Improvisers and actors usually classify themselves either as one or the other. But you know what? I wish improvisers would realize they are really actors and actors to realize that learning how to improvise is a necessary part of acting.
Over the years, I’ve found that actors are afraid to improvise, convincing themselves they can’t work without a script. They will they get an audition where they will be asked to improvise and they will freeze up and leave dejected and won’t come close to getting cast.
On the flip side, often when improvisers have a script in their hands, they don’t have a clue what they are doing. They think that they’re such great improvisers, they don’t need to learn how to act. Both the actor and the improviser are missing opportunities.
Both the actor and improviser can learn from each other, and the easiest way to do that is for the improviser to take an acting class and the actor to take an improv class.
To help me explain why this is important, I asked Andrew Gallant, who teaches Meisner acting classes at Green Shirt Studio in Chicago, to give me his thoughts on the subject.
Why Improvisers Should Take Acting Classes
— Jimmy Carrane
1. It helps you get good with a script
Guess what improvisers? If you want to do commercials, TV and films — the things that actually pay you money and may bring some exposure to your career — then you are going to have to audition to get them. Which means you are going to have be good with a script. This translates to knowing how to ACT!
Improvisers have had the reputation for years that when they get in casting session and are asked to read off the script they usually suck. The reason they do is they usually have no formal ACTING experience or training. Remember, the last time I checked, there was no one getting rich off of just doing improv.
- It helps you develop your serious side
Improvisers for the most part want to be liked and make people laugh. They are terrified to go to the places where actors love to go to naturally. Acting classes are a great place to force improvisers out of their comfort zone and re-wire their brains to give them the confidence to go dramatic and let go of needing to get a laugh. Not only is this going to make them a much better improviser, it’s also going to give them so much more range as an actor. In my career, 80 percent of my TV and film credits have come from dramas, not comedies.
- You are both an actor and improviser
Yes, you call yourself an improviser but you are also an actor, so you as an actor, you should know the basic terminology of acting and know that your work ethic as improviser is not going to cut in theater, movies and television. Acting takes discipline. Actors prepare their asses off. Even if you are doing a scene in class you, will have to memorize the script, emotionally prepare for the scene and meet with your partner outside of class to rehearse. This takes hours and hours of work and commitment. Since improvisers can be extremely lazy and a little flaky, taking an acting class can be a rude, but necessary awakening if they want more from their career and themselves.
Why Actors Should Take Improv Classes
— Andrew Gallant, co-founder of Green Shirt Studio
- You will be asked to improvise whether you are a trained improviser or not
Guess what actors: You will be asked to improvise in your career as an actor. No matter how much you think of yourself as “not an improviser,” you will be asked to do it in auditions and on film sets. You will be asked to improvise in rehearsals. Commercials are FULL of improvisers. It will happen at some point in your career, no matter how afraid of improv you are. You will be asked to improvise. It is simply a skill that you need to develop if you want to be ready in the room.
- It reminds you how to play
There is a reason that you play a lot of games in improv classes: They reconnect you to the part of yourself that is impulsive, playful and willing to take risks. Games teach you to BE GAME. To be up for anything, ready to go, eager to jump into the unknown just for the fun of it. It’s so easy when actors are working on deeply dramatic texts to forget that there is joy and fun even in the hardest of work. Improv teaches us to relish play and open ourselves up to the joy of working with other people to make something in the moment we are sharing together.
- You learn to invest in the world outside yourself
One of my favorite lessons from improv is to “treat your partner like a rock star.” Improv, like the Meisner approach to acting, lays in the fundamental ethic that your partner gives you everything you need in the moment. Trusting your partner can be difficult, especially when you think you have a great idea of how things could go. Improv reinforces the truth that our clever ideas are never as interesting as what’s happening with the people around us. That kind of trust makes you a good performer, a good collaborator and a good person.
Are you an actor or an improviser looking to improve? Take Jimmy Carrane’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 3 class, which features a live performance, starting Jan. 6! Sign up by Dec. 26 to get the Early Bird pricing.