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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Improvisation as a life skill



From the for-profit site actingcareersnow.com with alterations by Art Lynch.


"Who's line is it anyway?" provided a popularized version of improvisational games, often used on a competitive basis from classrooms to bars, theaters to street performers.

The sketch comedy of "Saturday Night Live" grew from the mostly Second City Chicago cast of the early years, and many Second City actors brought on board over the years.

Improvisation as therapy or training has existed since long before there were any improvisational companies...dating back to the early days of Chicago's Hull House and the multi-cultural communication needs at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries.

Improvisation has a proud history, a proud purpose and is of value to teachers, business leaders, actors and performers in all aspects of life.

Improvisation can be useful in developing the flexibility, sense of humor, and ability to accomplish things in business, church, with the family and other aspects of life. Listening skills, patience, the ability to change course and consider new options are all skills used and polished in improvisational workouts.
Improvisation is "acting in the moment." There are no scripts involved and no time to practice, rehearse, or memorize lines. Every movement, word, etc, is created in response to what is going on in an actor's immediate environment. It is often considered the most difficult form of acting because of the spontaneity involved. It takes a really skilled actor to perform it successfully. Improvisation, or Improv, classes are great for actors looking to challenge themselves, invent new thought patterns, and learn ways to act and speak in the spur of the moment.

Improv is not being the funny person on stage, upstaging others, talking over each others "lines" or dominating a scene. It involves listening, feeling, taking and giving "gifts", understanding scene structure and where the scene is going and knowing when to end, without cutting off your fellow actors. 

Improv is creating a real situation and in doing so bringing up the emotions we all fee, including sadness as well as happiness, drama as well as comedy. Many comedy troops and even a form of night club entertainment have evolved with the sole purpose of making audiences laugh. Some use full character development and scene structure, others may not.

In an Improv class, the coach will use different creative acting exercises to create scenes from nothing. In a performance, oftentimes, the audience is able to participate by offering ideas for a scene. The goal of many in Improv is that everything you do has never been done before! the reality is that in most professional troups, as with stand up comedians, lines and reactions have been rehearsed or developed during "workhouts" and previous performances. 

It is best to become a part of an ensemble. If the students are not the same from class to class or if there is too wide a range in ages, walk away. The goal is to get to know and read your partners, which takes time and a group working through the entire course content as a group.
Photo from Improlympia 2012 in Olympia, Washington.
Many actors think that if they memorize their lines and rehearse their movements, they will be able to have a great performance. What they forget is that acting is never an exact science. What if your scene partner forgets their line? What if your director doesn't like your interpretation of the part? What if the script is changed at the spur of the moment? This is where the true importance of Improv comes into play.

When you learn how to react to an unexpected situation without hesitation, you can save a play, or scene, or create an unforeseen nuance that betters the value of the entire project. Improv teaches you how to listen and react as opposed to just waiting for your turn to speak your lines. Your take in film, on television and even in commercials may be greater than the intended shot, and may remain in the script or in final edit consideration. In addition a greater number of producers and directors are relying on actors skills at improvisation to bring their story to life.

The tools of character, the five W's (who, what, when, where, why and how), scene structure, crafting a "reality' for the audience, the suspension of disbelief and all of the skills of an experienced actor come into play in impov, just as they do in other areas and styles of the art.
By bringing their personal awareness "into the moment" an actor is able to develop an acute understanding of the action they are doing. This means being comfortable revealing emotions, observations about life, often blunt reflections of others, and and honest or truth to your performance.

Over time, with more improvisation practice, an actor will get to a point where they can act with a wide range of options that best fit the situation. Improv training gives the actor the ability to read a script and see hundreds of different ways it could be acted out. Directors love an actor's ability to be malleable with their take on a role. This allows them to try different things with a scene to see what works best.
The benefits of improvisation extend beyond acting and can improve a person's abilities in their business and personal life as well. Many business executives take Improv classes to improve their interpersonal skills. Improv makes them better listeners, helps them pay attention to body language, and makes their response time quicker. Improv builds both dependance and trust. Once again, Improv forces you to pay attention!
The best thing about Improv is that it's fun! Most Improv lends itself to comedy. Interacting in an Improv class, or performance, is one of the most rewarding and gratifying things an actor can do. Some of the most classically trained actors use Improv as an escape from the rigidity of their genre, and also to keep their talent fresh. Improv gives you all the freedom in the world. An actor can let go and live in the moment of the scene.

On a note of caution. There are many improv groups, improv "teachers", improv games and improvisation workshops. Most are not taught by professionally improv artist.

There are several "schools" of improv technique and execution. The Groundlings in LA are comedy centered and very different in focus than the first professional improv troop, Second City Chicago (where story, local politics and local personalities dominate the scenes and improvisations). Theater Games in San Francisco differ from London's West End (think 'Whose line is is anyway?").

You should learn the basics and move on to what is right for you, your talents, your personality and your approach. Remember even the most serious drama can benefit from basic improv skills, as can presentations of everyday life and your approach to everyday situations or problems). Remember also that improvisation can and will help in developing the flexiblity and adapatability needed in most aspects of life.

From the for-profit site actingcareersnow.com with alterations.
Editor Note: My background includes Second City and other improv companies, so I am a strong believer in improv. Add Method and other acting traditions and you have a tool box that will help you with any character, scene or to get out of trouble in any situation. -Art Lynch
Below are links to select improvisation schools and instructors:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I was in high school, I was involved in theater and was fascinated by my classmates who had the ability to do so well with improvisation. I had tried on many occasions to participate but failed miserably. I understand now that I am an introvert and that speaking extemporaneously is difficult for me to do. I like to think before I speak and have an easier time writing rather than using verbal communication. Hopefully communications class will help me in this area.

-Jessica Pena