Game Library: “Booth Torture”

Booth Torture puts the invaluable Technician more overtly front and center in the improvisatory action.

The Basics

A suggestion is elicited. For the following scene the technician is empowered to season the vignette with random sound effects, music, lighting shifts and any other technical elements at their disposal. The onstage improvisers must work together to justify these offers, weaving them into the greater narrative.


The play stems from the audience suggestion “shuttle.” The technician bathes the stage in a dense red light to start the action.

Player A: (Calling from offstage as they enter) “Captain? Captain! There’s been a breach in the cargo bay. The upper decks are in lockdown…”

Player B: (assuming the role of the captain, and throwing themselves onto the ground) “Something knocked me over the head, Ensign. The autopilot must have engaged.”

They both lurch towards the left as if the shuttle has just conducted a counter measure. The booth adds a whistling wind sound effect.

Player A: “Do you hear that, Captain? The control room may have been compromised.”

Player B: (struggling to stand) “Help me get to the console. I have to implement the override protocols to secure this deck. Where are the others, Ensign?”

Player A: (ominously) “There are no others, Captain…”

The technician slowly dims the light and introduces the sound of chickens…

Player A: (with true terror) “…no other crew members!”

Player B: “The cargo? That was the cause of the breach in the cargo bay? I think I’m beginning to remember what happened…”

The captain lets out an inexplicable cluck of their own. They have been bitten…

The Focus

For the onstage improvisers the game is really a justification fest as the technician punctuates the story with unanticipated contributions. Don’t be afraid to be equally as surprised as the character as you are as the improviser! A moment or two of palpable panic merely reminds the audience of the impossible task at hand.

Traps and Tips

As the tools required for the onstage improvisers are really identical to other justification games – it’s just the source of the torture that has been relocated to the booth – my advice below is primarily designed for the improvising technician.

1.) Start strong. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate that the booth should always make the first scenic move, as I’ve demonstrated in my shuttle example, but it’s helpful to offer up something significant and provocative in the first few moments. Such a choice clearly demonstrates to the audience who is in “control” while also allowing you to set the stage a little for what particular brands of mischief you have at your fingertips. Like any other game, the scene will benefit from a clear foundation, so it’s kind to help build this rather than let the team get something going only to essentially erase it with your first gift. A shivving technician need not be a blocking or pimping technician.

2.) Leave room. This is pretty standard advice for any justification game but make sure you’re not providing such a flood of technical elements that your fellow improvisers don’t have sufficient time to really acknowledge and then creatively utilize any of them. There will be occasions when the team might deliberately or out of necessity shelve an offer – perhaps our shuttle team don’t immediately contextualize the chicken sound so as to let it build suspense – but it’s good practice to wait for the players to use each prior offer before adding even more to the fray. You’ll also want to think twice before introducing elements that truly thwart the overall audience experience, such as blaring sounds that prevent the players from being heard, or prolonged darkness that stalls any physical contributions of note.

3.) Play back. Often many of the larger choices emanate from the booth but this shouldn’t be a relentlessly one-way street. You can still respond to the pitched ideas from the stage: the air leak is a good illustration of this dynamic as it builds off the established conceit in an unexpected but not wholly unhelpful way. (Similarly, players shouldn’t wait for the next big offer to come from the booth but should fearlessly pitch their own strong ideas too.) Not every addition needs to torture to the same degree or in the same way, and a slightly useful choice makes the next bizarre one (chickens) all the more effective. Also remember that you can playfully disrupt with the timing, intensity and repetition of a choice – each offer doesn’t have to top the last in terms of its bizarreness. And think twice about offers that irreversibly impede or kill off characters (or just needlessly violent effects in general).

4.) End strong. Leave yourself somewhere to go. In my current venue we’re able to flood the stage with haze which is probably the coolest effect in our toolbox. Yes, that would make for an impressive first salvo, but if you’ve nothing else of that same ilk available you may be setting yourself up for a difficult curve of absurdity. On some level there is a built-in expectation that things will get “worse” for the onstage players so keep something in your pocket with this in mind. If your technical set up permits, it can be a nice finesse to curtain call (or reintroduce) most of your prior elements, especially if they’re still strongly in play, as this intuitively heralds that the end is in sight. And while you want to provide a “game” climax make sure you’re equally attuned to what the storyline might need to finally land. You might need to hold back a little at the end of the scene for a story button to have the space it needs.

In Performance

We should always play with full-throated acceptance of the choices bestowed by our fellow technical and musical improvisers. This format elevates this critical collaborative truth while providing the technical improviser a chance for a little gentle revenge for all those times onstage players wandered out of their beautiful lights or ignored a rich environmental sound effect!

Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2023 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Technicians

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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