6 Reasons Actors Should Take an Improv Class

Actors are often skeptical of taking an improv class. I can’t tell you how many actors tell me “I am a serious actor. Why do I need to take an improv class?” Or they say, “I’m not funny,” “It scares me,” or “I wouldn’t be any good at it.”

Actors avoid taking improv classes for lots of different reasons, but the truth is, improv classes make people better actors. I don’t care if you don’t do comedy or you don’t think you are funny. Improv is not necessarily about being funny at all, but instead it is a methodology that can make you a better actor by making you more real, more able to react honestly in the moment and more.

So before you come up with any more excuses I haven’t even thought of, here are six things that improv classes can help you with as an actor.

  1. Be More Playful
    In my experience, the best actors bring a sense of playfulness to any role they undertake. If they’re playing a dark or disturbing role, you might call this mischief or danger, but underneath they are enjoying it. Unfortunately, too many actors think they need to be serious because they think that’s what good acting is. But remember, when we act in a PLAY, we’re supposed to it PLAY in the imaginary circumstance. Play means to have fun. When I was little kid we played SWAT. We took it seriously and didn’t break out of our police characters, but underneath we were having fun capturing the bad guys. Though I have comedy background, I have been cast in TV and film parts that would be considered “serious acting” roles. And I landed those roles even though I was playing a jerk or a scared prison guard because deep down I was enjoying playing that part. I learned that all in improv.
  1. Take Direction
    When I go into an audition I have prepared at home in front of the mirror a certain way. But what happens if the casting people want to see it another way? Some actors freeze and end up blowing the audition. If only they had a little improv under their belt so they could be more adaptable. I once landed a role on ER as Manny the used car salesman because I asked a question in the casting session which led me do it the opposite way that everyone else had just done it, and guess what? I got the part. Thanks to improv, I could adjust do things differently.
  1. Be in the Moment
    I love watching great acting because even though the actors are saying someone else’s words, they are reacting as if they have never heard those words before. It’s as if they are improvising with a script. Improv teaches you how to be in the moment so your emotional reactions can feel truly authentic and genuine.
  1. Take Risks
    Great actors take risks. They surprise you with their choices. They are constantly taking risks at the audition, in rehearsal and during the run of the show. To get there you have to give yourself permission to constantly experiment. In improv, you’re forced to take risks and put yourself out there without a safety net, and one of the most important improv philosophies is that there are no mistakes, which encourages people to take risks in supportive environment. By practicing taking risks in improv, you’ll be able to take bigger risks in your acting as well.
  1. Be More Confident
    Whenever an actor takes one of my improv classes or workshops, I’m always amazed at how much their confidence level improves. After two weeks, I’ll have actors come into class and say, “I am auditioning better, I’m having more fun, and I have a new-found confidence.”
  1. Be More Believable
    What actor does not want to be more believable? But sometimes when we get a script in our hands, we become more concerned with the words on the page than with relating to our scene partners. The dialogue that comes out of our mouth seems lifeless and flat, like we’re robots who don’t know how to relate to people. Taking improv classes helps actors become more fluid with their own words, which eventually helps you become more at ease with others’ words, too. Once you’ve overcome the fear of creating your own dialogue in improv, reciting from a script will seem easy.

Are you an actor interested in trying your hand at improv? Don’t miss Jimmy’s next Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 class, starting Feb. 22 at Green Shirt Studio. The Early Bird special ends Feb. 8! 

Why improvisers should take acting classes

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.