What Is Improv, Short Form & Long Form (Video)
Improv is everywhere! Television, film, commercials, on stage, online and especially auditions! So, what is Improv, anyway? Why is it so important? And what’s improv got to do with child actors, teen actors, or actors in general? Actors, take a look:
Improv, or improvisation, is a dramatic (and often comedic!) performance form without a specific script. Characters, plot and dialogue are made-up in the moment, and some of them may be prompted. Because improv is spontaneous and full of surprises by design, it often lends itself to comedy.
You may have seen improv on television, like the popular “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” on ABC. There are also comedic feature films that were largely improvised like Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, and This Is Spinal Tap.
Improv is a great tool by which actors can “discover” through interaction. Improv provides a frame on which actors can explore and develop their skills as well as their approach to different characters and their relationships with others with settings or objects.
Improv begins with “yes, and.” Improv only works if the participants build off of each others’ ideas, so it’s imperative that improvisors AGREE to the imagined elements of their moment or scene. If one improvisor says, “It’s so hot here!” and the second says, “no, it isn’t,” the scene halts and the audience has nothing to imagine or think about. So the first rule of improv is to AGREE because agreement establishes and builds a scene.
The AND part means to add to the agreed meaning of the scene by offering imagined elements of your own. If the first performer says, “It’s so hot here!” the second might say, “Well, hot lava surfing isn’t for everyone!” In two short lines, they’ve improvised an agreed upon environment, an activity, and the beginnings of their relationship. That’s only possible because both improvisors are saying “yes!” to each others’ ideas and adding their own ideas to build more meaning.
Yes, and–! SHORT FORM
Simply put, short form improv is short. Short form improv is what most people may think of when they hear the term “improv.” Short form operates on isolated suggestions or prompts, much like a game. Indeed, there are many acting games as well as mass-market improv games that people may play at home. Much of the energy and comedy in short form is found in the speed, spontaneity, risks and added “jokes” performers bring into the game. Audiences are often encouraged to participate in short form improv by providing spontaneous prompts, names, settings, and pop culture references “Whose Line Is It Anyway” is a great example of “short form” improv.
Improv is often included in acting classes for children, teens and adults, even if only as a part of helping actors warm up. Some improv games are particularly good for younger performers because there is no or almost no reading or memorizing involved. However, improv relies on listening and reacting, and is a high energy, light-hearted exercise.
Long form improvisation is more story-based than short form and is made of several scenes tied together with each scene informing the next. You’ll find the shortest version of long form improv sprinkled in commercials, television shows and feature films. That’s when actors, informed by the preceding scenes and script, create moments or whole scenes on the spot. When Indiana Jones shoots the swordsman in the marketplace, that’s an improvised moment. Actor Harrison Ford made a strong character choice based on the narrative up to that point. Director Steven Spielberg agreed. The extended fight scene was dropped in favor of what would become one of the most memorable improvised movie moments of the last century.
You’re not likely to find much long form improv in acting schools in Los Angeles or anywhere else. To perform long form improv well, actors have typically spent significant time and energy in developing their skills individually and with others. Spontaneously carrying a narrative is a significant undertaking, which is why there are so many more TV shows and movies that may sprinkle in some improv but generally rely on scripts. You’ll find most long form improv performed in live in theater or club settings, although there have been entire feature films constructed around long form improv. The Blair Witch Project, This Is Spinal Tap, and several Christopher Guest films were shot without a traditional script. Instead, the filmmakers and actors started with scenarios and semi-defined characters, then the rest was created in nearly real time for camera. What film audiences saw was constructed in editing the best of that long form improv into a cohesive movie.
The success of long form improv comes from the connections, layers of meaning and development of character actors make. Because improv is a spontaneous performance, the moments it creates, whether funny or serious, carry significant emotional weight as they often stem from a very real moment within or between the performers.
IN THE MOMENT
Long or short, improv as a performance for actors is very much like live jamming or jazz for musicians. Improv is challenging and fun for all, but the best stuff comes from actors attuned to their instruments—themselves and their skills. Improv is an opportunity for actors to marry their creativity and experience, their most basic as well as their greatest acting skills and tools. Improv is an opportunity to stretch and grow as an actor as well as a chance to create and uncover golden moments of comedy and drama.
The uniqueness of live improv is that the performance exists of and in the moment, never to be replicated exactly, even with the same audience, actors and prompts. Improv is different every time. And that’s the point.
Hi, I am B.J.Lange. I am an instructor at 3-2-1 Acting Studios in Los Angeles. Today, we’re going to talk about improvisation. What is “Improv?” Improv is being real and believable without a script. Basically,
some people think we’re making things up. But believe it or not, we are following a form and a structure that has been established between improvisors for decades, saying “Yes” and in agreeing with each other. So the first thing you should know about Improv is Short Form
and Long form Improv. There’s two different types of Improv that are out there. Short Form Improv is something like, “Whose line is it anyway?” Maybe you’ve seen that show. Or Long Form Improv is improvising without going back to the audience and being inspired by the previous
scene. An example would be something like, ASSSSCAT or Upright Citizens Brigade, a show like that. And that’s Long Form Improv. There is always a way for you to go out and find people that do theater sports or
comedy sports or Improv and learn it, because in the commercial market we use improvisation. Especially when you audition, you need to use improvisation because they might not have the
prop in front of you. So you’ll have to improvise holding something and get good object work. Or they might have you improvise with someone in a situation to establish a relationship. But you need to be right in the middle of it. So Improv is so important. It’s more than just making things up.
It’s more than just getting out there and saying something. You need to understand the language of agreement so go find an Improv team. If you are in elementary school, start an Improv club. If you’re in high school, you probably have something there
with your I.T.S. coach, your International Thespian Society which is nationwide here in America and worldwide. So look into that and see what you can do to be a better improviser and help out your acting career.