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Improvisational theatre

Improvisational theatre (also known as improv or impro) is a form of theatre in which the actors perform without a script. There are several types of improvisation, including:

  • Short form improvisation, which consists of short, unrelated scenes
  • Long form improvisation, in which the scenes are interrelated in such a way as to form a long narrative
  • Improv games, in which the performers attempt to create a comprehensible scene while conforming to certain specified and possibly restrictive rules.

In all forms of improvisation, the actors invent the dialogue and action as they perform. Because of the unpredictable nature of such a performance and the unexpected events that occur, improvisation lends itself naturally to comedy, and the specific term "improv" usually refers to a form of high-energy comic entertainment. It is also possible for improvised scenes to be emotionally dramatic, or experimental and non-narrative.

Improvisation is also one of the primary tools used in actor training. It has also been used by many companies and artists as a means of generating text and content for later performance. This is sometimes referred to as "organic" theatre, and is especially favored by creators of political theatre[?], experimental theatre[?], and practitioners of drama therapy[?].

There have been literally thousands of improvisational excercises, games, techniques, and formats developed for use in the theatre, with more being discovered all the time. Many are games invented for recreation which have been adapted for performance or training. Specific games are often designed to develop or showcase particular skills, such as physical expressiveness, creation of characters, responsiveness, relaxation, openness to suggestion, trust, or comic wit.

Improv process

In order for an improvised scene to be successful, the actors involved must work together responsively to define the parameters and action of the narrative. With each spoken word or action in the scene, an actor may make an offer, which means that he or she defines some element of reality: this might include giving another character a name, identifying a relationship, location, or using physical gestures to define an invisible space object. These activities are also known as endowment. It is the responsibility of the other actors to accept the offers that their fellow performers make; to not do so is known as blocking, which usually prevents the scene from developing. Some performers may deliberately block (or otherwise break out of character) for comedic effect (this is known as gagging), but this generally prevents the scene from advancing and is often frowned upon by improvisers. Accepting an offer can also be accompanied by adding a new offer, often building on the earlier one; this is a process which improvisational actors refer to as "Yes, And..." and it is considered the cornerstone of improvisational techinque.

Improv performance also allows an active relationship with the audience, and frequently improv groups will solicit suggestions from the audience, as a source of inspiration, and way of getting the audience excited and involved, and as a means of proving that the performance is not scripted.

The unscripted nature of improv also implies no predetermined knowledge about the props[?] that might be useful in a scene. Improv companies may have at their disposal some number of readily accessible props that can be called upon at a moment's notice, but usually improv performers will use miming[?] techniques to create space objects, or imaginary props. Space objects can be created by shaping the hands, such as by pretending to hold an object such as a telephone or handgun. As with all other types of improv offers, actors are encouraged to respect the validity and continuity of space objects defined by themselves and by other performers; this means, for example, taking care not to walk through previously referenced walls or tables.

Because improv actors may be required to play a variety of roles without preparation, they need to be able to construct characters quickly with physical representation, gestures[?], accents, voice changes, or other techniques as demanded by the situation. The actor may be called upon to play a character of a different age or sex. Character motivations are an important part of successful improv scenes, and improv actors must therefore attempt to act according to the objectives that they believe their character seeks.

Many improvisational actors also work as scripted actors, and "improv" techniques are often taught in standard acting classes. Improvisation is often used in acting traing and the basic skills of listening, being clear, confidence, and performing without thinking are considered important skills for actors to develop.

Many theatre troupes[?] are devoted specifically to staging improvisational performances. One of the most prominent is the international organization Theatresports[?], which was founded by Keith Johnstone[?], an English director who now lives in Calgary, Alberta. Johnstone wrote what many consider to be the seminal work on improvisational acting, Impro.

Other important figures in the development of improvisational theatre were Viola Spolin[?] and her son Paul Sills[?], founder of Chicago's famed Second City troupe and inventor of Story Theater[?].

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