Improvisation training is the first thing any commercial agent and casting director will tell an actor to get on their resume. We know this. Recently improv has started to flood into mainstream Television and Film. Starting with WAITING FOR GUFFMAN and continuing with any Judd Apatow Production. Today actors flock to get training at multiple improv schools to “get it on the resume.” It’s fun for awhile; then the inevitable question occurs, “How will this help me?” “Practically speaking, how is this going to book me a job? I’m an actor, not an improviser! I’m not getting paid to perform a 15 minute set at 11pm on a Thursday. How can improv help me book television work or a role in a movie?”
For 16 years I’ve been asking that question while training and performing improv. I am dedicated to answering that question. I’m obsessed with improv and love scripted work. At the BGB Studio, Risa Bramon Garcia and Steve Braun gave me the opportunity to try something new. The Missing Link. The answer to the question, “How will this help me?”
Below are 7 reasons how improvisation is vital training for any actor. (no late night show required)
1) Listening: It sounds so simple and we all do it. Or do we? Improv demands that you redefine HOW you listen. How deeply do you listen with your full being? In improv, it is a MUST. There is no script. What your scene partner does and says is the most important thing in the world. My first couple of improv shows were a blur of scene partners’ mouths moving while my brain shouted, “How are ‘watermelons’ funny?!” The moment I stopped thinking and started listening, the “head noise” disappeared. I could hear words coming out of my scene partner’s mouth and I was able to play with their line about watermelons. Listening helped me slow down, open up to others, and respond honestly. Who knew?
2) Choices: This is one of the primal “muscles” you possess. In this town your “choice muscle,” that part of you that expresses your unique point of view should be in peak state. We know that the competition is stiff and ultimately what separates talent from the crowd is the ability to make clear, committed choices. When there is no script, no blocking, no props, you MUST make choices. This muscle grows to Olympian strength when working out without a script on a regular basis.
3) Truth: Truth is the ONLY thing people are looking for when casting. “Do we believe you?” “Are you being truthful?” It is my deep belief that Improv is not just for “being funny,” for “comedy,” or for figuring out a “button” to an audition. It is the path to finding your truth. When you are in a scene and you are reacting from your truth, you will have a massive effect on a room. More than any pre-planned line delivery or trick out there. I have seen audiences burst into uproarious laughter, or shed tears when watching someone speak their truth.
4) Confidence: After getting past that initial panic attack of getting on stage with nothing but yourself and a scene partner, Improv ignites a fire that has been waiting dormant inside. That fire is confidence. You walk onto a stage, or into any casting room and are ready for anything to happen. You forge nerves of steel and can jump into any given circumstance with all of your heart and soul. “Bring it on!” you will cry. “I can do this on the fly, now I have words? Watch out!” I can’t tell you how awesome a feeling it is to command a stage. The best feeling is standing on stage in front of a packed house waiting for something to happen and making it all up on the spot. This is a huge confidence builder.
5) Freedom: Anything can happen in an improvised scene. ANYTHING. Embracing the infinite possibilities enhances your imagination. You start to grow wild with ideas. You feel the shackles of “doing it right” drop from your mind and you are able to enter every scene with wild abandonment. That freedom permeates your scripted work and you begin acting with text as freely as you would when improvising.
6) Presence: “This actor has a commanding presence.” Presence is what every casting director wants you to have. How do we develop a commanding presence? Improv. Seriously. Improvised scenes force you to stay present with your scene partner each and every moment of the scene. You have to slow down and listen (there it is again) with all of your being. When you do, the result is a commanding presence. It’s a beautiful side effect to the improv medicine.
7) Relationship: When you have nothing on stage but another actor, guess what happens? You connect with the other person. Magic right?
By doing so, you create a relationship. I’m not talking about: Doctor/Patient, or Boss/Employee. I mean you find out HOW the two of you feel, think, and speak to each other. How you relate is in the details, and everyone relates differently. How I relate to my mother is different from how I would relate to a nun. I have a very different relationship with each one. I’d feel safer cursing in front of a nun, FYI. When you improvise, you develop the knee jerk reflex to always make the scene about the other person. See what happens when you make your next audition all about the reader.
Improvisation offers the kind of practice that directly relates to success on stage, on set or in an audition room. There’s a reason why you need it on your resume. It’s the kind of work that allows you to show up fully, listen intently, want desperately, and make strong, truthful choices that affect people.
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