Friday, January 8, 2021

Pandemic Meditations: A Scrabble Story by Robert Tombari

Coronavirus Scrabble from flickr, used under CC license

2020: A Scrabble Story

by Robert Tombari

I seriously love words. I’m a big fan of Scrabble. I try not to come up with the most clever ones. You have to be lucky in drawing letters. It’s not all skill. It’s about the letters you draw and where you place them that makes the game interesting. How the board comes together - you always have to be conscious of the bigger picture. You slowly realize that every word you place matters in a significant way. Dictating what can or cannot be done four turns from now. Maybe you got lucky, and hit a seven letter word (most of the time it's an eight-letter word) by adding your word to an existing one. You only get the bonus if you use all your letters and create, at minimum, a seven-letter word. 

Semantics abound. 

For me, placing a letter on a scrabble board is a type of meditation. It is easy and doesn’t take much effort. Finding the right words, however, that’s hard. While the goal of the game is to accumulate the most points, you are also working to make sure that you have places later. 

Words matter. How you use them matters. 

Words, words words . . .

As many Scrabble enthusiasts will tell you, the first word sets the tone for the game. It is the make or break moment. Words beget words that beget words . . . until one person runs out of tiles and the bank out of letters. What makes the game intriguing is that when you have run out of tiles, and you’re the first to lay them all down, you then get the points from the other players' letters. It’s inherently part of the game, and isn’t really vital to what I am telling you. But in a way it is. 

Words . . .words? 

Words . . .

I like to play defensively--always paying attention to what the person before has done, and what the next player could do. You choose your words carefully. 

In the end, you find that where you use the words you create, how you place them, how they fit onto the board, letter by letter, tile by tile racking up each point only brings you so far. If the game is a blowout is it really that much fun? I don’t mean that you should throw the game if someone isn’t doing well. It is luck after all that got you the better tiles and placements available to put them. But the question remains. 

WORDS! Words . . . words . . . ?

I like to block the triple word scores with mundane letters. Taking smaller chances to make sure that in the end I was given some points. After all, it's the points that you need that will help you win the game. 

Which words to create?  Which words to toss? 

Your mind must race so many miles minute when you haven’t been paying attention to what has been happening - not looking at the bigger picture. You’ve been solely focused on your own game play. You forgot to check in with the world around you. Realizing now that the word you were going to place is no longer useable. Someone has taken your spot and you cannot play there anymore. How do you make the word fit?

If words are the name of the game, then the action of placing them is like a chess board move of “checkmate”. I mean the stakes are always high, but in the end it’s just a word. Does it really matter? 

Finally the board is done. The letters are fully placed. The game has been set, the match is over. 

What to do? What to do . . .

Do you ever evaluate your plays? Like, just look at the game when it’s finished? Tried to see how it could have come out differently? 

I’ve always said you should be aware of the wordplay. Do you see it yet? 

Words are the name of the game. Actions are using them. Placement is vocalizing them.

When I think of how the pandemic has affected our theatrical community, both locally and globally, I think of the words 









Amazing things come out of this pandemic, but pain has come with it. 

Theatre has forever changed. We must embrace this change. We must look forward to the future. 

As we look at these words, we can imagine the hardship of finding a way to create them during the pandemic. How lucky it really would have been to make them happen. 

Vowels are important, in theatre, we emphasize and stress them when warming up--using them to ground ourselves and solidify our bodies for performance. We were trying our hardest to, simply, draw a vowel that could link the needed sounds.

There was a loss without these words.

Clear the board. 

Start again.

Here's to hoping our letters connect in 2021.


Robert Tombari
Robert Tombari is a classically trained actor, director, producer, educator, and an acting/vocal coach who currently resides in Spokane, Washington. He received his MFA, with an emphasis in Shakespeare, from The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in Birmingham, England where he lived for two years. He holds a BA in Theatre Arts from Boise State University. While living in Boise he also worked as a stagehand on numerous productions at The Morrison Center for The Performing Arts. Robert has also toured parts of the Pacific Northwest with Idaho Theatre for Youth part of Idaho Shakespeare Festival. He has performed locally at Spokane Civic Theatre (Morris, Present Laughter) and at Stage Left Theater (Jody, Lonely Planet; Mack The Knife, Threepenny Opera). 

Robert currently produces the Masterpiece Monologues series for Stage Left Theater. He is also a member of Stage Left Theater’s Board of Directors. Robert was born and raised in Spokane. When he isn’t working, you can find him wandering around Manito Park with his dog Bentley, trying new restaurants, binging his favorite tv series, and spending time with his immediate family. He can be reached at his website.

At the end of January, Robert will be starring in Stage Left's virtual production of An Iliad (directed by Susan Hardie). Tickets here:

Pandemic Meditations is a weekly series in which creative people share responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Find more meditations at