Acting is like any other craft: new techniques keep it fresh and show that you are aware of what's trending. While improvisation has always been around, it has become more popular as of recent. With shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and movies like Bridesmaids being produced and commercial auditions looking for improvisers, having improvising skills in your back pocket can only help you.
Getting comfortable with improvising is essential. It’s a helpful tool for exploring a character’s world and learning to trust your instincts. There are several schools at which to take classes in order to familiarize yourself with the concept. These include but are not limited to The Upright Citizens Brigade, The Magnet Theatre, The People’s Improv Theatre, and The Groundlings. These classes teach the basics of improv and allow you to advance to other varieties of improvising if you would like to perform professionally.
Auditioning with improv is not the same as the improv that you would perform in class. The simple answer for this is because there is at least a skeleton of a script for an audition. Be aware of what is important in the actual script before unleashing your own take on the dialogue. For commercials, this is often the product name, tag line and any other descriptive information. Also, be sure to not elongate the commercial time; a 30 second commercial needs to remain 30 seconds. For a film or theatre audition, a character’s desire in the scene as well as the location and relationship need to be solidly in place so that the arc can play out correctly. In either case, always be aware of the writer’s intent.
Improvising is not just for comedy either. Just before filming began, the director of Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance, decided to effectively throw out the script. He asked Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling to improvise the entire film. Having had read the script and studied the characters, Williams and Gosling were able to remain committed to the characters and gave some amazing performances in the film.
Investment in your characters and relationships is the key to acting out any scene, scripted or improvised. Your reactions will be executed through the character’s lens and rooted in reality. Being comfortable with improvising will make you more desirable to casting directors and agents as well as directors.