“What-a To Do”

Subject: Game, Song


Informant: Natalie Thurman


Background Information/Context: Natalie, like me, is a theatre major. I asked her if she had any theatre games or warm-up activities at school, and she thought of this one:


“There was this theatre exercise we used to do at my high school called ‘what-a to do.’ We would just do it before rehearsal or before shows to warm up our voices and articulation. It was just like a little song that went:


What a to do to die today

At a minute or two to two

A thing distinctly hard to say

But harder still to do

For they’ll beat a tattoo at two to two

A rat-a-ta-rat-a-ta-ta-ta-ta-too

And the dragon will come

When he hears the drum

At a minute or two to two today

At a minute or two to two.


I had never really thought about what we were saying because we focused so much on our articulation, because that’s what we used it for—as a warm-up. But when I got to college, we used it in one of my acting classes in a completely different context. We had to build a story around it. And we talked about the text in class and, like, what it was actually saying. It’s a children’s nursery rhyme, but it’s one of those nursery rhymes that’s like super dark, like ring around the rosy.


It’s about a soldier going to war for the first time, and at the beginning of it, it takes place on the battlefield, right before the two armies are about to charge at each other, and he’s really scared and knows he’s going to die in a few minutes—‘at a minute or two to 2:00. And then the ‘tattoo’ is a drum that the drummer person beats, signaling the charge forward. And then right after that is the climax of it. And then when it ends, the soldier looks around him and sees that everyone has died but him, and he’s the last one standing. But like all of his friends are dead around him. Wow, that was really dark, sorry! But yeah, really different from using it as a warm-up.