Game Library: “Emotional Door”

The inherent structure of Emotional Door provides each team member an opportunity to seize the spotlight a little which can prove extremely useful in addressing Shining (or passenger) tendencies.

The Basics

Prior to the scene each player is publicly assigned a random emotion, and a unifying reason for a party or gathering is obtained (although there’s no reason you couldn’t use a broader array of scenarios too.) The scene begins with one player onstage alone in their preassigned emotional state. When a second player enters they bring their new emotion through the door with them and now both players experience and justify this new feeling. The third player then enters and everyone embodies this new state, as is the case with the fourth character and their specific mood. Once all four characters are onstage the process inverts with the fourth character leaving first, thereby returning the players to the prior (third) emotion. The third player then finds a reason to exit and the scene returns to the second emotion, and finally the second player leaves so that we are once again left with just the original first played who is experiencing their initial emotional state. And, obviously, all of these changes are justified and take place within the greater construct of the scene. The mechanics are similar to Space Jump or Growing/Shrinking Machine just without the leaps in time and context as this story occurs in uninterrupted real time.


Players A, B, C and D obtain the emotions of “guilt,” “excitement,” “confusion” and “anger” respectively and explore the premise of a surprise birthday party. Player A volunteers to begin alone…

Player A: (pacing around the space while preparing) “I’m just not sure if I’ve done enough. Shonda is really such a good friend. She deserves better than this. Why did I think I even had the talent to make handcrafted decorations? She’ll never forgive me if this is a disaster. Who am I kidding? I’ll never forgive myself…”

There’s a knock at the door. Player A nervously approaches it.

Player A: “I should just call the whole thing off…”

Player B bursts through the door bringing “excitement” with them.

Player B: “Wow! Just wow!”

Player A: (their guilt slowly fading) “You really like it?”

Player B: “This all looks so professional! Who did you use?”

Player A: “Well actually, I sort of did this myself…”

Player B: “You are amazing!”

Player A: (now fully excited themselves) “I just can’t believe you’re here, Rina! You’re such a busy person. Shonda will be so happy to see you!”

Player B: “I can’t wait to surprise her! I’m going to hide behind the couch.”

Another knock at the door sends B darting behind the couch with anticipation. Player C enters instead of the guest of honor, bringing on confusion...

Player C: “Oh, I’m so sorry. I must have got the time wrong…”

The Focus

Enjoy the emotions and fully exploit the transitions as you move from one state of being to the next.

Traps and Tips

1.) Plot your course. While emotions will be gathered in a certain order this shouldn’t default to the order of your entrances. Organize your characters and emotions to maximize the scenic arc and avoid placing similar energies or tones back-to-back. Some emotions are tricky to explore alone onstage in the first position, such as jealousy or infatuation, so look to program these later in the mix. Placing the “largest” emotion in the last position also gives the scene a nice crescendo before the characters start peeling away. A little thoughtfulness prior to hitting the stage can help your team avoid unforced errors.

2.) Infect your teammates. It’s traditional for entering players to have their emotional energy already clearly activated; much of the entertainment and challenge arises from the other characters finding a way to switch from their prior condition. Each entrance undeniably affords a moment to appropriately shine, but then make sure teammates have sufficient stage time and focus to justify their own adjustment. Each character needn’t portray each new emotion in the same way – or for the same reason – but it’s important that the audience can see everyone in the current emotional climate before the next entrance or exit occurs.

3.) Honor your premise. The requisite shuffling on and off of characters can make it difficult to hold onto any nuanced story threads. It’s advisable to set up some clear and simple goals in the early less cluttered stages of the scene that can serve as a story north star. Will Shonda arrive and find the party joyful, or will her entrance be accompanied by inexplicable anger?! If there’s a guest of honor, as is the case above, it’s useful to have them either arrive as the final entrance in a climactic fashion (if they show up at all) or begin the process and thereby assuming the role of the protagonist. Your particular assortment of emotions might suggest a different playful choice, but I’ve found these options structurally astute in the past.

4.) Hide your game. Before the action commences I find it beneficial for the players to quickly repeat their assigned emotions so that they are front of mind for their teammates and the audience. This also affords a moment to confer as to a preferred entrance order. Once the game is up and running, however, players should avoid saying or announcing their emotions at all costs. Emotional Door delights when characters show rather than tell their feelings as the latter approach essentially names (and therefore punctures) the game. It’s easy for Player B to enter and just say “I’m excited to be here!” – and, sadly, it’ll probably get a polite chuckle. But the game levels up when everyone commits to embodying and reflecting the emotions in nuanced and surprising ways.

In Performance

Players need to carefully share focus and lean into their own characters in this format that nicely requires balancing responsibility and generosity. Each player should embrace their entrance and emotional contribution, and although the last entrance may get a little less stage time, they are nonetheless critical and routinely provide the most dynamic fireworks.

Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2022 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Shining

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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