Improv 101 — Four Corners

When I think of Four Corners, my immediate thought is always “discount Four Rooms”. It does have significant differences–primarily the fact that it involves four performers rather than eight. It’s also one that blurs the line between scene games and hoop games. If I were to pick one, I would call it a scene game strictly because improvisers still have to build a scene and establish CROW, but the focus of this game isn’t the scene, it’s the hoop. It’s sort of hard to pin down because of it.

Here’s how the game is played. You get four improvisers and you have them form a square, with the two people in front playing as the current performers. At any point, the ref can call “left” or “right”, indicating that the square should rotate in the respective direction. “Whose left or right?” you ask. Well, technically this doesn’t matter as long as everybody’s on the same page with what each direction means. My troupe orients it to mean “the current performers’ left or right”. So when the square rotates, the new side of the square is an entirely different scene, though one person will always remain the same from the old scene (acting in an entirely different character and situation). The specifics aren’t imperative, but for this game, I usually get the following suggestions in order: Location, Occupation, Relationship, and Wild Card.

But here’s the important thing about this game: the primary entertainment value in the audience is through disorienting your improvisers. This game doesn’t force the improvisers to justify ridiculous lines like in Four Rooms, and the rule for this game doesn’t interfere with the way the scenes are played, so if left on their own, the scenes will pretty much all be boring, especially since it will only be two people per scene by necessity.

How is this game fun, then? Well, it’s the referee’s job to confuse the performers as to what is actually happening and how the square should be positioning. First, I let them each establish CROW, calling “Right” until every scene has been performed for about fifteen seconds. Then I start to make things interesting. I pick up the pace, calling for a scene swap every five seconds, or saying “Left, left, right, left!” quickly in order to confuse them.

Now, this is actually more confusing than it sounds. Your brain doesn’t have time to do math and eliminate the redundant directions, and on top of that if you’re standing in the back, not performing, and I call “right”, that means “clockwise”, and to you, this direction means left. Why not just say “Clockwise/counter-clockwise”? Well, because the entire point is to be confusing! You don’t want to make it easier for the improvisers to get their bearings! Plus, way too many syllables for a quick direction.

The most enjoyment an audience will get from this game is actually in between the scenes when the actors are trying to figure out where they should be situated. The one thing I have to remind actors is to try to eliminate downtime between scenes. If I say “Left, left, right, right, right, left, right, right, left” in one breath, obviously it’ll take time to puzzle that out, but the key is to make sure every direction is followed. Don’t just stand there thinking about it and ‘solve the problem’, because the audience wants to see you suffer. And if at any point the square breaks, and people are caught in the wrong position, go with it. Combine the scenes. Make a joke out of it and laugh at yourself. Even if the entire scene fails to be entertaining, I guarantee that will be.

In any case, this game is a good energy builder, but since it’s entertainment relies on the actors failing, this game isn’t performed very often. There are better games more suited to showcase skill or simply bring up entertaining and memorable lines.

Improv 101 — New Choice

New Choice is, without a doubt, one of my personal worst games. Funny enough, out of all the improv games, this one requires extremely quick thinking, and I am terrible at that. (The first thing I teach people about improv is that it’s not being creative, it’s about following the rules!) That being said, this game is really simple and the more experience the improvisers playing it, the more fun it can be.

This game is a scene game, and as with many scene games is usually played with about four people. For maximum entertainment value, it also requires a good referee that knows what they’re doing. As with all scene games, the improvisers should establish CROW, but everybody has the same rule here: When the ref (or designated person outside the scene) says “New choice!” the person that last spoke must now change whatever it is that they had last said. If the ref doesn’t like this new correction, they can call “New choice” again, and call it over and over again (much to the improviser’s chagrin) until they say something that satisfies them.  Here is an example:

*Improviser walks on stage, greeting another*

“Hey, Aunt Sally, how are you doing?” (New choice!)

“Hey, Uncle Bob, what’s new?” (New choice!)

“Oh my gosh a new puppy!”

Something to keep in mind here is that since the ref can keep calling “New choice” over and over, it’s best to completely change the topic on the third response. If your lines are said, in the following order: “Yes!” … “No!” … “Maybe!” … “I must go, Gotham needs me!” by the end, you’ve introduced an entirely new situation that, since it was so unexpected, will be hilarious for the audience. The out-of-the-blue randomness that this game requires is why I’m so bad at this game.

Many scene games should be played a certain way in order to be successful. For example, Forward Reverse and Replay Countdown should be played with a lot of large actions/pantomimes with limited amounts of dialogue. With New Choice, dialogue is encouraged, because that gives all the more opportunity for the ref to call out bad lines or weed out good ones. As an aside, the ref can also say “New action!” or “New sound effect!” whenever the phrase is appropriate.

The number one thing that all improvisers should keep in mind with this game is to speak one at a time. Never interrupt another improviser on stage, and never try to talk over each other. (This is especially a problem with new improvisers.) Obviously, this makes the ref’s job a lot harder, because you can’t call “New choice” when two people have just spoken. Who would start over? Would both of them say something new? That would be a mess! Instead, it’s best to make sure only one person is talking at a time, and allow at least a half beat in between each line of dialogue. Don’t immediately respond to the actor’s line in case the ref wanted to freeze the scene and call “New choice” there.

With a good, experienced ref that knows when to call “New choice”, this game is incredibly easy to do well. The ref can save you from bad lines, i.e. questions that don’t progress the scene, denial, missing pieces of CROW, etc. Since the ref can just keep making you say new things until you say the thing they want, it’s an incredibly good game for beginners because it forces them to, quite literally, correct their mistakes. So as long as you have one experienced improviser in a group of people that want to have fun, New Choice can be a blast.

P.S. And before you say it, saying “New choice!” at the end of a really long monologue or after somebody says something you don’t want to hear is an overused joke in my improv troupe.

Improv 101 — Actor’s Worst Nightmare (355)

Actor’s Worst Nightmare is another one of my personal favorites, but requires some specific things in order to play properly. Many improv games require nothing but enough square feet to perform on, but there are a few that require materials (ex. Blind Line requires strips of papers with quotes on them).

This game is a scene game of four people where three of the improvisers have scripts or books, and the fourth person must justify everything that everybody else says. The improvisers with the scripts can only speak using lines in the books they are holding. For the purposes of this post, I will refer to the person with no script as the “anchor” because they need to be the anchor (focal point, main character, etc.) of the scene. The other improvisers will be “script-holders”.

This game is played like any other scene game: all of the aspects of CROW must be established, and the anchor has to make everything the script-holders say make legitimate sense given the context of the scene. It sounds simple, but the scripts the improvisers have can be anything from Beauty and the Beast to Othello. This game typically works best if every script-holder has a different kind of play/work, however.

One person should have a script from a contemporary play or scene: this allows them to talk “normally” and interact with the anchor without any trouble. The second person should have a script that is not conversational. This typically means giving them a Shakespeare play, but anything old can work (Greek plays serve the same function). Obviously it will be more difficult for the anchor to justify why somebody who says something like “Cowards die many times before their deaths” (quoting Julius Caesar), so that’s something to keep in mind. The third script-holder can have something weird. I’ve given people biology textbooks, children’s books, or simply fantasy novels. This is the hardest role for a script-holder, because while they have the potential of being the funniest character in the scene, something that is not a script makes finding a line that serves as appropriate dialogue can be quite hard.

This game is largely a trial for a good anchor. Since the game focuses entirely on them, the success of the scene is entirely dependent on the skill of the anchor and how well they can justify the rest of the scene. This isn’t to say the script-holders have it easy, simply that the audience will never be focused on them. As the anchor, one needs to think as a puppeteer. The other improvisers on stage need to listen to you and follow directions.

Let’s say somebody walks in and quotes Shakespeare. The anchor can reply with “Sally, you know I can’t understand you before you have your coffee, leave me alone”. This sentence serves several purposes. It justifies why ‘Sally’ said something weird, it establishes the relationship between the two characters, and provides a setting as well as giving a stage direction: telling Sally to leave. When she returns later on in the scene, the anchor can now comment on how she still hasn’t had her coffee, creating a running joke throughout the scene.

As the anchor, one is also not allowed to ask questions to the script-holders. One should avoid asking questions in improv as a general rule, but in this game, the script-holders have no easy way of responding to any question you give them: since they can only say what’s in the book they’re holding. This is why giving them stage directions is so important: following orders doesn’t require a response.

As a script-holder, there are a few rules of thumb to make everybody’s life easier. First and foremost, for any script, you should stick to one character. If you have Julius Caesar, don’t say a line of Brutus’ dialogue, then a line of Cassius, etc. Try to stick to one character, because this gives the character in your game a much clearer personality. (If you make a stage exit and return to the scene, you can return as a different character. You can even come on saying the other half of the scene you were just quoting. Very few people would even notice it’s the same scene.)

The script-holder should also stick to talking to the anchor. Dialogue between script-holders is very difficult because your lines are so restrictive, so while it can work, it’s best to avoid doing it too much. Along the same lines, though, any lines can be used for anything given the right inflection. Remember, your only restriction is the words that you’re saying, not the way you say them or the actions they’re accompanied by. “Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”, for example, can be used as both a stage entrance or exit. (Now, I realize this line translates to “Why are you Romeo?” not “Where are you, Romeo?” like many people think, but it still works.) Pro-tip: the use of names from any script is a good way to define characters in this game. For example, the anchor can reply “I’m right here! You must be going blind!”

As long as all the actors on stage are listening to each other and following these rules, the game is easy (for the script-holders, at least). It’s guaranteed to be a blast, but the anchor will probably have a stressful time if they don’t know what they’re doing (hence the name of this game.)

Improv 101 — 90 Second Alphabet

90 Second Alphabet is one of my favorite games, but that’s less because its fun to play or watch and more because I’m good at it and we all like to show off every once in a while. This game is unusual in the fact that it’s usually only a two player improv game, where the most common number of improvisers for games is either four or eight. Just like Slideshow, there is a lot to unpack about this game, even though the baseline is really simple.

You have two people, and the idea is to perform a scene in 90 seconds where every line that is said begins with the next letter in the alphabet (with the speaker alternating back and forth, naturally). You get a location (any suggestion works), and a letter of the alphabet. If the letter is ‘P’, the first line in the scene must start with ‘P’, then ‘Q’, then ‘R’, and so on. This will continue until the actors go all the way around the alphabet and end on a line that starts with ‘P’, and the scene ends. That’s the whole game.

When I’m teaching this to new kids, I always tell them that the alphabet is considerably harder to remember on the spot than you would think. Many people who try this game for the first time need help remembering what letter needs to come next. Obviously, this game needs to be done quickly (since you only have just over three seconds per letter), so while 90 seconds is a target to hit, I don’t expect anyone without a good amount of experience to be able to perform an entire scene that fast. In my experience, the easiest way to perform this game is to have your two characters get into an argument. You want each of your lines to be very brief, so an argument with quick back and forth banter works ideally. Obviously if you don’t know your alphabet then going faster won’t make the game any easier, but this is something to consider once you’re comfortable with your knowledge of which letters come in which order.

As with most games, there are funny things you can do to “cheat” your way past the rules. Remember, you can only skip rules in improv once the audience is familiar with them, which means you can only bend the rule of the game after you’ve established how the game should be played. With this game, obviously letters like ‘Q’, ‘X’, and ‘Z’ will be tough to weave into a normal conversation. Typically the easiest way around is to address the other character by a name that starts with these letters. Alternatively, if the game has been going on for thirty or forty seconds, you can use “Excellent”, “Exactly”, “Exquisite”, etc. for an ‘X’ word, as long as you emphasize the ‘X’ part. The audience will understand that you’re cheating and won’t hold it against you. (This also works for “You” with the letter ‘U’, or “Why” with the letter ‘Y’ and things like that!)

Once improvisers have gotten good with this game and the alphabet, you can make it tough. You can play this game doing the alphabet backwards (a skill I’ve honed quite a bit over the years), or even skipping every two letters. (I.e. ‘A’ to ‘D’ to ‘G’ to ‘J’, etc.). If you’re skipping letters, you need to go through the entire alphabet three times in order to hit every letter. Now, obviously the only real “increase in difficulty” here is the fact that you’re changing which letter in the alphabet that would appear next in the scene. The game doesn’t really get harder.

Another reason that this is one of my favorite games is that it can be played on a whim. It requires no preparation, no audience, and no referee. You can play it alone with another person just as easily as you could on stage in front of a huge audience. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s simple, even if it’s tough!

Improv 101 — Four Rooms (325)

A lot of my most memorable moments in my entire improv career have been from this game alone, and hence it’s one of my favorites. Another reason that I like it is because it combines similar elements with other favorites of mine, most prominently Blind Line, which I covered last week. My group also refers to this game as “First Line, Last Line”, but I’m sure it has several other names. Let’s unpack it.

Four Rooms (or whatever you’re going to call it) is a group game that requires an even number of people (ideally eight). The improvisers will pair up, and they will each be in a separate “room”, performing (one at a time) an entirely different scene from the other groups. Each of the four rooms will have a different suggestion (we typically do ‘Location, Occupation, Time Period, and Wild Card’ in that order, but the suggestions aren’t important). As one pair of improvisers are performing, the referee can call “Freeze!”, at which point the performing actors will pause their scene, step back, and the next group will step forward and perform their completely different scene, beginning with the last line the actors before them said. The last line one group says before their scene pauses will become the first line the next one says, hence the alternate name. (As a side note, the very first group starting will usually be given a suggestion from the audience as to the line they will start the game off with.)

There are a few things the improvisers (and the ref) need to keep in mind in order to make successful, though. The improvisers don’t need to worry about establishing CROW as much as they normally would during scene games because the pieces of the scene don’t last very long before the ref can be expected to call “freeze” again, and CROW is often naturally established by whatever justification you use to make the line you are given make sense.

Instead, the main thing both the improvisers and the ref have to watch out for is to make sure the scenes are all distinct from each other. If one group’s suggestion is ‘bowling ball’, the ref cannot call freeze after a line mentions a bowling ball, because the next scene would have to then incorporate a bowling ball. If the ref isn’t careful, there will be a bowling ball in every scene and none of the given suggestions will matter anymore since all the scenes will be so similar. So by the same token, the improvisers must be careful of what they say. If every line the two people say involves a bowling ball or a bowling alley, the ref is going to have a hard time calling “freeze”. Necessarily, the ref needs a more open line like “Don’t touch that!” or even “You’re off the team”. The latter could obviously be in reference to the bowling team, but if the next scene’s suggestion was ‘cowboys’, they could now be referring to a competitive cow wrangling team.

There is one exception to this rule against crossover, however. In many games, especially ones that involve scenes, the best conclusion to the game is with a “button”. If something a character says or does makes a reference to something that happened in the beginning of the scene, making a complete circle, that is the ideal time to end the scene. It’s important to note that this can only happen after enough time has passed (because I can’t call scene if the game has only been going on for a minute), so if the cowboys somehow manage to find a natural and plausible way to reference starting a new bowling ball team after the game has been going on for three to four minutes, that is the perfect time to end it.

Improv 101 — Blind Line

Blind Line is one of my all time favorite games, but unfortunately this one requires a little prep work. The premise is simple, so let’s jump right in.

This is a scene game for four people, and the caveat to this game is that everybody has a few strips of paper they keep in their pocket. On these strips is written famous lines from movies, books, you name it. At any point during the scene, an actor can pause, pull out one of these strips, read it, and then explain why they said it. It’s funny when two characters are established as being father and son, and one of them yells “You shall not pass!” and then has to find a way to make that line make sense in the context of the scene. For example, if the person that said it was a teacher, it takes the funny context of being said in regards to a test or a class.

That’s the whole game, but there’s a lot of things improvisers need to keep in mind in order to make this game shine. First, the improvisers will usually only have three, four strips max. These are often suggestions given by the audience (pre-read by the ref or a trusted volunteer to make sure they’re appropriate, of course,) and they want to see you take these suggestions and go with them! You don’t have to use every line (and in fact, you should use your strips conservatively) but you can’t just pretend that you didn’t say something that made no sense, or throw it away by saying “Oh ignore that last part, I was talking to the voice in my head” or something like that. Never take a cop-out solution in improv unless its absolutely necessary.

On top of that, you can set yourself an easy justification by saying “It’s just as my grandpa always says: ‘reads strip’.” That’s also a cop-out, because you just told the people in the scene that you’re going to say something weird. It’s way funnier if the line makes no sense (or, as the circumstance occasionally happens, makes perfect sense and is amazingly funny). On that same note, don’t walk on stage and immediately say your line. Since you have no character, that is again easy justification. Trust me, it’s more fun if you don’t give yourself easy outs, and you don’t learn anything if you do it that way.

In my experience, about half the time you play this game will lead to some amazing coincidences. In one game we were playing, a character converted to Christianity after being Jewish (I can’t remember the specifics), and then they pulled out a strip and said “Jesus take the wheel!” Obviously, it wasn’t planned at all, but its perfect moments like that that you remember years later. So, trust yourself to be funny. This game, unfortunately, can only be played when you have an audience to give suggestions (though as a ref you can look up “famous movie quotes” and pitch them to your improvisers when they call “Line!”, but this is a sub-par solution). Because the lines are hard to get, Blind Line must be played sparingly, but its always a blast so don’t hesitate to play when you have the opportunity.

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.

Improv 101 — Numbers

Last week I covered the fundamentals of performing a basic scene in an improv scenario. You need an anchor to serve as the “main character”, you only want two or three people on stage at a time (never one or four if you can help it!), and the goal of the scene is to follow the “rule” of the game while establishing CROW.

Numbers is probably the most basic scene game there is. There’s only one rule: every improviser in the game is given a number, and everything they say has to contain that many words. If their number is one, they can only say one word at a time. That’s it.

As far as setting up the game goes, every improviser should have a specific amount of words. One person should have one or two. Another should have three to five. Another should have five to seven or eight. The last person should have a huge number like eighteen or twenty nine.

The easiest way to make a scene like this work is to have your anchor be somebody that can talk “normally”. The anchor should be the person with a number between three and seven, as long as they don’t have difficulty speaking.

The “one or two” person works as a great safety net, because they can introduce a problem or push somebody off stage very easily. They can come on and say “Fire! (Help!)” or “Police! (Stop!)” and immediately change the direction of the scene.

The person with the huge number should, in the ideal circumstance, come on last. Especially if they have an absurd number (like forty six), they should only be allowed to speak once. The second time they would normally speak (if the scene calls for them to do so), somebody should cut them off before they start talking, or the ref can call scene (as long as the game has gone on long enough).

By far, the most difficult thing about this game is the counting. Virtually everyone in my improv troupe miscounts once or twice when they play this game (unless their number is one), and in a performance, the audience isn’t going to fly with not following the game’s only rule. But even then, you should never count on your hands. For one, it won’t make sense for the character to be doing that, and it makes it impossible to pantomime while talking. But it’s also cheating in a way that isn’t really funny for the audience. The idea here is to try to have a “normal” scene, and if you’re counting on your hands that won’t work. (There is an exception here. If you must, the person with the huge number may count on their hands, but if they do, they must do so correctly and hold their hands up for all the audience to see. The difference is that this improviser will have a hard enough time speaking, so its extra funny to the audience when their suffering is increased by gratuitous counting).

There are two things I always tell people when teaching this game: the first is to remember that multiple syllables don’t count as two words. You’d be inclined to count “firefighter” as two words in this circumstance, especially since it takes so long to say, but the audience will know better. Take an extra half second to count the words in your head if you have to!

The second helpful hint is to break up phrases into small chunks. Our brains group larger numbers into threes and fours in order to make them easier to count. Imagine how you tell somebody a phone number: you give them three or four numbers at a time rather than saying the whole string in one go. that’s because as soon as a group of things is more than five, our brain splits them into multiple, small groups and adds them together.

If you apply that principle to this game, it should help a lot. If your number is six, for example, instead of thinking of a sentence exactly six words long, it’ll be way easier for you to make two small sentences three words long. Lets say your character is in a hurry. Instead of trying to say “I’m in a hurry we should… (awkward pause)”, you can say “Can we leave? I’ll be late!” If your number is a bit uglier like seven, you can simply add a name to that sentence without having to count any more!

This game may be simple, but like many scene games, it’s still quite difficult. It requires juggling rules while still trying to establish CROW, and even with moderately experienced improvisers, nailing all four aspects of CROW can be tough! So don’t be discouraged if a scene game is hard. Like everything, it just takes practice.

Improv 101 — Basic Scenes (295)

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.