Is Improv a Crap or a Need for New Actors? Facts and Top Tips

Improvisation in action
Improvisation in action
This incident took place at the location of Gemini Studio, near the Tunga Paradise Hotel, Andheri East, Mumbai 2 years back for during a shoot for a TV serial where I was also an actor for a character.
The shot to be taken was where a young army officer (Played by a young aspiring actor, Mahesh) was supposed to deliver a dialog to another officer-“Main Kal Jaon ga, Aaj nahin" (I will go tomorrow, not today).   Mahesh was thrilled to get this role and was eager to do his best. He had recently completed his training from a leading acting school and was keen to apply some of what he had learnt. In a rehearsal just before the shot, he delivered his one-liner exactly as per the script. But in the shot, he kept a finger on his chin, shifted his looks away slightly from the camera angle and said, “Main soch re ha tha,  ki main kal jaon ga, aaj nahin” (I was thinking to go tomorrow, not today). Immediately, a voice called “cut”!
There was a momentary silence. Mahesh, stunned, looked at the director. The director looked at him and said, “Mahesh Ji, why did you change the line? Tell me, why”. Mahesh replied meekly, “Sir, I was trying to improvise.” The director almost retorted, “Mahesh Ji, if you want to change the script, stop acting and become a writer!”
Mahesh met me later during a break where has almost in tears. When I asked him why he added a few words of his own, he said that in his acting training class a lot of emphasis was on improvisation and as he had liked the creativity in improvisation, he wanted to show his skill portraying the character.
Having narrated this experience, the question of what improvisation is, whether it should be learnt and practiced for films and who can apply it, requires an absolute clarity for the career of an aspiring actor.
Let us try to analyze it.

Improvisation

Often called as improv or impro, was/ still a form of theatre where  a scene is created and performed at the very moment. In its purest form, the dialogue, the action, the story and the characters are created together by the players as the improvisation unfolds a scene, without the use of an already prepared, written script. However, this does not mean that it is not used in the films. This depends on a director who may like to have some creativity in a scene, if he/she feels so.

Should an actor learn Improv?

Absolutely! It is a creative art and can really lift a scene. However, it should be applied to a scene only if a director says so.

Should beginners use it in every situation?

NO except...
Remember that for aspiring actors, even memorizing scripted lines becomes difficult. Some of these young actors get a sudden mental block and forget their lines the moment they hear “Action”, inspite of the fact that they had memorized lines. Therefore, improvisation should be applied after learning the technique properly, with the approval of the director and after a few rehearsals in front of the director.

Who can apply it?


  • If you are a star, you can apply it wherever you want. Why? The success of a big film like “HERA PHERI” or a TV show, e.g. BIG BOSS largely depends on a “Star”. The viewers go to see their favorite star and love whatever he says or does and therefore they may be allowed to improvise a scene.
  • Any other actor, if the director feels so.

Where Improvisation is mostly required?


  1. Stand up comedy (As performed by Kapil Sharma, Raju Shrivastava)
  2. For comedy films and TV serials (Like in Sab TV)
  3. For comedic scenes in films of other genre (like the character of “Surma Bhopali” in “Sholey” by Jagdeep) 

Improvisation is a specific skill that should be studied and nurtured because actors, especially comic actors, are pretty much expected. While it is valuable for theatre work, I would say it has become essential for comedy. Any actor who wants to audition for film and television comedy should have a training in comedic improvisation.

Improv auditions can die quickly if you beat around the bush. If you are given an idea to work with, get to it quickly. Think in terms of starting in the middle of the scene as opposed to the beginning. Remember that many people (Casting Director, Director, Producer, Creator, etc.) have to watch your audition played back on tape. They don't want to wait around for you to get to the point. They don't want to see you "warm up" on tape. Do that before you come into the room. Have energy and a few ideas on how to attack your scenario right away. Believe it or not, the priority for these types of auditions is NOT to be funny. It's important to show your comedic abilities, but you have to be honest and believable first.
However, remember that not every audition is for comedy. It could also be in a normal dramatic situation.

What are the rules of Improvisation?

Often considered the main rule of Improv, all it says is that you are not allowed to negate (Say “No”) other people's statements. Instead, add on to them.
Accept information and ad: Yes and... 
Often considered the main rule of Improv, all it says is that you are not allowed to negate (Say “No”) other people's statements.
When you get a piece of information from another actor, first, accept it as fact and second, add a little bit more information to it.  If somebody tells you that you're wearing a nice shirt, tell them yes you are, and that you bought it right here at "Shopper’s Stop". Keep doing this long enough, and you'll have a scene full of fascinating facts, objects and relationships.  Fail to do this and everyone will hate you, even your parents.
Example
--Hi.
--Hello.
--What's your name?
--Arvind.  And what's yours?
--Jayant.
--What's new?
-- Nothing
(The scene is dead)
However
--What’s new?
--I've cold and fever
--Have you taken some medicine?
--I was thinking to wait for some more time
(The scene is alive and continues)
Be very specific- it helps
Example
If you're going to say "nice car!", why not make it "Wow, a 2014 Maruti Ertiga!" 
--Yes, you are right, but a 2013 model
--What is the difference between 2013 1nd 2014?
(Or ---- Is it a four-wheel drive?)
(The scene continues and becomes more interesting)
Don't Try To Be Funny
Very important, especially for beginning improvisers. Don’t try to be funny. Humor will come naturally out of the scene without any effort. Just try to act out the scene and the game or elements will add humor.
Energy and energy!
Always put as much energy into a character as possible, even if it's a character, which superficially lacks energy. Otherwise, the viewers get bored.
Listen the line and then play your line
Don't go into a scene with a set agenda. Instead, listen to what other people (Co-actor) say, and base your next line on that.
Example:  Salesman
1: Alright, the boss has given us her directions. Let's go.
2: Let's go and get some burger. I’m hungry
1: I was told that the client is shy and quiet type
2: Is there any McDonald near by?
1: I think the best would be to open our interview with client by asking questions
It is almost like two scenes are going on at the same time, with neither person listening to each other. 
Here's an example of "Playing on Lines" in the above scene used correctly:
1: Alright, the boss has given us her directions. Let's go.
2: I just need to know why the boss wants both of us to visit a client
1: Because the client is very important and of shy type. He thought if we both go and tackle the client, it would be better
 Now that the two actors are listening to each other and the scene takes shape

How to prepare for improvisation, instantly

Either you will be given a script or an idea of a scene or perhaps your character in one word, e.g. An executive, a shop keeper, a cheated lover or a police officer. You may know about the other character, if in a scene, there is a co-actor with whom you have to create a scene.

Quickly

  • Set the “Objective” of the scene. What a scene and you as a character wants to achieve and convey at the time allotted to you?
  • Create the dynamics of a scene and your rhythm as a character in a scene (Read this post).
  • What are the circumstances? For example-
  • When it is happening? Why it is happening? Where it is happening? What is happening?
  • Identify and create conflict 
  • Create a sequence of dialogs based on your created “conflict”
  • In everything you plan, have “urgency”

Here are two improvisation exercises for you. Create a script based on all above points and practice with your friend actors.
Record it on mobile, a 1 to 2 minute video. Have a self or by your friends, a critical analysis and if you need my help to analyze your work and guide you, send it to me on my Email

Exercise 1

Two people are in a queue for a movie of Kareena Kappor Khan (or Johnny Depp).
The discussion is- A/ Who joined the queue first B/ Who is a greater fan of Kareena or Johnny Depp (select one)

Exercise 2

Two friends are sitting. Friend A is happy go lucky person and friend B is sad and depressed as his/ her lover has betrayed him/her. The discussion is on

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