As I continue to build the ImprovDr “Game Library,” I’m now matching up exercises with the concept of the week. New games are inspired by the technique or term at hand in the hopes that they may also provide additional embodied insights and experiences.
I’ve started off this new series with the concept of Abandon, and this exercise is a fun energy-building game designed to promote and develop this sense of joyful playfulness. I know it as Room at the Inn.
Players form a large circle, standing approximately shoulder-width apart if the space will allow. One player who is “in” stands in the middle of the circle and attempts to find a “room” that they can occupy by asking random players, “Do you have a room?” Generally, the conceit is that players do not in fact have a room as everyone wants to maintain their accommodation (!) so they answer “no” or similar. This sends the player who is “in” to the next random player. Meanwhile, other players in the circle who make eye contact with each other should quickly run across the circle to exchange rooms. The middle player should aim to seize this opportunity and occupy a vacant room before the new player arrives. Any player who does not successfully swap rooms now becomes the new center player who is “in” and should begin asking others “Do you have a room?”
Disclaimer: This can become a pretty physical exercise so it might not be suitable if company members have mobility issues or are concerned about or prone to injury.
This game is a great way to build energy, playfulness and abandon in the company. It quickly becomes clear that being overly cautious or reserved in your approach diminishes the joy and build. As noted below, be on the lookout for strategies designed to minimize the risk of play — the consequences of ending up “without a room” couldn’t be much lower.
Traps and Tips
1.) Embrace the risk. It’s not uncommon to find players standing in the outer circle deliberately avoiding making eye contact with anyone else so that they don’t have to vacate their room and potentially become “in”. Often , they’ll look down at the floor, or scan the circle in such a way as to reduce the chances of connecting with anyone else. As eye contact triggers the room changes, it’s a critical part of the dynamic. I’ll playfully call folks out if I see evasive maneuvers, or if I’m playing, I’ll go out of my way to make eye contact with them to bring them into the game. That being said, if someone is sporting an injury or finds this type of dynamic sincerely uncomfortable, it’s probably wise to let them opt out of the warm-up.
2.) Connect with players across the circle. Another risk-diminishing strategy I’ve seen is that players will discover they have a better chance to move from room to room if they make eye contact with the person to their immediate left or right. Again, this isn’t really embracing the “danger” nor fun of the game. It can be helpful to set a ground rule that eye contact switches need to be “across” the circle for this reason. This also gives the player who is “in” a fighting chance to succeed at obtaining a spot in the circle.
3.) Don’t drop the conceit of asking for a room. Occasionally the game almost devolves into the player who is “in” just actively waiting to see someone move or perhaps roaming like a predator around the circle. Maintaining the central device of asking, “Do you have a room?” is helpful in terms of giving some structure to the chaos. Encourage the player who is “in” not to give up on their objective even as they strive to have an awareness of the movement around and behind them. This has the added bonus of reinforcing the importance of objectives in our scenic work, and that even if the odds appear insurmountable, we can’t just discard our greater goal or the scene will likely fizzle to an end.
4.) Consider setting some guidelines in terms of physical contact. I most frequently play this exercise with college-aged improvisers some of whom can tend to take a rather aggressive stance to the room switches. As is the case with all our improv, we don’t want our pursuit of risk and playfulness to increase the likelihood of injury or carelessness. It can be helpful in this regard to remind players that we want to keep each other safe, that we shouldn’t be making physical contact without permission (and that pushing and shoving aren’t acceptable tactics in general), and that part of playing is graciously accepting the loss if someone happens to beat us to the empty “room.”
5.) And sometimes it’s okay to have a room. I don’t typically introduce this explicitly as players will often discover it for themselves as the game unfolds, but sometimes answering yes to the critical question of “Do you have a room?” is a lovely and helpful choice too. I’m thinking in particular if someone is struggling to get out of the middle of the circle for a while or is finding the experience unpleasant in general. Keeping in mind the joy of the ensemble as a whole is such a key component of the improvisational creative spirit, and so it’s good to keep this in mind even during a silly little warm-up exercise such as this.
This is a delightfully irreverent exercise that focuses on the joy of playing together as an ensemble. If you have become bogged down with the minutiae of a project, or need an infusion of whimsy and attack, then this warm-up should make for a welcome addition to your lexicon.
Connected Concept: Abandon