Improvisational Theatre

Improvisational theatre uses audience suggestions to shape the action that unfolds on stage. Unlike conventional scripted theatre, there is an element of spontaneity and unpredictability that makes improv a unique and exciting experience for the performers as well as the audience. Every performance is completely different, and there's an element of risk involved since there's no guarantee that any given scene will "work".

The Basic Idea

There are lots of different styles of improvisation, but the one that's currently the most popular is "spot" improv. "Spot" improv involves taking audience suggestions and using them immediately ("on the spot") to create scenes. The scenes usually wind up being very funny, but that's not a requirement. Good scenes can be serious and touching instead of (or in addition to) being comedic.

Show structures

There are several different ways to structure an improv show. Most groups simply present a series of improvised scenes, possibly tied together by a common theme.

Another approach (pioneered by Theatresports and subsequently adopted by Comedy Sportz and numerous other groups) is to set up a competition between two or more teams of improvisors. In some cases, the scenes are awared numeric scores by one or more judges.

Key Elements

Perhaps the single most important thing that improvisors learn is the value of agreement. Since nothing exists until the actors create it, a scene will only be "real" (for both the performers and the audience) if everyone agrees with each other about things like where they are, who they are, and what's going on.

The performers must also accept each others' ideas, and build on them -- that's the fundamental process of improvisation.

This is a living document

There's a lot more to be said about improv, but my time is limited. If you have specific suggestions about what you'd like to see here, get in touch with me, Bernie Roehl by sending me email at broehl@improvcomedy.org.