Monday, January 18, 2010

Why I love Freeze Tag

Team #9 decided to play our full set as a game of Freeze Tag at the most recent Thunderdome. We've gotten mixed reviews—from "I loved it" to "I can't believe you played Freeze Tag for 30 effing minutes" to "I wish you'd opened it up more so you could pursue some of the scenes further."

Playing Freeze Tag was a 180 from our set in the last round of Thunderdome—a stylized Twilight Zone-inspired piece. Steve set it up in hard-core ComedyCity mode—establishing that we'd play it as a rapid-fire one-liner game (they call it Body Freeze). We did a few rounds of one-liners, justifying the position and moving on, then kicked into longer, relationship-driven scenes.

Improvisers I have known give me relentless shit about my love of Freeze Tag. It kills me to see it played as a one-liner game—Freeze! Say something funny to justify the position! Barely move at all and freeze again! Repeat!—because if you play it right, it can get you completely out of your head and inspire great scenes with rich characters, emotional relationships and detailed object and environment work.

Here's how: Read up on Viewpoints.
  • The distance between you and your scene partner is your spacial relationship. It tells you your status...who you are to each other...what kind of tension exists in your relationship.
  • Your partner's position is her shape. It can tell you her emotion and her status and so much more. We usually name the activity—which is the least important piece of information of all. (Annoyance theory: How you do what you do is who you are.)
  • Your own shape can also inspire your gesture—and the start of what you're doing. Instead of naming your own activity right at the start, begin it. Figure out why you're doing it.
Ages ago, I saw a list of hack Freeze moves online. I can't find it now, but it included:
  • Dancing, martial arts and exercise
  • Teaching anyone to do anything
  • Super-gluing anything to anything
  • Quotes from TV, movies or other pop-culture references
In each of those, the scene is about what you're doing, not how or why you're doing it. Fine for a quick laugh—maaaabye—but not to build a scene.

Freeze Tag is a microcosm of all improv teaching. Freeze Tag can be used for good or evil. Freeze Tag can save your soul.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hello,

    First of all, I'd like to say I really like your blog. I'm an avid follower.

    Concerning the game Freeze Tag, I have to say I sometimes like it when I see it, but most of the time I think it is a pretty destructive game that teaches bad habits to improvisers.

    Gary Schwartz from the Spolin Center sums it up pretty well, I think: He calls it the Anti-Improv Game.

    I think Keith Johnstone also said that "Freeze Tag teaches you how to kill a story, rather than how to build one." I think this is what you audience member tried to express.

    I agree with Keith and Gary.

    This site also describes the game and mentions some of the Freeze Tag wimps (dancing, statues, fighting, Twister, Crazy glue):

    I think that you have a great approach to the game, but unfortunately, this game is so popular that the "common approach" (drop one-liners / make a random comment on the physical position) is predominant. And the structure of the game itself reinforces that.

    So personnally, I'm not a fan of that game.
    But I still really like your blog!


  3. Freeze Tag is a microcosm of all improv teaching.

    I didn't see your set, but nowhere in the description and lengthy justification above do you mention why this would be fun for anyone but an improviser to watch.

  4. Ian: Thanks for reading...and welcome!

    Love the article, and totally agree. When Freeze Tag is a labeling game, it fits in the same category as 185, World's Worst, and all the other silly, funny one-liner games that use exactly one skill—verbal gymnastics. And though many improvisers are capable of saying funny things, being taught that a quick wit is the most important tool in improvisation is unhelpful at best and destructive at worst.

    Which is why I like using it as physical and emotional inspiration, rather than verbal justification. It completely transforms the experience.

    Josh: Oh. That. Because good scenes are fun to watch?

    That said, I our 30-minute freeze tag set was totally a Thunderdome gimmick.

  5. Should also add that I think 185 and World's Worst can be highly entertaining, and that I have nothing against quick-witted improvisers. I just subscribe to the Annoyance theory that your on-stage tools are what you do physically, emotionally AND verbally. Because people to improvise tend to be highly verbal, it's the other skills that tend to atrophy if you don't pay attention to them.

  6. Much of what's called long-form is just Freeze Tag where they don't yell Freeze.

  7. Leave it to Jill Bernard to succinctly summarize.


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