(Featured image photo credit: Wellington Improvisation Troupe)
There are many benefits to improvisation acting. Fast Company published a great blog post on how improv can improve your career, and there are many other articles and blog posts out there that touch on this topic. If you’ve decided to take the brave plunge into the world of improvisation acting – well done! I’ve certainly enjoyed my journey in improv acting so far. To help you get started, I’ve laid out some handy tips you should keep in mind before rushing off to your first improv class. I wish someone had told me these before I started my first class!
When you’re talking, screaming, and laughing non-stop, you’re going to be thirsty. On the first night of my improv class, I made the mistake of drinking a couple of glasses of wine beforehand (as we know, alcohol sucks the H2O out of you), and not taking a drink bottle with me. During the class, I was too focused on the fact that I was incredibly parched to be able to give my full attention to learning improv.
Wear comfortable shoes
In improv acting, you’ll be standing or walking most of the time. Maybe even jumping and running, depending on how dramatic you want to be. Before my first improv class, I had no idea what to expect and thought we’d be sitting down for most of the time to watch each other act. Based on this assumption, I thought I could get away with wearing my heeled boots to class. I was wrong. In addition to slowly dying of dehydration, my sore feet from standing in heels made it difficult for me to focus. For all my improv classes after then, I made sure I always wore my trainer shoes or any other comfortable, flat shoes I had. Just because I mentioned heeled boots, don’t think that this advice doesn’t apply to men too. Try to avoid wearing your dress/work shoes that aren’t comfortable to stand in for too long.
Improv is teamwork
Contrary to common misconception, improv is not about putting yourself in a constant spotlight. Improv is more about making your partner look good. This is where great listening and communication skills come into play, and you throw out your self-centered and attention-seeking side out the window. Successful improv acting comes from listening carefully to what your partner or other group members are saying, completely accepting everything they say (no matter how silly or ridiculous they sound), and responding back by building on what they have said. Improv acting is teamwork in disguise.
When you’re responding to your partner, it’s often tempting to disagree with them and respond negatively to what they say. I don’t know why this happens – it just seems to be our natural defence mechanism, especially when we get stage-fright. However, this goes against the improv rule of accepting what your partner has given you and rolling with it without question. So, for example, if your partner comes up to you and enthusiastically yells “I love ice cream so much!”, instead of calling them a pig and shooting them a disgusted look, give them a high-five instead and yell back “I love ice cream too! Especially chocolate flavour!”
You don’t have to be the funniest or smartest
Another misconception that most improve beginners have is that you must be the funniest, smartest, and wittiest person in your group. It certainly does help to make your audience laugh if you are naturally funny or witty. However, the key to improv is not to think too much. Just say or do the first thing that comes to your head, and that’s usually the right move. If you make a mistake or blurt out something that’s way out of context, you will still be making your audience (and yourself) laugh. That’s the whole point in improv – to be silly and give joy to others!
These were some basic tips from me before you start your first improv class. As a disclaimer, I’ve only completed 16 hours of beginner improv classes at the time I write this blog post. I still have a lot to learn and am definitely not claiming to be an improv professional. I hope you enjoy your improv acting journey as much as I have so far, and look out for my next blog post on how to make the most of your improv acting.
Have you tried improv acting? What are your tips for beginners?
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