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Does Improv need actors or is it just an act?

New York’s premier improv troupe, THE IMPROVISATIONAL REPERTORY THEATRE ENSEMBLE boasts being well-trained actors as well as hilarity-makers. But is that important … I guess so … and so do they. We grabbed them in-between their second show this season, The DIABOLICAL DR. FIEND, currently running at The Producers Club. (visit http://www.irteinfo.com for info and tickets).

So … guys … quick thinking and natural talent are surely on an improvisational actor’s grocery list. How about theatrical training. How has established acting methods helped in Improv?  

28472000_10155007421096504_934422239107286857_nFrom Artistic Director, Nannette Deasy:

Theatre training is very important for anyone who steps on a stage. Improvisational acting is acting. You may not have a script, but it is still theatre. Talent and natural comic ability are wonderful – but you had better develop the skills to be heard, seen, and connect with your fellow actors and yourself. Otherwise, you can quickly get lost. A “traditional” acting method and scene study class will help any improvisational actor to develop better focus and listening skills. It will also provide him or her better access to one’s own emotional well to create characters grounded in some truth, no matter how broad or ridiculous they may be – not always an easy task when in the very artificial reality of being on a lit stage facing an audience of strangers. 

30550774_960027150828416_1281864778_oFrom Curt Dixon

The first thing that comes to mind is physicality and portraying emotions. Learning how your character moves and how they express themselves is important so that your performance is believable. You have to learn how to show the audience that you are that person. And you also have to be able to pay attention and react to the world that you are in. Being in character and in the moment at all times is paramount to making any scene work.  


From Heather Johnson

Hmm, hard question since I do not have theatrical training, unless you count high school. The method I like to follow is the “does this make ME laugh” method, I wonder if someone has coined that. Because before I even care about an audience, I selfishly just want to make myself laugh and tug on the line of comfort/appropriateness levels. It is kind of like when you’re walking down the street and you think of something and laugh hysterically to yourself and don’t care that you look like an idiot because you’re having a grand time. I’m pretty sure that’s most people in comedy though. 

Wow, this was actually a very awkward question for me to answer. Yep, I’m going to stop now. 


From Cheryl Pickett

Taking things moment to moment and listening to your scene partner.  


From Connie Perry

Scene study work comes to my mind. Even though you are not working with written material, you develop the skills to pay attention and listen to your scene partner as you learn to be in the moment. That can translate well into improvisational scene work.


From Izzy Church

I’ve studied numerous acting methods and they all contribute to the work I do as an improviser. Meisner technique teaches acting students to listen and respond, while paying careful attention that they are working moment to moment and living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. The same rules apply when you’re improvising. You have to be in the moment, and respond to whatever your fellow improviser(s) are offering. Method Acting teaches sense memory, where you recall on the sensory impressions stored in your subconscious and apply them to the space or the scene, which is also useful for improvisation. These techniques, any many other methods are useful tools when you’re improvising. Most importantly, remember to have fun! Your body and brain are very intuitive and if you tense up, you’re sending a signal to your body and brain that what you’re doing is difficult or stressful. I suggest warming up first. I believe all acting schools teach the importance of movement work. We also warm up as improvisers and work to ground ourselves before we begin to play.


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