Professional advice and guidance for aspiring actors.
Even performers who have worked on stage for their entire lives will tell you that performing improv can be terrifying. I’ve performed in countless plays, and worked on some of the biggest sets for film and tv. Yet getting up and performing improv is still hands down one of the scariest things I can think of doing as an actor.
Improv is scary because it’s so different from what we do every day. It is unfiltered and free-form. Improv acting can feel risky. You put so much pressure on yourself to be clever, or to get it right. And it is exactly for this reason that we highlight improv in class 6 of the Laura Mac Method Academy Online Acting Classes.
In order to be great at improv, you have to face the pressure you’re putting on yourself, realize there’s no such thing as right, connect with your own natural impulses and follow where they lead. Overcome your fear of improv, and improv becomes one of an actor’s greatest tools for getting out of their own way and making a scene come to life.
“But Laura, why do we need to practice improv? I never plan on performing in an improv troupe, it seems like a waste of time.” Great question. Like athletes, actors need to be physically and mentally limber. They need to be confident enough to seize opportunities as they arise. Of course, learning how to express yourself confidently isn’t easy — and it doesn’t happen overnight! However, there are many ways you can get better at being confident. So let’s look at some improv techniques for improving your confidence and discover how these skills can make you a stronger actor.
Improv acting is the art of spur-of-the-moment creativity. It is a form of theater and performance where an actor or group of actors create theatrical material in the moment, based on ideas and suggestions from the other actors or from members of the audience. To improvise is to conjure up new material as you go.
So how can improv improve your acting skills? Improv can help you with two very important skills. The first is being comfortable on the spot. When something goes wrong, it’s always helpful to be able to think quickly and draw from your instincts.
And secondly, the style of acting that is practiced today is realism. Training in this off-the-cuff form of performance helps us connect to how we act naturally. Practicing with improv is a great way to make scripted content come off as unscripted, grounded and unique with your own natural essence and charm.
“Okay Laura, great point. So how does improv work?” Another great question! The heart of improv techniques lies in saying yes and making everything up on the spot. You create a scene in seconds with a simple word from the audience or by reacting to a random suggestion.
There are two fundamental tips to successful play with improv.
Just like scripted acting, improvisation is a skill that can benefit from training. Like mastering any skill, In order to become a better improviser, you have to practice.
One great way to practice is to join an improv class. Enrolling in an improv acting class is the best way to get better at this performing art. There are many great schools dedicated to this style, notably Upright Citizen Brigade and Groundlings in Los Angeles, Second City in Chicago and Toronto to name a few. These classes are excellent for boosting confidence, especially if you want to perform in front of a live audience.
You can even enroll in acting classes online and can learn all the basics of improv acting from the comfort of your home. If you want to use improv to improve your skills as a film, television or commercial actor, check out the Laura Mac Method Academy online acting program. Not only do we dedicate a whole day to it ; Day 6 of our 20 class curriculum, but before that - on Days 3, 4 and 5 of the Academy Curriculum: we give you the tools, exercises and support you need to build out what we call your acting “Avatar”: a Character you develop for yourself based on who you are as a person and how you uniquely solve the problems of your local film, television and commercial productions.
Besides building your confidence and giving you valuable acting practice in performing with authentic, grounded realism, improv can improve your acting by helping you, as an actor, find acting choices that live just outside of the scripted scenes. As long as all of your acting choices are grounded in what is true in the scene and who you are as a character - improv is a great way to access those magical acting choices that the directors, producers and writers didn’t even know they had in their script.
Great improvisers are great storytellers - their work makes everyone believe that the world of the film or the tv show or the play goes far beyond the glimpses we see in the scenes.
A great way to make a full life for your character in any audition scene is through adding opening moments and end beats. If you show a moment of the LIFE of your character before the start of the scene, then ACTIVELY maintain that life all the way through the scene, then cap your tape with the authentic moment that you think naturally follows the end of the scene; then your audition tape will have your uniqueness built in PLUS show off your killer understanding of storytelling and relationships.
Opening Moments and End beats is Video 44 of the Laura Mac Method online Foundations acting program. So if you’re reading this blog because you wanna be an actor - check out this program!
The amount of improv will be 100% reliant on the tone and style of the show. Some comedy productions will relish in an actors ability to give more through improv, other procedural dramas - less so.
But just as adding improv to your auditions, there’s room for improv in your on set performances too.
Rule of thumb: Keep it simple, especially if you’re performing as a costar or principal role (stay tuned for my blog on character levels for professional film/tv productions - or jump into the foundations online acting program to learn more now)
Stick to simple opening moments and end beats and always be sure to make choices that serve the story and I can all but guarantee that when the director calls “cut”, they’ll see your performance as a huge benefit to them
Some of the best lines in cinema came about through improvisation and more than once I have added a line as an end beat to an audition, booked the role, brought that to set, and editors included it in the final edit.
In fact - let me prove it: Check out this audition scene from the ABC show “A Million Little Things”
My job was to bring “Fan” to life and support the story for “Craig” aka character Eddie Saville aka fabulous actor David Guintoli. So when David asked the episode’s wonderful director Billie Woodruff if there was room for improv off the top, you can see for yourself how preparation and improv skills came in handy.
And who’s “Cate with C”? - well she’s my Acting Avatar Cate Stewart. When he asked me my name for the first time while we were rolling: “Cate with a C” was the natural, easy, choice.
If you’re an actor ready to build your Acting Avatar - make sure you check out the Laura Mac Method Foundations online acting program
STUDY CHARACTERS AND RELATIONSHIPS
Studying your character is crucial because you can use your character’s preferences, dislikes, personality, even their line of work, to help direct your scenes and acting auditions.
DEVELOP A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD AROUND YOU
Or commonly referred to in acting as:, the environment. Now that you know who the characters are and how they relate to each other, think about where the scene takes place. It could be in a restaurant, a doctor’s office, a school, a bathroom, a zoo, or a cemetery. Incorporate the understanding of our surroundings into how the scene plays out.
USE YOUR IMAGINATION
Using your imagination creates WORLDS. One reason it’s called a play is because there is a sense of fun and playfulness to what we do. By imagining scenarios, you can train your brain to be more responsive to what’s happening right now.
Improv acting is about reacting to what the other actors are saying and doing. The more you actively listen to what’s happening on stage, the better you’ll be able to react to it. Good improv acting as well as scripted acting involves being in the moment and being all ears.
At the Laura Mac Method we go through everything you need as an actor to build your acting process. One of the most useful tools you can have as an actor is improv.
While scary at first, our Academy students always leave our improv day feeling more confident and with a clearer sense of what it means to be an actor in the era of grounded realism.
And our Foundation Students, actors who are completing our specialized
So if you want to take it to the next level you can enroll here.