The Alphabet Game

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The Alphabet Game has long been one of my favourites, to both play and watch. It’s got some of the best qualities of short-form improv – it’s short (or should be) and it’s a damn sight harder than it sounds.

The plan is simple. You get a starting letter from the audience and do a scene with 26 exchanges in it (though we often play 27 and get back to the original letter – somehow this feels more satisfying), each beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. Sounds really easy doesn’t it? Obviously X,Y,Z sound pretty tough (and they are), but quick recall of your letters is difficult enough when under pressure.

The game is best played with short sentences – it keeps the pace of the scene up and most importantly prevents either player from planning ahead. In fact, the longer you speak for the easier the game gets, and gets boring to boot. Playing the Alphabet Game fast is usually quite impressive, and invariably funny. Lots of one word lines and retorts can be fitted in and enhances that agony of memory and indecision in players which can excite the audience into cheers and boos.

There are a whole lot of popular “cheats” for letters such as X, ignoring the silent E on most words gets a weird half cheer/half boo. Z is hard. There really aren’t very many available words, and lots of them skew the scene in very odd directions. You can either embrace that or even better, justify the word in the current context – ‘zoologically speaking’ is always popular.

It’s a smart game for helping players to detach from cogitation – the less you think the better you are, and the split-brain approach of remembering the alphabet while building a scene is a great tool. My top tip – play the Alphabet Game with yourself in the shower; it’s surprisingly good fun and excellent practice.

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