Improv 101 — Forward Reverse

Another game that’s simple in concept and difficult in practice is the scene game Forward Reverse. For this game, you’ll need to change the way you interact with the other improvisers on stage in order to play the game well. As always, you want to establish CROW, so keep this in mind when doing any scene construction.

The rule for this game is that while performing, the ref can call “Reverse!” and at that point the scene starts playing in reverse. Every action you take, and the order of the dialogue, plays backwards. (You won’t be expected to talk backwards, too, of course. If lines are said in order of A-B-C, just say them in reverse order when playing the scene backwards.) On top of this, the ref can also call “Forward!”, and you’ll resume playing the scene out normally.

The ref will inevitably call ‘Forward’ and ‘Reverse’ on somebody numerous times to make them repeat dialogue, a big action, whatever, because its funny for the audience. This game ends up being funny primarily because the ref uses the actors on stage as puppets to dance at his/her will. If you do a cartwheel on stage, you better be prepared to cartwheel back and forth several times because the ref is certain to make you do so.

On top of building a scene and establishing CROW, many games require you to play a specific way. A game like this requires the actors on stage to make big actions. If everybody walks on stage and simply talks to each other, there’s nothing funny about forcing them to go back and forth. This means that every time I teach this game, I hammer down the rule that you want to be doing large things on stage. Exaggerate everything you pantomime. Make big entrances and exits on stage. Do huge things!

This also helps build the energy of the scene. With all of the reversing and huge actions, the stage should be a little energetic. We’re not making silly comments and answering questions while sitting down like Good, Bad, Worst. We’re running around and yelling and making a scene (pun unintended but permitted). This doesn’t mean that you should yell everything you say, simply that there should be big conflicts, big and overly dramatic characters, and something that you need to watch in order to properly enjoy it.

The easiest thing about this game is that since the ref is playing every part of the scene backwards and forwards, the scene doesn’t actually have to be very long. Start to finish, most scenes in Forward Reverse will be thirty/forty seconds tops. Now, one thing you have to consider is that every game I’ve ever taught should run for between three to six minutes. Forward Reverse can do that easily because the ref can milk specific parts of a scene. The scene itself will end up being very short, but the audience won’t even notice.

If you play this game right, the improvisers could very easily end up out of breath. It’s a lot of fun for the people on stage because they get to mess around and have a lot of stage presence without needing to be all that creative and think on the spot. It’s also easy for the ref to save a “bad” scene because, as I said, the scene is fairly short. As long as there are big actions in the scene, the game can do well.

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