Improv and Teaching

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The Who, What, Where: Improv in a Theatre Classroom

Jeff Smith, Instructor and Performer with Kick Comedy

As a theatre teacher, improv helps my students become more well-rounded actors. Improv improves listening, support, character development, strong true choices, and storytelling abilities. Improv is who, what, where. Students must make linear connections, correlations, and inferences about a particular situation to carry the story. There is no script. Students create their own character, and give the character nuance through strong choices; they are forced and taught to listen more intently to fellow scene partners to know what is happening, and how to respond. Because of this, the emotions and reactions can be truly genuine.

They show the situation through physicality, mime and scene work. For example, if I have two students in a scene, one student crosses her arms and states “Mom is going to blame me you know.” This immediately lets the audience know through posture that the first student is upset, and they are the brother or sister of student 2. That is the who. Now, student 2 needs to listen with his eyes and ears to know this. Student 2 then starts miming a broom and dustpan to clean it up. “Why would she blame me? You were in my room!” Student two has shown the relationship dynamic between them and that they are combative. Student 2 also tells us that something is broken, and that we are in student 2’s room. That is the where.

“I didn’t mean to! I bumped it when I came in; just tell me why you had her prized Elvis statue on top of your dresser?” Boom. Student 1 gives us the what and we now have a narrative, relationship and location to work from in a scene. The students listened, established who, what, where, and they are now able to play in the scene, continue to build their characters and tell an effective story.

Actors who have studied or perform improv are able to readily bring these skills to any performance. They have shown to be much more effective and comfortable in auditions, performances, plays, movies, musical theatre, bands, or any performance capacity that involves telling a story. I’d suggest it to anyone that is looking to improve as an actor and I only wish I had found improv sooner!

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