Saturday, February 24, 2007

ON ACTING: The Value of Improvisation

The benefits of improvisation as an acting teaching tool are manifold; and most benefits accrue because there are few limiting constrictions when applying improvisation-as-an-acting-exercise.
Freedom is the name of the improvisation game.

The essential structure of an improvisation exercise is simple: a central scenario is set up (for example: "...two actors are trying to decide to go to a movie. The male actor wants an action-adventure movie; the female actor wants an historical drama.") The actors are instructed to convince the other actor to their point of view. In some improvisational exercises, aspects of character are sometimes included: for example: "occupationally, he is a hairdresser, she is a school teacher." Or: "Emotionally, he is angry and aggressive; she is rational and passive aggressive"...etc.

However, I have found that the less complex and less detailed the constraints of the improvisational structure (other than the basic conflict), the more the participants will be forced to use themselves (their essential emotional nature) in improvising toward their respective goals; and that narrow focus will be of central value in the freeing of actors to personally create: since their tactics utilized in the improvised conflict are reduced to self (primarily one's emotional self).

There are of course other benefits that accrue from improvisation beyond the stimulation of the participant's emotions, however.

In improvisational exercises a strong sense of acting reality is developed in the actor; the improvisational experience creates an awareness of 'unanticipated' life...a moment-by-moment unscripted progress toward goal; so when the actor is later given lines (in a formally written scene), s/he will have already ingrained in his/her muscle memory (by the experience of her improvisational work) a strongly developed sense of spontaneous drama, and therefore will be less artificial and 'planned' in the acting work when s/he is confronted by the "given" constraints of dialogue.

Improvisational experience also gives the actor the pleasure of conflictual freedom (perhaps that's why they call a play a play: because it is playful). Improvisation seduces the actor to enjoy acting, reacting and thinking on one's feet (and by 'thinking' I do not mean cognitive awareness of one's thought processes, but an exercising and strengthening of the basic sub-cognitive--spontaneous--mental muscle). Furthermore, improvisation helps the actor develop a fundamental confidence in self, and a realization that 'one-can-survive' conflict even when thrown into the cauldron of an unknown and totally-unprepared-for event

Finally, improvisation often helps free the actor from his/her physical constraints; because the actor in improvisation does not know what is coming next, and therefore is forced to be intent on the other person; and that forced experiencing of 'other'-consciousness renders the actor less susceptible to self-consciousness, which I have found to be the primary factor in creating physical/movement 'up-tightness'.


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