Published by ShawnKinley on

unrecognizable woman with book resting on bed in house

The Game

I needed a little trick to help students develop character and this game evolved from that.  This is an “endowment” type of game where information is known by everyone except one performer.


ORIGIN: Shawn Kinley


  • Partner awareness, 
  • communicating ideas, 
  • commitment to objectives, 
  • subtlety and elegance.


GOAL: After getting the title of an imagined instructional or “how-to” book from the audience, a player who hasn’t heard the information tries to figure out what book they are reading based on the context of the scene.


  1. Send one performer away so they can’t hear the audience’s suggestions. 
  2. Ask the audience for the title of a book that is instructional in some way (How to Levitate, Burying bodies for dummies, etc)
  3. When the performer returns, they start the scene “reading their book” to themselves for a few seconds. (This is the book that they have to guess the title of). They don’t have to keep focusing on the book through the scene.
  4. Other performers enter the scene trying to endow the reader with the actions so that they can figure out what they are reading.
  5. It’s good to put a time limit on this game so it doesn’t go on too long.


  • Jane leaves the theatre.
  • The audience says the book she is reading is, “Swear words your mother should never hear you say”.  
  • Jane comes back onto the stage reading the imaginary book. She curls up in a cozy chair, drinking her tea and turning pages.
  • Gracie enters the living-room and expresses some shock when she “sees” what Jane is reading.  (Jane is now aware that she’s got something controversial). Jane mirrors Gracie a little and makes an offer to move the game forward – “I KNOW!!! Can you believe they would publish something like this”.
  • She might bravely add detail without knowing if she’s even close to the topic, “Can you believe they have animals doing that sort of thing?!?!”
  • Gracie needs to let Jane know she’s not on the right track without outrightly blocking her: WHAT!! THEY DO THAT WITH ANIMALS TOO?!?!?
  • Jane understands that she’s off the track and communicates thatWell, that’s just one sub-chapter. It’s not the main part of the book
  • Reference to the book should be kept to a minimum. (DON’T ALWAYS TALK ABOUT THE BOOK). Gracie directs the conversation to family. Possibly a character playing the mother comes in. Gracie tells Jane not to be too hard on her. (another hint about her character’s intention without actually talking about the book.).
  • Gracie’s offer implies that Jane actually needs to let lose in some way on the new character.)
  • This goes on for a designated time so nobody feels they are suffering to make things work too hard.(possibly 2 minutes ). If they and the audience are entertained then that’s great. We don’t need to see them suffer. Guessing the title is just a bonus. The inspiration and offers in the scene are the meat of this exercise.

TEACHING TIPS: The Reader MUST take risks. The risks don’t have to be ‘correct’ as long as other performers are helping her to understand when she is getting close or is far away from the information. Learning to take these Risks is a skill of great improvisers.

The performers who know the title mustn’t be forcefully explicit just to win with statements like – “I didn’t know you like to say BAD WORDS to people you are related to.” 

That’s boring and unrealistic. This annoying behaviour is similar to improvisers who constantly express too much of what’s already obvious to the audience – “I will answer the door”. “Let us shake hands brother”.

Life is more elegant and subtle. 

Show the reality. 

Coach the performers not to work too hard. (An audience member who didn’t know the setup of the game shouldn’t be able to guess you were trying to get your partner to say something to win a game. It should look like a regular scene.)

Telling players that there are only 20 seconds or 10 seconds left forces them to take bigger risks. This pressure can result in wonderful acts of desperation.

REMEMBER – Narrative Improvisation is much more interesting than just playing silly games. When the performers are inspired by the story, put less emphasis on the “game” for a bit while you play the scene.

Some performers take the game too seriously. Have them focus on what’s IN THE STORY.

Some don’t play the game with enough passion. Feel when performers aren’t not pushing hard enough and push harder (You NEED to get them to know their title in TEN seconds!!!) 

At the end of the scene ask the performer the title of the book. Even if they have no idea, they should say something. The audience takes great delight in knowing what the performer was thinking.

VARIATION: Instead of having the offstage person guessing the book THEY are reading, the returning improviser has to figure out what you are reading. It’s not a big variation but it changes the focus in interesting ways.

BASTARDIZATIONS: In many endowment games, performers try to make the information impossible to figure out or they try to make the guesser look stupid.  Don’t. 

IMPORTANT: Good endowment games distracts performers from working too hard on narrative, paradoxically helping to create relationship and incidental detail which benefits… NARRATIVE. More details comes out in the scene. Characters pay closer attention to each other. When the performers are aware of this, they can play with the narrative and the endowment with a greater sense of balance.


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