Game Library: “Invisibility Scene”

There are several variations of Invisibility Scene, each of which creates a dynamic tension between Split Focus and more unified order.

The Basics

This dynamic can serve as a stand alone short-form game or inspire scenic work within a longer piece. The conceit involves combining traditional characters with those visiting from another plane or dimension. I’m calling the latter “ghosts” throughout this entry just for clarity.

Variation One

While ghosts are fully present on the stage, only the audience can see and hear them. All the other corporeal characters are unaware of their unearthly costars, although they can notice any physical changes in the environment such as moving objects.

Variation Two

Ghosts remain fully present but now can only be heard by one (or more) selected character. Ghosts can communicate solely to each other in a stage whisper if their intent is not to have their human scene partner perceive their choice. It’s also possible to explore this dynamic with ghosts being seen by a particular character (or even seen and heard) but I’ve found this approach less powerful in regards to the current lens of utilizing split focus.

Variation Three

Ghosts now become disembodied voices often provided over microphones. Their physical presence and effects on the location are now fully endowed and justified by their flesh and blood onstage partners. This scene can be played with some or no dialogue being perceived by some or all of the human characters as the needs of the scene dictate. Overtalking is more likely in this iteration as invisible characters can’t gently secure focus through physical moves on stage, so be extra careful to share the verbal space.


Player A and B serve as the now deceased former occupants of a countryside farmhouse and begin onstage in the living room. Player C and D are the new owners and recent newlyweds. They begin offstage.

Player A: (looking out the window) “I think this is them coming down the driveway. I’ve got a really good feeling about this couple.”

Player B: (sitting stubbornly in the comfy chair) “I’m not convinced. I like it when it’s just us…”

Player A: (turning with affection) “We’ve talked about this, Eli. Someone has to keep up the farmhouse now that we’re…”

Player B: “I shouldn’t have to sleep in the guest room in my own house, Mary.”

They react at hearing a key unlock the front door.

Player A: “You’ve promised, Eli, that you’re going to join me in being a good host…”

Player C and D, a young – very much in love – couple burst into the room. A and B go silent and watch, adjusting their own positions as needed.

Player C: (with pure joy) “I can’t believe this is all finally ours! I thought we’d never cut through all that red tape!”

Player D: (replacing A at the window) “It really is a picture-perfect postcard view!”

Player C: “You’re positive you want to get rid of all this furniture? It seems a shame.”

Player B shoots Player A a concerned look. Player D crosses to the “comfy” chair that D manages to vacate just in time.

Player D: “Well, everything except this beauty. It has a certain rustic charm about it…”

The Focus

As all the improvisers must coexist in the same location at the same time, the potential for clumsy split focus is high. Playfully exploring and solving this inherent tension provides much of the value of these pieces. Players should display extra care in sharing focus both with any scene partner who occupies the same temporal plane but also with those across the supernatural divide.

Traps and Tips

1.) Select your approach. Unless you’re workshopping each of the variants in a classroom setting (which I strongly advise) an opportunity for an Invisibility Scene might emerge without substantial time to discuss your preferred approach. Each of the above options has a slightly unique flavor even though they come from the same improv sweet store, but one variation might serve the needs of your scenic premise a little better than the others. Endeavor to get your team on the same page as quickly as possible even if this needs to occur onstage in real time while the scene starts up. It only takes one careless misstep to scuttle the dynamic before it’s had a chance to take hold: “What are you two doing in the house we just purchased…?”

2.) Establish your rules. There’s probably little value in meticulously explaining to an audience the complex rules of the paranormal universe you intend to bring to the stage. On the contrary, there is often a powerful payoff when you don’t establish too clear an expectation as part of the fun stems from the audience figuring out the rules for themselves. But it is important to unequivocally establish said rules early in the piece as part of the routine. As in the example above, it’s helpful to start with one reality or the other, especially if the ghosts can’t talk freely in the presence of the humans. Once the basic rules are set – primarily who can and can’t see and hear whom and why – then the stage is set to test and bend these guiding principles. Be particularly careful that those who can’t see the ghosts don’t accidentally do so.

3.) Pace your progression. Our farmhouse example assumes a variation one or two approach (number three wouldn’t have the older couple in material form). Now that both realities are coexisting onstage, the game will likely heat up. Player A and B haven’t yet spoken in front of the new owners. If they do so without any perceivable reaction then we’ve committed to the first variation where interaction primarily takes the form of object manipulation. If C or D (or both) can hear or see the ghostly occupants then we’re in variation two territory. The complementary camps should actively strive to help each other and the overarching story arc. In addition to generous focus gives and takes this can also take the form of consciously shaking up improviser combinations so that both worlds have the creative space they need to contribute. An overcrowded stage is still an overcrowded stage even if two of your players are playing ghosts!

4.) Earn your breaches. Once the rules have been set and modeled for the audience (and the players) and you’ve gently ramped up the central dynamic, then be cautious that you don’t needlessly break your own patterns. Disrupting the established routine usually resembles the curse of naming or revealing the game thereby ending the premise prematurely and heralding a mercy button. Strategic breaches, on the other hand (leg?) are a different matter entirely. Perhaps we’ve all been working under the assumption of a version one world where humans are unable to see or hear their ghostly partners, only to learn later in the scene that Player C has heard everything but was hiding the truth from their spouse for fear of being thought mad. Breaking the rules in this deliberate way really equates with a scenic evolution rather than a clumsy rug pull.

In Performance

There’s a fourth variation on this same theme that I hesitated to include above as it belies the title a little and has a markedly unique energy. Here the ghostly characters are fully seen and heard by everyone so their different-ness is much more conceptual and much less (more?) “invisible.”

Supernatural visitors are a strong stylistic choice and so won’t be equally welcome in every scene or genre. But the games and potentials of these personae are uniquely intriguing and inspiring, and well worth a look.

Cheers, David Charles.
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© 2022 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Split Focus

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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