5 Reasons Why Everyone Should Take An Improv Class
Last week I took an Improv workshop with well-known Canadian actor Veena Sood.
I initially signed up to hone my improvisational skills for TV work. In the “unscripted” world, which is the category our shows fall into, Anna and I don’t have scripted lines to follow. We make things up as we go along. When we impart shopping or cooking tips, that information is researched and vetted. But when it comes to cooking in the kitchen, walking in the market, or hunting for moose, we just talk.
I have taken some acting and improv classes before, but years ago. After 8 hours with Veena, I came to the realization that improv has valuable lessons to impart not just for on-camera work but also for life in general.
1. Be Average. Veena stresses to be average, which sounds pretty counter-intuitive for most of us. What she means is stop trying so hard. When you are constantly focused on being your best, questioning whether everything you do is good enough, you spend a lot of time in your head. Whether you’re acting, giving a presentation or making small talk at a dinner party, stop trying to be smart, funny, charming, etc. Take the pressure off yourself and just be average.
2. Think on your Feet. A lot of improv involves acting out scenarios with no time to prepare. Be an astronaut, pretend you’re looking for buried treasure, perform brain surgery. You don’t get 10 minutes to figure out what to say or do. You have to make it up as you go along. It’s great practice for thinking on your feet and again, not over-thinking things.
3. Don’t block. In improv, you are encouraged to say YES. When your scene partner says, “Let’s go into the woods and pick flowers,” you don’t say, “No, I don’t want to.” By saying no, you’re blocking the idea and forcing your scene partner to come up with yet another suggestion. By saying yes, you keep things flowing and moving forward. In life there is a valid place for “no,” but saying yes opens you up to new experiences and can take you in unforeseen directions.
4. Analyze your Status. We did a lot of work with “status” in class. Low status people tend to fidget, giggle and avoid eye contact. They also try to contract their bodies, taking up as little space as possible. Think Woody Allen. High status people take up more space, they hold eye contact and move about less. Think Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife.
Playing improv games involving status is a valuable acting exercise as body language goes a long way in defining a character. In real life, we are often low status in some situations and high in others. There’s no one right way to be. But I came to realize that the aw-shucks low status attitude while often charming, can also be grating. The composure of high status can seem confident and controlled, but also cold. The exercises made me evaluate my own body language and low/high status proclivities.
5. Be Silly. When you’re making stuff up on the fly, lots of silliness comes out. As Veena says, it is “disposable theatre” so it will not live on to haunt you. No one cares if you say something stupid. (And trust me, you likely will.) But it is so fun, so freeing to just let loose, allowing your creativity and spontaneity to percolate. I felt like I was playing again, something we adults often don’t have a chance to do.
I can hardly wait to sign up for another class!