Growing up as a young actor, I was always deathly afraid of improv. I clung to a script like a life preserver, and anything that felt unplanned or uncertain was an absolute death trap for me. Eventually I realized that the very thing I was avoiding (improv) was the key to my success as an actor & coach, my happiness, and ultimately my livelihood.
You see, improv doesn't just help your acting, it is your acting. Let me explain. Acting is the art form of life. Your job as an actor is to create honest authentic performances that emulate life so well your audience forgets where they are. Life is the ultimate improvisation. When was the last time you had a day go as planned? Yeah, me neither. Life is constantly challenging us with ebbs and flows and it's up to us to Yes! And... those interesting and often pesky unknowns you encounter.
Here are three ways you can 'improv' your acting.
1. STOP MEMORIZING
Most actors I've worked with come to me saying they hate memorization. I tell them to stop doing it. Before you curse me, hear me out. Do you have trouble memorizing your scripts? Of course you do. Memorizing a bunch of words never works. And neither does memorizing a WAY to say lines. This will result in premeditated performances bound in artifice.
The key to memorization is to break down your script first. Figure out the relationships, characters, objectives, intentions, and finally the beats (break your lines up into three parts). By the time you are done this rigorous work you will know the lines much better than you think. Then, associate. Make associations between the lines that are still foggy.
eg. Yes, I am quite well aware of the fact. \ And I often wish that in public, at any rate, you had been more demonstrative. \ For me you have always had an irresistible fascination (The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde).
I split the line up into three parts and figured out the intention/action for each. Then, I connected fact to wish (they are opposites), wish to demons ('wish there are no demons'). The 'ive' in demonstrative reminds me of 'if' - I. - F. which cues me to Irresistible Fashion.
This sounds nuts but it has never failed me. It's called mind threading and it follows how we learn things in life, through association. Try it.
After these methods you will know your lines so well that you can be free to be flexible with them (and not stuck to a certain way of saying them).
2. IMPROVISE the PAST (and FUTURE)
As an actor you need to know your character so well that you can take them to places outside of the play or film. Once you have done your character exploration and scene analysis, get together with some friends (or the other players) and improvise scenes that take place at pivotal moments in your character's past. This simple exercise has profound results on your performance. You will have 'lived' through key moments. Once you are done this, improvise the way your character expects your scene to go. What outcome would they want to see?
3. CHANGE IT UP
Once you have analyzed your scene, learned all about your character, and found your footing, challenge yourself to play the scene in as many different ways as possible. Do it while running, doing the dishes, whispering, playing a sport, driving. Sing it as an opera, play it with a completely opposite choice. This exercise alone can make all the difference when you are in front of a Casting Director and they get you to change things up.
Improv and Acting are the same thing, a script does not mean that you are imprisoned, static, or limited. We only feel this way because with words come expectations. The best advice I can give you is this: expect nothing, embrace everything.
You are enough.
IYA Studio for Actors offers year-round actor training with heart. It is run by veteran actor/coach Tony Babcock and combines principles of improv with traditional acting training. IYA offers in person workshops for Toronto actors and online training and life coaching for actors worldwide.
To find out more visit the website here.
On Nov 2/3 join Tony & Casting Director Millie Tom (Canadian Screen Award Winner) for Improv Your Audition.
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