The competitive field of commercial acting favors actors who study the craft, learn skills specific to auditioning, and who build a special skills repertoire. But good improvisational training is often expected by commercial casting professionals as well for a well-rounded education. Although improv skills can be valuable for dramatic roles, they are especially important for comedic ones. But some actors shy away from improv classes envisioning themselves being thrust on stage with improv greats like Ryan Stiles or Wayne Brady from Whose Line Is It Anyway? But even if you’re not aspiring to be a famous comic, there’s so much to be gained from the training. After all, if you think about your favorite commercials, chances are something in the advertisement made you laugh. Or the actors seemed believably engaged in the moment. A supportive improvisation teacher will not emphasize the need for you to be funny. Rather, he or she will help you develop valuable skills to help you react quickly and effectively in the unpredictable setting of the audition room–and on set. Whether it be the audition session director throwing character information at you, or a fellow actor interacting with you in unexpected ways, or a director telling you to “Try it another way,” you will be far more prepared, courageous, keenly focussed, and ready to have fun with the material. Indeed, a good improv class will benefit you in areas such as bolstering a sense of freedom, confidence, being creative, instinctive, improve listening skills, and help you be a team player.

It’s important to keep in mind that many commercial auditions today contain little or no dialogue. With limited information for actors to go by, well-honed improv skills will greatly empower you to give some real personality to such roles–improving your chances of booking the part. Additionally, you may be asked to do some improvising in the audition room. The casting professional likely won’t use the word “improvise” because SAG-AFTRA doesn’t permit actors to improvise dialogue during auditions, but it’s not uncommon that actors are asked to play with the material. When improvising, the priority is not to be funny, but to first and foremost come from an honest place. From there, it’s a balancing act of tapping into the humor of the material while not overplaying it–instead adding dimension to the character.

Some make it look effortless. Take Stephanie Courtney who started playing Flo in the Progressive commercials in 2008–and to this day is a commercial icon. She became a member of the improv and sketch comedy group The Groundlings in 2004. It’s no wonder she has booked so many commercial roles. When describing the process of becoming Flo, she said, “You start off with a script, but at the end of the day they usually let me put a little zinger in there….Flo could be one of my improv characters, always on and sort of cracked in a weird way.”

Here’s to you putting yourself out there completely and with abandon. And in return being rewarded with many commercial roles and beyond!

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