Game Library: “Scene Ending in I Love You”

This is a short-form game that has sadly fallen out of rotation in my current companies. I believe it was one of the standard Theatresports formats we explored during my high school days, but I don’t think I had an appreciation for it’s tone and inherent gift during at that time. It’s less “showy” and “gimmicky” than a lot of other games in the mix, but when it comes to challenging your Acting chops, Scene Ending in I Love You fits the bill perfectly.

The Basics

The core requirements of this game all reside in the title. A premise for a scene is obtained and by the end of the scene, one character must say to another the titular phrase “I love you” as the final line. You can add a time challenge (this was often the case in the classic Theatresports model I first encountered) but it will likely provide richer possibilities if you give the game a little room to breathe.


The scene is based on audience suggestion of a couple that has recently broken up. As the lights come up, Player A mimes holding a large box and awkwardly knocks on a door. They wait, clearly uncomfortable, until Player B finally opens the door and stands in the frame.

Player B: (tersely) “I wasn’t expecting you today.”

Player A: “Yeah, I know. I just thought it’d be better if we got this over with.”

Player B: (impatiently) “Well…?”

Player A: (gesturing towards the box) “I thought you might like some of your things back. Can I come in and put this down?”

Player B: “I’d rather you didn’t. We can just do this here.”

Player A: (taken aback) “Oh, okay.” (Looks for a place to put the box down) “I did my best to sort through our music collection…”

The Focus

This scene is a great vessel for patiently exploring a relationship and all the complex emotions and subtextual ebbs and flows bubbling beneath the surface. Don’t rush the journey. Let each moment have sufficient time to land, and endeavor to keep your attention firmly on the here and now.

Traps and Tips

1.) Start away from love. As the scene is about getting to this statement of love in a sincere and meaningful way, it generally helps to start as far away from this known destination as possible. There will always be earnt exceptions to the rule (a clearly in-love couple struggling to say this phrase for the first time to each other, for example) but starting with a moment of rupture or tension raises the stakes of the scene exponentially. I personally love the challenge of acquiring a relationship or scenario in which this outcome seems almost impossible to achieve. Fight the instinct of trying to solve the “problem” of the scene too early by dropping breadcrumbs or foreboding what we all know is coming anyway. Rather, play the truth of the moment and just let the scene launch and follow it’s organic trajectory. Trust that you’ll find an honest tilt in the scene that you haven’t had to superimpose or clumsily manufacture. To this end it can also be dynamic to avoid the “easy” confession. In the example above, Player A seems to have more residual affection than Player B at least at face value, so it could be interesting to explore how “B” might get to this moment.

2.) Don’t throw away the last line. Sure, it’s possible to have the neighborhood paper deliverer just walk in at the end of the scene and proclaim their love, but this really misses the point of the scene. If you’re accepting the true challenge of the game, “I love you” should have become the most emotionally real and dynamic choice possible when it is finally uttered as everyone knows that this is, by design, the climax and button of the scene. The last line might contain elements of humor, pathos, whimsy, sincerity or any other of an endless array of qualities, but I’d caution against thinking of this moment in a gimmicky way. Don’t throw away the opportunity to explore some emotional vulnerability. The conditions under which the line is uttered are truly wide open: Player A could make it a last ditch attempt on one knee to win Player B back, or after Player B leaves, “A” might look through the box and use the line to reveal their real feelings. Also remember that while “I love you” is the last line of dialogue it is not necessarily the last moment of the scene, and there may be one last significant silent action or beat.

3.) Prioritize the relationship and connection. I think of this game as primarily an exercise in exploring and developing relationship. My teenage self who first learnt this game was probably much more comfortable with the thought of disarming the statement by declaring my love to a lasagna rather than another person. Obviously improv games can be packaged and retooled to serve any of a thousand agendas, but I think it’s a mistake to deprioritize a focus on the energy between the characters in favor of ultimately setting up a gag or joke. (There are plenty of other short-form games that can facilitate this desire.) You’re more likely to have the space to develop a dynamic relationship if your scene isn’t overcrowded but rather focuses on one central pair of characters. It can be helpful to acquire this relationship as the initiating ask-for and just commit to sending these characters on the journey. Remember that while there is likely some mystery as to the exact specifics, everyone knows the gist of the scene’s outcome right as it starts: someone is going to say the emblematic phrase. It follows, then, that the scene is not so much about what happens rather than how it happens.

In Performance

As I become a little more seasoned (and grey) I have developed a greater appreciation for improv games that consist of a simpler premise and therefore are more open to complex explorations and interpretations. Scene Ending in I Love You certainly meets this description. The mechanics of the game couldn’t be more basic and elegant, but they also provide a beautifully blank slate and stirring invitation for us to really stretch our acting muscles.

Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2020 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Acting

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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