Game Library: “Replay”

A Replay scene is one of the few exceptional situations where a simple Transaction Scene (or problem/solution scene in the spirit of a Commercial) can actually serve your needs. When crafted as the first “base” vignette, such a predictable dynamic will provide sufficient memorable markers for the more out-of-the-box replays that follow.

The Basics

The basic Replay model offers the foundation for many related structures, several of which are outlined below. The dynamic begins with the creation of a deliberately modest template scene that responds to an audience ask-for. This first action usually lasts around a minute or so and should have a resolute button. You don’t want this offering to be too epic as you’ll be revisiting it several times. At the completion of the first vignette, it’s typical for a member of the team, director, or host to return to the audience and obtain one or more new handles or overlays. Players then restart the initial scene, repeating its major elements, but now through the newly acquired lens. The original scene replays several times in this fashion, often slowly moving further and further from the base model in the process.


The first three lines of a scene are improvised based on the suggestion of “fast food.” (These scenes should go longer, but this is just designed to give a taste of the mechanics.)

Player A and B begin as a picky customer and an “over it” register worker.

Player A: (looking up at the large flashing screens of menu items) “You have so many options. I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for…”

Player B: “There’s a long line of people behind you, so when you’re ready…”

Player A: “Do you have anything that’s fresh and locally sourced?”

The scene continues until it finds its button and the lights fade. Quickly, the host leaps to the stage and asks for a new emotion for the scene and receives “passionate.” The onstage players shuffle into their original starting positions as the lights transition (perhaps with a truncated countdown).

Player A: (absolutely mesmerized by the robustness of the menu) “You have sooo many options. I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for…”

Player B: (with charm and not at all in a rush to move them along) “There’s a long line of people behind you, so when you’re ready…”

Player A: (with a playful wink) “Do you have anything that’s fresh and locally sourced?”

The scene continues as before but in this tone, until it reaches a similar ending and the host steps up once more…

The Focus

Much of the fun of this game consists of reinventing the initial tropes and plot points. Don’t be afraid of a mundane, perhaps even slightly dull, first action. In some ways, if you’re too creative right out of the gate, you can be making the work ahead needlessly daunting.

Traps and Tips

1.) Consider honoring the template. One of the gifts of a shorter base scene with clear beats and dialogue is that you’re more likely to remember the constituent elements. Without recreating the familiar steps of the template you’ll quickly deviate from the stated intent of the game, which, as the title promises, is to replay the scene in new ways. Especially for your first efforts, it’s helpful to maintain as much of the original as is workable. This has the dual benefit of burning these major choices into your mind for future use and giving you a more dynamic arc. In the classic version of Replay, the gimmick can resemble Most Scenes in a Minute (discussed here), but in this latter context players strive to replicate the original vignette as many times as possible in a longer set time (perhaps with the added heat of trying to achieve a target number of scenes). For classic Replay, the pace is a little less manic, and usually consists of a set number of repeats (usually two or three). In both iterations, it’s helpful to have a dedicated facilitator pitching each new handle either from a well-composed audience prompt or as the chief mischief-making director themselves. This “most scenes” version invites a very brief template scene – thirty seconds or less – that tends to get boiled down even further to an essence through subsequent rounds. The facilitating caller can greatly assist the shape of the game by providing a glorious variety of contrasting inspirations: from character quirks, objectives, and occupations to locations, moods, and animal essences.

2.) Consider keeping the text. As you face the first reenactments, strive to reiterate as much of the foundational text and staging as possible. A great deal of the game’s effectiveness resides in how dialogue and action reappear rather than just throwing out the first attempt completely and starting with a blank canvas. Explore how a new objective, subtext, or context can reveal a different meaning that has previously lay dormant in the original choices. As modeled in the fast-food scene, the players needn’t change much of the action at all to suddenly reveal more passionate undertones. Emotional Replay blossoms with this subtextual style of play. Yes, of course it’s fine to tweak words here and there to suit your playful ends – and even deploy more wholesale changes in the final reenactment – but even a tacit commitment to fidelity delightfully raises the challenge. For this replay version, and those that follow, it’s traditional to improvise the first scene and then pause the action while a team member elicits three contrasting choices (emotions in this case) for the replays. Gathering them all at once also allows you to set the order in which they’ll appear so that you can place the largest or richest energy in the final position.

3.) Consider adjusting the text. When the game moves into more overt style or genre-based work, language adjustments will soon rightly follow. It’s still a lovely finesse to approximate the opening text as faithfully as possible, but as you move from modern day vernacular to more poetic or style-specific language games, your dialogue (and movement quality) should delightfully adjust. While the format doesn’t require each replayed scene to end identically, varied outcomes are especially common when you introduce the lens of genre. If our fast-food storyline now becomes a western, our customer might become a rancher confronting a rustler sitting at a hidden campfire who is dining on some stolen stock. Genre Replay invites this retelling approach, encouraging players to maintain the initial dynamic while requiring them to re-envision how stylistic concerns can elucidate unexpected connections and contrasts. Our fast-food template scene probably resulted in Player A finally ordering something on the menu; our western take is probably destined for some form of gun fight or altercation (in slow motion, of course).

4.) Consider maintaining the essence. The further you get from the assumed given circumstances of that first scene (which usually defaults to a here and now aesthetic) the more you’ll want to freely reinterpret the source material while creatively retaining at least a hint of its original flavor. Seek to honor the bigger moves, rhythms, and patterns without getting too caught up in the minutiae. A favorite replay variant is Through the Ages which incorporates three historical periods. This invariably demands highly stylized results inspired by distant times and places. Here, players should ask themselves, “how would the initial scenic assumptions transform in these alien settings?” What would “fast food” even look like in Europe’s dark ages, ancient Egypt, or China’s Han Dynasty? What relationship would most closely resemble a server and customer? A simple transaction scene works extremely well in this replay version as a commonplace routine becomes surprisingly rejuvenated when subjected to some historical “if this is true, what else is also true…?”

5.) Consider all of the above. And if you play a freestyle or mixed replay, then all of the above advice holds true. When your scenic repeats don’t exclusively belong in one overlay column, you’ll want to strategically sequence your options and build your tactics to maximum effect. Often, it’s wise to start close to the source material, mirroring the base scene reasonably closely, and then ratcheting up the changes and attack. Scene Three Ways offers just such an opportunity. I like using the device of getting an audience member’s initials to then inspire three resulting handles: an emotion starting with “D,” a movie genre in the “A” section, and a “C” musical style. (This might garner dejected, action, and country, although you can obviously use any three prompts that best suit your company.) Music will nearly always gift you a strong finale, especially if you’re fortunate enough to have a strong musician and able singers in your midst. But occasionally, a shuffle may be in order, and I’ll tend to slate a really left field ask-for in the middle of the replays to make sure there’s a more accessible option for the climax.

In Performance

Replays tend to need a little extra space to flourish on your roster as even if the base scene is concise, you’re often looking at a performance time of eight to ten minutes once you’ve factored into account the set-up, ask-fors, and transitions. The built-in potential for a grander arc makes games of this ilk will-suited to the final spot in an act or evening. Each variant has a slightly unique gift to offer – from the attack of a timed freestyle Replay, to the subtextual subtleties of Emotional Replay or the broader stylistic strokes of Genre Replay, to the mental gymnastics of Through the Ages or the highwire act that is Scene Three Ways. Also, consider exploring Rashomon (found here) if you want a character-centric take on the same idea.

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

Connected Concept: Transaction Scene

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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