Holding out on giving names

I’m a bad student. I like to hold out on names.

I was taught in improv to give my partner a name, as soon as possible. It makes perfect sense: a name makes us more connected. I was in a Razowsky workshop when he showed us the difference between “I’m alone.” and “I’m alone, Steven.” The second line has stronger bond.

However, lately — specifically on my online world improv tour — I find myself holding out on names until a few lines in, sometimes 5 minutes into our 10-minute scenes. Why?

Names carry a big meaning, CULTURALLY. And because of that, I want to wait a little longer, and see what scene I am in… Am I in the United States?… Am I in Norway? … Am I in the Philippines? … Am I in an immigrant family in Norway?

The scene is my baby. I’m the parent who would wait to name the baby— see how the baby behave first, and only then, give a name that sounds right.

Once I get the sense of place, then I will slide the name in. I enjoy to use these names in my 10-minutes scenes:
- Vishnu, when our scene is in India
- Bimo, when our scene is in Indonesia
- Eivind, when our scene is in Norway
- Liban, when our scene is in Somaliland
- Shengyu, when our scene is in China
- Luana, when our scene is in Brazil
*Note: all these names are actual friends of mine

A good name placement is a little trick up your sleeve, to give the scene an extra kick. It solidifies where you are, which culture you are playing in.

There’s nothing wrong to give a name right away. But I feel, in this wide open era of world improv, it takes away some possibilities. Sometimes, if we gave the name Steven right away, we subconsciously put the scene in a Western setting. Or, if we use Steven in Thailand, then the scene would gravitate two ways:

  1. a tourist. Then the scene is not daily life: it’s a scene that is seen through googles of a visitor.
  2. an upper-class person. We do have names like Steven, Mark, Maria and Margaret in Southeast Asia, but they are always an upper class person. If I keep using only Western names on Asian folx, I will never represent all facets of our lives on stage.

There is a caveat for holding out a name. Sometimes at the end of the scene, I do forget to give a name AT ALL. It’s a risk… but I think, the reward is a world of possibilities.

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On Cloud Nine

An Impro Neuf blog. Evolving thoughts on improv from Aree Witoelar, teacher/founder of Impro Neuf International in Oslo, Norway.