Splitsider: Improv’s Babel: Defining the Game of the Scene

I worked with Matt Visconage on an article for Splitsider about the concept in improvisation known as “the game of the scene,” specifically the various definitions of the term from improv teachers in Chicago and the UCB. Check out the article for some great interviews with Matt Besser, TJ Jagodowski, Cook County Social Club, Will Hines, Joe Bill, Susan Messing, Jimmy Carrane, and Kevin Mullaney.


“When I used to intern at an improv theater in Hollywood, it wasn’t uncommon to find a couple who wandered in from the street, expecting to see a guy with a microphone, telling jokes. Television shows like Whose Line Is It, Anyway? helped audiences distinguish improv from stand-up, but the games on those shows gave the wrong impression of the style of improvisation taught by Close and now performed in hundreds of theaters worldwide.

At the heart of this confusion is that sticky term: game. Game can refer to short-form games like “Party Quirks” or “Freeze Tag.” There are also group games, which are a component of the Harold – a long-form show created by Close – that involves the entire ensemble, as opposed to two-person scenes. Finally, there is the game of the scene, a technical term with various definitions depending on who you ask.

Splitsider did just that. We spoke with teachers from the top improv training centers in the country – the Upright Citizens Brigade, the Improv Olympic (iO), the Second City, the Annoyance – in hopes to reconcile these competing views of game. After some deeply inside-baseball conversations, we realized the perceived differences between these different theaters have less to do with style or philosophy than they do with pure semantics.

From the wide spectrum of opinions emerge two fundamental definitions of game, based mostly on its relative importance to the scene. The first definition is associated with the improv community of Chicago, and the second is associated with the community that it birthed, the UCB.”

Read the full post on Splitsider.com.

About eavoss
Erik Voss is a writer, actor and improv comedian in Los Angeles. Please subscribe!

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