How to Improvize

When it comes to improvisation, I cannot deny that I still get very nervous about it. I found it very hard at the start, wanted to avoid it because I figured I was just not made for it.

But, my mind-set has changed quite a bit, since I can’t avoid it as an actor.

I’ve discovered that there are indeed tips and tricks to improve your improvisation skills and that it does not solely depend on talent.

The following points are tips and tricks that helped me improvise a lot better, and I hope it helps you too!

1
Agree

When your scene partner initiates dialogue/action at the beginning of the scene, always ‘go with the flow’. Help your buddy out and play along, instead of disagreeing with his/her idea. Respond to the circumstances that have been created and use your imagination. Improv has little to do with logic or rationalism, so go play! Bad Example: Actor A: Quick, we need to get out of this fire truck! Actor B: There is no fire truck! Actor A: (Silence…) Pretty straight-forward, right?

2
Yes, and…

It is not enough to just agree. If you only agree with your partner, instead of giving more information and details about the situation your character is in, it will depend on one person to carry the scene. It is very easy to let the other one initiate, but that makes it harder and stops the flow of the scene.

Contribute to the scene with statements that give your fellow actor something to work with. Raise the stakes of the situation your characters are in, don’t go the easy way out.

Otherwise it only ends up being a handful of people who always go up and are enjoying themselves – and then it becomes boring.

3
No mistakes, only opportunities

Don’t overthink improv. I used to avoid improv at all costs, because I was convinced that I wasn’t witty or creative enough. But that is not the point. I realized that I was more concerned about impressing others, rather than going for the experience. Improv is not the place to be self-conscious. Don’t be scared to look like a fool.

The magic happens outside the comfort zone, so go with the first thing that pops into your head and see what happens.

Remember, happy (unplanned) accidents are a good thing!

4
Don’t go into the scene with an agenda

I was definitely guilty of this. I would sit and think of a funny idea before I would dare jump in. Again, I was concerned about how funny I would look with my idea – and it never turned out the way I wished it would.

If we try to be funny, it kills creativity. Acting is all about teamwork and responding. Jump in, go with the flow and see what happens – that is when most comedic moments happen – when you don’t expect it.

5
Make active choices – do rather than tell

One thing that is prone to happen in Improvisation is when actors end up focusing on the words only. Then they end up randomly standing around and talking, and it becomes boring to the audience because the flow of the scene is stopped.

Physical actions add urgency to the scene and keep the story going. They make room for comedy and force the actors to be creative.

6
Add information to the scene

This goes hand in hand with the second point. It’s not up to the other actor to carry the scene. The story and the characters have to have a direction in which they are going.

Avoid just asking questions – it’s the easy way out and does not move the story forward. Instead, paint the picture of the scene by adding information about the given circumstances – however random it might be.

7
Put as much energy into the character as possible

You are not presenting yourself, you are always portraying a character – that is acting. And there is so much freedom in that. So, make your characters exciting and eccentric. Don’t try to look good, go all out! When your character is sad, be really sad, if he/she is bored, be really bored and voice it: I’m soooo boooored!!! Just go play!

The video above is an excellent example of improv. The two actors Collin and Ryan play off of each other very well!

Notice they: go along with the ideas of the other actor // start doing random actions which further the story // create quirky, energetic characters // paint the picture of the scene //stay in character, even when it’s clear they were caught off guard // complement each other well.

All the comedy is created by the circumstances and their reaction to the circumstances and one another.

Enjoy!

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  • Annette is part of the acting team with The Initiative Production Company. She is a German South-African, loves the smell of freshly baked bread and constantly has a list in her head of countries to visit and more languages to learn.

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