Improv: why you must practice

“If it’s improv, why do you need to rehearse?”


I must admit, the first time I was asked this question, (and it has been more than once…), I didn’t have a succinct answer. I probably fumbled some vague explanation, unable to speak off the cuff. Ironic? Yes, and… then some.


After being asked this question, again, at a later date, explaining why I would not be available for some now long forgotten event, due to yet another improv rehearsal, I was slightly better prepared.


“It’s so we can practice some new games for the show.”


There has always been this skepticism that some people have about improvisation, that it is not “made up on the spot” at all. I have known many actors, who are comforted by memorizing written text, meticulously prepared weeks in advance, who look down on improv. They say it’s all tricks, scenic sleight of hand not worthy of their talents. Their inability to walk that particular tightrope of “living in the moment” must mean that there is no way that a skilled, highly trained improviser could possibly compose a song, build a scene, inhabit a character and, ultimately, discover a truth all “off the top of their head”...


And, in truth, they don’t.


Improvisation, really great Improv, is cultivated through preparation and discipline. It is created in an environment of trust.


Fearlessness, yes. Confidence, yes. Eye contact, yes, Nonverbal Communication, yes. And, all of these are nurtured in a feeling of trust. Being able to trust one’s own talent is vital. Being able to trust your scene partner, who will have your back and quite possibly die on the same hill of a misbegotten scene with you, is also vital. Being able to trust that one’s own ideas, as wild or weird as they might be, will be greeted by enthusiasm and opportunity, is essential.


I’ve often said, when asked about why one should avoid questions in improvisation, that “When we ask a question in a scene, we are asking permission for our own ideas.”  When we have trust, we don’t have to ask the question, because we already know the answer will always be yes.


Where else in life do we feel that that confidence, that trust, unencumbered by doubt and dread and fear? Where else do we get to act silly and vulnerable, unapologetic and brave, sometimes in the same moment?


Precious few places.


And, so, my answer all those times, should have been that I didn’t need to go to rehearsal to learn improv, but instead, to unlearn everything else.


Michael makes his debut at The Space for ComedySportz Las Vegas this Sunday at 1p. You really don't want to miss it...he's been practicing for so long.

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