How early is too early to make a character choice?

I’m revisiting Mick Napier’s Improvise, and I’m taking issue with one of his suggestions, because it doesn’t seem to work.

(I hate to get uppity, because I’m sure Mick Napier knows more about improvising than I do, so I’m probably not following his advice properly. But anyway.)

Even [if] you don’t initiate, snap into a character or point of view or at least an emotional disposition at the very top, right when or slightly before the lights come up. Then you have your armor for the scene, even if your partner literally initiates the content with words.  Now, when you respond to your partner, you already have something to respond through. (Napier, Improvise, p. 33)

It seems to me that it works better to snap into a character AFTER the initiator says his/her first line, not BEFORE.

I mean, I don’t see the harm in having a Plan B in your back pocket (“if I don’t have anything better, I’ll be angry/nervous/excited”), but otherwise, it feels disrespectful to the initiator— 90% of the time, there is an honest response that will make more sense than whatever you picked before the scene started— and having a pre-planned response, especially if it doesn’t work in the new context of the initiation, can make for a much more difficult scene. (I think difficult scenes are trickier to make into good improv. Is that wrong?)

You’re not committed until you DO something, but after you do it, you’re committed. So— if I were to arrogantly give advice here— if you aren’t the initiator, come into the scene neutrally, listen hard, and snap into a character/ have a deal/ have a reaction/ etc. after the first line, not before.

I might be picking nits, but it bugs me. (GET IT? NITS, BUGS?! AHAHAHAHA I’M HILARIOUS)

My inexpert $0.02.


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