Is It Improv, or Is It Acting?

When I signed up for an improv class at Improv Marin, I wasn’t certain what to expect. I assumed it would be fun with lots of laughter.

“Gotta be cheaper than therapy,” I quipped to a friend.

The nature of improv implies no scripts: instead, some insights, a bit of wit, and the ability to react or vamp unexpectedly. However, I am learning something that I never thought I would in an improv class: how to act.

I never aspired to acting. Though it is an honorable profession, I felt a sense of falseness that comes with pretending to express an emotion, and then, to employ it with such conviction that one would earn kudos for such a successful farce.

Improv is not acting, it’s just fun, I reasoned. The ability to react spontaneously in a situation, without following a script, is a skill to be developed. Actors, on the other hand must memorize specific lines and act in character. In improv you can say or do what occurs to you in the context of the scene.

The method of our coach, Drew, is this: even though there is no script, developing skills used in acting is key to a successful improv experience. As we are lead through a scene, or a “game,” he highlights the need for a character, an attitude, accent, demeanor, agenda, or physical trait as a path to the context and basis of an interesting scene.

This is where the improv part comes in. Instead of having a character fleshed out for you in a composed scene, you must form it. On the spot.

First, determine who your character is, where you are and what your relationship is with the other players. Second, which traits will you adopt as a scene begins? Third, what will this newly-formed character say?

It’s challenging, but the class Drew has created is friendly and fun, with no judgment, only gentle nudging toward a fun experience, and possibly a keen inward insight.

© 2019 Eileen Alexander

Eileen is an Improv Marin community member. She has few aspirations to act on the big screen, though she would welcome an Oscar nod for her improv skills.

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