Documentary: The Rejection Game

By John-Paul Flintoff

After a couple of years of planning, I’m finally about to start work on a documentary film, The Rejection Game.

The game is a training exercise used by performers and others. I learned it from Keith Johnstone, the visionary who invented much of theatrical improvisation. The rules are very simple. Four people are on stage in front of some kind of audience. One of the people must be socially rejected by the other three. It mustn’t be you!

If this sounds brutal, it’s not. In my experience, it can be a very funny game – but I only play it with people who positively want to play.

I first played it with Steve Chapman and Robert Twigger and Janine Ingrid, when we were training with Keith Johnstone. Steve and I had the idea to hire a venue and play the game over and over again, to see what effect repetition might have on the players. That idea then grew into this documentary.

Now the plan is to take the game to a variety of groups, across society, to find out the types of social behaviours that reject, and behaviours that are more inclusive. We’ll film each game, with cameras and microphones at every angle, to capture every significant bit of body language and utterance. We’ll film players reflecting on what they learned, and we’ll film them outside the game, in their everyday lives, thinking about their individual experiences of inclusion and rejection – because these are very big and important topics.

I have talked about this project in several places now. The generous, challenging audiences at the Brainwash Festival in Amsterdam this weekend gave me ideas to make the film even better, and earlier this year I had the privilege of talking about it in Northern Ireland, when I visited one of the few integrated schools there. I was delighted to be told by students (who looked much nicer than my drawing suggests) that they wanted me to come back and play The Rejection Game with them. Perhaps I will!

Posted: October 27, 2015