But Improv Is Scary…!

Leeann Dearing

Oh, improvisers! Those rascals are out of their minds! They’ve achieved some unattainable and enviable level of confidence. Maybe they’re just better actors than I am. Improv is crazy and weird anyway…

So what is your excuse for avoiding doing some improvisation training? Whatever it is, it cannot outweigh the benefits of studying this energetic art form. You may fall in love with it. You may wind up hating it as much as you feared you would. Either way, you’ll be glad you’ve exercised your improv muscles.

Here’s Why:

1)      It builds confidence. You’re taking risks, leaning on your talent and skills, and discovering your personality’s many dimensions. You are forced to become a confident performer, and to make and stick with bold choices.

2)      Trust. Not only do you need to learn to trust your own instincts, talent, and training, you also learn to trust your scene partners on a whole new level. And trusting yourself and your scene partners are musts in all of your acting endeavors.

3)      Develop characters. The improv stage is a place to really flesh out some interesting characters. Go crazy!

4)      Discover your strengths, your go-tos. You’ll definitely begin to notice certain tendencies, whether they are character types you gravitate toward, relationships you often establish, conflicts you are wont to tackle, or a particular brand of humor you often utilize. Also, by studying and then breaking the “Rules of Improvisation”, and making bold choices as you go along, you’ll unearth your acting strengths.

5)      Expose and work on your weaknesses. Improv demands that you listen to your scene partners, create space work, affect and be affected, tap into a richly developed character, and so much more. The very nature of improv will quickly expose those areas that need improvement, which is why rehearsal is such a fruitful time. If you know the areas in which you struggle, you can then set about improving upon them.

6)      Stop analyzing! Are you cursed/blessed with a super analytical brain? Always trying to script, edit, or control a scene? Improv will work on you, in this case! To be a successful improviser, you must be in the moment, make instantaneous choices, and go with the flow. Your brain will fight you, but you will notice that improv will slowly break you of bad habits, strip you of inhibitions, and help you to get over yourself.

7)      Listen, listen, listen! The importance of listening cannot be overstated. In improv, if you don’t listen, you look like a jerk. And look ridiculous. That, too.

8)      Fail big. You can’t call cut and you can’t blame a writer. This is the time to make bold choices and fail miserably now and then. It’s how people learn in general and oh, the gold that comes from it is far too valuable to sell, squander, or give away.

9)      Fun. Oh, yeah! Improv is also fun! And you create fun and generate laughs for others, too, which is the point of entertainment.

10)   Auditioning. In this commercial and independent film market, a growing number of auditions incorporate at least some improv. Don’t be caught off guard or unprepared! Readying yourself for any kind of audition improves your chances of landing the job.

Just a sampling of those successful actors who have a background in improv: many former and current SNL cast members as well as other renowned comedians, including Tina Fey (30 Rock), Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Mike Myers (Austin Powers), Andy Dick (NewsRadio), Andy Richter (Conan), Chris Farley (Beverly Hills Ninja), and Steve Carell (The Office).