The Gift Game
Players sit in a circle. Have the first student present a mimed gift to the student to their right. They should act as if they are really giving this person a gift and that they hope they like it. The only thing the gift giver chooses in this transaction is the size, and perhaps shape and weight of the package. The person next to him or her should then receive the gift graciously, opens it up, pull out an object and explain what the gift is, acting appropriately appreciative. Players should focus on spontaneously justifying the size of the package with their gift without pause to think and to engage in an appropriate social interaction with the person sitting next to them. The act of gift giving can make for an interesting scene. Repeat this around the circle, so that each student receives a gift from their left and gives a gift to their right until the student who first gave a gift finally receives one.
In the Moment:
• Pacing is very important here. Players need to just see the gift with the rest of us. It should be as much of a surprise to the receiver as it is to the audience. They should not over think it, just say it. It is all about being spontaneous on stage. Improvisors can never over think what they are doing on stage, this is a way to practice that skill.
• Making sure they justify the size, shape and even weight of the gift is also important here. This prevents players from preplanning what they are going to get. If they get a box that is two square inches, don't let them receive a football. It has to fit the box! Enforce this! Having them open a box within a box until they reach the size they want may seem creative, but it is just a creative way of avoiding having to think of a gift that size! (In some improv circles this is known as a "block"... They are not accepting the other player’s "offer.")
• Give each scene time to develop. Gift giving is a story. They establish the kind of relationship they have in the initial moments. "Oh you shouldn't have..." "Oh boy I've been waiting for this one!" "Oh, a gift? Really?" There is rising action as the receiver unwraps the box. The climax is when the gift is revealed and we get to see the reaction of the receiver. Does she really like it? Is she uncomfortable about the cost? Was he hoping for something else? Is it the perfect gift? Then there is the closing action where the giver can react to the reaction, maybe explaining the thought process behind the gift.
• Asking questions after some of the turns like "What was the relationship between these two?" "Did she really like the gift or was she just faking?" "How did giving the gift make you feel?" will encourage players to think about these issues as their turn arrives and will, hopefully, improve their performances.
• Encourage them to be specific. Its not just a sweater, its a green and blue Kashmir sweater! "OOOh its so soft! and it brings out the color in my eyes!!!" The more details that are added, the more the players have to work with. (This is true of any improv scene.)
Christmas Theme! I love doing this game right before Christmas! It is a nice themed game without leaving the kids that don't celebrate it out. Getting and giving gifts are essentially where their heads are at so why not go with it! It is also a great opportunity to talk about the expected behaviors around gift giving... (See below!)
Social Pragmatics: Younger kids and anyone who would show up in a social pragmatics class can always use a primer on gift giving and receiving. There are dozens of unwritten social rules in this interaction. This game can be a great way to start a discussion about why people give gifts, what they say, how the cost or size of the gift can make people feel uncomfortable. Often, we talk about how your job when you receive a gift is to make the person who gave it feel good. After all they went to all this trouble! This could involve "social faking!" Then we can practice the appropriate social fake, (without seeming sarcastic) if you get a gift from a family member that you don't like, but don't want them to feel bad.
Creative Writing: This game is a great reminder about how even small things can be very dramatic. This game would be a great warmup and introduction to a writing prompt, where they describe a scene where a gift is exchanged. It is a great way to explore characters and relationships in a very short and intense format.