Game Library: “Starting in the Middle”

Perhaps more of a scenic approach than a short-form game in its own right, Starting in the Middle enables energized launches that enhance Urgency and stakes.

The Basics

When workshopped as a skill building exercise, players quickly self-determine their CROW ingredients before bringing these elements to life on stage. As a more general tool, players can elect this style of scenic initiation as an overlay in response to an audience suggestion or in conjunction with the needs of another game structure. In both cases, as the title reflects, when the lights come up on the scene, the audience experiences an action that is already “in progress.”


Players respond to the prompt of “white water rafting.” All four team members are discovered in the throes of a tumultuous descent as the scene begins…

Player A: (panicked) “I just lost my paddle overboard too!”

Player B: (losing the battle to remain calm) “This was just meant to be a leisurely adventure down the river!”

Player A: “We have to get to the river bank…”

Player C: (paddling ferociously) “Says the guy who just lost his paddle. What exactly are you going to do, Luca?!”

Player D: “Has anyone seen my backpack with my inhaler in it…?”

The Focus

In addition to starting in the middle of the scene, make sure you are also starting in the middle of the rising action and providing the stage with the corresponding level of energy and emotion. This doesn’t have to be as dramatic as the example above, but if your scene depicts starting in the middle of a bland or apathetic routine – such as nonchalantly sitting on the couch watching a movie, or uneventfully doing a load of laundry – you’re not really fully capitalizing on the intended dynamic.

Traps and Tips

1.) Jump in. Typically, this device benefits from assuming that the ignition is in the scenic rear view mirror. Beginning a scene a few steps into the balance or status quo doesn’t gain you much more than perhaps a little novelty. The balance, by definition, is the unbroken ritual of the characters’ lives, so a few steps into the balance will still feel ordinary and likely under energized. When the ignition had already occurred, on the other hand, the scene will already feel dynamic and in motion. This is also a great device for immediately raising the stakes and urgency by avoiding passive considerations of what might happen in the scene if you ever manage to actually get to it.

2.) Keep moving. There can be a tendency to want to pause the action so as to explain the given circumstances. While it’s important to provide the necessary context, thread any pertinent information into the rising action whenever you can. If you’ve set some of the foundational choices privately as a team before the scene start, it is critical to remember that the audience isn’t privy to these decisions, so you will want to provide clarity when it’s needed but stalling the action to do so may do as much harm as good. And don’t forget that a lot can be definitively established amidst the panicked yells of our rafters.

3.) Then backfill. That being said, with few exceptions when ambiguity is the game, scenes gain strength from strong CROW decisions. These may or may not be completely known prior to the lights rising, so a healthy dose of justifying may be in order. Our rafters may not know their exact relationships to each other or the particular location of the river initially, but establishing or revealing these factors adds detail and potential. Exposition can prove challenging to activate in any theatrical mode; in this game, it necessarily becomes part of the innate fabric of the scene. Part of the entertainment for everyone is learning how this rafters got into this particular form of peril as that very selfsame peril expands.

In Performance

A gentle and luxurious scene start where players slowly determine who they are and what they’re doing can prove captivating in adept hands, but as a standard or repeated pattern such a launch can also require a great deal of patience from your audience. The urgency of starting in the middle (and its associated risk and vibrancy) offers a welcome respite from relentless expository meanderings. In particular, if you find yourself often starting scenes planning for or discussing a future event – and perhaps then not actually getting to the activity in question – this technique will become your new improv best friend. So jump in, keep moving, and then backfill.

Cheers, David Charles.
Join my Facebook group here.
Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2023 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Urgency

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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