AFYP In the Know: Improv

Improv, a term that can often come up in AFYP, is short for "improvisation".  To improvise means to create and perform spontaneously or without preparation.  Simply: improv is acting without a script.    Since dialogue, action, character, and setting are made up on the spot, improv is one of the most creative and collaborative parts of theater.  Actors improvising a scene need to rely on one another to build up a story.  Here at AFYP, we say the first rule of improv is “Yes, and...”  “Yes”—I agree and “and”—build upon the scene by contributing something new.  Improvisation is an important part of most theater games and can also studied more thoroughly. 

The earliest documented use of improv is in Ancient Rome circa 391 B.C.E.  Improvisation continued to be extremely important through the 18th century, especially with Commedia dell’arte performers.  Modern improv games are based on children’s drama exercises that were introduced in the early 1900s.  Viola Spolin’s teaching solidified improv during the 1940s-1960s.  She set out specific techniques for learning improv that led to a rise in popularity.  Improv can be competitive: TheaterSports has different teams competing against each other for a panel of judges and an audience. 

Improv is the basis of the show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and also has a heavy influence on shows like Saturday Night Live.  Many of today’s comedians have had serious improv training (Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Mike Myers, and John Belushi, to name a few).  Much of its history bases improv in Chicago, where it remains extremely popular.   

Improv scenes, classes, and competitions usually focus on comedy; though serious improv can be found in experimental and Avant-Guarde theater as well.  Within AFYP, we tend to focus on comedy and short-form improv.  Shortform is improvising short scenes within the predetermined structure of games or exercises.    Improvisation is a valuable skill in theater as well as in life!  In theater, minor improv or ad-libbing can rescue a scene when an actor forgets a line or something unplanned occurs.  In life, improv’s focus of creative, quick thinking and listening to your partner(s) is extremely helpful.  The positive focus of “saying yes” also provides a good mentality for approaching the unknown.

In our afterschool programs, we offer eight-week classes that focus entirely on improv.  Students in these classes will present a shortform improv presentation for their families, showing a collection of exercises that showcase all the students have learned.  We also offer Improv as an elective in summer camp.  Many of our warm-ups and games used in all of AFYP’s programming begin from an improv focus.  We also a few spots left in our brand new IMPROV 101 Workshop on April 22!  Spend the whole day with us to learn all about improv!  Register soon, there is only a few spots left!