Improvisation is not a new invention, despite its popularity today. In fact, improvisation has been around for hundreds of years, even forming part of the Commedia dell’Arte in Italy during the sixteenth century.
In essence, improvisation describes a performance in which the actors’ responses are unplanned, as there is often little to no script to go by. Instead, actors play off each other, their characters, and their environment in real time to develop a plot and advance a story forward.
Not only is improvisation a popular performance form, but it is also a useful skill for an actor to have. This is because improvisation can help an actor create a better-rounded and believable character. Additionally, improvisation may produce moments that scriptwriters may not have thought of that make a performance shine that little bit brighter.
So, if you’re new to acting and wondering where to start, or you’re looking you further develop your acting skills, learning a few things about improvisation (known as “improv” for short) can really help you improve your craft as an actor.
This article outlines the benefits of learning improvisation and where you can develop your improvisation skills.
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If I Want To Learn To Act Do I Need To Learn How To Improvise?
If you’re taking acting classes or dream of becoming an actor, you might ask yourself what kind of skills you’ll need to be successful.
There are a number of different skills you can learn about or improve through acting classes, from developing your sight reading skills to exploring different acting techniques, getting better at scene study or refining your audition technique. In addition to these classes, there are also improvisation classes available, which many actors benefit from taking.
The reason why many actors like to take improvisation classes is that being used to improvisation and developing lines or character reactions on the spot can be a great way for some actors to enhance their performance, as their actions can add an extra sparkle to a play, film, or other performance.
Some examples of when improvisation has made a film sparkle include moments such as:
- The “Here's Johnny” line from 1980 film The Shining;
- Robert De Niro’s “You talkin' to me?” line in the 1976 film Taxi Driver; and
- The “You're gonna need a bigger boat” line in the 1975 film Jaws.
While improvisation is a highly recognised skill in the world of acting, it’s worth noting that not all actors are as reliant on improvisation, as they may prefer to use other acting techniques when performing their craft. So, while knowing improvisation may benefit you as an actor, for example when it comes to standing out during castings, don’t feel as though you absolutely must be an expert in improvisation in order to progress as an actor.
Although improvisation can be a wonderful skill to add to your repertoire if you are taking acting classes, or developing your talents as an actor, it’s equally important to realise that improvisation isn’t just a skill used by actors.
For example, improvisation is also commonly seen in other mediums and is particularly well-known for its use within the realm of comedy, such as stand up and other forms of live comedy.
Many notable comics, such as Robin Williams, were highly regarded for their improvisation skills and often made improvisation a core part of their routines. This not only highlighted the creativity of the comedians but also made the audience laugh and helped them to enjoy watching the comic perform on stage.
While comedic performances, sketch comedy, and acting are the most common areas people associate with improvisation, it can also be a useful skill to have in day-to-day life. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for improvisation classes to be offered to people as diverse as:
- School-age students; and
- Professionals in business.
The reason why improv classes and workshops can really help such diverse groups of people is that they can help develop a variety of skills that are useful in daily life.
For example, improvisation classes for businesses may help team members develop and showcase their listening, speaking, and all-round communication skills, as you need to think on your feet to respond to the person you’re performing with.
Similarly, improvisation can be a great way to develop your creative skills, as well as the ability to think on your feet.
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How Can I Improve My Acting Techniques, Such As Improvisation?
There are a number of different ways you can improve your fundamental improvisation skills.
One of the most common ways of developing your improvisation techniques is to attend an improvisation class or workshop, either one that’s specifically designed for actors or one that is also designed to appeal to members of the general public.
There are numerous classes available in the US that accept a range of ability levels, regardless of whether you're a complete beginner or a seasoned performer. For instance, the Free Association in Chicago is just one example of where you might go to improve your improv.
Aside from attending classes, there are other ways you can get better at improvising. For example, you could:
- Watch shows and films that feature actors and comedians that are famous for their improvisation skills, such as Kristen Wiig, Steve Carell, and Will Ferrell;
- Attend comedy nights, a comedy festival, a comedy class, or other events where improvisational comedy is being performed; and
- Play or watch improv games such as Whose Line Is It Anyway?
In essence, the more that you can immerse yourself in the world of improvisation, and practice improvisation as a participant rather than as an observer, the more your skills should hopefully develop.
Where Can I Find Improvisation Drama Lessons?
There are improvisation drama classes near me across the US, so you should be able to find a class near you with relative ease, particularly if you live in a major city. When looking for an improv comedy class or general improv class try and find one that has a good reputation and has received positive feedback from previous course attendees, as these are generally good indicators of the quality of the course.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that what you will be taught on an improvisation course may well depend on the type of course (e.g. whether it’s designed for absolute beginners or more experienced performers) as well as the instructor running the course.
Generally speaking though, you’re likely to work through a variety of games, exercises and performances over the course of an improvisation class, all while having the chance to meet new people and potentially make new friends.
If you’re unsure of what the class’ content is exactly and would like to find out, or if you'd like to know if the course is an intensive one, always try to speak to the course provider and ask for further details.
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Don’t Be Afraid
Some people may feel put off from attending an improvisation class for fear that they may look silly doing improvisation exercises or that they’ll make a fool out of themselves.
The main thing to remember is that everyone at an improvisation class is there to learn more about improvisation and improve their skills, so you’re all in the same boat.
If you’re able to let go of any fears that you may have and embrace the experience and the laughter that should follow, then you should find that you get more out of the class, and you’ll maybe even have fun while doing so!
If you want to learn more about improvisation, but are still struggling to find a course that’s right for you, why not consider hiring a drama tutor who can help you with improv?
Superprof has a wide network of tutors for a variety of subjects, including acting, meaning that you should be able to find a tutor near you that is able to offer one to one, group, workshop, or online acting lessons.
So, whether you’d like to learn improvisation in order to:
- Perform better during castings and auditions;
- Develop your acting skills and confidence in a supportive environment;
- Get better at improv comedy or sketch performances; or
- Improve your comedic timing,
A Superprof tutor may be able to help you! Given that tutors can offer greater flexibility when it comes to class availability, and may also be more competitive when it comes to pricing, you might be surprised at how well drama tuition could work for you.
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