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How Improv Can Improve Your Acting Skills
You’re on stage. A scene starts and your inner actor kicks into gear. You improvise a line just as the director expected, but then something goes wrong: you miss your cues, you start thinking about the way you look, or you freeze up.
Improv is scary because it’s so different from what we do every day. It is unfiltered and free-form. Like other vocal performance forms — singing or speaking publicly — improv acting can feel risky. Does that mean you need to be at the level of Tina Fey before your first improv gig? No!
Like athletes, actors need to be physically and mentally limber. They need to be confident enough to seize opportunities as they arise. Of course, learning how to express yourself confidently isn’t easy — and it doesn’t happen overnight! However, there are many ways you can get better at being confident. So let’s look at some improv techniques for improving your confidence so that you can learn this engaging performing form.
Improv acting is the art of spur-of-the-moment creativity. It is a form of theatre and performance where an actor or group of actors create theatrical material at the moment, based on ideas and suggestions from the other actors or from members of the audience. To improvise is to conjure up new material as you go.
You may wonder how improv can improve your acting skills. As an actor, improv can help you with two very important skills. The first is being comfortable on the spot. It’s not necessary for you to know the entire script or be able to memorize every line — especially if you’re working with other actors. When something goes wrong, it’s always helpful to be able to think quickly and draw from your instincts. Improv also helps you get better at branding yourself through your words and actions, as well as gaining awareness, courage, and originality.
The heart of improv techniques lies in saying yes and making everything up on the spot. You create a scene in seconds with a simple word from the audience or by reacting to a random suggestion. This is even true in the improvisation games we play at home — “Mother May I?”, “Simon Says,” and other classic games you might remember playing when you were young.
Improvisation is an art form that requires no special tools or training. In order to become a better improviser, you just have to practice. Are you going to be amazing at improv right away? No, absolutely not. But, here’s the good news — that’s okay! Start small and take your time. Here is a list of things that you can do to get better at improvisation:
Enrolling in an improv acting class is the best way to get better at this performing art. There are many great schools dedicated to this style, including the Improv Asylum in Boston, Peoples Improv Theater in New York City, and Chicago City Limits. These classes are excellent for boosting confidence, especially if you want to perform in front of a live audience.
You can also enroll in acting classes online and can learn all the basics of improv acting from the comfort of your home.
Studying your character is crucial because you can use your character’s preferences, dislikes, personality, and line of work to help direct your scene. Asking yourself how this character would react will save you from having to come up with something completely arbitrary.
Now that you know who the characters are and how they relate to each other, think about where the scene takes place. It could be in a restaurant, a doctor’s office, a school, a bathroom, a zoo, or a cemetery. Incorporate the understanding of our surroundings into what you are going to say.
Why use your imagination to get better at improvisation? Because that’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s being “in the moment” and reacting to what’s around you. By imagining scenarios, you can train your brain to be more responsive to what’s happening right now.
Improv acting is about reacting to what the other actors are saying and doing. The more you actively listen to what’s happening on stage, the better you’ll be able to react to it. Good improv acting involves being in the moment and being all ears.
Teach students, whether it’s music, acting, a foreign language, art, science, or something else. Especially when you teach young kids, you learn to think quickly on your feet. Young minds are often hard to predict. You could even try to get a job at amusement parks.
If you’re constantly getting nervous about improvisation, it might help to know that it is ok for everyone to be pretty bad at first. You might think what other actors think of you or how never-funny the scene is, but the truth of the matter is that the other actors in a given scene don’t really care how you look or how well you do, they are just trying to create a good scene with you.
Improv acting is about having no plan, facing fears, and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Improvisation is like a game, but not a sport. There are no winners or losers, just fun people having fun. It’s very liberating because there really aren’t any rules other than playfulness, creativity, and confidence!
If you want to harness the powers of improv acting, then take a class with Laura Mac, a veteran teaching coach who’s been teaching classes and workshops for a decade. Her coursework goes into detail about what is improv and its usefulness. Not only does she teach you how improv can improve your acting skills, but helps you to put your newfound knowledge into practice in real-life situations.