Improv 101 — Freeze Tag (240)

Freeze tag is like the improvisation game that every one knows. No, I’m not referring to the game of tag where people freeze in place. Well, it’s actually sort of like that, but this is a popular game that’s simple and easy. It’s so prevalent, in fact, that even people who don’t watch Whose Line or never been to an improv show often know the basic structure of how this game works. Even many non-actors are familiar with this game. But even if you haven’t heard of it, lets talk about how this game is structured and how to play it so the actors have fun and the audience enjoys it.

So, this, like all the games I’ve talked about so far, is a large group game, meaning its meant to be played with at least six people. Unlike some of the games I’ve mentioned, however. It does have a limit. Typically, only two people will be performing at any given time, so if there are twelve performers on stage its very possible that none of them will go on stage because they don’t have enough ‘stage presence’. So, the golden zone, especially for a performance, is about six to ten performers.

The way that this game works is that you have  your performers stand in a line (or an slight arc as the case may be). When starting this game, have two performers step forward. Now, this game being so large in the theater community, there are a number of ways to play/begin this game (any popular game is going to have innumerable amounts of variations troupe to troupe). The way my troupe starts is with the initial two actors starting to flail. The ref/coach calls ‘Freeze’, making the actors stop flailing and freeze in place, and the scene begins. The actors must now justify, through actions and dialogue, why they are in the positions they are in. Remember that the actors should try to establish CROW in every scene they do. After the initial scene, we leave it up to the other improvisers on stage to call ‘Freeze’. When they do, the actors stop what they’re doing and the person that called freeze tags one person out, assuming their position. When they are done, they begin a completely different scene, (continuing using those positions and justifying them for this new scene).

As far as when the actors on stage calls ‘Freeze’ to start that new scene, that’s sort of up to you. The goal my troupe shoots for in this game is to establish CROW as quickly as possible in each scene and then call Freeze as soon as every element has been established. This can take anywhere from one to ten seconds, but generally this game is more entertaining when the scenes roll through quickly.

Now, there are a number of things to take into consideration when playing this game. If you’re just having fun, it’s probably best to just experiment with what works for your troupe. This game is super malleable so just play it and figure it out as you go. When I’m teaching Freeze Tag, I try to steer my actors towards “easy” scenes. For example, any action and position can be justified by establishing it as yoga. It literally doesn’t even matter what position it is. Any position can be justified through yoga, exercise, or dance moves. It’s a bit of a cop-out to use any of those for a scene in Freeze Tag because it means the actor didn’t have to really think about how they could make an interesting scene out of it.

Lastly, once your troupe knows the game well, you can cut the two person requirement. This opens the game up to a lot of new possibilities, but adds a lot of rules, as well. I personally prefer playing it this way, but its a bit complicated for beginning actors to grapple. The simple explanation is that improvisers can now enter scenes without calling freeze, becoming a third person on stage. They can also leave the stage, leaving two or even one person. When one calls freeze, all performers on stage freeze as normal, but now that person can tag more than one person out. When this happens, the improviser chooses one person to assume the position of. If your actors have a problem with entering a scene without knowing how to leave, tagging multiple people out is an easy fix. They can even tag everybody out and start a new scene off as a monologue.

Primary thing to remember: this game is super simple, and if you want to play an easy game that actually requires improv (meaning not Bippity Bippity Bop, Zip Zap Zop, or 185, a game I’ll talk about next week,) then this is the game. Learn what works and mold how you play accordingly!

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