ImproMafia Games List

ImproMafia Games List
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ImproMafia Games List
This list of games is not definitive, but is a good place to start for MCs who are planning a show and
for players interested in practicing particular games. Feel free to look at different sources such as the
internet to find new games, but be aware that games which sound ‘cool’ can often be poorly
thought out and too limiting for performers. However, there is nothing wrong with trying out a game
and discovering this for yourself (unless you are MCing a show in which case you should be wary of
introducing too many untested games).
I believe it is important to remember that games are simply one way of creating impro – they should
not be treated as precious or sacred. Be prepared to explore, to challenge and to experiment with
games and to see what inspires you creatively and entertains the audience. Games are a tool to help
you create good impro - they are not an end in themselves. Treat games as you would any other
piece of impro – takes risks, be playful, accept failure if it occurs and, importantly, learn from those
Perhaps the biggest mistake performers can make when playing around with games is to become
too focused on the rules. This tends to produce games which are too complicated, too difficult or too
involved. So if you are creating or altering a game, ask yourself what effect you would like your game
to produce (a serious dramatic scene? A physical scene? A crazy, playful scene?). Then try it out.
Then ask yourself, does it actually do what I want it to do?
Selecting games for a show
Short form impro is sometimes derided as being cheap comedy made up of gags and parlour tricks.
Unfortunately there is a degree of truth in this criticism. However, short form shows such as
Theatresports are as fascinating, as challenging and as artistically dynamic as you choose to make
them. If you always select the same games for a show and play them in the same way, then the
work will become stale and both audiences and players will drift away. If you instead take risks,
explore new ways of inspiring and creating scenes, then the work should remain engaging for both
performers and audience alike.
Below are some suggestions / common pitfalls for how to structure a short form show.
Variety is key for a short form show - just as you wouldn't want a meal made up a fish
course followed by a fish course, followed by fish for dessert, you also want a show that
features a variety of types of scenes. This is more than just mixing up word at a time story
with a death in a minute, this is about contrasting tone, energy, pace and style. Serious
scenes can make comedy more interesting, manic physical work provides a break from talkie
Cleverness - Some MCs try to be too clever with their work. In many ways, MCs can do little
to ensure a scene works but are able to many things which kill a scene before it gets off the
ground. Less is often more when it comes to arranging a show. Be wary of any scene start
which is funny, elaborate, or complicated. You want performers to be connecting to each
other and bringing their own creative vision to the stage, not trapped as puppets trying to
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recreate a scene which you envisaged ahead of time and thought would be awesome.
Remember your job is to inspire good work, not look like a genius yourself.
Laziness and safety - If each show is run along similar lines, with similar games, this can
become boring for both audience and performers alike (particularly if it is a weekly show).
MCs often do this out of laziness when they treat MCing as a chore or routine or because
they know certain games 'work'. Perhaps the game does work, but once an audience has
seen it performed 20 times, it is going to stop working. MCs should try ways of introducing
variety such as exploring different ways to start scenes - not just new games, but new ways
of inspiring open scenes, new offers, new performance structures.
Novelty - perhaps in response to some of the above problems, some MCs love to introduce
novelty into their shows. Internet game databases are raided and reams of new games are
added to their show line up. There are some pitfalls to this approach, although it isn't a
terrible desire to have. Firstly, internet games lists are often awful. Some games sound cool
but suffer from the problem of cleverness described above. Secondly, too much novelty in a
show can lead to a confusing and slow experience for audience and players alike.
Inexperienced performers should probably practice games ahead of time (just because its
impro doesn't mean you shouldn't prepare for an audience).
Games are not the only way to inspire a scene – there is no rule, anywhere, that the only
way you can present impro is as a game. There are infinite ways that you can inspire
performers and create a scene. Games are simply one way of approaching this (they have
clear, pre-arranged rules and create a particular kind of scene). Also look at open scenes –
where the scenes are inspired by a simple offer such as a word, drawing, piece of music or
idea; or cast scenes – where the MC sets up a particular scenario on stage.
Don’t aim for failure! Failure and risk seem to be often misunderstood concepts in impro,
often because of mantras like "I love to fail" or "embrace failure". This can sometimes
morph into the philosophy that failure itself is a positive thing, something to be sought out.
Even if a show or scene is doomed to failure, players are expected to embrace the failure
and persevere regardless. I think this is based upon a misunderstanding of the philosophy
about failure which teachers such as Viola Spolin and Keith Johnstone had. Embracing failure
means to take action not concerned about the eventual outcome – to accept it as the price
which is paid for the freedom to do dangerous and exciting work. But this doesn't mean that
ramping up the risk of failure, often through complicated offers or rules, will lead to better
scenes. Often MCs like to overload scenes or make decisions which make it hard for the
other players. As Keith Johnstone says, just because it is more difficult doesn't make it
better. Otherwise sex standing up in a hammock would be the best kind of sex there is (it
isn't). The risks which Keith and Viola talk about aren't the risk of saying the alphabet out of
order, or asking a question, but the risk of revealing something about yourself, or seeming
mad or disturbed or boring.
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Game Definitions
ABC Scene (alphabet games) Each line of dialogue begins with the next letter of the alphabet.
Variations include where a starting letter is chosen by the audience, or where the scene is limited to
26 lines of dialogue. This is a hoop game, mainly intended to display verbal dexterity (and an ABC
Shakespearean scene can be impressive if done well). In the words of Keith Johnstone 'Use it as a
novelty. Keep it short'.
Adjective Family The MC gets an adjective from the audience which could describe a family - e.g.
hairy, angry, dangerous. The players then perform a scene about this family (e.g. the hairy family,
the angry family, the dangerous family). I have not seen this game performed for many years. I think
this is because by giving every player the same characteristic, the game tends to lack contrast and
likely becomes a series of uninteresting gags about the adjective. It might work if the adjective is
taken as an inspiration or starting point for the characters, with individual players finding their own
sources of contrast. But then why get the adjective at all?
Alliances – the players must focus on creating an alliance with the other performers on stage. A
good way to approach this is to find a way to exclude one of the players from the group. As this
game gives the players an objective it can create interesting interactions, as long as the performers
focus on changing their various alliances through the scene. Works well with three performers.
Aside Players perform a scene. Whenever the audience want them to explore what is going on in
their characters mind, they can call out 'Aside'. The player must then do a short monologue to the
audience about the inner life of their character (thoughts, emotions, opinions). Could also be
performed with the MC or even the players choosing when to do an aside.
Balancing the Stage Imagine that the stage is a flat piece of board which pivots on a pole in its
centre. At all times, two players must be positioned so that the stage will remain perfectly balanced.
E.g. if one player moves forwards, the other player must move backwards. If one moves to the
centre, the other must also move to the centre. From Impro for Storytellers.
Ballet This should really be entitled silly dancing with a pretentious narrator, given that almost
nothing about this game actually resembles ballet. The performers perform a series of ballet inspired
‘dances’ with explanation provided by an offstage narrator. In reality, this game consists of a series
of physical gags. That being said, if you bring energy and physical commitment, and a desire to tell a
story through dance, this game could still work. It can also work very well in corporate contexts.
Beat Poem Scene Get from the audience a selection of words, which relate to each other (maybe do
a quick association game with them - e.g. first word you associate with cat, etc). These are written
down for one to two performers to see. They perform a beat poem, doing a verse inspired by each
of the words. Each verse it interspersed with a short musical sting, communicated to the musician by
a click.
Blank in a minute Something very long or very short must be performed taking only or an entire
minute. Examples are the Bible, or a sneeze. Energy is key, as well as maintaining a strong focus on
the stage. A common variation is movie in a minute, where an entire movie is replayed.
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Boris This is a game invented by Keith Johnstone. One player is a ‘prisoner’ being interrogated by the
other players on the team. The ‘prisoner’ is guilty of a crime (not determined ahead of time – this
isn’t an endowments) and the other players must ask them questions with the intention of
discovering their crime. This arose as a justification game, so it works well if the questions are
unrelated and the ‘prisoner’ must then link the ideas together into one story. This game is also about
the ‘prisoner’ getting themselves into trouble – so if ever their answer isn’t incriminating enough the
other players can threaten them with an invisible torturer called Boris. Boris often works well as a
threat, but he can also invisibly torture the player. Be aware that this is often less interesting that it
sounds, and requires increasing levels of physical commitment from the player. Don’t let it distract
from the main focus of this game, which is narrative.
Bucket Head – A filled bucket of water is placed on the stage. At all times during the scene, one
player has to have their head in the bucket of water. This will usually involve the performers taking
turns putting their head in the bucket. Some rules say the players need to justify their wet heads,
but I think this is unnecessary – it is enough to have the players come on stage unaware of what has
been happening.
Cheeseburger Each player in the scene is given a characteristic by the MC or audience, such as an
emotion, a vocal or physical characteristic etc. For example, one player might by angry, one might
have a nervous twitch, one might be blind, one might be unable to talk. Every time the players touch
in the scene, they swap over their characteristics. So if the angry player touches the silent player, the
angry player becomes silent, the silent player becomes angry – etc. If the cheeseburgers are
designed by the MC to be ‘funny’ then this will be destructive of the game. However, while this
game is definitely a hoop game, if the players are paying attention and in the moment then it could
still be productive of good impro.
Classic Endowments - players can only speak in gibberish. Must convey the naive player's
occupation, emotional state and physical impairment. Can also be played as English speakers if
gibberish is too restrictive.
Commercial Players are given a product. They then must make up a commercial selling it.
Commercials are actually a difficult genre to replicate - they are tightly scripted, shot and edited, and
try to pack a lot of punch in a small time frame. Recreating this is difficult so teams often fall back on
doing it in the style of an infomercial - chatty, slow, easy gags. Instead, maybe try to develop a scene
which creates the need for that product, and also don't forget aspects of this genre such as voice
overs and jingles.
Consciences – One player is assigned two other players to act as their consciences (e.g. a good and a
bad conscience, or desire and self-control). The scene is played, with the consciences trying to
influence them and play out their internal conflict. Can be played silly but also has the potential to
work well as a dramatic scene. A variation is inner monologue – where each onstage player is given
another player who provides their characters thoughts during the scene. There are a number of
ways this game can be structured and approached – the overall aim is to provide extra depth to
performers by bringing their inner life to the stage.
Continuation Scene One team performs a one minute start to the scene, and the next team must
then play the rest of the scene based upon what has been set up. The scene is often played quite
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destructively by the first team who load the scene up with random offers, incoherent storyline and
frenetic characters. This leaves the second team nothing to work with beyond a mess. However, if
the first team use their opportunity to inspire the other team with blind offers, or mystery, then this
game could be a delight to watch and play. Note, it can also be played where the team arriving on
stage decide to based their scene on the previous teams scene.
Creation Myth (originally 'The Invention of' scene) An object is given as an offer and the players
must create a story of why it was created. Keith Johnstone says this is often an opportunity for
players to be stupid, but feels it can work if players choose an object which genuinely inspires them.
Customs Endowments - the player is a smuggler who must guess where they have come from, what
they are smuggling and what mode of transport they used.
Deaf Replay (also Ipod Replay) – Two players perform a scene on stage, while two performers who
can’t hear sit off stage watching the scene. They have to replay the scene, justifying the physicality
of the original scene but with different dialogue. To generation Y this is iPod replay. The key is
strong, clear physicality in the first scene and for the players offstage to pay attention. The internet
says it is possible to replay it a second time with a third set of players – but do you really trust the
Death in a minute - This is a classic Keith Johnstone scene which aims to teach players to make
something happen in their scenes. The rules for this game are simple: at the end of the scene one of
the players must be dead. This game is surprisingly difficult to work well. A common offer is a safe
location. Common pitfalls for this game include: leaving the death to the end of the scene and then
forcing it, and telegraphing the death ahead of time (e.g.. let me just put this spike over here while
you drive around the house blindfolded). I would suggest two strategies - don't focus on the death,
focus on creating a world and a relationship with the other player. And secondly, let something in
the scene kill you (no need to set it up ahead of time). The death can be justified later.
Documentary The players are given a topic and must do a documentary about it. This is difficult to
make work as a scene, I think because many elements of a documentary are impossible to replicate
on the stage. It often devolves into faux David Attenborough wildlife documentaries, which can be
funny. However, it could also work if there was a focus on interviews, fly on the wall scenes and
offstage narration.
Dodgy SFX At the start of the scene the players are given a selection of objects which they can use
in the scene to create special effects. Sometimes these are collected from the audience (this can be
risky) but they are probably best selected by the MC ahead of time – e.g. toilet roles, pieces of rope,
bits of cardboard, tin foil, tubes etc. The players challenge are to incorporate these into the scene as
SFX. This would work well if they are given a genre which might benefit from SFX such as science
fiction or action.
Double Double Speak Speak For this game every player must say each word of the sentence twice,
immediately after each other. E.g. I I went went to to the the store store to to buy buy a a dog dog.
This is the very definition of a hoop game and is mainly a demonstration of the performers skill however, audiences often enjoy it and there is no reason you can't tell a good story even with this
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hoop to jump through. Also, the verbal limitation doesn't hinder physical communication, and can
help characters emphasize moments on stage. But still, it’s mostly about the hoop.
Double Figures (or The Arms). Taken from a Laurel and Hardy movie. Two players put their arms
behind their back, with the other two players providing their arms. This is usually played as an
interview, but there is no reason why this should be the case (certainly Keith Johnstone used the
game more widely). If given a scenario which involves standing, the players will need to crab walk to
each other to maintain the illusion. Could also be played as a solo scene, with one player as a
teacher etc.
Dub There are a couple of different versions of dub games. The basic rule is that each some
performers on the team provide the voices for other members of their team. The focus required to
pull this off can be challenging for new performers, but if done well can be genuinely interesting for
an audience. Dub games were used by Viola Spolin with the aim of getting two performers, each
focused on one another, to create the one player. With this approach neither player is in control,
instead each is following the follower. Try to avoid getting into your head (being analytical) during
this game and instead focus on the other player.
Dub: 4-Way Dub (Cross Talk) In this dub, the performers provide voices for each other while
performing the scene. For example, A provides B's voice, B provides C's voice, C provides D's voice
and D provides A's voice. This does require practice as it is a skill, but as mentioned can be enjoyable
to watch. A good tactic is for the character who is talking (and who is having their voice provided for
them) to clearly physicalise when they are talking - and this involves more than moving their mouth.
However, this game is far more challenging than a voices off and its complexity interferes with focus
on the other player. Cross talk is a simpler variant where players are paired up and provide each
other's voice.
Dub: Voices Off Probably the closest version to Viola's game - two players (or more) physicalise a
scene on stage while two performers off-stage provide their voices. Remember Viola's focus above
and try to not let either player control the scene (there is a tendency for the verbal players to take
control). This should be a game of connectedness and synchronicity. However, if you just want to
make people laugh, I guess the humour of the game comes from torturing the onstage performers
through the control of the vocalisation. Shame.
Emotion Swap Players are given two different emotions. By the end of the scene, the players must
have swapped over their emotions. This is a game of transition and justification. Again, as with most
justification games do not try to justify the change ahead of time - jump and then justify it.
Emotional Body Parts The players are assigned both an emotion and a body part. They must play the
scene with their body part feeling that emotion (e.g.. a sad nose, an angry hand, a joyous foot). This
game is derived from a technique for building characters through altered physicality - and it is best
to use the offers as a physical focus to help generate a character for the scene, rather than as an
excuse to make some physical gags (e.g. punching everyone with your angry hand). If you are going
to play it for the gags, at least try to get lustful as an offer and make it brief.
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Emotional Squares The stage is divided up into 4 squares (with tape or chalk etc). Each section is
assigned an emotion. Whenever a player enters a section of the stage they must take on the
emotion of that part of the stage.
Endowments: Teenage Endowments - the player outside is a naughty teenager who must guess
where they have been, who they have been with and what they were doing.
Entrances and Exits No more and no less than two players must be on stage at any one time. As
such, every time someone enters the scene, someone must exit, and every time someone exits the
scene, someone must enter. This is a justification game - so entrance and exists should be justified.
And as with all justification games, trying to find reasons ahead of time can slow the process down.
Fairytale The players create a fairytale, normally with a narrator. A useful way to approach this game
is as a piece of children's theatre or pantomime. A fairytale will usually involve a hero, who has to go
on a journey, and has to deal with evil creatures, step mothers, before winning the hand of the
princess/ prince and living happily ever after.
Film Noir This is a scene performed in the style of a Film Noir. Generally it is partly narrated by the
main character in asides to the audience, but this is not required. It should draw on the conventions
of the style – gumshoes, missing people or possessions, femme fatales and betrayal. Try to move
beyond clichés and capture the essence of the genre.
First Letter, Last Letter The first letter of each players line of dialogue must begin with the last letter
of the last players line of dialogue. For example, A) I ate your peach B) How could you? A)
Understand that I did this out of hate not love etc etc. I think this is derived from an association
game which has a similar structure. Rarely played, and for a good reason. If you do want to play it,
practice it ahead of time and use it to show off your verbal skill.
First Line, Last line The players are given the first line of their scene and the last line of their scene
by the audience or the MC. Keith Johnstone felt this game (when it was just called 'last line') was
about players wanting to feel safe and bridging given that they know the destination. The addition of
a first line also makes it about justifying two potential disparate lines of dialogue. Plus, there is a real
risk that the players will be given stupid 'funny' lines to say. Perhaps chop of the last line part and
just make it 'First Lines!'.
Fred Derf (Speak in one voice) Two players stand side by side with their arms around each other (or
put on a giant t-shirt or dress). They must then perform the scene as the one character, talking one
word at a time. All other characters in the scene speak normally. Reportedly created by Kiesten
Macaulay. An excellent variation is where the two players must speak in one voice (that is they
speak in unison).
Genre Scene – The players are given a genre in which they have to perform the scene. Very open –
as with any genre work a knowledge of the genre does help. If the players have a choice, select a
genre which they are passionate about.
Gibberish Song One or two performers sing a song in gibberish while another performer translates
the song for the audience. It was once common to perform this game as a foreign national anthem.
This tends to make it a series of translation gags (and potentially a little bit racist) as national
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anthems are quite a restrictive genre of song. My suggestion would be to sing a more normal genre
of song (e.g. a love song) rather than trying to justify the gibberish element.
Hatliners (or Lines from a hat) The MC arranges for the audience to write out lines on individual
pieces of paper (or does so themselves). These are placed into a hat (or performer's pockets, or
scattered on the stage). Throughout the scene the performers must select random lines from the
hat, pocket or stage and immediately read it out. This line of dialogue must be immediately justified
in the context of the scene. Note: if using audience offers it is often a good idea to vet them ahead of
Headliner The players are given a real headline from the newspaper. They must do a scene in which
the events surrounding the headline are recreated but be thoughtful about the kind of events you
would like to see replayed.. It can also be played where the headline simple inspires the scene.
He said, She said…. Each player in the scene (probably best to run it with two) provides a short stage
directions after each of the other player’s lines, before saying their own line of dialogue (not that the
dialogue has to be in turns). For example, A: I hope you die in hell! B: She said, gently brushing her
hair. “You deserve to be treated this badly” A: He said, taking a sip from his single malt whiskey”.
Easy to turn this game into a crude pimping exercise, but it can also be used to playfully create
colour in a scene and inspire your fellow performers.
I love you scene In this scene, someone must say, at some point, for some reason “I love you”. A
nice place to start an I love you scene is in an unromantic location or setting, but this is not a hard
and fast rule. This can make the eventual I love you more satisfying for an audience. It doesn't have
to be romantic, but also don't cop out - the I love you should still be meaningful and heartfelt.
In a, with a, While a The players perform a scene 'in' X, 'with' Y, 'while' Z occurs. Often completely
unconnected offers are chosen (e.g. in a bathtub, with an elephant, while someone learns the tuba)
which makes it a game of justification, and can lead to it being somewhat silly. This game seems to
be derived from Viola Spolin's focus on the 'who, what, where' as the basis for scene starts, which is
a potential alternative for getting the offers for this game (particularly if related offers are selected
e.g. school room, teachers, preparing for class). That being said, Keith Johnstone didn't really like
either approach.
Little Voice Created by Keith Johnstone. In the scene, one player is the voice of a character who
cannot be seen - e.g. an ant, tiny person, snail etc. Keith's suggested approach - see the creature,
have initial resistance (e.g. is someone playing a trick on me), define the voice, and try to solve its
problems. The voice doesn't just have to be small - it can represent couches, mountains, spirits, part
of your body etc.
Live Props Scene The team play a scene with members from other teams acting as all their props in
the scene. Try to make it more than a series of physical gags, and try to use the opportunity to bring
a dynamic and physical scene to life.
Love Letters The audience are prepped to provide words when called upon by the players on stage.
Two players then sit on separate sides of the state. One begins writing a love letter to the other,
occasionally asking for words from the audience to fill in blanks in their love letter. When the letter
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is completed, the other player writes a letter of their own back, with the audience filling in the
blanks. This back and forth can continue until a resolution is reached.
Making Faces: The players each go into the audience and ask one audience member to make a face
which they must copy. The players then use this face to create a character. They do not have to keep
the face rigid in that position, but it should inform their characters. A rarely played game, but as long
as it is used as a way to inspire characters it should be a usable game. Try to avoid focusing on
‘justifying’ the weird facial expressions.
Marshmallow mania Every time a player makes a member of the audience laugh during a scene,
they must put a marshmallow into their mouth. They can chew but they cannot swallow the
marshmallow. The idea is their mouth will eventually become crammed with mallowy goodness. A
couple of points - firstly, while you only get marshmallows when the audience laugh, still play the
scene normally. Desperately seeking laughs comes across as.. well, desperate and will keep the
audience silent. Secondly, the gag gets old quickly so end it once someone can't talk because their
mouth is crammed with marshmallow. Also, be careful someone doesn't choke.
Mime This is a scene in which the players cannot speak any words. It works best with two
performers to prevent the focus being lost. It can also be performed with an offstage performer
providing sound effects through a microphone. As mime removes the ability to speak and verbalise,
I would suggest players slow down, explore their world and their character in detail and then find
something within that world to focus on. Without taking time to explore the world, and share it
physically with your fellow players and the audience, you will be stuck trying to make physical gags
in a void.
Mousetrap Game The players have their shoes removed and are blindfolded while mousetraps are
scattered across the stage. The performers must perform the scene, justifying any yelps of pain etc
when a mousetrap is set off. If the stage is raised, we suggest getting volunteers from other teams to
make sure they don't fall off. Some important points: don't inflict this game on a team without
checking with them ahead of time. Secondly, playing this game timidly is uninteresting so try to
forget the fear and move around the stage relatively normally. Thirdly, while a mousetrap might hurt
on the toes or the finger, it is relatively painless if it closes on arms, legs, torsos. It is claimed that this
game was invented by the 3 Canadians who used it to promote their shows. However there is a
Brisbane tradition that it was invented locally and later travelled to Canada. Ultimately, it probably
doesn't matter.
Movie Sequel A movie is given and the players must create a sequel to that movie. While you need
to reincorporate elements from the original movie, you also need to move beyond this limitation to
create a new story. I don't think I have ever seen it work.
Murder Endowments - the naive player is the murderer. The audience select the murder victim from
the players, the location and the murder weapon. Rarely played, but it actually has the possibility to
create a good scene.
Musical Hotspot The players perform a scene. At anytime during the scene the musician can start
playing music, and the players must immediately start singing. When the music stops, the players
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must immediately stop singing. As with any musical game, this can work well if the music is used to
explore emotions and perspective, not just as a random disruptor in the scene.
Musical The players perform a scene in the style of a musical. As with any genre game, a knowledge
of the genre does help and does a knowledge of song style. Musical songs are often explorations of a
moment or the emotions of a character – so take advantage of this and don’t just focus on the
storyline. Excellent finishes to a show if everyone knows what they are doing.
'N' words As the players perform the scene the MC calls out a random number of words which they
must now use in their sentences. When this variation is played it largely becomes a hoop game in
which players end up counting their words, which can be funny but can also distract from creating
characters and narrative. A common variant is where each player is given a set number of words
they can use at the beginning of the scene. Keith Johnstone also suggests some variants (which he
prefers to the above). "3 word scenes" limit each player to sentences of 3 words - this is to make
players more aware of their speech and prevents them talking on autopilot while planning ahead. It
also hinders gagging. "One word scenes" involve limiting players to one word sentences. This is
about forcing players to find physical solutions and connections within the scene.
Opera The players perform a scene in the style of an opera. A few key points about opera – firstly, in
an Opera all dialogue is sung. This is normally a combination of recitative (which is simple musically)
and arias (which are more dramatic songs which are used to explore character’s emotions and
moments of tension). The action and acting in an opera by its very nature tends to be dramatic and
Party Endowments (quirks) - the 'naive' player is the party host. Each of the other three players is
assigned a celebrity or other character, which the host must guess. They generally arrive at the party
one at a time. Note, this is completely different from Keith Johnstone's game of the same name.
Performance art This is a game in which the players get an offer from the audience and perform a
piece of performance art based upon it. Performance art does not tend to be narrative or even
character based - it is about creating emotions or experiences for the spectator, often to explore a
particular concept. To be honest, this game is normally played as a mockery of performance art
(which is often ripe for mockery) but there is absolutely no reason it could not be played quite
seriously as an exploration of a theme or topic.
Physical Thermometer A performance version of a workshop activity. Each of the players is assigned
a different part of their body with which they have to lead physically during the scene. This is
normally assigned by the MC, who gets the audience to cheer for which part of the players body
they want to lead (often by waving a hand in front of their body). This is a character focused game,
but theoretically it shouldn't get in the way of storytelling (to be fair, I haven't seen it played in a
long time).
Pillars A scene is played, with two audience members or other players as "pillars". Whenever one of
the players on stage desires, they can point at a pillar who must immediately say a random word. It
works best if this word is not directly related to what is going on in the scene and creates an element
of randomness which the players must justify. Overuse can lead to chaos however.
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Pirate Scene This is a silly game inspired by the love of Brisbane improvisers of a particular
generation for pirates. The players act out a pirate tale, featuring pirates. This scene will die if the
focus becomes entirely about pirate gags. Play this rarely. There is a useful variation in which a
pirate character is played in a situation where you would not normally find pirates (e.g. a library).
This variation is really a fish out of water scene, and there is no reason it should be restricted to
Play in the style of.... A well known story is given by the MC or asked for from the audience. As the
story is replayed by the players, the MC calls out different genres which the players must
immediately start performing the scene in. This is similar to a genre rollercoaster except that a well
known story is being played. The game tends to be less chaotic and more coherent than a genre
rollercoaster because the storyline is known ahead of time. Paying attention is key to make this
game work. A nice variation is where the story is told in a single genre (e.g. Red Riding Hood as a
Playbook One player is given a playbook. They can only read out lines from the book (generally at
random). The other characters must justify what they are saying. It is often beneficial to not overuse
lines from the book as it can overload the scene and create confusion as it will introduce numerous
random elements. Variation: Actor's nightmare I believe this is taken from the play of the same
name. One player is given a playbook. They select one of the characters from the play, and they read
out their lines of dialogue in order. The other players must respond as if they know the play,
justifying the lines of dialogue.
Poem Players make up a poem in any style (rhyming, alliterative epic, sonnet, haiku, beat poem),
with each player taking turns to stay a line. Rhyming poems in the ABAB style is the most common,
but feel free to select a style which inspires you. Poems are more than mere rhyming structure - they
are about the beautiful use of language - use similes, metaphors, and descriptive, emotional, and
personal language. They explore moments in time, emotions, and connections, more so than
'beginning, middle and end' stories.
Puppets - Half the team are designated as puppets - they can talk but they cannot move their body.
The other half of the team is responsible for moving their bodies. The point of the activity is that that
both puppet and puppeteer must work together to create the one character. It can also be done
with audience members or other teams as the puppeteers - be sure to warm up the audience
members ahead of time and get them to practice moving heads and feet etc if they are used. This
later kind of game will largely be gags about the inappropriate or random physicality created by the
audience members.
Radio Play The players perform a radio play for the audience, drawing on the conventions and styles
of this genre. It traditionally was performed in a dark theatre or with the audience closing their eyes
(to keep the focus on the sound) but it can also be performed as radio plays used to be performed in
front of a live audience (with the voice actors facing the audience etc). Strong and distinct character
voices are a huge benefit in this game. As is truly listening to your fellow performers. Having one
person providing sound effects can also be a fun addition.
Reducing Word at a time story Players tell a story, with the number of words they say reducing each
time they go through the group - e.g.. first round the players can use 10 words, the second 9 words
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etc until they can only use one and the game finishes. Not really sure why this game was invented or
what it hopes to achieve (beyond perhaps avoiding the limitation of word at a time story). The
structure of this game avoids the main point of a word at a time story which is sharing control and
also locks the players into a set duration for the story (it needs to continue until the players run out
of words).
Reminiscence Two performers play old friends (or enemies etc) who narrate the scene as a series of
reminiscences. The other players replay the events from the past. It rarely produces an enjoyable
scene, but there is no reason that it should not. I think a potential reason is that the players acting
out the scene tend to take on the characters of the players reminiscing - reducing the chance for
conflict and dramatic tension as it locks in the characters.
Replays The basic format of a replay is that a scene is played neutrally, then it is replayed several
more times in different styles, genres, emotions etc. The key to an effective replay is to make sure
the first scene has enough substance to provide material for the following scenes. If the first scene
falls flat, it might be better to call the scene down then rather than inflict repeated mediocrity on
the audience. Keith Johnstone was not a fan of simply replaying the original scene, but preferred for
the story to progress further each time it was played. He also thinks you shouldn't over explain the
game and lock yourself into repeating it a set number of times.
Replay: Emotional - The scenes are replayed with three different emotions. This can be a good
demonstration of how heightening an emotion can give immediate life to a scene. But there is little
contrast between the players (everyone is the same emotion).
Replay: Genres / Characters / Historical / Fruit bowl The scenes are replayed with different genres,
characters, historical period or a combination of them. Can be very entertaining but relies mainly on
cleverness and quick wit.
Replay: Reducing Scene (Half Life)Players perform a scene in one minute, then replay it in 30
seconds, then in 10 seconds, then in 5 seconds. The big plus for this game is it is energetic. The big
downside is that even if the first scene is entertaining, the second and third repeats will be dull as it
is just rehashing the same story again but slightly faster. The final repeat normally gets a positive
response from the audience as it is crazy, messy fun. Probably works best as a starting game, or as a
warm up, or to break up the action in a half. But other games probably work better.
Rhyming couplets: Each player must only speak in rhyming couplets. It is often best to aim for cheap
and easy doggerel, rather than finely honed poetic statements. Spending too much time planning
ahead will kill the scene, try to not be too concerned about the rhyme and just let it flow. Picking
words with easy rhymes helps (e.g. anything ending in a vowel sound).
Rollercoasters – the basic idea of a rollercoaster game is that the players are given arbitrary changes
throughout their scene e.g. emotion, genre, accent. The constant change can be entertaining, but
these scenes have the common weakness that the changes are somewhat arbitrary. This can also
lead to the scenes being all about the changes, leading to any storyline or character development
being overwhelmed.
Rollercoaster: Accent - Same as above but with random accent changes being called out. At its best,
this game is merely a chance for players to demonstrate their skill with accents. At its worst, it is a
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series of racial caricatures and stereotypes. Rarely does this game lead to either a story or
interesting characters.
Rollercoaster: Emotional (originally Emotional Hurdles) A scene is played, beginning in a particular
emotion. Randomly throughout the scene, the MC will call out emotion changes (e.g. sad, happy,
lustful). The player must immediately change their emotional state, and should justify this change.
Because there is constant transition the audience will likely be engaged but the scene rarely builds
naturally due to the arbitrary changes in emotion.
Rollercoaster: Genre - As for emotional roller coaster but with genres. Unlike play in the style of, the
changes in genre can be very destructive to the scene unless the players are particularly quick witted
and are able to translate scene elements into the new genre. The game discourages story and
Scene from Boogie Music plays, the players dance groovily until the music stops, at which point they
must freeze. They play a scene which justifies these postures. There is a variation in which whenever
the musician starts playing in the scene, the players must boogie and time passes in the scene, and
then once the music stops they must justify their new positions. This was created when we didn't
explain the game properly to our musician, and can work quite nicely as a variation.
Scene from Nothing The players are given no offer, no rules - nothing at all to go on. This actually
can be quite challenging because there is nothing to inspire the players for their scene. However,
players should then look to inspire each other to make this game work.
Scene from prop The players are given a prop to inspire their scene. They may use it in any way they
Scene in reverse (or Backwards Scene) There are two different ways of playing this game. This first
was created by Keith Johnstone as a way of keeping players present in the scene. A scene would be
played as per normal, but when the MC yelled 'reverse' the players would have to play the scene
backwards. When forward was yelled, they could replay the scene, but with different choices. The
other version is more widely accepted (although disapproved by Keith). It involves simply creating
the scene backwards from end till start. Tom Salinsky suggests moving from backwards interviews,
to backwards murders, to open backwards scenes as a way of developing this skill.
Scene without humans This scene is played without any human characters. It can involve animals,
gods, aliens, inanimate objects. How you approach this scene is up to you – but the game seems to
be encouraging players to explore different physicality and characterisation. For some reason, it
rarely works well. Perhaps it is because of the limitations that being non-human puts on physicality
and vocalisation.
Scene without Questions As it sounds. Any player who asks a question in this scene must leave stage
immediately. The other players must justify this absence. Presumably derived from Del Close's rule
that you should avoid asking questions on stage. The threat of elimination can slow down players as
they focus on what they are saying - but it is perfectly possible to have a strong and enjoyable scene
without questions. Players should be unafraid of being eliminated, as this will probably delight
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Seduction In this scene one character must be convinced to change their behaviour, view or beliefs.
For example, a vegetarian might be convinced to eat meat. Underlying this game is the idea that
change or transformation on stage is engaging for an audience to watch. This game can be reduced
to a simple argument or conversation about the topic. This can be amusing but has its limitations.
Try to explore different tactics to change the other character's mind. It would work best if it was
possible for both characters to be changed (so we didn't know which side would win).
Serenade – The players sing a love song for an audience volunteer. Often it is presented as a
competition where each team members has to try and win their love, but it could also be treated as
a team effort. This game is often played with the audience member on stage sitting in a chair.
However, teams should be very careful before their put an audience member into an exposed
position like this – if the scene fails then they will be put into an uncomfortable situation. Instead, it
is highly recommended that the audience member remains in the audience. This makes the process
less stressful for them. This also makes staging easier for the players. A common gimmick for this
game is to get information from the volunteer and then string some sung puns together based on
this information – but this game is a love song, and there is nothing wrong with treating it seriously
as such.
Sesame School The players are given a moral, sage advice or important social issue. They then must
perform a children's show which explores or explains the advice / social issue. Embrace the key
elements of this genre - enthusiastic hosts, happy mascots, and joyous songs.
Shakespearean Scene This is a scene played in the style of Shakespeare. This can be quite a difficult
ask – try poetic language, asides to the audience, and intense emotions. Draw on the conventions of
the style (e.g. everyone marrying at the end) but try to avoid turning the scene into a series of
clichés and words with ‘eth’ on the end. If you are not familiar with Shakespeare I would recommend
taking the time to familiarise yourself – read or watch a few plays. A deeper understanding will help
you out. This scene can be very effective when done well and the difference between a superficial
and a skilled attempt is marked.
Shared Story Players tell a story with each player taking it in turns to add one line to the story. It is
commonly performed in one of its variations: Perspectives (where each player takes a different
character's perspective in the story) or genre (where everyone tells the story in a different genre given to them by the MC). Perspectives often becomes cluttered if more than 3 players are used
(two would probably be ideal but is rarely seen).
Should have said! The players perform a scene, and each time the audience yell out ‘should have
said’ they must change the last line of dialogue. It is important that MCs get the audience to practice
yelling out should have said ahead of time. There is also a variation where the MC rings the bell to
indicate the players need to change their dialogue, rather than getting the audience to yell it out. In
the US this is often played as New Choice – the rules are roughly similar but new choice can be
applied to actions as well as dialogue.
Sing About it! The players begin a scene with an offer from the audience or MC. At any stage during
the game the audience can yell out 'sing about it!' and the players must immediately sing a song
based upon the last line of dialogue which they have said. This song should explore their emotional
state or inner thoughts at this point of time (similar to a musical). A useful variation is when this call
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is made by the MC (audiences are sometimes motivated more by a desire to be funny then genuine
interest in seeing a moment turned into song).
Slow Motion Commentary One to two players perform an activity in slow motion, while one to two
other performers provide sports-style commentary. The commentary needn't be frantic and fast,
although it can build to that for effect. The offer is commonly a household chore, but feel free to be
creative. There are standard gags such as seeing the action in replay and from blimp cam, but be
aware that these gags have been seen before and will tire quickly.
solo emotional rollercoaster In this scene, only one player changes when the MC calls out a new
emotional state. The rest of the players must help justify and respond to the players changing
emotions. As only one player is being changed it can make for a less chaotic stage, and avoids the
pitfall of emotional roller coaster where there is no contrast (e.g. everyone is happy, everyone is sad
Song The performers are given an offer and sing a song about it. A few tips: take the time to get into
the groove at the start, commit to the moment and if in doubt, sing about love.
Sooper Hero scene A game in which each player endows the next player to enter stage with their
character’s name. For example, the first performer is given his superhero power or name (e.g.
Firebreathing Man) and he starts the scene. When needed he calls on the next character (his sidekick
or the police commissioner etc). This character then names the next character in the scene etc. The
intention behind the game is to force performers to endow each other with characters. Notes: The
biggest danger with this game is it can become an excursion into stupidity with overly ‘clever names
(e.g. never wears pants boy, always screams at questions girl). The more ridiculous the superhero
name, the harder it is to work into the scene without being destructive. It is also sometimes played
with a strict structure where the superhero endows his sidekick who endows the bad guy who
endows his sidekick. This structure means that the scene is played in a similar way each time with
roughly the same characters. This seems unnecessarily restrictive.
Sound Effects Scene This scene requires access to a wide variety of sound effects. Throughout the
scene, the musician (or whoever is controlling the sound effects) randomly plays sound effects which
the players must justify into the scene. As long as the sound effects are not used destructively (e.g.
to be funny) then this is a fun justification game.
Soundtrack Scene The musician provides a soundtrack for the scene, which has different tempos,
moods and styles. Players must perform a scene in which the onstage action reflects the soundtrack.
Space jump The scene begins with one character on stage, who is given a topic which they must
improvise about. This lasts for 30 seconds. At the end of this time, the MC calls out freeze ,and the
player freezes. A second player then comes onto stage and starts a scene justifying their frozen
position. This new scene should NOT be related to the previous scene. After 30seconds the players
freeze again, and the third player comes on and does the same, and so also for the fourth player.
The scene with the fourth player goes for 1 minute however. At the end of this time, the fourth
player leaves and the remaining players go back to the scene they were performing earlier, justifying
their new positions. This continues until only the first player remains on stage. There are a number
of teachers who express concern with freeze games like space jump. Keith Johnstone described
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them as games of killing stories, which encourage players to cancel and sidetrack. Other teachers
like Tom Salinsky, point out that few people are actually inspired by physically justifying a position. It
is essentially a game of visual puns. But you can make your own choices.....
Spit Take The players in the scene are giving cups or bottles of water. When not talking, the players
should sip water from their cups. Whenever a player says a line of dialogue, it must cause the other
player(s) to be so shocked they spit water onto the other player. In essence, this game is about
trying to raise the stakes in the scene and to get characters responding with powerful emotions.
However, it can be a bit one note and relies heavily on its shtick. Also be aware that water can create
a safety hazard and that audience members don't necessarily like water being spat on them.
Standing, Sitting, Kneeling (or lying) At each point in the scene, one player must be standing, one
kneeling and sitting. If one player changes, then the rest must change to compensate. A note from
Keith Johnstone - don't try to justify before you move, instead justify your change after you have
moved, otherwise the scene will be static. One of the benefits of this game is that it focuses (if rather
superficially) on stage picture and creating physical motion in the scene.
Staring and Reclining At each point in the scene one player must be staring into the distance (aka
the audience), one player must be staring at the player staring at the audience, and the other player
must be reclining upon a chair or coach in dramatic pose. Any changes should be justified.
Statues Another team is brought onto stage to ‘mold’ the players into various postures. The players
must start a scene justifying the various postures they have been given. Not every player has to start
moving at the beginning of the scene.
Stunt Doubles Two players act out a scene. When anything dangerous or exciting happens, they call
out “stunt doubles” and the other players come onto stage and perform the “stunt”. Then play
reverts to the actors. The stunt doubles shouldn't talk. As this is basically a series of gags, remember
that the gag can wear out quite quickly with an audience (unless the stunt doubles can provide an
ever increasing level of physical involvement, which is difficult and potentially dangerous).
Subtitles (also Foreign Film dub) – Two players perform a scene speaking only in gibberish, while two
fellow players provide the English translation of their dialogue. It is important that the performers
pause after each line of dialogue to give the translators an opportunity to translate. There are a lot
of possible gimmicks with this game (translating a long piece of dialogue into a short sentence,
making words said angrily as loving, and pimping the performers on stage. Most of these get old very
quickly, so be careful. Tom Salinsky dislikes this game because it slows the action on stage down,
while the performers wait for a disruptive gag. This takes away the immediate connection that
onstage performers (should) have. If you move away from treating it a series of translation gags,
there can be fun moments from surprising onstage performers. Sometimes people like to select a
foreign country to set the movie in – only do this if you can do a good gibberish version of their
language (audiences like to call out obscure ‘funny’ languages).
The best Blank The players are given an offer, such as an event that might happen in someone’s life,
and they have to perform the best version of that offer. For example, they might have to perform
the best proposal ever. An exercise in heightening the action and emotions in a scene.
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The Guide MC reads out a synopsis of a movie and the performers have to recreate that movie for
the audience. A big danger with this game is for the MC to pick a funny movie synopsis. All of the
humorous elements of the synopsis will not be as funny when the players recreate them (after all,
the audience know they are coming and are not surprised or delighted by them). The aim of the MC
should be to inspire the players, not seem funnier than them. An open, short synopsis would be best
- and there is no reason it can't be a known movie as long as the players don't just slavishly recreate
it. It is also best to leave out the ending as the players should be given lee way to create their own
The most scene An adjective or personal attribute is taken from the audience as an offer. The
players must perform the ‘most’ extreme version of that offer. For example, they must play the most
angry scene, or greedy scene, or most repulsive scene etc. Try to avoid silly offers which are funnier
to set up than to actually do (e.g. the most urinating scene). The biggest weakness these scenes can
have is their lack of contrast – everyone is angry, sad, dangerous etc. Remember it is the scene, not
the characters, which needs to represent the attribute.
The Show must go on.....The cast scatter themselves around the stage in various death postures.
They are the cast of the show who have all died from food poisoning. One cast member (or maybe it
could work with two) plays the surviving actor who must then play all of the characters of the play,
manipulating and providing the voices for their fallen comrades. It was introduced to us by Jill
Bernard from HUGE Theatre.
Time Jump Begin a scene with two characters. Then the MC calls jumps forward in time (10 minutes
later, one month later, 10 years later etc). The aim of the scene is to see how their relationship and
story develops over time.
Time Warp This is the more commonly played version of the above game Time Jump. A scene is
played, but random time changes are called out by the MC. Players must then act out what was or
would be happening at that point of time, in relation to the scene they have just played. The random
changes can destroy the flow of the story, and is largely about making clever connections.
Touch to talk Players can only talk if they are touching another player. Try not to solve the problem
by holding each other's hands, as this makes the exercise pointless. And there is absolutely no
reason for you to have to talk - take advantage of the silence this game offers. A variation can also
be found in Viola Spolin's game' contact' in which every time you say a line of dialogue you must
touch another player. The intent is to get players focused on their fellow performers, and physically
connected. Try to avoid touching which is fake (e.g. touching your feet together) or repetitive (e.g.
only touching them on the shoulder).
Translator – One player only speaks in gibberish, one player only speaks in English and the other
player translates between the two. This is normally done as an interview, but there is no reason this
needs be the case beyond that it does provide a nice clear setting (why not gibberish translation in a
job interview, first date, police interrogation). As with any gibberish translation scene there are a
number of gimmicks you can use - mistranslation etc – but these gimmicks have probably been done
before and an audience will get bored of them quickly. This game appears to be performed less
often recently – I think this is because once the usual gimmicks have been exhausted, there is often
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not much left to the scene beyond a stilted interview. To make the game work it might be necessary
to transcend these limitations.
Triggers Each player is secretly given a “trigger”. This is normally achieved by sending all the players
from the room and sending for them one by one (so that the audience are in on the secret). A trigger
is an event which triggers a particular response in the player – for example, every time someone asks
a question you touch them, every time someone enters a scene you leave, every time someone
mimes a prop you must find a way to take it off them. Care must be taken with the triggers – if the
MC tries to be clever with the triggers they can have a destructive effect upon the scene. For
example, if the MC tries to make the triggers funny (every time someone mimes a prop you eat it) or
sets up a never ending loop where each triggers sets off the next trigger. Players should not play the
scene entirely focused on their trigger but should approach it as any other scene (perhaps with an
increased focus on interacting with their fellow performers. As long as the MC has set the triggers up
properly, it is probably not a good idea to spend time trying to puzzle out each other triggers as they
will get you into the wrong head space.
Truth The scene must be played in a truthful and realistic manner - no aliens, no monsters, no time
travelling pirates. Truthful scenes don't have to be serious but often are. It is often best to pick an
offer or situation which will encourage a focus on people and their relationships (rather than a alien
invasion scene). Focusing on being 'truthful' can sometimes make performers awkward - so instead
try focusing on achieving an objective with the other character, or on a mantra, or silence or physical
Typewriter One player takes on the role of an author, narrating the story as if typing out a novel.
The narration alternates with the rest of the cast continuing the story through scenes. This can be a
difficult game, particularly for the narrator, but if performers pay attention to each other and
remember to tell a story, it can be strong, narrative focused game. This game was invented at Loose
Understudy – one performer is selected by the audience or the MC to be the ‘understudy’ (the naïve
player). They are sent from the room. From the remaining players a starring ‘actor is selected. The
scene is then performed based upon an offer from the audience. At the end of the scene, the naïve
player is called back in and must try to replay the original scene in the starring actors roles as closely
as possible to the original scene. Often this is justified through the mock death of the original actor.
There are many gimmicks which can be used in this game – from the naïve player purposely playing
a completely contrasting character to overplaying their helplessness. All are fun and can work well,
but remember they are gimmicks and should not be overused as the audience will quickly become
bored with them. Also, try to avoid making the original scene too funny, as this will potentially make
the second scene an anticlimax.
Word at a time Players tell a story with each player taking it in turns to add one word to the story.
This game is about sharing control with your fellow players and not planning ahead. It is also not just
a word game but players should be encouraged to act out the story as they tell it. For a better
understanding of this game, see Keith Johnstone's 'Impro'. If your stories are meandering or
collapsing, try strategies suggested by Keith Johnstone - meet a monster or bad guy, and do
something to it (kill it, seduce it, befriend it, run away).
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Yes, Good, Let’s do it! This is derived from an exercise of Keith Johnstone’s designed to train
positivity and acceptance. An audience volunteer is chosen by the MC and given three lines of
dialogue which they can use in the scene ‘Yes”, “Good” or “Let's do it”. The players must perform
the scene, incorporating the audience member and their dialogue. Pimping the audience member
can be fun (e.g. “Do you want me to punch you in the face?”, “Let's do it!”) but be careful of not
making the audience member feel uncomfortable. It is possible to play variations of this game, but
be careful that the dialogue choices aren’t destructive or too ‘clever’. A good version I did see once
had the player acting as a judge with the dialogue options of “Order!”, “Sustained”, “I’m going to
allow that”.