Game Library: “Angel and Devil”

Angel and Devil shares a lot with the similar subtext-focused game Conscience, but here the internal voices are literally pulled onstage in dramatic fashion. The resulting playful tension offers a uniquely dynamic pathway to unlock and encourage Culpability and risk-taking.

The Basics

A team of four is optimal for this game with two players serving as “regular” onstage characters and the others embodying the angel and devil respectively. These latter personae should loiter behind either shoulder of the scene’s protagonist for the duration of the action, each spurring them on to either laudable or dubious behavior. Other characters should not hear this internal debate. Often the scene will culminate in the protagonist clearly overcoming or succumbing to a temptation.


The scene is set in a jewelry store. Player A assumes the role of a soon-to-be engaged shopper, with B as the store clerk, and C and D serving as A’s Angel and Devil respectively.

Player B: (pulling out a tray of rings) “…and then this is our premium line of rings for those who want their love to go that extra mile.”

Player A: (equally as impressed as sticker shocked) “These are truly beautiful.”

Angel: (to A) “Now these truly represent your love! Worth every penny!”

Devil: (to A) “This is a big commitment… just for one person…”

Player A: “May I have a closer look at that ring in the middle?”

Player B: “I see you have excellent taste. This is a custom setting unique to our store.”

Devil: (to A) “Custom means pricey. Flirt a little with the clerk. You might get a discount.”

Angel: (to A and Devil) “Don’t soil this poetic moment with haggling!”

Player A: (awkwardly) “It’s almost as unique as you are…”

Player B conspicuously flashes their own wedding band…

The Focus

This games allows you to bring a character’s internal struggle to the forefront of the action. The resulting tensions can theatrically infuse familiar premises and tropes with new life and possibilities.

Traps and Tips

1.) Seek balance. It’s easy for one element of this game to dominate if you’re not particularly aware and generous. By design, focus will heavily swirl around the protagonist and you’ll need to give them sufficient time to hear, process and then act upon their internal thoughts. The angel and devil should seek to balance their suggestions with the greater scenic needs. In the example above I’ve modeled a pretty heavy use of the subtextual device to give a sense of the logistics, but this rhythm might be better suited to a little later in the scene. By the culmination of the game, it’s not uncommon for the internal voices to full out argue with each other, but seek restraint initially so that you have somewhere to build. Supporting characters, such as our jewelry store clerk, benefit from some extra awareness and kind focus gives from their teammates in order to make sure they don’t completely become passengers to the scene.

2.) Seek build. The concept of an internal “devil” can potentially push players into dark content quickly so it’s helpful to think of this voice as pointedly mischievous or cheeky as opposed to outright evil. There’s probably no where to build, for example, if the devil’s first prod is to kill the store clerk upon learning the price of the rings. Similarly, the angel should leave some ambiguity or cracks in their argument or, at the very least, allow the devil sufficient room to maneuver. Playful devilish coaxing into trouble will go a long way in juxtaposition to the angel’s efforts to remain unstained and virtuous. The more reasonable the nudges to naughtiness seem, the more likely it is that the protagonist will deploy these tactics in the scene which ultimately should serve as a primary goal of the devil.

3.) Seek action. I’ve partnered this game with the concept of culpability as the scene lights up when the protagonist allows themselves to explore a wide array of tactics and choices, some of which are clearly “good” and others which are less so. While there is certainly a theatrical value in the verbal sparring of the inner voices alone, this dynamism becomes magnified when the central character embodies these tensions. If the angel always wins with their morally sound advice, the scene will likely march on to a rather predictable outcome. While the devil need not win all the time, at least strategic victories are likely to throw the character and scene off its equilibrium in delightful ways. Offering concrete next steps (as opposed to purely theoretical musings) serves as a central way for the inner voices to heighten and privilege the action.

4.) Seek a clear objective. Explore a strong objective as the central character as this will activate and inspire the internal struggle. A possible objective for the above example could be “To secure the best possible ring at a price that isn’t going to break the bank.” With this goal in mind, the protagonist and their consciences now have a clear aim even if the angel and devil are focusing on different parts of the need: the angel desiring “the best possible ring” while the devil endeavors to secure “the least painful price.” Knowing your greater want also helps the protagonist assess the choices being pitched by their thoughts. Holding onto your objective will also typically provide a clear ending when we learn if the protagonist was successful or not in their pursuit. For a more in-depth consideration of composing evocative objectives, go here.

In Performance

The central conceit of Angel and Devil can push familiar characters and conceits to new heights. The dynamic also has a delightful resilience and ability to organically evolve. I’ve seen angels and devils abandon their initial “subject” in disgust or dismay, exchange roles halfway through a scene, or move to the shoulders of another character deemed more amenable. Be wary of entering the scene with the intent of pushing one of these dynamics to the forefront as it will tend to read as forced, but remain vigilant for ways the central tensions may evolve or morph. This premise also works well as an interesting scenic handle in a long-form piece if you’re open to styles beyond run-of-the-mill realism.

In Gorilla Theatre we’ve explored a related version of this game where the two internal voices move to microphones at the side of the stage and adjust the scenic parameters through scene painting and endowments in their efforts to sway a character’s behavior. Either the devil or angel will be voiced by the director (depending on their specific theme or frame). This iteration has shown great promise as well.

This week marks the one year anniversary of! If you’re a newer reader and want to catch up on some of the most popular blog posts, check out my “Top Reads” here.

Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2021 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Culpability

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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