Improv Acting For Kids & Teens
Life is improvised. We don’t know what we’re going to say next. We must listen and react. And since great acting is all about recreating real life, listening and reacting are key. Enter the honored skill of improv. “The first principle of improv is listening.”
What is improv? Simply put, it is acting without scripted lines The actor’s job is to build an entire scene, line by line, out of just a kernel of an idea. A solid base in improv is an invaluable tool for actors, especially young actors. It teaches them to trust their instincts, which builds a sense of confidence—a mandatory asset en route to becoming a working actor.
Understanding improv gives an actor the freedom to bring brilliant and unique choices to scripted scene-work. Improv keeps the scene fresh every time by freeing you up to make new choices in every moment.
Take, for example, a scene with a boy and his father. One time, the son might be so frustrated that he leaves, slams the door and then comes back to say his next line. Another time, he may get right up in his space and whisper the line through gritted teeth. Or perhaps he becomes so enraged that he spits in his father’s face.
As the rumor goes, that’s what Leonardo DiCaprio did to Robert De Niro in an audition for the movie This Boy’s Life. During a screen-test for the film, DiCaprio, in a pure moment of improv, leaned forward and hocked a loogie into Mr. De Niro’s face.
Although I don’t recommend this technique in the casting office, I will say, a well-placed, honestly improvised moment like this can be magical to witness. It certainly changed the life of eleven year-old Leo DiCaprio. But more importantly, it told the director that this kid gets it. He knows how to follow his instincts. He’s got guts and he can bring a realism to this script that’s not on the page. Improvisation did that.
As an improv teacher at Gary Spatz’s The Playground, I’m always encouraging kids to stop thinking and start reacting. Often young actors will come to the stage memorized and prepared to say their five lines in order.
Sometimes the other actor in a scene will skip a line, but a novice actor will often times say their next line, despite the fact that it makes no sense in response to the line that was just said. Improv forces you to listen and frees you up to be flexible in the moment. A solid understanding of improv can make a good scene great, make an ordinary scene sing with realism and can turn a fine performance into an award winning moment.