In our acting classes, a lot of the actor games are improvisation activities. As any trained actor would say, improv is a tool for actors. As the best well-known actor, Wayne Brady, who used improv to full advantage in the television show WHO’S LINE IS IT ANYWAY, he clearly states improv is a tool to actor skill-building. By the way, he considers himself first an actor.
I studied improv with Del Close in Chicago. He is the guru of improvisation nationally, and the early educator of most all successful comedians and comedic actors. His rules make a lot of sense in practice and for improv shows. Here are his rules though you might find some modifications of it on the internet:
Eleven Commandments of Improv
*The original text can be found at www.improvolympic.com
1. You are all supporting actors.
2. Always check your impulses.
3. Never enter a scene unless you are NEEDED.
4. Save your fellow actor, don`t worry about the piece.
5. Your prime responsibility is to support.
6. Work at the top of your brains at all times.
7. Never underestimate or condescend to your audience.
8. No jokes (unless it is tipped in front that it is a joke.)
9. Trust... trust your fellow actors to support you; trust them to come through if you lay something heavy on them; trust yourself.
10. Avoid judging what is going down except in terms of whether it needs help (either by entering or cutting), what can best follow, or how you can support it imaginatively if your support is called for.
If you read my earlier blog on ‘trust’ you can see that TRUST is also on THIS LIST. Trust between actors is very important to performance in front of an audience whether it is improv, stage plays or film and t.v. It’s interesting how a recent improvisation group I shepherd, after seeing potential, disintegrated into mistrust and self-exaltation. The performance quality which showed improvement for some months, began to dive-bomb. It was due to the inequity on the stage and the excessive self-interest for some of the performers, which upset the balance of the group. Performers complained of inequity and that led to mistrust and disorder. Granted, actors do have a form of self-absorption, which is useful, however, as Mathew Quin the producer of Asylum Theater recently stated in a theater workshop, “Don’t be a jerk. It won’t go well.” To give a healthy rise in the performance stage, each actor or performer must respect one another and that comes with trust. Thus, the importance of a successful rehearsal time practicing to be generous with one another. The rehearsal process also helps put each performer on an exalted wavelength that is quite attractive to the audience. If at least, if not skill, the visceral connection to each other sways the audience to love the performance. Sure actor games can help with this, but an actor needs to use common sense and generosity when rehearsing for a performance and the performance itself must show generosity and be generous. Trust comes into play here. Second City in Chicago is famous for this. They help each other create on stage and jump on stage only when needed. The generosity is appreciated by the audience. Cutting into a scene that is going well causes boos from an experienced audience. Respecting a scene that is going well and not interrupting it in light of self interest is respected by the audience. Cutting into a scene that is going well is a 'let down' if the level of the cutting-in is not equal in hilarity or impressively better. Enough of these let downs the audience does not return. Remember, the audience is not there to judge just one actor, but the whole performance, the whole ensemble. As a repeat, it is quite noticeable to the audience when an actor is mistrusting of his fellow actors. The stage tilts off-balance. Unfortunately, sometimes it is irreparable once it starts. It can spread to feelings off stage. This improv group is now on hiatus.
Silvia Gonzalez Scherer