A round table discussion about improv with the cast of “Unrehearsed”

(The conversation in its entirety – uncut and unedited – appears above.)

Following the first rehearsal of this year’s “Unrehearsed” show (see my post on last year’s show here), the cast (pictured below) and I sat around to talk about improv. The idea wasn’t mine, actually. One of the cast member’s, Mike, had suggested that we do this simply because he loves performing and loves talking about it. So I decided to bring in the rest of the cast. They are a great bunch of passionate actors and are full of insight.

The cast. From left: Potoula Anagnostakos, John Ortiz, James Weippert, Michael Pagano, Matt Waldman.

A little background info: this show is for a great charity called the Sarah Grace Foundation for Children with Cancer. This is the second time that we’re doing an improv show for the foundation, and the third overall theatrical fundraiser. We are all friends of the organization and happily dedicate our time. You can find more info about the organization, and the show, here: thesarahgracefoundation.org

Aside from the main reason why we’re doing it, creating and participating in a show like this is a tremendous amount of fun. And if done well, is a real treat for the audience.

Please listen to the entire conversation for the full effect. It’s only 16 minutes long and will be exponentially more interesting than the few highlights I’m about to type.
On that note, here they are:
  •  The actors focused mainly on communication, in one form or another. All theater requires a tremendous amount of communication, but, as they point out, improv requires a focus not needed in other forms of theater. Since the actors don’t know what’s going to happen, it is all based on listening, observing, and responding. And it’s tough. Which brings me to my next point.
  • Chemistry. One of the first things that they mention is chemistry, and it’s a point they make over and over again. These performers have been together for years, and they know how to play with each other and respond to each other. This takes practice. They know how to play to each other’s strengths. They also know how to work with each other to move the scene forward, hit a climax, and trust that the scene will end when it’s supposed to. The person responsible for making sure the scene doesn’t spin out of control into a laugh-less oblivion is:
  • The host. The person who holds it together: chooses the scenario, the performers, and relays all of the necessary information to the audience. He needs to be just as in tune with the actors as they are with each other.
  • There are many “rules” and “guidelines” to keep in mind when doing improv, and you can find many of them in my previous post (linked above), but from just spending 16 minutes talking to these people that I’ve been working with constantly for several years, it really began to dawn on me that the best way to become better at improv is to do improv. And do it with people that you know will make you better, because they’re relying on you for the same thing.
  • Poop is always funny.

Enjoy the conversation.

Improv skills for better public speaking

Update: Please check out my Improv for Business partner’s blog entry on a more recent workshop that we gave: http://www.thehopkinsonreport.com/2012/10/thr-208-using-improv-to-improve-your-business-overcome-stage-fright-and-live-in-the-moment/. It’s much more thorough than mine – 2/21/13

I’m co-teaching an Improv for Public Speaking next Wednesday in NYC. From the course description: The objective of this class is to use the rules, skills, and games of improvisational theater to become a more polished public speaker and business professional. Try out the Improv experience without committing to a full-time course, have fun, build business skills, and meet new people.

Read the whole description and sign up here: http://skl.sh/MSZtXt

What you will learn in this class:

  •     How to be funnier and more engaging when public speaking
  •     Fun techniques for general social interaction and humor
  •     Ways to respond “on the fly” during a speech or a panel when put on the spot
  •     Better ways to communicate in meetings or with clients
  •     How to address stage fright and fear of speaking
  •     Public speaking tips and tricks
  •     Dealing with tough speaking situations… hecklers, smart-asses, people talking

Improv techniques you will learn

  • The rules of Improv
  • Telling your story
  • Connecting with the audience
  • Use of language and humor
  • Body language, non-verbal communication, and presence
  • Voice projection, control, and range
  • Fun games to put you in the moment

Speaking and presentation techniques you will learn

  • Finding your voice
  • Designing effective slides
  • Stage presence and eye contact
  • Speaker tech (laptops, remotes, audio, cables)
  • Effective use of photos & video (incl photos that always create empathy and humor)
  • Using slides to “break context” for humor
  • Pre-presentation checklist

By the end of the class, you will

  •     Feel more confident in front of a crowd
  •     Be more aware of body and voice, and how to use each to communicate effectively
  •     Have a set of exercises to use to relax and warm up the voice
  •     Be able to think quickly and adapt to a constantly changing situation
  •     Be a hit at every party because you can bust out sweet improv games

Why am I doing this?

Simple reason, really (aside from the obvious one). Through theater skills you learn real life skills. Because of theater, I came out of my shell, developed confidence (maybe a little too much at times – but I was 14, so gimme a break), and developed a love for a new art form. Through theater you improve your public speaking, thinking, and overall communication skills. You learn how to get in touch with your emotions and understand the emotions of others. You learn to react appropriately and quickly. And it’s fun. So just do it for that.