Tag Archives: improvisation

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.

Be Brave On Stage

Embracing Surprises Will Make You A Better Actor.
Have You Earned Your Badge of Courage?

Written by Terry Berland for the Networker

You can certainly apply the old adage, “The only constant is change,” to your everyday acting career. Change can cause surprise, upset, and agitation, or it can stimulate you and give you good “war stories.”

If you are more comfortable with predictability, then acting is probably not for you. You can’t take a class, course, or workshop in how to deal with surprise. Recently, I was giving direction to a bunch of actors who were waiting to go into my casting call back session. Since the direction had changed from when the job first started, I gave my apologies. The seasoned actors I was speaking to had a good laugh and they said, “we love surprises.” It brought up an interesting conversation about actors loving the element of surprise.

These seasoned actors, well into their sixties, found the element of surprise a positive and not a negative. With glee, they were telling me many stories of surprises. They wore these stories as badges of courage. If you like surprises it will certainly make your acting life easier.

IT’S A GAME, PLAY IT

One actor, Vaughn Green, said “Roll with the surprise. It’s grown-ups playing kid’s games.” Take a look and notice if acting is a heavy experience and not fun, and if it fills you with angst or if the unpredictability is exciting.

KEEP YOUR ADRENALINE ROLLING

Dennis Leski said surprises keep the adrenalin rolling. He worked for many years before as an attorney, which also stimulated the adrenalin. Learn to use the adrenalin. Look forward to the serge of adrenaline.

EXPECT SOMETHING TO GO NOT AS PLANNED AS PART OF THE DEAL

Rather than thinking of something going wrong, think of it as not going as planned. It’s life-improv. Take what comes at you and keep the ball rolling until you get the situation back on track.
Vaughn was in his first play years ago where he was holding a stack of pages and all the pages went flying all over the stage.

Peter Trencher was in a play where every night the director changed the script and the blocking, and he found himself blocking to the script of the previous night. Actors tell me about how entire scenes in a play have revolved around a prop, and when they went for the prop, it was missing.

CHANGES OCCUR CONSTANTLY OUT OF CASTING OFFICES

On any given day, our casting office may get change in times, days, characters, and direction. We take the changes in stride and so should you.

EARN YOUR BADGE OF COURAGE

Take a look at many changes that have happened to you and access if you hate these changes or have you embraced them as part of the acting business? I invite you to let me know of surprises that gave you your badge of courage.

Ad-Libbing in Commercial Auditions

Written for The Networker by Terry Berland

I’m not sure if actors really know of the “treading on thin ice” conditions casting used to have to work under to stay within the union’s improvising rules, in order to avoid fines every time we needed comedic actors to show a degree of creativity.

HOW CASTING DIRECTORS ASKED FOR AD LIBBING IN THE PAST

The Union contracts had always forbid casting to ask actors to improvise in auditions. Improvisation was considered a creative contribution to the spot, which it was thought should come with additional compensation. Unfortunately, this limited the actor from giving a full comedic performance and casting from finding truly unique individuals. To comply with this rule, casting directors and actors were forced to eliminate a certain degree of creativity by avoiding asking actors to improvise around scripted commercials. Casting would have to use certain language (wink, wink) that became a well known invitation to improvise, without actually using the word “improv.” On occasion, casting directors were reported to the union, which resulted in clients and casting being fined for entering the forbidden area of creativity set by the union.

New SAG-AFTRA Contract

New contract allows ad-libbing to occur at commercial auditions and sessions

SAG-AFTRA NEW CONTRACT HAS CHANGED AUDITION RULES REGARDING AD LIBBING

With styles changing through the years to be more real, looser, and less tightly stylized, the creativity needed in comedy spots and performances became harder and harder to finesse around the archaic contractual improvisation rules. The union has acknowledged that fact and the new contract does allow ad-libbing at commercial auditions and sessions. Payment is, however, still required for a creative session call – for devising dialogue or action not suggested by a script, storyboard, or by specific direction.

MORE CREATIVE AUDITIONS FOR COMEDIC ACTORS

We are thrilled to be able to be more creative with you in regard to comedic performance and give you the chance to comically show your stuff. After all, the creative team already has the dialogue that is amusing, now they need to find a comedic personality. Comedic personalities live in distinctive expressions and ways of saying things that is unique to each individual. That means adding some of the talent’s own words, changing rhythms, making side comments and/or riffing.

We are looking forward to more creatively working with talent. Free at last.