How can improv not be funny? I’ve seen Whose Line is it Anyway and it’s pretty darn funny. Let’s break it down. What is improv? As per Wikipedia, improv is described as “Improvisational Theater, sometimes called just improv, is a form of theater where most or all of what is performed is created at the moment it is performed.
In its purest form, the dialogue, the action, the story and the characters are created collaboratively by the players as the improvisation unfolds.” For more information on improv, check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Improvisational_theatre
Yes, improv is made up in the moment. Yes improv is not scripted. And yes, improv is created by a team of actors working together. But it’s not always funny. As an acting teacher at Gary Spatz’s the Playground, I use improv with young actors all the time when working with dramatic material. It’s a great way to get kids to connect to their scene partners. They have no choice but to listen and respond and be in the moment.
Dramatic improv can be very powerful. It’s very honest and it directly mirrors life. And since the goal of acting is to imitate life, improv is a great place to start. Dramatic improv is a great tool for young actors. It forces them to listen and react. And after all, that’s what acting is listening and reacting.
The most magical moments to watch on screen are those in which an actor is not consciously making a choice at all, but simply reacting in the moment. Nothing’s more boring than watching an actor spouting out words that aren’t their own, not listening to their fellow actor’s line or worse yet, going up on a line and getting lost because they don’t know what they’re saying. Dramatic improv is also a great training tool for comedic improv. It slows down the scene and allows the other actor to really take in their scene partner. But most importantly, dramatic improv forces kids to trust their instincts. They have no choice.
There is no script to lean on and no back-story to trust. All they have is each and every moment, and they must be present in each of those for the improv to move forward. As with dramatic improv, the same rules apply. You must always say “yes, and…” while refraining from asking questions. When you can get up on stage and build a scene out of a kernel of an idea – funny or not–, you’re on your way to some great scene work.