Thawing out Freeze Tag

I was teaching an Improv Round 1 class and the game we always play is called Freeze Tag.

The basics are this, you have a team of improvisers and two people are put in physical positions. They have to stay still. When its time to begin they must create a short scene that justifies those positions. If all is working and the whole team is on board, then one of the members yells, “FREEZE!” and taps one of the two people out, thus taking on their physicality and then a whole new scene takes place and those two have to justify who they are, what they are doing, where they are! And so it goes on and on.

Inevitably, whether it’s a team or a class, some challenges arise. Often the players in the backline are frozen themselves. Maybe they think their ideas are not good ones or they have to be funny. Sometimes the scene goes on too long and the audience and backline both are cringing as they watch the two players suffer through their ideas and no one is jumping out to save them.

I was talking this through with a student of mine who is a Buddhist. We were talking about this game in the context of a Buddhist perspective, which brings me to write this post. He writes, “The reason I don’t like freeze tag is that it promotes cutting off scenes prematurely.  It even rewards you for doing that by giving you more turns if you do….” He was figuring out that in his experience, Freeze Tag seems to steamroll or cut people off from at least letting the scene get some legs first. That does happen in this game and sometimes people jump in even before one word is spoken.

This happens for newer players and as an instructor; I let it happen for a couple of reasons. One is you never know what will arise out of that scene. Two, I want people to have an experience of being cut off because they know how it feels when it happens to them. Three, its practice to let scenes and situations roll off our backs as improvisers. Freeze Tag is hard and easy at the same time. It pushes the performer’s edges to jump in whether you have a good idea or not and it also encourages people’s own ideas to let go and trust.

He continues, “I notice when you folks with more experience play that you don’t enter with your own complete idea of what is going to happen in the scene.  There’s lots of room to co-create and discover together what the scene is about.”

One of the things I do when I teach is encourage performers to slow down. Even though it’s an energetic game, there is time to take the other player in.

I wrote back to him, “As for Freeze Tag, it has a point to it and even though you don’t like cutting people off, one of the points is to keep the energy up and when you see that the scene is tanking, because ultimately it does, a team member comes in and changes the scene but keeps the energy. It’s like blowing on a feather to keep it in the air. And I’ll say that if you play those games enough and make friends with them, they will teach you about flow.”

Good players make use of their physicality, including touch and diving into their impulses. When players see something awesome and they think, “I have a great idea”…it’s already too late.

In closing this game is great for generating ideas, getting physical, jumping in with not a clue, and having a great time.

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