocky wall where they would be safe while he would collect food.

One day, waving goodbye to his daughters he descended the cliff steps. On the top of the cliff, a big lizard suddenly appeared and frightened Meenhi. She picked up a stone and threw it at the lizard. The stone rolled away over the cliff and crashed into the valley below. Suddenly, the rocks behind the three sisters split open, leaving the sisters on a thin ledge.

There was a deep rumble from below and the angry Bunyip emerged from his sleep. He looked up to see who had rudely awakened him and there perched on the thin ledge he saw the sisters cowering in fear. Furiously he lurched towards them.

In the valley, Tyawan heard the cry and looked up to see that the Bunyip had almost reached his daughters. Frantically the Witch Doctor pointed his magic bone at the girls and turned them into stone. They would be safe there until the Bunyip was gone and then Tyawan would return them to their former selves.

The Bunyip was even more angry when he saw what had happened and he turned on Tyawan and began to chase him. Running away, Tyawan found himself trapped against a rock which he could neither climb nor go around. He quickly changed into a Lyrebird and disappeared into a small cave. Everyone was safe but Tyawan had dropped his magic bone. The Bunyip returned angrily to his hole. Tyawan crept out of the cave and searched for the bone, and is still seeking it while the Three Sisters stand silently waiting, hoping he will find the bone and turn them back to their former selves.

You can see the Three Sisters today from Echo Point and in the valley you can hear Tyawan, the Lyrebird, calling them as he searches for his lost magic bone.

Moral: The forests are beautiful, but you must always be careful to know what creatures live there.

Leaf ants – Pic by Healing Forest

FOREST STORY FROM MEXICO | Ant and the Bear

Fable: An ant was on its way to collect food when it came across a black bear cub who was crying. Curious, the ant climbed up the bear cub and asked him why he was crying. The cub told her that he had fallen into the ditch and was unable to get out. The little ant told the bear not to worry for she would get the bear out of the ditch. The bear cub was surprised, for how could a tiny any lift him out.

Now it so happened that the ant was no ordinary ant. It was a leaf cutter ant. The ant rushed back to her nest colony which had millions of ants and told them about the problem. Together they cut the leaves off from the orange trees and kept dropping them into the ditch, until the ditch began to fill up and the bear could easily climb out.

Moral: Common people can create big revolutions when they get together.

Amazing fact: Leaf cutter ants live in large and complex societies which are second only to humans. In a few years their nests can span more than 30 meters and contain millions of ants.

Northern Lights – Pic by Vincent Guth / Unsplash

FOREST STORY FROM NORWAY | The Aurora

Fable: To the king of the skies was born a daughter so pretty that she gave the Moon a complex. The King raised her in strict discipline as a prim and proper princess, for he had laid many careful plans for her future. But despite his best efforts the pretty princess fell in love with wild dancing. She would put on her emerald dress with flowing ribbons of light and dance her way into the night. Watching her beauty, many a Star fell for her.
As the princess and her admirers grew so did the King’s anguish, for he could not bear to watch a royal princess dance for the common people. Finally, he put forth a hard choice for the princess – either marry the Rainbow prince, settle down and give up dancing, or be banished for life to the edge of the Earth. The princess made her choice. To this day, you can often catch her dancing in the skies of the northern hemisphere and see the Stars falling. Not many people have experienced her beauty, but those who have are changed for ever.

Moral: Every choice has it’s tradeoff, but it’s easy to choose if your priorities in life are clear.

Amazing Fact: Northern Lights or the aurora is a natural light display in the sky of the arctic regions. The dancing lights are a form of intense space weather, a result of the atmosphere shielding the Earth against fierce solar particles that would otherwise make our planet unsafe for life. The lights occur frequently between September and October and then occur again between March and April. They are also visible sometimes in the winter.

FOREST STORY FROM U.S.A. | The Wolves

Fable: Not so long ago, the minister for environment was troubled, for the wolves were slowly vanishing from the forests. He was desperate to save the noble animal, so, he called all his scientists and ordered them to find a way to conserve the beautiful wolves. The scientists came up with big plans and ideas, from creating protected areas to captive breeding. Some even suggested cloning. To some extent they were successful in raising the population of the wolves, but soon it was found that even more wolves were disappearing.

The minister was very sad, but a wise counsellor suggested he take the help of the storytellers. And so a new approach was found. The musicians made beautiful songs on the wolf, the writers wrote enchanting stories, and photographers and filmmakers captured the beauty of illusive wolf and it’s importance to our forests. Soon the word spread and the people joined in the movement for protecting the wolf, and slowly their numbers began to rise.

Moral: Scientists create a better life, but we need storytellers to create a better world.

A FOREST STORY FROM YOU

If you have a short forest story that you would like to share with us, please add it in the comments below for all the other readers of this post. We will also select a few stories and share them with our followers on social media with a link to the authors. Please do check out our e-book with 101 nature fables from different forests of our planet. Here’s the Amazon Link.

If you enjoyed these stories do check out our Nature Calm course with 100+ art, games, meditations from around the world. Explore some amazing ideas to see what nature can do for you, and those who matter to you.

END NOTE: Now more than ever, we need stories that connect us to forests and it’s creatures. It’s because these connections create a sense of closeness with nature. And what we are close to, we care for.

You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal. Our connection with nature is a continuously unfolding story and we are all a part of this magical story.