Many improvisers enjoy improv games because the challenges of the game make play more fun and stimulating for them as well as the audience. Those happy, game playing improvisers often have their favorite games, and I am no exception. Today’s entry begins a new series in which I discuss some of my favorite games.
One of my all-time favorite games is Replay. In a typical Replay, the players first create a short set up scene (really a story since it can consist of multiple scenes) about 1-2 minutes in length. Then the players replay that scene 2-3 times in different ways. While I enjoy all Replay variants, my favorite is classic Replay with emotions, genres/styles, voices, etc. I like Replay for two main reasons. First, it requires strong scene work to create an entire story in just 1-2 minutes. Second, it provides a lot of opportunity to explore variations and ways to use existing offers in new ways. Here’s a list of many ways to enjoy Replay.
Emotional. For one of the replay scenes, each player performs with a different emotion or state-of-being. I use that latter phrase because some audience think things like thirsty or constipated are emotions.
Genre/Style. The players replay the scene in specific genre or style, e.g., horror, sci-fi, western, etc. Possible genres sources include movie, television networks, literature, plays, etc. I’ve observed two ways teams perform genre replays. One approach is to use a different sub-genre for each team member or for each part of the overall scene. For example with the genre of mystery, one person might be a Sherlock Holmes type character while two other people take on Shaggy and Scooby. Or the first part of the scene might a CSI type crime scene while the second half of the scene might be an Agatha Christie type summation. While this approach can be fun and successful, I’ve observed that sometimes the replay scene becomes too messy or chaotic due to the different sub-genres. The second approach is to choose a specific subgenre within the genre. For example, for sci-fi, all of players perform as if it were a Star Trek episode, or as if it took place within the Terminator film franchise, etc. I’ve observed that this latter approach is more likely to produce a cohesive replay scene.
Historical - The players replay the scene as if it took place in a specific historical period, e.g., the Renaissance, the 1920s, etc.
Voices/Accents - Each player performs with an accent or the well known voice of a celebrity, cartoon character, etc. I find this type of replay works best if the player performs as if that person were cast in the scene vs. inserting a random collection of famous lines from roles that person has played. For example, if the endowment is James Earl Jones, perform the scene as James Earl Jones vs. randomly injecting Darth Vader lines or “This is CNN.” Of course, I’m as guilty as the next player for slipping in the occasional reference just for fun.
Animals - The players act like animals (no talking, just animal noises). Either the same animal for all players or a different animal for each player.
Distance - The players have to be a specific distance from another player, e.g., 6 inches, 3 feet, 7 feet, when speaking to another player. Sometimes played as it’s own game.
Alliterative - Each player says all of her lines as if it starts with the same letter (a different letter per player). For example, the line “I saw a ghost in the barn” would become, with the letter F, “Fi faw fa fost fin fe farn.” It works best when players don’t over think, go fast, and screw up (just like a lot of improv games!)
Words Per Line - Each player has to speak a specific number of words per line, e.g., 2, 5, 10.
Generational/Age - Each players behaves as if she was a certain age, e.g., 5, 13, 45, 78, etc.
Highlander - During each replay scene, a player is eliminated and sits to the side. The remaining players have to fill in for the eliminated player. The replays continue until one remaining player has to perform the entire scene solo. Named for the Highlander films and TV show phrase: “There can only be one.”
Replay-At-Bernies - Named after the 1989 cult comedy Weekend At Bernie's, this variation in similar to Highlander. However, eliminated players do not sit to the side. Instead they remain on stage as dead bodies that the remaining players manipulate as puppets. In a variation called Spinning Wheel Of Death the ref or emcee periodically changes which players are dead.
Replay-cement - I invented this variation a couple of years ago at CSz Sacramento, but it’s quite possible other people came up with the same idea (see my previous entry Lighten Up Francis No One Stole Your Improv Game). In this version a key element (item, setting, character, etc.) is replaced with an alternate during each replay. For example, a lost dog in the set up scene might become a lost dinosaur in the replay scene. All other elements remain the same, and the replacements do not stack during each subsequent replay scene.
Groundhog Day - Named for the titular Bill Murray fan favorite film, Groundhog Day features a main character caught in a time loop developed during the set-up scene. Typically the first replay scene shows that character’s reaction as she experiences the loop for the first time. The second and third replays show the character after perhaps ten, hundreds, or even thousands of loops.
Naïve - All but one player leaves the room. The one remaining player performs the entire scene alone as if the other players were on stage with him, i.e., leave room for other lines, reacting to possible physical offers, leaving empty stage for other scenes, etc. Then each player enters separately for each replay and gradually fills in the story. It’s important that the established material repeat the same way each time; the players should not adjust to try to make the scenes work better. The last player has the special job of running around trying to fill in all of the blanks.
McFlys - Based on the Back To The Future movies, this variation is exceptionally difficult to play well. In fact, I recall having only seen it played well once, I think by the team that demonstrated it at a ComedySportz World Championship several years ago. During the set up scene the main character, the McFly, tries to solve a problem. But he either fails, or the solution produces an undesired byproduct. So during the second scene, a second McFly is send back in time into the original scene to try to fix the problem. More problems result. And thus a third McFly is injected into the third scene to try to straighten everything out. Of course for the sake of the time space continuum it’s important the McFlys never meet!