5 Guidelines for Improv

October 9, 2017

In this Tedx Talk, improv instructor Jennifer Hunter and members of her ensemble demonstrate five fundamentals of improvisation, and she insists these skills are useful in creating a better, more enjoyable life as well. The parameters of improv provide structure for performers and serve as a guide as they otherwise explore storylines and characters freely. Hunter defines improv as “performing without preparation. It’s responding in the moment to the stimulus of our immediate environment and our inner feelings.” It requires being spontaneous and making things up as you go along. It’s a collaboration with an emphasis on ideas that are introduced one at a time by members of the group. Here are the five guidelines she discusses.

1. Make a connection

Hunter emphasizes the importance of each member of the ensemble getting on the same page while performing. For example, if one person brings up the topic of slaying a dragon, then the ensemble finds a way to fit into this fictitious world. In this way, improv is very different from stand-up comedy because everyone’s ideas are utilized, and working as a unit is more important than being funny.

2. Listen

Sometimes in daily life, people only half-listen to others because they are thinking about how they’re going to respond. Improv, on the other hand, is a discipline that demands attentive listening from beginning to end. Performers must acutely focus on a speaker and keenly observe the actions of others. Think of what life would be like if we were all such acute listeners on a daily basis.

3. Say, “Yes, and …”

When a performer tosses an idea your way, rather than resisting it, go along with the flow. “It keeps things positive, it keeps us generating new ideas, and it opens up new opportunities,” Hunter says. A series of yeses to others’ ideas progresses the storyline, the fun, and the whimsical spirit of improv. Noes, on the other hand, tend to halt the fun. Beyond saying “yes,” make sure to add something to the storyline–that’s the beauty of “and …” This gives you opportunities to be creative and gives the ensemble something new with which to work.

4. Be in the moment and be flexible

According to Hunter, “There are no bad ideas in improv.” Everything is game! If a performer misinterprets another’s words or actions, go with the new idea as opposed to getting back on track with the original intention. While there can be exceptions to this guideline, it’s encouraged because it maintains the spirit of play. Play is a skill that often gets lost in the shuffle of adulthood with all that life demands. Think back to childhood and how play happens in the moment–and then be there. Relax and allow yourself to have fun. And don’t feel pressure to be funny.

5. Follow your intuition

Hunter says, “In our daily lives, we often ignore our impulse to contribute to group discussions because we don’t think that our ideas are good enough or smart enough. But they are good enough, they are smart enough, and doggonit, people are going to like them!” That being said, it’s okay if your inner voice lets you down in some way. But don’t allow yourself to be swallowed up by self-doubt; improv is play after all. Indeed, a misstep is simply an opportunity to keep going, better informed. And with improv, you always get more chances.

Hunter asserts, “We’re all improvisers. We all have to improvise every day.” So, she believes these five skills are helpful when working with others and for living a quality life in general. And in fact, many people who attend improv classes have no intention of becoming comedians. Some participants seek to apply what they learn in class to their jobs, or they want to liven up their interactions with others in their personal lives. And many people say the playful classes are a great way to meet new friends.

Why do kids need improv?

August 18, 2017

There are so many reasons for humans to take Improv classes that it’s almost impossible to narrow them down!

I’ve been teaching Improvisation for nearly 30 years and my students have ranged in age from 6 to 94. They are not only Actors, but dentists, sheriffs, mayors and teachers. Some people come to class because they want to ‘come out of their shell’, some want to do comedy as a full time job, some want to get in touch with their ‘inner child’, some want to stay spry in their retirement years, some just want to laugh on a regular basis. The magical thing about this art form is that ALL of these things can be accomplished at the same time and I get to see it nearly every day!

But, today we are talking about kids. Why Improv? Don’t they already know how to play? They have spry minds and their ‘inner children’ are actually ‘outer children’- so what gives?

Here’s the deal: I have found that the coolest thing for kids is to be reminded that they are endlessly creative, that their ideas matter and that having a positive attitude will lead to a life of great adventure!

The transition from childhood into adulthood is full of landmines that every parenting blog will tell you about in detail. A kid who has discovered Improv will be able to navigate many of these areas with a greater confidence in themselves, a courage to make his or her own choices and a stronger ability to engage in social interactions.

A child who is already an Actor can really soar with a little Improv training. Improv experience can help you feel more confident in your choices at an audition, maintain your equilibrium when some little thing goes wrong and just loosen up the whole process of auditioning so stress levels are greatly reduced. I often hear students share audition stories where Improv skills really saved them. Directors want to see different choices in a short moment – they don’t always have time for you to mull over the proper response to a direction. An improvisor can offer up the same line of dialogue in 10 different ways without a worry. That’s why casting directors want Improvisors at auditions – they deliver!

A good improvisation class will give a kid a safe place to make big choices, a safe place to fail and practice letting go of self judgement, and a safe place to find out what his or her secret talents are. When that kid goes into an audition, he’s going into familiar territory and knows what will probably work. He knows how to bring fun into a room – people naturally want to work with him.

Just last week I received this text from the mom of a 10 year old girl:

“Thanks for bringing forth an aspect of our daughter we didn’t know was there. What a wonderful surprise to see her own it onstage fully.”

We make up scenes, make up songs, make up jokes, make friends, make each other laugh and make a lasting positive change in a person’s life. Just say “Yes” to an Improv class for your little actor, it’s an investment into their adulthood!


About the author:

Lisa Fredrickson has been teaching and performing Improv for over 25 years. She currently teaches the Youth Improv Intensive at Keep It Real Acting Studios, as well as classes for all ages at Impro Theatre and California Lutheran University. She is a positively charged, working commercial actress who applies improv to most things she does in life!