Game Library: “Most Scenes in a Minute”

This is a fast-paced game than is equally useful as a skill-building exercise and an energy-building addition to your short-form evening. It’s also another of those games where the title provides you with all the basic information you need to know! It’s called Most Scenes in a Minute.

The Basics

The time component of the game can certainly be adjusted to suit your needs or called with considerable discretion but this is typically a one-minute game. A broad prompt is obtained (a location, theme, subject…) to inspire the scenes that will follow. Members of the team must endeavor to construct as many scenes as possible within the allotted time frame, with each scene including a clear beginning, middle and end (buttons are of particular import). This game can also be used as a decider, with competing teams striving to perform more scenes in the minute than their rivals.


“Pets” is the assigned topic. As the lights come up, Player A sits on the floor as a child, looking in their hands. Player B stands over their shoulder.

Player A: “No, I love it. It’s just not quite what I expected.”

Player B: “No one is ever too old for Lego!”

Player B smiles and turns to leave. Player A looks a the blocks and slowly starts to assemble them…

Player A: “I’m going to call you Clifford and we’re going to be best friends…”

Player B understands what they have done, and slowly leaves the stage as the lights fade.

The host calls “One.” When the lights come up, Player C is standing onstage holding a leash. Player D slowly approaches them…

Player D: “Excuse me, Celia, but are you going to pick that up?”

Player C: (Willfully oblivious while looking at their cell phone) “I’m sorry…?”

Player D points with disgust at the ground.

Player D: “I know it was your French poodle, Celia, and I’ve had it up to here with your dog relieving himself in my yard..”

The Focus

Much like a good Freeze Tag game, I like the challenge of establishing strong details as as quickly as possible in these vignettes. You’ll want to present your CROW efficiently while also striving to make the brief scenes feel more robust and dynamic than merely fleeting moments. In addition to encouraging strong buttons, this game is an excellent way of honing story, character and staging skills.

Traps and Tips

1.) Strong facilitation is critical. It’s important to have someone clearly responsible for the mechanics of the game such as your host or another member of the ensemble. They can provide time warnings at opportune moments, tally the total number of completed scenes, and help communicate with any technical improvisers when each vignette needs a blackout. These transitions should be very short in order to help maintain the momentum of the game and if your space has the means, it can be fun for the lighting improviser just to offer up a new specific area or “look” as soon as the lights come back up. If you’re playing this as a competitive decider, the facilitator can also make any needed “calls” in terms of perceived infractions or penalties, such as if scenes are too similar or start to feel more like “moments” than true (albeit abridged) story arcs. Keep in mind that such calls are obviously all just a conceit to add heat and playfulness.

2.) Rotate the starting position. A helpful tip in terms of the flow of the game is to be extremely proactive when it comes to scene starts and for players to make a concerted effort to trade into this pressure position. As prior scenes conclude, players involved in this action should endeavor to strike themselves from the stage as best as possible or the transitions can lose any sense of clarity and finesse. Incoming players should then claim a new area of the stage for their initiation (perhaps offered by the lighting improviser as suggested above). In a delightful sense, the challenge of these transitions is made all the more difficult the fewer players you have involved. Initiating players should start strongly and clearly even if they have only the vaguest idea of what they “want” for the scene and designate any intended scene partners that may not already be present on stage.

3.) Contrast, contrast, contrast. Actively seek variety in your brief scenes. Whether it’s player combinations and numbers, staging devices, tone, or energy, the game benefits greatly from approaching the initial ask-for from multiple different angles. Look for what has already been utilized to inspire new areas of potential. If we’ve only seen human characters, a vignette from the point of view of the pets would add a new element into the mix. If the prior scenes all involved two players, a solo or group scene could break up the pattern. If scenes have all taken on a whimsical or silly tone, bringing a more poignant or sincere character to the stage will add a striking new dynamic. This format provides an opportunity to truly embrace the disposability of improv as no scene will likely last more than 10 or 20 seconds, so take full advantage of this unbridled brainstorming session.

4.) Fight the freneticism. Inevitably this series of quick scenes becomes a little chaotic or hectic as the excitement of the challenge builds. If early scenes start with this kind of energy, it’s likely to quickly work against you and prevent you from achieving scenes with any semblance of nuance or finesse. Remember that the competition or time challenge is a conceit and that the audience probably has little interest in watching 60 seconds of sloppy improv in the name of “winning.” Make a concerted effort to start the first scene, in particular, with some grounded patience as this will set a tone and give you some space to let the freneticism build. If characters just run to stage and start yelling their choices at each other the format is unlikely to elevate beyond a gimmicky parlor game. Admittedly, this might be exactly what your shape of show needs if you’re looking for a decider to determine a tied evening, but even under these circumstances don’t forget to tell stories while you entertain.

5.) Consider the bigger picture. In addition to paying some extra attention to your buttons – the inspiration for this particular Game Library entry – Most Scenes in a Minute is also an excellent opportunity to explore broader ideas that might connect your scenes beyond the obvious initial ask-for. Keep an eye open for recurring motifs and themes, opportunities for characters to reappear or seemingly random scenarios to connect, or for running games or reincorporations to emerge that help to tell meta stories. As the scenes need to be concise due to the time constraints, allowing connections to organically develop is a great way of adding some skill and interest. One well-placed overarching connection can also provide the button of all buttons to end the game!

In Performance

This tends to be a high octane game but it can also help sharpen storytelling and staging skills. If you struggle with pitching and committing to clear buttons the whole affair is likely to quickly devolve into a blur of indistinguishable activity. Yes, the challenge is a central and important conceit, but it is telling that the one performance of this game that I can still recall watching from many decades ago was when a team managed to achieve the insurmountable score of one scene. They were so enjoying their original scene (as was the audience) that they all just took their time and played it through, much to everyone’s delight. I’m not advocating this as a standard approach, but it’s good to keep in mind the standard improv wisdom that the game structure should ultimately serve the scenes and not vice versa!

Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Charlotte Brown
© 2021 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Button

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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