The word “improv” can call to mind a range of associations, from painfully awkward shows in college black boxes, to the skilled comedians of Second City. Regardless, it can feel separate from other forms of acting, an unattainable skill. However, even if you strictly work with scripted performance, improv training and abilities can be incredibly valuable. Even a small ability and willingness to improvise can expand your opportunities.
It keeps you flexible.
Flexibility is key in any acting work. It makes you more directable, a better scene partner, and a more creative player. Improv strengthens your flexibility in performance. The other aspect of this is keeping your impulses accessible. Even when you’re not changing a word on the page, being able to quickly follow impulses and trust yourself to do so can only strengthen your work.
It clarifies your work.
When you don’t have a script, or have to make up lines on the fly, it forces you to go back to the spine of the scene: your objectives, your tactics, your obstacles. Regularly exercising those skills keeps you sharp even when you’re not improvising.
It makes you a strong collaborator.
There will be times when you’re asked for input on lines or material and having access to the vocabulary to create on the fly can strengthen your value as a collaborator. Improv also requires such awareness of and trust in your scene partners, which will absolutely carry over to scripted work.
It can help you discover new depths in your work.
When you feel stuck or stagnant in a scene, improv can be a wonderful tool in rehearsal to help you discover more about your character, and what is needed in the scene. It gives you the freedom to play and explore impulses in character without the pressure of getting it “right.”
You learn how to fail.
There is simply no way to avoid falling flat on your face at some point when improvising. Learning how to roll with those feelings, learn from them, and even use them to create something new is a very freeing skill. Fear of failure will keep you from some of your best work. Improv is a great way to learn to move through those fears.
Many commercials and television scripts specifically call for actors who are strong improvisors. Having those tools in your back pocket can open up opportunities and give you an edge in auditions.
Even if you’re not in an improv troupe or improvising regularly, I always advise at least taking a workshop and cultivating those skills. Demystifying this tool will help you trust your instincts and be a more well rounded player.
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