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Character Creation Part 4: Endowments

This part of character creation focuses on what other players do. See other posts for definition, physicality, traits and objective.


Now that we have all of these choices for the improviser playing the character to make, it’s time to look at what the other players can do to help create that character.

When your scene partner tells you something about your character, that aspect is called an endowment. If your partner says "Wow, you look so much happier now that you're retired!" that's a total of 3 endowments:

1) your character is retired.

2) they look happy.

3) they were not happy before.

These are all gifts. We love them.

In general, they overlap with the choices that we make about our own characters. They can tell us about our emotions, our previous actions, and reactions. They can also tell us about our circumstances (Uta Hagen’s 2nd step) and aspects of our inner life that we’ve previously revealed to them. Characters who know each other also help the audience confirm that things they suspect to be true about the character are, in fact, real traits.

This is what leads to one of my favorite beginner improviser dialogue clichés: “Oh, honey you always do that.” And as long as it isn’t being used to deny the previous offer (“But this is the first time!”), why not use it to establish habitual behavior? As long as you use it sparingly.

Of course, sometimes these gifts aren’t what we had in mind for our character. Maybe I thought I was the CEO of a start-up, and now I’m retired. Doesn’t matter, once it’s been said the power of words to label what is true about the story outweighs any previous conviction you may have had.

All of these endowments thus far have been dialogue-based, so they are very “tell” instead of “show”. But the way your partner’s character ACTS toward your character is also a way of showing things about your character in relationship with others. Do they inspire trust? Do they get kicked around? How much power do they have?

This last question opens up an entirely new topic status – so turn the page for more.

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