Today I'm going to be talking a little bit about a very fundamental aspect of improv: gift giving. Simply put, gift giving is when you give your scene partner or yourself a gift; usually an aspect of their (or your) character.
|Check out this terrible stock photo I found!|
Let's start with giving gifts to yourself.
Really gift giving to yourself is just an aspect of developing your character. For example, I recently did a musical in which I played the antagonist. In the first scene, my character mentioned that he had built a hyper-grabbing fishing pole to steal the secret recipe.
Once I gave myself that gift (in this case, that my character invented things) I continued using it the whole show. Somebody's going to tell on us? No problem, I've invented silencing putty. We need to take something from someone? That's fine, I'll just use my freeze ray to stall them. Once you have that gift, your character suddenly becomes way more interesting.
Now a more subtle example. We once did a musical that involved stealing cattle. Jordan came on and promptly introduced himself as One-Eyed Jim, The Cattle Appraiser. In this case, a cattle appraiser was a good way to advance the plot, but Jordan also gave himself the gift of being one-eyed, just to make the character more interesting. One-Eyed Jim was certainly more interesting than some boring old two-eyed cattle appraiser.
Now that we've covered giving gifts to yourself, it's time to talk about giving gifts to your partner.
In one of my favorite musicals that DeBono has done, (the suggestion was "Casino") the protagonists made it pretty clear that the bad guy was going to be the owner of the casino. So in the antagonist scene, I started the scene by calling on casino owner Master Deathclaw. Once Simeon knew that he was Master Deathclaw, that opened up all sorts of fun games that he could play with his character. (That's why we call it a gift!)
And again, a more subtle example: we once started a musical with a conversation about how the terrible Coat Beast was lurking in Burlington Coat Factory. We talked about how scared we were, and how our fearless manager would see us through it. After all our tales of his bravery and heroism, Michael Gaschler entered as the man himself.
Because we had already given his character several traits to work off of, he already had a very solid character built and knew pretty much what he had to do. We gave him the greatest gift of all: the gift of character.
One final note on gift giving: it's usually best to give someone positive traits. It is, after all, supposed to be a gift. Obviously there are cases where it's better to give someone negative traits, but mostly you want to give them stuff they can work with.
After all, the best improviser is one who makes their partner look good.