Curse of the Pharaohs

Published by ShawnKinley on

Curse of the PHARAOHS

A game of unpredictable death     

I’ve just been in Egypt and had the great fortune to be hosted by Improviser Ramsi Lehner whose father just happens to be Mark Lehner, one of the most revered Egyptologists in the world.

 As we moved around the Pyramids and the Sphinx, listening to Mark’s stories and the history of Egypt, I started to think about the early exploration of these amazing icons of history.

Howard Carter (1873-1939) near golden sarcophagus of Tutankhamen in Egypt in 1923 (photo Harry Burton) colorized document (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

 In November 1922, British archaeologist, Howard  Carter discovered the  tomb of The Pharaoh, Tutankhamun. Shortly following that discovery, coincidental deaths and disasters contributed to a belief that the tomb was cursed and the great Kings were reaching out from the past for revenge on those who would disturb their resting place.

As I climbed up the narrow walkway to the inner burial chamber of the Pharaoh I wondered how the curse might be used in Improvisation.  

This is a fairly simple game of communication and giving your partner what they want. It also aims to make you clearly and elegantly communicate an idea without hitting the audience over the head with it.

Have a red ace and a black ace placed face down somewhere on stage. No one should know which is red and which is black.

IMPORTANT: Don’t talk about the cards.

The performers begin their scene, creating a variety of details. Don’t get stuck on your first detail. This is a problem in many scenes where the whole story is about the first action. A broader platform of details helps develop the narrative of the scene.

When the performers know three or four things about:

  • the environment,
  • the other character,
  • the relationship and/or
  • other details in the scene,

ONE of the performers looks at ONE of the cards without revealing it to anyone else.

Don’t discuss who will look at the card. Get a feeling between you that it’s time to move forward from the detail development of the scene and pick up one card.

If the performer sees the RED ACE the curse of the Pharaohs is triggered. The person who reveals the card has been cursed and will die within 90 seconds.

IMPORTANT: The cursed performer cannot die by their own hand. They need to get their partner to cause their death (directly or indirectly- killing, accident, etc). And they can’t ASK or blatantly reveal that they are cursed to die.

Because you both know that there’s a chance of picking the cursed card, it shouldn’t be too difficult to communicate which card you chose. Your partner will be watching attentively for any signal of what you want them to do. Then, they just take the risk to fulfil your desire. (Sounds like how you should always be improvising).

The job is to get your partner to cause your death.

  • Can you get your partner to understand their role without the audience figuring it out before the death happens?
  • Can you use the platform of details to hint at what you want from your partner?
  • And can your partner be aware of what you want and fulfil the curse?

BUT- what if, the performer reveals the uncursed BLACK ACE?

If that happens, no one will die… yet.

If the cursed card remains hidden, the other performer must turn it over within 90 seconds or the scene ends unfinished.  Can you make it clear that the cursed card has not been revealed without transmitting that information to the audience?  

If you have been clear that the cursed card is still waiting for its victim, your partner will turn over the final card as the scene progresses, revealing they have been cursed and will die accidentally or on purpose by your hand. REMEMBER – don’t talk about the card.

If you did find the red, cursed card but HAVEN’T been clear that you have been cursed by the red card and your partner reveals the second card instead of causing your death, then both of you must die.

Justify the deaths if need be.  Deal with the outcomes of the death.  Finish the scene. Take your bow and grab a drink

The game is a form of ENDOWMENT game where a performer tries to endow another with a certain behaviour or attribute 

The Curse aims at pushing the performers to take big risks without making them think too far in advance. Someone will die in the scene but no one knows who will fall until the cards are dealt.

The game also tries to stop people from announcing intentions. “I will open the door.”  “You are a doctor”. “You must kill me”.

Be elegant. read each other’s intentions and fulfil what your partner wants.


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