So far, every game I’ve gone over has required little to no scene structure. For many games like Chain Murder Mystery, or Dr. Know-it-All, the characters and location of wherever the scene takes place is irrelevant. These games are often referred to as “hoop games”, where the game is based off whatever the rule of the game happens to be, and no scene needs to be built.
But before I introduce “scene games”, its important to know how to properly build a scene in the first place. Building a scene is something that is required on top of whatever the rule of the game is, so knowing how to do it is equally as important for entertainment purposes than the rule of the game is.
There are a few terms this includes that I’ve never brought up before, so I’ll define them here. These are elements that are necessary for virtually any improv where scenes are involved.
First and foremost, the goal with scene construction will always be the same thing: CROW. We’re trying to establish Characters, Relationships, Objectives, and Where. Most often, if a scene fails to be funny or make sense, it’ll be because part of CROW is missing or contradicted with what was previously said/established (which means its denial). The easiest way to ensure that CROW is established is to start any scene game off as ABA. Have the first person pantomime, and establish your characters and where you are in the first two lines of the scene. It makes your life so much easier.
There’s a few ground rules to scene games. First, we can go on and off stage here. Many games will still require four people, but they won’t be performing all at once. In fact, you never want more than three people on stage at the same time. You don’t even want three if you can help it, but it can work. This is because it gets confusing when there’s too many people on stage, and you’ll find that when so many characters are on stage, some become irrelevant so they just stand there doing nothing. If this ever happens, find a reason to leave the stage. When improvising, often you won’t have a “backstage” to go to, so “offstage” in this case simply means off to the side doing nothing so other improvisers know you’re not in character.
Scene games will also pretty much always have what’s called an “anchor”. This is an improviser that serves as the main character of the scene. Other improvisers will come and go on stage, but the anchor is always on to make sure everything that happens on stage revolves around them, and this makes things more concrete. Most often, the anchor will either start on stage when the scene starts, or be the first person to walk on stage when it does. The main thing here is that the anchor doesn’t ever go off stage.
If you have some improvisers that are more veteran, you can use one in a scene game as a “safety net”. Put simply, this is a person that stands off stage and doesn’t go on unless the scene needs saving. If the improvisers start bickering or no longer have anywhere for the scene to go, the safety net comes on and helps. Sometimes its simply to pull somebody off stage (you can arrest them, call them home for dinner, etc), but it can also be to introduce a new conflict. If the scene’s conflict was solved early, the safety net can walk on stage and introduce a new conflict. The reason this needs to be a seasoned improviser is because they need to know how to fix a scene that devolves in the first place: something that beginners wouldn’t know how to do.
Before I teach actual scene games to beginners, I go over these basics and run normal scenes with them just so they get the hang of building a proper scene. Basic scenes are rarely funny, but it does happen. This isn’t the point though. In order for a scene game like Numbers, Forward/Reverse, or New Choice to work, CROW needs to be established. The rules above are probably just some of the simplest ways to achieve that.