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Improv Acting Guidelines

Below are a few guidelines for creating believable and understandable improv scenes even if you’ve never acted before![1]

  1. IF YOU BELIEVE IT, SO WILL YOUR AUDIENCE. If you believe you are digging a ditch or scrubbing a floor, so will your audience. You just have to put it in your mind and body. If you believe yourself that you are actually doing what you are pretending to do, then your audience will have no trouble following your performance.
  2. KEEP IT SIMPLE. Keep your movements minimal enough so that your audience gets the picture and is not straining to understand what you are doing. While you should know that you are planting carrot seeds on a 40-acre farm in rural Georgia, all your audience needs to know is that you are planting seeds. Remember: be specific with your actions.
  3. COMMIT! If you are sewing shirts in a sweatshop, do not suddenly start playing a musical instrument. Finish what you start.
  4. CREATE YOUR PROPS AND DO NOT TRIP OVER THEM. If you need a table, allow there to be one in a particular place in the room. Do not forget it is there and walk through it when you get out of your chair and walk out of the room. If your scene partners create props like tables, be sure to remember where they are. If you walk through tables, walls, or bathtubs, your audience will not believe you.
  5. CREATE YOUR SPACE. If you are in a restaurant kitchen or an office suite, for example, be aware of your space: how large or small, how low the ceiling, is there a carpeting on the floor, and so on. Put imaginary props in the space to define it better.
  6. BE SPONTANEOUS. In improvisation there is no script. You know who you are, where you are, your relationship to the other players, and what the scene is about. Do not think about specifics; remember what the scene is about and make offers of dialogue, etc. to your scene partners and accept theirs.
  7. MAKE YOUR SCENE PARTNERS LOOK GREAT. Your scenes will be best if all of the players do their part and look good, so if someone offers you an imaginary cup of tea, take it and drink! Don’t be a talking head; use as few words as possible with as much physical action as possible. Be respectful of scene partners’ bodies: no rough shoving, hitting, or other hurtful actions. If you are trying to show an employer’s abuse of an employee, be sure to do so without actually touching the person.

Footnotes

[1] Adapted from Lori Shaller, “Learning About Human Rights and Slavery,” Rabbis for Human Rights – North America, http://www.rhr-na.org/documents/Slavery-Teaching.pdf

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Improv Acting Guidelines." (Viewed on November 1, 2014) <http://jwa.org/node/14908/lightbox2>.

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