How To: Be Amazing at Improv Acting

Be Amazing at Improv Acting

How to Be Amazing at Improv Acting

Have you ever seen Whose Line Is It Anyway?  Many people enjoy watching this show, where they can see people do comedy off the top of their heads.  There's no prior thought involved and it can be a lot of fun to participate in.

What is improv?

Improv, which stands for improvisation, is a form of acting without any previous rehearsal.  This can be a form of practice for actors or a hobby in itself.

There are two kinds of improv:

  1. The first is short-form, where people play improv games.  There are hundreds of these games to be found and variations to all of them.  You can find many of these here, but there are tons of other websites around.  This will be the kind of improv this article focuses on.
  2. The second form of improv is long-form.  This is when a group improvises an entire play.  This can be extremely fun to watch, but very difficult for a novice to do.

Yeah, that's cool and all, but how do I get started?

Step 1 Look for a group

You can't just DO improv.  You need to find a group.  If you live in an urban area, you will most likely have several options.  Local colleges, community centers, high schools, and other places often have improv groups.  Search the internet or ask around.  Sometimes it will be a class.

Step 2 Learn the rules

Once you've found a group, you need to learn the rules of improv.  I know what you're thinking— "If it's all about freedom and no limits, why are there rules?"  Well, stranger on the internet, there are rules so you can perform well and people don't get offended and sue the pants off your group.  Trust me, it's happened.  Each group will have their own set of rules, but there's a good chance they'll include these basics:

Rules

Don't turn your back to the audience.  

  • This is a basic rule of stage.  The audience didn't pay to see your butt all evening.  When you need to face someone, "cheat out" by turning your body at an angle so that you aren't facing them completely and the audience can still see you.

No "too soon" jokes. 

  • Don't make any jokes that could seriously offend anybody.  Trust me.  This includes any recent wars, traumatizing wars, recent deaths, suicide, or rape/molestation.  You never know who's in the audience and what kind of things will offend them.  Use your best judgment.

Don't block offers. 

  • Blocking an offer is when someone suggests something in a scene and you reject that idea.  Nothing kills a scene faster.  Here's an example of a blocked offer:

How to Be Amazing at Improv Acting

See how it kills a scene?  Whatever Suzy had in mind for a scene just ended.  It's just bad practice.

Don't think in advance.

  • This just comes with the territory, kids.  It's called improvising for a reason.

NO VIOLENCE!

  • Look, you'll hurt yourself.  It doesn't matter how careful you are.  Eventually, you'll go to fake punch someone when they go to give you a hug and then you break their glasses.  Not that I've done that.  Just don't add violence.

Don't try to be funny.

  • My improv coach always told us, "Don't go to the funny.  Do the scene and the funny will come to you."  She was right, too.  People will laugh more when you're just doing the scene than when you're reaching and stretching for the jokes.

Step 3 PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!

GO.  TO.  THE.  MEETINGS.  Once you've joined the improv group, be an active member.  You'll make good friends and have a ton of fun.  Most of my best friends came from improv.  A lot of groups will do shows and competitions and they won't let you in any of those unless you really participate.

Yeah, so now I'm in this group and I'm all cool.  What now?

Well, sir or madam of the internet, you now go out in the world as an improv-er.  If your group puts on shows, go to them, whether you're in them or not.  Invite friends, relatives, and co-workers.  Find other groups, too.  There are some really cool improv groups out there if you look. 

Now, go out into the world my children, and improvise!

Warnings

  • Some people hate improv.  I have no clue why.  They do, though.
  • Improv doesn't pay well.  There is currently only one improv show on American television and it doesn't start until March.  This is a HOBBY, not a job.

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