Improv Games: Scenes Without the Letter

“Scenes Without the Letter” is one of my absolute favorite improv games. I would often use this game to open shows, so you know it’s fun! In addition to being fun, it is one of the most useful exercises to teach people to take risks and put failure in perspective..

Purpose

The point of this game is to demonstrate that it’s not whether we succeed or fail, but how we make our attempts that make the difference.

Summary

In this game you will attempt to have a conversation with somebody without using one letter of the alphabet.

How to Play

This exercise works best with three. Two people will begin having a conversation about some topic—it can be anything at all. However, they will be given one letter of the alphabet they cannot use in any word they say. They cannot use the letter at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the word. If they use a word that has that letter, then they will be eliminated. You can have someone observing to ring a bell or clap their hands when they catch the person using a word with that letter.

That person will jump out of the scene and the observer will jump in and continue the conversation– again, not using that one letter. This game continues on for a while as people keep switching out all attempting to speak without using a certain letter of the alphabet.

Improv Tips and Things to Remember

The choice of letter is important; do not use a vowel because that will make the game almost impossible. Use a consonant, but use a common consonant. Good choices are the letters, “S,” which is probably my favorite for new people; “T” is good but incredibly challenging; “N, R, and H” are also good. Resist the temptation of a boring or less common letter because you think it will be easier; it actually makes the game much less fun and entertaining.

The point of this game is not to stay in the conversation, so try to speak as best you can in normal English and in full sentences. Don’t cheat by speaking a foreign language or by using poor grammar or by speaking only one word at a time. If you’re playing this with people and that becomes a problem then start eliminating people who do not speak in full sentences and move them to the end of the line.

Be willing to mess it up. If you find yourself not being eliminated for a while, don’t pat yourself on the back for how good you are. Rather, realize you probably are not taking enough risks. If you have enough people then take turns just watching. The important question to ask yourself is, “when was the game fun to watch?” This game is fun to watch in two instances: 1) Someone tries their best to not use that letter and speak normally and they mess up and accidentally and say a word that has that letter in it. 2) Someone does their best to speak normally without using the letter and they manage to get out a full complete sentence without messing up. The game is not entertaining when people speak very slowly and very poorly in an attempt to not mess up.

If you don’t have that many people you can play this with just two people. Do a story telling version where you and your partner tell a story together., You start telling the story without using that certain letter of the alphabet. If you say a word that has that letter your partner will ring a bell or clap and they will pick up the story where you messed up and continue telling it without using that letter. Then you will watch them and catch them if they use that letter. Then you will go back and forth just switching.

If you can’t observe somebody else playing, then try video taping it then watching it afterwards seeing which is more fun to watch.

Improv Lessons

There are a few takeaways in this exercise. One is that this game is fun when you try your best to succeed whether you fail or actually succeed. The game works when you are trying. When you play it safe and are afraid to fail then the game is no fun for anyone. The takeaway is that the more willing you are to fail, the more likely you are to succeed. Sometimes it’s not what we do, but rather how we approach it. Also, use this game to gauge your willingness to take risks. If you find it hard to let yourself go and speak as fast as possible, then you may be risk-adverse. This is just an improv exercise so imagine how it will be in a larger scale…

Here’s an example of a storytelling version along with some more instruction:

(see more videos)

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