Improv - Level 2
In this level, you will learn about endowment in improv, and how to endow objects, characters, and settings. The final challenge will be to showcase a one-to-two-minute improvised monologue using various endowments.
On your journey to tackle the Final Challenge and complete the Level, you will need to earn 1 Power Up and gain 3 Experience Points along the way.
In this level, you will:
- Power Up by discovering what endowments are and how to recognize them
- Gain Experience by practicing endowing objects
- Gain Experience by practicing endowing characters
- Gain Experience by practicing endowing settings
- Take on the Final Challenge by improvising a monologue incorporating endowments
This Level Up Challenge is based on a unit designed and developed by student Thespians.
POWER UP: Discover Endowment and Why It Matters
According to Improv Encyclopedia, endowment is "attributing other players with physical, emotional or other characteristics, or getting other players to do something, or to behave in a particular way." In other words, it is a type of offer which establishes something's characteristics, such as those of a person, object, or setting. By endowing something in their environment, Player A is giving specific details about it, adding realism to their scene, and giving the other players something to play off of and/or build upon for the rest of the scene. To see why endowment matters, let's take a look at an example:
If Player A said: "Look at that thing over there," what would that offer contribute to the scene? Not much! We don't know what that thing is, why it's there, or why it matters. Player A has not endowed the "thing" they introduced and are thus wimping, or making a weak offer that doesn't contribute anything meaningful to the scene.
However, if Player A had said: "Hey Emily, look at that massive airplane in the sky! It looks just like the one you were flying yesterday," Player A has offered the following endowments:
- their scene partner, Emily, is an airplane pilot
- there is a massive airplane in the sky
By endowing, the other players and the audience now know a lot more about the characters in the scene! In this case, we now know who Emily is and can build a scene around that. For example, that plane could be Emily's plane that a different character stole, or it could lead to a flying race between Emily and another character.
Endowment allows the players to be on the same page and create detailed, engaging scenes rather than be stuck playing a scene where none of the players know what's taking place. For more information on endowment, visit this article from Improvisational Comedy on endowment!
Examples of Endowment in Play
In the Canadian Improv Games, one of the best events to show how endowments are made is the "Story" event. In the story event, teams tell an improvised story from start to finish. In many cases, teams will endow the setting and characters to help bring their story to life, while also using them to progress the plot of the story. Take a look at this recording of a story event (source: Canadian Improv Games).
In this story event example, the team endowed their setting, building up their environment to give their story more life and establishing things that could be played upon later in their scene. For example, they endowed a lovely rug in the pet shop that was eventually used to solve the story's conflict.
TO POWER UP: Watch this story event recording (source: Canadian Improv Games) and identify as many endowments in it as you can! Pay attention to:
- The characters or objects being endowed
- The endowments they were given
- How they showed those endowments in the scene
GAIN EXPERIENCE: Practice Endowing Objects
Now that you know what endowment is and why it matters, it's time to practice endowing, starting with objects!
Recall that endowments are special types of offers (re-visit Improv Level One to review offers). That means endowing objects is as simple as making and accepting offers, just like you did in that level! This time around, you'll just be making offers which describe objects!
Here are a few tips and tricks for endowing objects:
- Be specific! Since we can't see what the object is, saying it's "a ball" won't cut it. Give the object some character so that we can visualize it and see it come to life in the scene! (ex: "it's a gigantic rainbow-colored beach ball")
- Make it meaningful! Try to connect your object to the environment it's in or make it important to one of the characters in the scene (ex: "I won it at the biggest beach volleyball competition in the world", "it's the most prized artifact in all of Vancouver", "it was a gift from my grandmother")
- Physicalize! "Show, don't tell" is a phrase heard a lot in improv, and endowment is one of the areas where it applies most. Don't just tell us about the object, show the object being used in the scene or become the object! Showing the object through mime or physicalization makes it appear real, adding to the overall realism of the scene.
Examples of Object Endowment - The story event video (source: Canadian Improv Games) used in the previous Power Up has some examples of object endowment. Notice how the improvisers physicalize their objects and use them throughout the scene. A handful of objects were introduced at the beginning of this story event, each physicalized by the improvisers in the scene. Later on, the gong was also endowed with an additional trait: it "had been here for 75 years, almost older than dojo man himself," which helped make it more important to the scene.
TO GAIN EXPERIENCE: Use a random number generator to give you 5 numbers between 1 to 60 (or have a friend give you 5 numbers between 1 and 60). Then, open this document and locate the five random objects that match the five numbers you were given. Endow and physicalize these 5 random objects, each in under 15 seconds! Good luck!
GAIN EXPERIENCE: Practice Endowing Characters
Now that you know how to endow things, it's time to endow living things! Endowing characters follows the same set of principles as endowing objects: making and accepting endowment offers, just describing traits of characters rather than objects! Here are a few things to remember when endowing characters:
- Endow things that can be shown! Gestures, walks, and voices are your friends! Just like it did when endowing objects "show, don't tell" also applies with characters. Giving characters vocal, physical, and mental traits that they can actively demonstrate shows your interpretation of a characteristic, gives you fun things to base your scenes around, and makes those scenes interesting!
- Avoid endowing visible physical features! Saying that a character with brown hair has brown hair doesn't add much to them, since we can already see that they have brown hair. Instead of endowing visible physical features, focus on endowing things that can't already been seen or things that can be demonstrated (as mentioned earlier), such as a healing touch or a laugh that shakes the ground!
- Less is more! It's better to have fewer strong endowments than multiple weak ones, so try to stick to no more than three endowments per character. Additionally, focusing on two to three endowments per character means that they can focus on committing to and presenting those endowments well rather than having to juggle too many at once.
There are also some important things to remember when you're the character being endowed, such as commitment. Take a look at the this video (source: Canadian Improv Games) to learn more about commitment in improv.
Example of Character Endowment - In the Canadian Improv Games, another one of the best events to show how endowments are made is the "Character" event. In the character event, teams showcase a unique character, often through a collection of vignettes surrounding that character. Other players often endow this character with various character traits which stay the same throughout the entire scene. Take a look at this recording of a character event (source: Canadian Improv Games). Pay attention to how the improvisers endow their character at the beginning of the scene and how that character shows their endowments.
As you can see in this character event example, the team endows their character with a variety of physical and mental characteristics, such as their bounciness and the way they radiated sunshine wherever they went. Making these endowments allowed the team to show their interpretation of an optimistic character and gave them jumping-off points for creating their vignettes.
TO GAIN EXPERIENCE: You will be given a random character trait, and your challenge is to endow a character with at least 2 unique vocal, physical, and/or mental traits that relate to the given character trait (and demonstrate them!) in under 45 seconds. You will then do this 2 more times using different character traits (3 times in total). Don't forget to commit to the characters you've endowed! You can have a friend give you 3 random character traits, or visit this Random Character Trait generator to get 3 different character traits! Good luck!
GAIN EXPERIENCE: Practice Endowing Settings
Now that you've learned how to endow objects and characters, we're going to take that knowledge and apply it to settings! Endowing settings is a combination of endowing objects and characters: objects are endowed in a setting to give it realism, then the setting is given traits through the endowment of a mood.
Here are some tips for endowing settings:
- Phy-si-ca-lize! Become the setting - literally! Be the flames rising up from a bonfire, show the twists and turns of jungle vines, and embody the essence of the waves crashing ashore that beautiful beach! Again, this goes back to the principle of "show, don't tell". By physicalizing your setting, it makes it feel real.
- Create an engaging mood! What's the overall vibe of this place? Is it gloomy, vibrant, or something in-between? What does it smell, sound, and feel like? Describing the mood or vibe of the environment adds another layer of depth to the setting, endowing it with a unique set of characteristics that may not have been possible to convey otherwise.
Examples of Setting Endowment - Take a look at the beginning of this story event (source: Canadian Improv Games). Pay attention to the way the improvisers set the scene and describe its mood, pulling the audience into the world of the story.
TO GAIN EXPERIENCE: You will be given a non-geographical location (non-geo loco), and your challenge is to endow the setting in that location by endowing and physicalizing the objects there and giving it a mood, all in under 90 seconds. You can have a friend give you a random non-geographic location, or use www.can-i-get-a.com and hit the "location" button to get a random location. Your goal is to endow and physicalize at least 3 objects in your setting and give it a mood in under 90 seconds.
FINAL CHALLENGE: “Endless Endowment Extravaganza!”
During this journey, you powered up by discovering how to recognize endowment in improv. You also gained experience by practicing endowing objects, characters, and settings. Now, using the power up and experience points you gained along the way, you are ready take on the final challenge: “Endless Endowment Extravaganza!”
Now that you've learned how to endow objects, characters, and settings, you'll be putting everything together! Your challenge is to perform a one-to-two minute monologue of a character endowing themselves and their environment, then interacting with the things they've endowed, using one to three random prompts. Don't forget to commit to your character and to the environment around you!
To get your random prompt(s), you can ask a friend to give you some random objects or locations as prompts, or you can go to www.can-i-get-a.com and click the "location" and/or "word" button a couple times to give you some random prompts. Or, you can use a random number generator to give you a few numbers between 1 to 60 (or have a friend give you a few numbers between 1 and 60). Then, open this document and locate the random objects that match the numbers you were given, and you can use these as your prompts.
Don't forget that you have the option of using one to three prompts! If using two or three prompts is too overwhelming, try again with just one! The goal isn't to use the most prompts, it's to showcase the endowment abilities you've acquired in this level.
TO COMPLETE THE FINAL CHALLENGE: Perform a one-to-two minute monologue of a character endowing themselves and their environment, then interacting with the things they've endowed, using one to three random prompts.
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