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.