Being confident in improvisation is essential for all actors! You will be asked to improvise in auditions, but it will also bring magic to all your performances, including script work, by improving your ability to work in the moment, develop listening skills, think on your feet, be more creative, and get out of sticky situations in scenes with confidence. The benefits of improvisation are endless!
Here are 12 guidelines to help you to kick ass at improvisation!
1. Establish the Location and Who You Are Early On without Spoon Feeding the Audience (being too obvious).
A: Hello, these bananas look bruised. Can you do me them for half price?
B: Betty, there’s nothing wrong with the bananas. Every day you complain about something to try and get a discount and I am sick of it.
The above example lets us know immediately that they are in a fruit and veg store. Actor A is playing the customer and B is the shop keeper, and we are also able to see what sort of personalities they have, and what sort of relationship they have, from the very beginning.
A. Hello, it’s me, Betty. I just thought I’d come back to the fruit and veg store again.
B. Hi Betty, what can I get for you?
What is wrong with the above? It tells us who they are (customer and shop keeper) but reveals nothing about their personalities and it’s spoon feeding the audience. There is no purpose to A saying she just thought she’s come back to the fruit and veg store again apart from to let the audience know.
2. Don’t Block Your Co-Actors– If you are offered something, go with it. An example of blocking would be if your co-actor says “I’m cold” and you reply “Why are you cold? It’s boiling hot.” If you do this, you are blocking them by dismissing their idea and forcing them to think on their feet to come up with a something else.
3. Be Adaptable– Make strong decisions but be adaptable enough to change your ideas if required.
Example: If you are miming that you are sawing a piece of wood and your co-actor starts screaming ‘Why are you chopping off someone’s head??’ … Well… Now you are chopping off someone’s head. Go with the flow.
4. Don’t Ask Too Many Questions Or Give Too Many One Word Answers– If you keep asking questions and are not adding to the story, you are forcing your co-actor to do all the work.
For example, if you were to ask ‘Who are you?’, ‘Where are we?’, ‘What are we doing here?’ your co-actor will have come up with pretty much the whole scene on their own. If you give a one word answer, your co-actor is then forced to move the story along with no real input from you.
Remember ‘YES, AND…’ If you are asked a question, accept their idea and then add to it.
5. Tell a Story– Things have to happen. Changes need to take place. Let the audience see your journey.
6. Be Specific– Don’t be vague with your details. Create an image in the mind of your audience. Allow them to visualize what you are imagining.
7. The Way To Make Yourself Look Good Is To Make Your Co-Actors Look Good.
8. Cut To The Chase– Get to the interesting point of the scene as quickly as possible.
9. Justify Each Word and Action– do and say things with purpose. This is especially important for exits and entrances; don’t just wander on and back off a scene.
10. You Don’t Have To Be Funny.
11. Go Line For Line– Don’t plan too much. Take what the other actor gives you and add more onto it. Trust your instinct.
12. Listen Carefully, and with all of your senses. Take in every single thing that is happening and allow yourself to react naturally.
You weren’t born to be ordinary… You were born to shine!
Eirian Cohen | Founder of Northern Star Acting and co-producer of ESG Media, LTD.