Tips for teachers

Rules for Improvisation.

Do not deny: The reason improvisation scenes sometimes work so well is that two people are working together to come up with the material. This means that neither one of the actors can have complete control of the scene, or have their “plan” for the scene followed exactly. Actors should accept unequivocally any idea their fellow performers make, no matter how ridiculous they think it is or how much it conflicts with their vision of what the scene should be. The unexpected developments that arise from conceding to and combining with other suggestions will always be more interesting than those any one actor could come up with, and if two improvisers accept each others ideas without hesitation, the audience end up feeling that they “couldn’t possibly” have improvised something that perfect on the spot. On the other hand, if actors are always trying to ignore each other’s assertions because they don’t think they will help the scene, the audience will only pay attention to how the performers are trying to control the scene at one another’s expense, and this very quickly becomes boring to watch.

There are no mistakes: Not only should an improviser never deny a suggestion or assertion, but they should refuse to think of anything that happens on stage as a mistake. It is always nice (though it rarely happens) to perform a flawless scene, but it is often easier to gain the audience’s respect by handling a mistake well, and incorporating it into the scene. If a fellow actor makes a “mistake”, it is not your job to correct them, but rather your job to figure out how, although it may have seemed that they were wrong, they were actually right! If for example, you establish your characters name at the beginning of the scene as “Jim” and halfway through an actor calls you “John”, instead of saying, “my name is Jim, you moron,” you could say, “Don’t blow my cover. As long as I’m on this case you should call me ‘Jim’”.

Give specific information: Avoid talking about “it” or “the thing” or being sorry for “what you did”. Although there can be some confusion at the beginning of a scene as to what is going on, matters should be nailed down as soon as possible. The more specifics you can give, the faster the scene will develop and the more unique and interesting the conflict will be. One detail will usually lead to another, whereas if you speak only in generalities the scene will flounder.

Show don’t tell: Actors have a tendency to make scenes excessively verbal, standing around the center of the stage, shuffling their feet, and telling the audience about things that, if they were to actually act them out, would make a great scene. One of the most important rules in improvisation is never to tell the audience something that you can show them. Avoid speaking in past or future tense, and mime actions as much as possible.