Tag Archives: acting technique

Power of Improv

The Power Of Improv

Written by Terry Berland for The Networker

For many years I went to improv shows to be entertained, laugh, and discover the work of clever, quick-thinking actors. I have always said, improv is important—it loosens you up, gets you ready to think fast on your feet, and strips away the self-censorship that blocks creativity.

There is More to Improv Than Being Funny
Improv is important to the art of acting itself. Improv enables you to open up the door to your creative power and is a conduit to better dramatic acting.

Improv Opens the Door to Your Creative Powers
I don’t know how someone can be a good actor without having taken improv classes. I believe improv is not only a great complement to an actor’s training, but essential to bringing an actor deeper into their source of creativity by unlocking blockages.

To explain further, I went directly to the source of a master improv actor/teacher, Donovan Scott. Scotty’s improv teaching is very special in that it is designed to relate directly to the individual actor’s acting process. This helps with four elements you need for a good commercial performance.

Nuanced Performances
Scotty: “Over the years, improvisation has gone from a curiosity as an art form, to an essential tool for the actor. It has gradually formed the basis for our emerging acting standard on the screen. From the broad physical acting style of the silent film era, we have evolved to the super close-up and the nuanced techniques of realistic acting.”

The simplest auditions need nuances. The commercial on camera audition space you are working in is film-like in that it is a close shot, which calls for subtle expressions and the ability to create a life around what is called for. For example, if you are told you are a person reaching for a glass of water, for a good performance you have to create who you are, why you want this water and how you feel after you take the satisfying drink. You must be able to create in a very tight shot in short amount of time.

Stay Ahead of Your Audience
Scotty: “Like in all art forms, we must stay ahead of our audience in order to keep them interested and involved. Improv takes away technique and demands a more spontaneous resolve.”

Knowing how to stay ahead of your audience will give you the confidence to make and stick to strong choices. Once you can do this, you will not walk into an audition room wondering what the powers-that-be want. Not being in your head will allow you to create from your gut and your sacred creative space. Which brings me to another point.

How Can Improv Complement Your Acting?
Scotty: “In the ‘acting class world’, techniques of choice, delve into gut wrenching realistic performances, by digging into the depths of the actor to reveal the truth. Improv, on the lighter side, has much of the same result. It’s about freedom, spontaneity, and the use of surrounding elements to enhance the power of the actor’s performance.”

In any audition or performance you can’t hold on tightly to “the process”. You need to find your freedom, individuality and spontaneity in your performance. The key element that improv adds to your acting skills lies in your ability to experience freedom and spontaneity which you will find through experienced guided improv exercises.

Ability to Change Fast
Scotty: “As actors we often make decisions and blindly stick to them no matter what is going on around us. In Improv we build an awareness of what is happening to us at that moment, and allow that to effect our expressions, emotions, and choices to move forward. With the power of Improv skills, the answers are quicker to respond to, easier to understand, and more connected organically. Acting choices are more instinctive to the individual actor; a response, rather than a calculation, instantaneous rather than thought provoked. Improv asks us to know ourselves, trust our instincts, and commit to our choices. It has become the most powerful tool of today’s actor. It celebrates our truth.”

You have to walk into the audition room with confidence in your specific choices, yet able to change in any direction given to you. After you have gone through strenuous improv exercises in a class, a change in direction given to you at an audition or on set will be a piece of cake. When you get good at improv you will have an attractive, fearless “bring it on” attitude.


Donovan Scott
After studying at the American Conservatory theatre in San Francisco, Donovan became the artistic director of Comedia Del Arte’ Troup. He toured the east coast directing, writing, and performing. He has performed at the Old Globe in San Diego, has worked in films with Steven Spielberg on 1941, costarred in Popeye with Robert Altman, Starred in Savannah Smiles, Zorro the Gay Blade, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, Police Academy 1. He has also starred or guest starred in over 50 Television shows. He was nominated for a Silver Bear award in Germany for one of his TV series. He also teaches Improvisation to enhance audition comedy and dramatic performances for Terry Berland’s workshops, and was voted one of the top three Improvisation teachers in the Los Angeles area for three years in a row. See IMDB profile for complete information.

Beware the Spokesperson Read

Written for The Networker by Terry Berland

For every part you audition for, you have to make choices to give personality to the character. It is a known fact that you can’t be “neutral” and give a good audition.

There are all kinds of conundrums associated with what choice to make. “Am I being too big, too small, too this or too that?” Bottom line is you have to make an intelligent choice in the venue you are working on, based on all your education and training.

In commercials, there are many hints you can find in the copy regarding each character. In my Acting in Commercials workshops, I particularly teach how to apply backstories to your discoveries. Some information comes from the copy itself revealing the attitude of the character and relationships, some of which are obvious and some are not.

The big trap is the spokesperson copy.
Definition of spokesperson: a person who speaks for another or for a group. Many times the character is labeled a spokesperson, but they would not really want you to deliver this copy according to the definition of a spokesperson. Once you speak as a spokesperson, and speak for someone else or for a group, you will strip yourself of any possibility of a personality.

How do you make a choice regarding spokesperson copy?
The answer is, you have to know how this spot is branding the company. Here are some examples of products and typical branding.

Bank. They will want their image to be knowledgeable, trustworthy, friendly and approachable.
READ: That would mean you should have a personality that is real, knowledgeable, sincere, and genuine.

Car. You’re most likely smart, “with it,” and knowing, if you own this car.
READ: A particular person who is a winner, and knowing, who feels satisfied and comfortable with themselves.

Medication. They want someone who is well and healthy speaking about the medication, not someone who is sick.
READ: Healthy, positive, understanding, and compassionate. Definitely a inspiration to the person who is having the problem.

Cell phone company. Someone in the know.
READ: Be someone in the know, “with-it,” who makes smart choices.

So instead of choosing to be a presenter, even if the copy says “Spokesperson,” understand the end result of the branding of the spot and add the particular elements to the personality of your read.

If You Think You Have No Power Think Again

By Terry Berland – Written for The Networker

Power-Cloud

Since you are the seller, and not the buyer, you have to find a way to stay positive. You may think you are in a less desirable position than the buyer. Let’s turn the tables in your direction. Maybe you would feel more empowered if you really thought about the fact that the casting director, producer, or director who are doing the “buying” (finding the right actor) do not have a commercial, film, or whatever else they are casting until they find the right talent.

Some actors walk into a casting room jazzed, excited to be there, and ready to create. Their attitude is “Give me a few minutes and I’ll give you what I got.” They bounce out of the room happy and go on to whatever comes along next, while other people are nervous and self-sabotaging in the audition and after.

Let’s look at ways to turn your negative thoughts that sabotage you into thoughts that empower you.

Know The Specific Acting Technique

All the advice I’m giving you will be based on the fact that you have to know how to act. In addition, you have to know a specific acting technique for whatever venue you are acting in, be that commercial, voiceover, film, television, or theatre. You should be working out in an acting class on an on-going basis, striving to be the best actor you can be, bringing out the true, authentic, honest you.

Now we can look at how your thoughts can be more empowering.

Negative Thought: The casting director has power over me.
Powerful Thought: That casting director is nothing without good actors. I am part of the collaborative team in casting this commercial, voiceover, TV show, film, or theatre piece.

Let me remind you, you can make or break a casting director.

Negative Thought:  Am I making the right choice? I’m worried I made the wrong choice.
Powerful Thought: Yay, I am being given the chance to create. Neutral is not a choice. If I stay neutral, no personality comes out. It’s my choice. I am really part of this creative process.

Reassure yourself that there is no guaranteed right choice. Remind yourself, if there was one right choice, they would have given you that choice to act out.

Acting coaches are hired by celebrities to make choices and work with the actor on their choices for a particular piece. I can assure you, even those coaches hope they made the choice that’s going to result in their client being cast. They also are not sure if they made the right choice.

But what’s the alternative?

No choice – no chance. Giving them no choice gives you no chance to be considered.

Negative Thought: You walk into the call back room and the voice in your head has a lot to say, mainly second guessing what they want. Every choice you’ve made flies out of your head.
Powerful Thought: Use the “I have to make a choice” scenario. Remind yourself you are in the midst of a creative process. They don’t exactly know what they want. “They are counting on me.”

The Callback Nerves

Negative Thought: You walk into the callback room where there are lots of clients and think  “I’m nervous. Who are these people? Will they like me?”
Powerful Thought: These decision makers in the room are human beings who have jobs. They are each there for a particular purpose. One being, their opinion counts as to who will be booked. Some do not have as much say and are more responsible for working on locations or wardrobe or responsible for bringing everything in on budget. However, all are answering to their client’s needs to the best of their ability.

Other powerful thoughts to use if the people in the room make you nervous:
I am so glad I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, pushing papers.
I am so grateful I can be artistic and creative.
I am so grateful I have a survival job that enables me to audition.

Negative Thought: I’m worried that I won’t get the job.
Powerful Thought: One person gets the job for various reasons, some of which are nonsensical or at the very least have nothing to do with my acting ability. I know I gave a really good audition. Even if I don’t get this one, I know this casting director, producer, or director will keep me in mind for other things.

Here’s the one you hear all the time: don’t take it personally. As long as you know your acting is top notch, you are constantly working out and under the guidance of a good acting teacher in whatever venue, I can assure you the rest is a process that is part of the crazy job of acting.

The suggestions in this blog will be more effective if you add power thoughts of your own to each situation.