New Choice provides a wonderful example of the variability and immediacy of Improvisation and its essential spirit. I know this format primarily as a short-form game but its central conceit could easily serve as a rehearsal device in most spontaneous modes of play and creation (and some scripted ones too for that matter.)
One player (often the host or member of an opposing team) acts as the caller for the scene. As players craft an original story they are interrupted sporadically by the caller who asks for a “new choice” (or perhaps a series of new choices.) Players craft alternative offers until a “satisfactory” idea has been found and the scene continues forward.
Players obtain the offer of a “surprise birthday party” and as the lights rise the audience discovers Player A and B hanging up decorations.
Player A: (Grabbing one end of a long banner and stepping up onto a chair) “The room is starting to take shape! Can you help me with this sign?”
Player B: (Rushing over) “Of course! You’ve been such a huge help! My sister is going to be sooo excited. She’s never had a surprise birthday party before…”
Player A: (Looking at the sign) “Are you sure you got the right sign? This says ‘We’re sorry to see you go…”
Caller: “New choice for the sign.”
Player A: “…This says ‘Congratulations on your twins…”
Player B gasps with dismay.
Caller: “New emotional choice.”
Player B: (giggling) “That’s just a running family joke. She’s going to love it!”
Player A: “I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand your family…”
Player B: (finally fastening the banner) “There. That looks fantastic.”
Player A gingerly gets down from the chair to look at the room.
Caller: “New dismounting choice.”
Player A quickly remounts the chair and then leaps off it (safely) with balletic finesse…
New Choice reveals the playful disposability of improv and players should strive to quickly rebound from one choice to another as they are challenged to concoct new pathways for the scene. This game will often enable well-worn premises to arrive at surprisingly fresh and unpredictable conclusions.
Traps and Tips
1.) Establish the conceit. It is certainly possible for the caller to merely provide the titular side coaching phrase of “new choice” (and I’ve seen the game played successfully in this manner) but I like adjusting this prompt as the scene develops. It’s helpful for the audience if the first few calls remain somewhat simple, such as “new dialogue choice,” but as the action takes off you can adjust the prompt significantly to serve the needs and foibles of the action. It’s more than fair game to offer several “corrections” in a row, especially if the first change feels safe or too similar, and in these cases it can prove more efficient just to use the simpler “new choice” variant for subsequent do overs. But, as is always the case, make sure the audience (and players) have had a chance to learn the game before attempting particularly challenging finesses.
2.) Enjoy the variety. This frame provides a joyful variety of potential adjustments so avoid merely returning to the same one or two variants again and again. Yes, it’s helpful to perhaps start with asking for dialogue changes, but you can also invite new emotional, staging, delivery and motivational tweaks, as well as even more substantial resets such as having performers offer whole new relationships, characterizations, props and plot points. When I’m assuming the role of the caller I’ll often challenge myself not to return to a prior category if I can avoid it just to encourage my own sense of discovery and creativity. The game shouldn’t become about the caller, but there is room to really open up less typical scenic pathways and discoveries if you remain open to new ways of applying this device, and you always have the failsafe as the caller of just prompting a second or third attempt if you’ve inadvertently led the scene astray.
3.) Don’t overwhelm. As a player, seek conciseness and clear gives and takes between your fellow improvisers. If the scene assumes a frenetic tone right from the beginning – or is overcrowded with characters competing for focus – you are setting yourself up for an almost combative dynamic with the caller who will likely need to interrupt the action just to cue shifts. Similarly, as the caller make sure you are providing sufficient room for established choices to breathe and grow. Nearly any choice could invite an adjustment, so exercise self control and judgment, especially at the top of the scene when needlessly resetting core story components could undermine the foundation and potential of the scene. Let helpful choices stand whenever you can, trusting that there will be many other opportunities to upset the apple cart just around the corner.
4.) Leap then justify. Played fearlessly the central conceit of this game can provide such a gift to the scenic players. When you are the focus of the caller’s adjustment don’t overthink the “why” but rather just grab a new approach and sell it. Allow yourself to be surprised alongside your audience as this is the richest gift of the game. If you’re asked to assume a new emotion, or staging choice, or greeting ritual, launch yourself fearlessly at a new option and then figure out why your character might behave in such a way or how this behavior connects to your greater goal and the scenic arc. The game loses much of its charm and danger if you justify an offer before it makes it to the stage rather than after you have delivered it with bravery and gusto. Get yourself into delicious trouble knowing that ultimately your teammates and the caller are there to help you if you really get yourself into a jam!
This short-form game is very similar in terms of its inner workings and central conceit to Should’ve Said (it’s worth checking out those game play pointers here.) This variant, however, allows for a wider array of adjustments and re-sets which I greatly enjoy as a player, caller, and audience member.
Connected Concept: Improvisation