Improv Acting: Less Talking, More Listening
Silence can feel daunting and often times the novice actor’s instinct is to fill the empty space with random rambling. But improv is a team effort. I’m going to say that again. Improv is a TEAM effort. Unlike boating, the scene cannot be steered by one person. No matter how award-winning your idea seems, it will never work if you’re working alone.
How is this over-talking problem solved? The answer is simpler than you think: listen. Just simply listening will grow the scene much faster. Now, instead of two or three people coming up with ideas and yelling them out at the same time so the result is chaos, you have listeners. And listeners can grow a fellow actor’s idea and move the scene forward much faster than over-talking.
Often times, with novice actors, you will see a great idea laid out and since no one on stage was listening, it falls by the wayside. Or worse, that actor will push his idea forward. Now we have a pile of actors on stage all moving in different directions.
Think of improv as moving a couch down a set of stairs. For this to be successful both actors have to be lifting the same couch at the same time, not dragging it in two different directions.
As an acting teacher at Gary Spatz’s The Playground, I play an improv game with the kids and teens that really help to hone this skill. We tell a story as a group one sentence at a time. You put in your idea and the next person takes over and continues that idea. You can’t steer the entire story no matter how hard you try. Your job is to share a piece of information and let your fellow actors take that idea and move it forward. In this game, as in all improv acting, listening is key.
You must be present and paying attention because you never know when the teacher will point to you and it will be your turn to add another sentence to the idea that was just put forward. So, happy acting, happy improv-ing and always…happy listening.