Published by ShawnKinley on

The Game

Keith Johnstone observed that boring scenes have something in common. NOBODY IS ALTERED. His hint was “Have an emotional reaction ” and justify it later.”

We think “SOMETHING IS HAPPENING!!” when emotions change.

 Remember the last time you were in a restaurant or crowded train and someone had an emotional reaction? You didn’t have to hear what they were saying. You just knew whatever it was that was happening, things just became more interesting.

When we talk about taking a risk on stage, it’s not about playing a game that is challenging or rhyming your dialogue or doing a scene backwards. Bravely having an emotional reaction when you don’t know before-hand  why you are doing it is a much greater risk.  YOU JUST MADE SOMETHING HAPPEN!!!! Now you have to make sense of it.

Why don’t we do that more often? Because it’s scary and you feel you might not be able to justify a reasonable response. Get over it!  Take the risk.  Here’s a practice exercise to prove that you can do it – nooooo problem.



BENEFITS: practice skills of justification, training yourself to see the impact of emotional shifts

# PEOPLE: 1 or more

GOAL: Create reasonable stories based on a group of emotional pictures.


  1. If there are two of you, the first person will take four pictures with vastly differing expressions.
  2. Show the first one to your partner. 
  3. Your partner says who this person is and maybe a couple of details like what the character is doing 
  4. show your partner the next photo and let them justify the change
  5. repeat with all four images.
  6. If there are more people in your group, have them do the same. (Use the images in the same or a different order)

***Of course you could just make an emotional reaction without taking the pictures BUT by taking the pictures, other people could tell a story with the same images, which is fun to listen to because of their different interpretation.

ALSO – The same person could tell another story by shuffling the images into another order proving that it doesn’t matter what emotion you have as long as you have a strong emotion and justify a reason after.


    The variation is actually a great stage game that I use a lot in rehearsals.

    Have performers think of two emotions before they walk into the scene. They MUST NOT change these emotions. Do scenes. Whenever the director yells for an emotion, the performer MUST use the one they pre-choose and THEN justify. 
    Happy Birthday Scenes that jump into horror are great.

    Second variation is to play that old game where you watch a movie or scene with the sound turned off and you create the dialogue. At some point if the scene is worth watching, the performers on screen will have an emotional reaction. Practice in justifying the emotional change is a good impro work-out.

    IMPORTANT: Don’t worry about being good. If you don’t like how you justified the emotion try again.


    Leave a Reply

    Avatar placeholder

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *