Say “improv” and the first thing that comes to mind is ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’. That show, with its series of short and fun improv games, has probably given us all a laughter-induced stomachache at some point.
While improv comedy has gained popularity in recent years, the art of improvisation extends beyond just comedy. Take for example Playback Theatre, a form of improvisational theatre where actors do live enactments of stories told by members of the audience. Improvisation has also been around for a long time. For instance, commedia dell’arte, a form of Italian theatre, began as improvised performances way back in the 16th century!
Improvisation isn’t as easy as it looks. While there are techniques involved, it also requires a quick mind and daring. In fact, the ability to improvise can make you more confident not just in your performances, but even in your daily lives, making it a useful skill to pick up.
Here are some interesting facts about improv, courtesy of our improv teacher, Arnauld Pierre. Do check out his entertaining YouTube series (at the bottom of this post) for more!
Facts about improv
1) The history of improv goes back further than you think.
As a genre, improv started getting noticed in 1824, despite being around for much longer. When improv first got into the public eye, it was mostly in the form of poetry. Poets would get verbal or textual cues from audience members and create poems based on those. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the format exists even now.
2) Improv is more common in theatre than in films.
More than being about character and story, improv is also about self-direction and staging. The actor has to be able to immerse himself or herself in the performance to improvise. In film, there are too many variable factors (e.g. lighting, framing etc.) to allow for this. But of course, film is a very young genre compared to theatre, so it’s possible that we may get some improv films in time.
3) Improv can be put into two broad categories: Games-based Improv (consisting of Rules-based Improv and Organic Improv) and Storytelling.
Improv performances can cross different categories. Improv matches could span both, while Harold straddles Organic Improv and Storytelling. The difference between Rules-based Improv and Organic Improv? In the former, the rules are known to everyone while in the latter, the rules are created along the way.
4) Maximise risk. Failing is good.
This goes contrary to what we all believe. But think about it. What engages you when you watch an improv performance? The unpredictability is one of them. So give your audience just that. Take big risks, and when it fails, take it in your stride.
For more fun facts, check out Ex Machina by Arnauld Pierre!