If you want to lose weight, you should probably hit the gym as part of your weekly routine. If you want to be a working actor, you should definitely make Improv Class a regular part of your weekly activities.
“Why, Lisa?”, you might screaming, “I’m not a COMEDIAN, I’m an ACTOR. What could I possibly get from taking an IMPROV class?”
A common misconception is that Improvisation is all about trying to be funny - in many places it is, but that was not the original idea. Viola Spolin, who taught at “The Young Actors Company” in Hollywood in the 1940’s before heading to Chicago and changing Improv’s trajectory forever, is largely credited for coming up with many of the Improvisation games and exercises that are still taught today. They were her creative answer for getting students to listen better, to look at each other, to connect deeper, or to be more truthful on stage. The games ended up being very entertaining because they were inherently ‘alive’. Leaving the scripts behind gave the actors the freedom to explore their characters and create entire worlds in a way that had not been explored before.
Good Improv is funny because it’s honest. It was never Viola Spolin’s intention for the word “Improv” to be synonymous with “Comedy” or “Stand Up”.
SO, after all these years and iterations of what Improv has become, is it still a helpful tool for an actors’ belt? YES!!! AND…here is how I use it every day as an actor and auditioner in Los Angeles:
I am able to make all kinds of offers at an audition or on a set: I see far too many actors waiting for the director to do their job for them. I know I can come up with an endless amount of ways to say this line and I’m not scared to try them all out. A director knows that I can take direction to an extreme and not worry about doing it wrong or too big or too weird. Improv class is my gym where I practice being ridiculous, I make ‘bad pancakes’, I find out where my own edges are - how far I can go.
I remain still inside of chaos: No matter how crazy an audition gets or if the set is crumbling behind me - I have a leg up on others because I’ve practiced just being alive in this moment and keeping my wits about me.
I know its a waste of time to apologize to directors for ‘mistakes’: I know to just move on and do it again the way it needs to be done. (I see this a lot at auditions and on set where an actor is so apologetic it makes everyone nervous. Just move on!)
I have an array of tricks at the ready in my basket: You want me to sing? You want me to go really slow? No facial movement whatsoever? Be uptight? Be Shakespearean? Do an accent I am no good at? I’m up for anything.
I make an offer to you, you offer back: It’s ping pong. That’s how I work with a director, I can give her lots of choices - even if she doesn’t like each one I know it might help her to narrow down what she’s looking for.
I have an innate sense of story and ensemble: I play well with others and know how to find the fun. Improv, like Acting, is not a competitive sport. We all make each other look good.
I say “Yes” to whatever or whoever comes my way.: I don’t have to be defensive of my choices, I can find a way to work with anyone to make a win-win situation.
I have taught literally hundreds and hundreds of Improv games in my lifetime. I have also made up hundreds of games because I need to solve issues with students everyday. I know, because of Improv, that I am endlessly creative. I love helping anyone see that they have a never ending font of creativity inside them as well.
Improv has made me a better teacher, a better actor, a better poet, a better wife, a better human, and a better listener. So go ahead...sign up for an Improv class and see what is does for you!
Lisa Fredrickson is an actress who has appeared on The Guild, Desperate Housewives and Greek. She currently teaches Youth Improv Intensive at Keep It Real Acting Studios. Sign up now to work with her in our July Sessions!