'Santa's Lap' Christmas Improv Game

Santa Claus
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"Santa's Lap" is a variation on a theater game called "Surprise Guests." As with that character guessing game, one person will leave the stage area and be out of earshot. The remaining cast members will then gather suggestions from the audience by asking them: "Who should I be?" The audience may suggest generic character types: cowboy, opera singer, cheerleader, or other suggestions. They may also suggest specific individuals: Walt Disney, Vladimir Putin, Queen Elizabeth, or characters from books or movies.

Or, the audience can be encouraged to offer bizarre suggestions, such as:

  • A man without any bones
  • A woman who is madly in love with pasta
  • A child who fears candy

How to Play

After each cast member has received a character, all then form a single-file line. The person playing Santa enters in character, and the scene begins. Santa may be played in a very genuine sort of way (think "Miracle on 34th Street"), or he may be portrayed as a disgruntled mall Santa (as in "A Christmas Story").

After Santa interacts with the audience or perhaps with an elf employee, the first character in line sits on Santa's lap. (Or they can just approach Santa if sitting is not appropriate to the character.) As Santa asks what the person wants for Christmas, he will also engage in a conversation that will deliver funny little clues about the identity of the character.

As with "Surprise Guests," the goal isn't so much to correctly guess the character. Instead, the performers should focus on humor and character development. Make the most of the interaction between Santa Claus and his mystery lap-sitter.

After the lap-sitter has been identified, then Santa moves on to the next person in line. Note: In order to make the improv game more dynamic, Santa should feel free to move from his chair, taking the characters to see his workshop, sled, or reindeer barn.


To help plan a successful improv event, check out these tips:

  • You won't need a ton of space for this question-and-answer guessing game, but you will want at least five people to play. If you have that few, you can rotate people in and out of the audience and can rotate the people being Santa in different rounds, as each round will move quickly. If you have a lot of people, you can still rotate Santa after a particular number of characters guessed, such as every 10, or after a certain length of time, say 15 or 20 minutes, depending on how Santa is doing.
  • If children are involved in the game, take their knowledge of famous people or characters into account when choosing the subjects.
  • When coming up with your subjects, the more creative you can be, the more lively the game will be. Having someone pretend to be a data entry clerk, for example, will not be as spirited for the actor as, say, a skydiver with a fear of heights. Get an emotional element into the character suggestion when possible. This can also help the actor to think up what he or she wants from Santa for Christmas, as the character will have a need of something built into his or her role from the start.