Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What's Improv?

What's Improv?

Improvisational theatre is a form of theatre that has no scripts - just like real life! The audience gives suggestions, and scenes are created right there on the spot. Actors practice to increase their skill levels but all scenes are basically made up as they go along. These are often funny, sometimes weird, but always exciting.

Improv is, at its core, a form of storytelling. How long has storytelling been around? A pretty long time I'd say. If this is true of stories so too must it be true of improvisation.
The most popular style of improv today is spot improv. Performers obtain suggestions from the audience and use these suggestions to create short, entertaining scenes. The neat thing about improv is that audience and actors are working together to create theatre.

Improv Skill Building
In order to create scenes the actors develop skills which encourage them to ‘'face the void," or live spontaneously during the scene while adhering to a few rules of the game. Generally, actors are discouraged from doing any of the following as they have been found to inhibit scene development:
* Blocking: saying "no" to an action or suggestion tends to weaken or even stop scenes.
* Wimping: is when you are unclear about your suggestion (e.g. this "thing.")
* Gagging: is saying jokes or lines that take away from the story or scene.
* Bridging: adding too many things to the scene can give it little substance.
The Basic Skills that are encouraged are...
* Saying "Yes" to offers - very important to allow scenes to progress.
* Following Story Lines - with a Beginning, Middle and Ending to each scene.
Further skills are creativity, risk taking, trusting, listening, team work, accepting new ideas and making your fellow actors look good. All this on top of some basic acting skills!
A Brief History of Improvisation
Many different improvisational styles have organically developed throughout history. One form popular throughout Europe was known as Commedia Dell'Arte originating in the mid-1500' and surviving almost 200 years.
More recently, Keith Johnstone and Viola Spolin were key artists who separately and spontaneously re-invented Improv as it exists today.
Keith Johnstone grew up in England, and later brought his teachings to the University of Calgary. Johnstone wanted to bring theatre to the common people, the same audience that Shakespeare had written for in his day. Johnstone combined elements of both theatre and sports, to form something called Theatresports. This was a marriage of team sports to the improvisational theatre context where teams competed for points awarded by judges. Audiences would be encouraged to cheer for good scenes and jeer the judges.
Through Theatresports, Johnstone's ideas have gone on to influence (directly or indirectly) almost every major improv group. In the 1920's and 1930's, a woman named Viola Spolin began a new approach to the teaching of acting based on learning the craft of acting as a series of games.
Spolin's son, Paul Sills, later became one of the driving forces of improvisational theatre centered around the University of Chicago in the mid-1950's. Del Close, David Shepherd, and Sills created an ensemble of actors who developed a kind of "modern Commedia" which would appeal to the average man in the street. Again, the goal was to create theatre that was accessible to everyone.
It eventually led to the development of a company called Second City.
Through The Compass and Second City, Spolin's Theatre Games have gone on to influence an entire generation of improvisational performers.
There are many books written on the subject of IMPROV. A good start are those written by Keith Johnstone (Methuen). Another suggestion is "Something Wonderful Right Away" by Jeffrey Sweet (Limelight).

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