Creative ideas for a party
December 1, 2009 8:56 PM   Subscribe

What short, creative performances can guests put on at my party to entertain themselves?

I'd like to have a holiday party. But not just another dinner party or a drinking party. I'd like all of my guests to put on little performances - whether that would be a short skit, dance/music, puppet show, parody, magic tricks, telling some jokes, monologue, poetry reading, juggling, sword swallowing - whatever! I just would like everyone to do something entertaining and creative, my expectations are pretty reasonable, I don't expect everyone to prepare and practice like prima ballerinas...

I am always ambivalent about hosting parties - so much stress in organizing and making sure everyone has a good time! And I am especially doubtful about hosting this one. Even though most of my friends/acquaintances are a creative bunch, a lot of my potential guests find my party idea intimidating. They are either shy or have no idea what to do for this "assignment", and hence are unsure whether they will attend at all :(

I'd love some suggestions for this which I can offer to my friends to make them less intimidated and more enthusiastic. Ideally, they would have all or any of the following qualities: creative, suitable for shy people, do not take much time or effort to prepare for.

And what would I do for my part? I would do something similar to Isabella Rosselini's Green Porno "Nothing Porno about it!" as she says. In the series, Rossellini enacts the mating rituals of various insects and other animals (including the dragonfly, spider, bee, praying mantis, squid, snail and housefly) with cardboard cut-outs and foam-rubber sculptures (wikipedia) - the result is very whimsical and reminiscent of an elementary school play in its aesthetics! If anyone is intrigued, you can view all of the episodes on
posted by Kateruba to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: oops forgot the link at the end!
posted by Kateruba at 9:01 PM on December 1, 2009

Are your friends outgoing and extroverted normally? Do you often get together and perform for each other, or otherwise act out (charades or choir etc.)?

I am asking, because to be absolutely honest, because if you aren't normally like this, why would you think they would want to do this for a party? I don't know anyone who wouldn't be a bit intimidated by such a party invitation. (And I'm a professional performer, surrounded by extroverts.) I suspect that your friends feel a bit put on the spot. After all, you are having a party, supposedly inviting guests over, and yet expect your guests to entertain you. It sounds like you have a very specific idea of what you are going to do for your guests, and have given your guests some options. I think you have to let the idea go of mandatory performances if you want people to come. I don't think even more specific suggestions are going to get the shy/reluctant ones to change their mind. It might have the opposite effect. I would suggest going with an open-mike concept that is more welcoming, as in, "I'm performing this. It would be great if you could do something too! But no worries if you don't want to do anything - come to the party anyway!"

But if you must go with the performance per attendee route, I would suggest haikus that could be written right then and there at the party to be shared immediately. That's easy and anyone can do it.
posted by typewriter at 9:15 PM on December 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

I have a friend that is absolutely, 100% certain that people have more fun at her parties when they have to play dress-up. She wants everyone to get a costume and play their character throughout the night. She has been doing this nearly bi-monthly since mid-summer.

While you're only doing this once, what I've learned is that many things factor into "themed" parties. Some people get super psyched. Some people are willing to try it. Some people would really just not. And some people never will.

Whether it's being on the verge of a panic attack or just being a party pooper, unless these "skits" were done in groups of 3 or more people that were pre-determined for me, and did not require me to meet up with them before the party night itself, I wouldn't do it (sorry!). One party I went to had groups set up this way and we chose out of a hat what kind of infomercial we were going to be recreating. Everything else was up in the air, and we had about 10 minutes of prep before acting it out for everyone -- it was an absolute blast!

You go to a party to relax and have fun, and the up-in-the-airness this sort of activity exudes could possibly overwhelm everyone involved. Having a direct, structured plan better insures everyone has fun and doesn't feel awkward.

It should also be noted that you shouldn't tell anyone beforehand that this activity will be going on. People like me would worry and get all anxious and other people would get all hyped up with all kinds of ideas and then be disappointed if it isn't how they envisioned it.
posted by june made him a gemini at 9:40 PM on December 1, 2009

I know you said that your expectations are pretty reasonable, but no one cares about your expectations. They're wondering how much effort and talent everyone else will put in, so they can meet that norm. This does sound intimidating, and forced, and not much fun.

Think less talent show and more charades. Something that gets people out of their element and moving around and having fun without a lot of pressure or advanced preparation.

For the green porno thing, you can put animal names in a hat and let guests draw. So if they draw a starfish and a hippopotamus, they have to act out a starfish mating with a hippopotamus.

It wouldn't hurt if you adapted a game element, even if score doesn't really matter that much. Make them be judged by if their mating was successful. Would the starfish have accepted the hippopotamus's advances?

In fact, you can have an 'awkward talent show' theme. Put stereotypical elementary school talent show acts in a bowl, make your guests draw and act them out on the spot.
posted by chris p at 9:47 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

in the movie 'charade', there is a nightclub scene where the guests are the entertainment, as the band plays, two teams attempt to pass an orange from person to person, sans utiliser les mains (without using their hands).

not very creative, but it might serve to break some ice.

if you have a bunch of videocameras, you could try my proof of telepathy. (based on the observation that when you become aware that someone is looking at you, you often also know their location, even if they are not in your field of view)
posted by kimyo at 10:18 PM on December 1, 2009

I'm an extrovert show off but if I was invited to this party as you describe I probably wouldn't attend. The reason is I just don't have time to prepare something (specially at this time of year) and it would feel like a competition. What if I don't put in enough effort and I look lame compared to the others? Not being able to see what others are preparing doesn't help.

So my suggestion is to focus on things you can do at the actual party. No pre-preparation, much stricter limits as to what the thing is being done. Charades or Party Pictionary or similar party games would be fun, double if you can introduce props into it somehow. Some of the prop-based games on Who's Line Is It Anyway (or similar theatre sports style stuff) would be great and are designed to be impromptu. I also like the idea of pulling something out of a hat to perform and doing whatever you decide in groups also helps take the pressure off somewhat.

Having a theme to the performances that carries over to the rest of the party is also fun and there's so much scope there. If you're doing dress up then have a few cheap costume bits available to throw onto anyone who isn't in costume (little things like a funny hat or scarf). A theme would allow everyone to feel involved even if they don't participate in the show section.
posted by shelleycat at 10:19 PM on December 1, 2009

For my years of experience as a Girl Scout leader:
- don't ask people to do any preparation before hand for all the reason above plus people just plain forgetting and/or not coming because they weren't prepared
- put people in teams (some kind of random assignment is usually the best way to mix it up and not leaving anyone out) 4-5 per team is a good number. Shy people can volunteer for non-speaking roles or be a narrator (who reads from a script written by the team).
- my favorite is a paper bag skit - put a random assortment of items in a paper bag for each team (each team can have different items). They have to make up a skit that uses all of the objects although not necessarily for their intended purpose.
- many other options for theme skits (modern fairy tale, infomercial, history of common adage). Any of these can be drawn from a hat rather than letting team make their own choice (saves much time arguing and lets them get started faster)
- have an assortment of props, paper, markers and tape available to the teams in addition to any required elements.
- Consider putting a maximum time on each skit (5 minutes maybe?)
posted by metahawk at 11:23 PM on December 1, 2009

I have some friends that put on a Performance Night a few times a year. There's usually some dancing and lots of music. The only rules are that the performance has to be original and under ten minutes. My partner was nervous about going, 'cause this is clearly a theatre/creative crowd, but he ended up having everyone grab a random Trivial Pursuit card and grill him with geography questions. My friends thought it was awesome.

Other friends have done things like drawing a picture of each performance as it happens, cutting out a paper profile for everyone as the evening goes on, giving us an immigration test like the one his mom had just taken, making ironically "arty" videos of their haircut's progression, reading poems from their elementary-school students, singing spontaneous opera about the time they fell off a moving car... lots of silliness. And the big thing is that the bad stuff's always just as fun as the good stuff.

So my advice: make this something recurring, so people are always trying to top themselves, and make sure that people know it's cool if they don't want to perform. Performance Night is one of the coolest things my friends do, and it inevitably turns into a drunken jam session in the wee hours.
posted by lauranesson at 12:49 AM on December 2, 2009

The haiku idea is great.

One variation on it: you could have half your guests write the haikus, and the other half perform them. That way, there's a sort of distribution of responsibility-- the ones writing them don't have to worry about performing them, and the ones performing them can think, "Well, if it goes down badly, it's not my fault-- I didn't write it."

More broadly, anything that lets your guests feel like they aren't 100% responsible for their own performance will help them relax. In a weird way, setting it up so that nobody can prepare in advance could actually make it less stressful, because nobody will be expecting anybody else to be polished. So, as a generalized version of metahawk's suggestion--you could have a theme that the performances have to center around, but you don't tell people what it is until they arrive.

There are also some improv games that you could try. One is called "Yes, And." One person starts off with a sentence: "There was a boy." And the next person has to add to it with a sentence starting with "Yes, And." As in:
A: There was a boy.
B: Yes, and he was very tall.
A: Yes, and he was so tall, they had to cut off the roof of his house.
(Etc. If it helps, you or the audience can suggest the first line of the story, and you can also act as a moderator and cut off the story when you feel it's reached a good end point.)

You can even do a variation on this where two or three people stand next to each other and take turns speaking a single word, gradually building up a sentence. The result rarely makes much sense, but the silliness of it makes it pretty funny. It's a good way for two or three people who aren't confident performers on their own to get up and perform.

On an entirely different note, have you thought about buying a murder mystery party game? These are, essentially, guided improvs, but because it's all presented as a game, people get eased into the performance aspect in a much less intimidating way. (This might be too off the track of what you're looking for but I thought it was worth mentioning.)
posted by yankeefog at 4:40 AM on December 2, 2009

Something like a Mothup might be fun, where each person tells a true personal story (preferably one not everybody's heard before?) that just lasts a few minutes and fits a theme.
posted by knile at 9:05 PM on December 4, 2009

Response by poster: I'd like to thank everyone for their thoughtful responses, and making me realize that my idea is unrealistic and that there are other ways to organize a creative party that are less intimidating!

Thank you for the specific suggestions! I will surely use most, if not all of them.
posted by Kateruba at 8:42 PM on December 6, 2009

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