I’ll just come out and say it: If you want to be a better actor, you need improv training. More broadly, if you want to be more confident and efficient in any situation involving public speaking, creative writing, and even brainstorming, you need improv training.
Now that I’ve made my bold claim, I’d like to offer reasons from my own experience why I feel so strongly.
You can participate with any level of skill or experience.
If you’re afraid to perform in front of an audience, don’t worry, an intro-level class won’t put you in that position. In fact, it’s less “performance” and more “playing.” Through fun ice-breaking exercises and group activities, you learn the basics of improvisation without being put on the spot.
You develop a discipline of listening and acceptance.
Take any beginner improv class anywhere in the country, and you will walk out with “Yes, And” playing over and over again in your head. This improv cornerstone has become a bit of a mantra. In practice, it means that you accept what your partner is saying, and contribute something constructive of your own. You’ll learn more in the class you’ll take (…riiiight?), but for now, just know that as you practice listening to your fellow actors, accepting their ideas, and contributing your own, this discipline worms its way into your interactions as a co-worker, manager, parent, teacher, director… in any relationship.
You learn to trust yourself and your ideas.
“I wouldn’t know what to say!” … Sound familiar? I’ve been there. What I’ve discovered, though, is that it’s not so much that you don’t know what to say; it’s more that you don’t think that what you say would be good or funny or right, and you’re filtering out your gut reactions. But, remember “Yes, And”? Whatever you say, your improv friends will agree with you and support you. You literally can’t say anything wrong! Over time, you will realize that you don’t need to have the “best” ideas to make them known.
Actors: Improv helps come up with new ideas in rehearsal, and breaks down whatever holds you back from trying them. It heightens your instincts and strengthens your impulses, making you a more dynamic actor in rehearsals and performances.
You will be more confident and competent in situations with little preparation.
The more you experience your trust in yourself and your classmates being rewarded, the more confident you will become. You will realize that you don’t require days to script and rehearse and plan every detail in order to successfully communicate ideas. By all means, continue to prepare for your big pitch meeting with the executives, but rest assured that if anything doesn’t go completely according to plan, you will adapt and impress others with your level-headed problem solving.
Actors: You are well aware that not everything on stage goes as planned. You or others will miss a line or a cue. You may need to fill in a role. In those situations, a little bit improv confidence may save the show.
You will have fun.
So over a couple hours some evening, you not only become a more skilled and sharp individual, but you also laugh and have fun? It’s hard to not at least give that a try! Sure, some will be there as a supplement to their actor training. Some will want to be in an improv show in the future. Some have no interest in performing, but see valuable applications in the workplace. Others, though, attend just for fun. I know of one woman who gave this reason for attending improv class: “I am a full-time caretaker for my elderly mother, and it’s a pretty draining job. And I know that I’m not a great actor or anything, but I know that every Tuesday night, I’ll come and laugh with my friends. It’s a good stress reliever.” When you participate an improv class, just take what you want from it. There should be no pressure to be a great performer or prepare for an audience. The fun is contagious, and that can be the biggest selling point.
Have you ever taken an improv class? If so, what did you take away from it? If not, are you interested? What are your biggest concerns?