Recently, I heard from an old student of mine, now a graduate studies faculty member at Harvard University, who said, “I learned a lot from your improv classes, and I find myself using those skills all the time when I teach.” The mastering of improvisational skills tends to be wildly underrated. When parents have the option between choosing acting classes for young performers, improvisation usually falls to the bottom of the list, yet its application reaches far beyond the world of acting. Improv training provides a competitive edge that leads to success in many important areas of life.
Children need to play. Fueling the imagination and exploring creativity is what it’s all about. Once a child starts to “act,” they are doomed. Working without the script, learning to work spontaneously, listening to their instincts, and getting in tune with others will promote creative growth for a young performer. Students who study improvisation with me find themselves hooked on the practice. They learn to conquer their fears, work collaboratively, laugh, and most importantly, have fun.
Improv builds a strong foundation. Acting classes for young performers focus on building a foundation for understanding the craft. Actors learn to dissect and understand the scripts and their characters, listen to their partners, and make important choices that are in line with character objectives. Improvisation is an excellent way to apply these skills and expand through practice. The device used most often in improvisation is “Yes, and…” It means that you say yes to anything thrown at you by your partner in a scene, then start your own contribution with “and...” It is not simply enough to say yes to what your partner is doing in a scene, you must say, “Yes your hair looks great today Jessica, and I hear you were voted homecoming queen!” It’s important to add information for the scene to keep moving forward. Only then can an improviser discover more and more wonderful things! Learning to listen and respond appropriately are important skills to master in life. Doing so creatively brings joy and passion to what may otherwise be a structured and restrictive daily routine.
Let your child live in the moment. Improvisation is just as valuable for a seasoned child performer as it is for someone just starting out. There is always room for your child to expand his actor’s toolbox. Improvisation is about trusting your instincts to respond honestly in situations. It requires a great deal of listening and living in the moment. Acting is not intellectual; it’s about working from your heart. As we grow older, we tend to live in our day planners and seem to drift away from the present. Let your child harness the gift they still have. It will teach them to not only live in the moment during an improvisational class, but also in their work on set and on stage, and most importantly, in life.
It’s great audition prep. Actors need to be versatile and ready for anything thrown their way. It’s important to know if a child can take direction and be adaptable to any change that may occur with a script or while on set. Your child might be given a new script during the audition or asked to read for a different role. If your child wants to succeed in her cold-read, she has to be able to trust her instincts with the material and live in the moment with confidence. Your son might be at a commercial audition and the casting director might ask him to talk to a can of soup as if it’s his best friend. While many actors might choke under the pressure, your child has improv experience where he’s done far sillier things. He will be able to say yes to that request and make the audition memorable to a casting director. “Yes, and…” does not just hold true in an improv scene, you child needs to say, “Yes, and…” to herself and her abilities.