Game Library: “Conducted Freeze Tag”

Freeze Tag is a ubiquitous improv warmup and exercise, and it’s likely that you’ve played it on multiple occasions if you’ve been improvising for any length of time. Conducted Freeze Tag provides a nice variation that can refresh the basic concept, and when paired with the concept of CROW this iteration also offers a fast-paced way to rehearse the process of effectively establishing these core scenic components.

The Basics

Players form a line with their backs to the performance space. A caller situates themselves to the side of the stage where they can readily see the action. Two players begin, inspired by an audience prompt, and improvise the beginning of a dynamic scene. When players are in an interesting physical position, the caller announces “Freeze” and calls in or out players by name. Those entering the playing field should assume the exact stance of the player they are replacing. Once in position, a completely new scene begins that justifies the current poses in a new and interesting fashion. Players who have been tagged out return to the back line awaiting the caller to bring them into the action once more.


With their teammates standing behind them, Player A and B assume the field and begin a scene prompted by the suggestion of “birthday present”.

Player A begins by leaping out of a box…

Player A: “Surprise!!!”

Player B: (shocked and in disbelief) “Chris!? But you said…”

Player A: “I know, I know. I just wanted you to think I had to be out of town. I couldn’t miss my girlfriend’s 30th birthday could I?”

Player B: (taking A’s hands) “I can’t believe you! I would have cleaned up our apartment a little if I’d have known…”

Player A: (reaching back into the box) “Not on your birthday! And there’s more…”

Player B: “A puppy..!”

Caller: “Freeze. Player C in for Player A.”

Player C turns around and runs to replace Player A who is holding up the “puppy.” Upon being tagged out, Player A quickly moves to join the line and turns around.

Player C: (in a panic) “Doctor, my hands just won’t stop trembling…”

Player B: (unfreezing) “I can’t believe I’m actually seeing my first case of this rare skin allergy. My colleagues won’t believe this…”

The Focus

Concentrate on players successfully executing a clear CROW in the first few lines of their scene work. If a scene struggles to define these elements, let it breathe a little until it does. While I’m framing this game through the conceit of CROW, I would offer that this is a good philosophy for calling Conducted Freeze Tag in general as it privileges clear story telling and initiations rather than just hitting a laugh line.

Traps and Tips

1.) Some traditional strategies… Typical Freeze Tag norms apply, such as encouraging strong and vibrant physical choices to inspire new freezes and scenes, avoiding vignettes that are too similar in their primary ingredients especially if they are back to back, and giving the incoming player first crack at establishing the new premise. Players can have a tendency to “smudge” their physicality which decreases the challenge and finesse of the game, so make sure everyone does their best to assume the exact position of their surrogate as the tag occurs, and that these positions aren’t immediately dropped or ignored as the new scene starts up. It’s certainly okay to squirm a little before the new scene ignites (this is part of the fun after all), although I’ll warn players that if they wait too long they’re allowing the audience to come up with their own ideas which isn’t ideal as now your eventual choice is competing with others’ imaginations. If you’re looking for an additional challenge, it’s a rare occasion that a “twister scene,” dance or yoga lesson, or some sort of super glue accident doesn’t make it into the mix, so do your best to avoid stale tropes such as these!

2.) Some caller finesses… It’s helpful to start the game with a series of two-player scenes where only one player is substituted with each “Freeze” call. This allows everyone a little time to warm up and offers a clear focus as to who is likely to initiate the next vignette. Once a strong rhythm has been established other possibilities include replacing both players at once with two new members from the awaiting line or increasing (and decreasing) the cast size by selecting new players to join the frozen scene – “Player D in for Player A and Player E join the scene…” The more participants, the greater the likelihood for confusion which can certainly be part of the charm and struggle of escalating the dynamic in this fashion. It’s good form for the caller to try to give players roughly equal performing time if this is viable, although there can definitely be value in leaving a particularly playful or successful improviser in the hot seat for multiple vignettes in a row.

3.) Some player pitfalls… One of my favorite features of this variant is that players are unable to observe the prior scenes which, at least in theory, doesn’t allow them to predetermine how they’ll start the next scene. Similarly, when players are able to call their own freezes and entrances they can have a tendency to wait until they feel they’ve solved the game’s “riddle” of what should come next or perhaps just avoid the danger of the whole affair altogether by remaining silent in the back row. Conducted Freeze Tag prevents these tactics and keeps the risk of the exercise high – it’s important not to undermine this with needlessly meandering or glacial entrances from the actor bank. Physical ability willing, players should turn around quickly as soon as they’re named and dash onto the playing field, taking just a brief moment to assess any gestural or facial nuances before tagging out their target. Encourage this sense of rush as it has the added performative advantage of letting the audience experience the true surprise (or panic) of each entering player. Incoming players can also feel an undue pressure of having to pitch the entirety of the new premise when, in reality, they just need to offer a starting point – one facet of CROW, for example – that is informed by a justification of their discovered pose. Don’t under-estimate the potential contributions of the awaiting teammates.

In Performance

While you could drop the stated necessity of clearly establishing CROW before freezing scenes when playing Conducted Freeze Tag in front of an audience, I’d offer that these parameters tend to help the game in general. Yes, an inspired quick run of one-liner scenes utilizing and justifying a similar pose can heighten the fun, but there is also a clear opportunity to stretch our scenic muscles built into the DNA of the structure which would be a shame to waste, especially if you’re using the game as a company warm-up. I also think it’s preferable that the audience wishes that scenes could continue because they were so rich with potential rather than feels relief when each clumsy and ill-defined scenario is mercifully edited so something new can begin!

If you’re looking for another fun variant on this theme, check out Environmental Freeze Tag here.

Cheers, David Charles.
Join my Facebook group here.
© 2021 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: CROW

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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