Improv Basics from Mary

Mary CMary Carpenter is the producer and director of Just Wingin’ It, Act II’s week of improv comedy this summer. She wrote this post to explain the basics of improv to anyone unfamiliar.

So what is improv?

In its purest form improvisation is a collaboration between performers and audiences to discover and create a unique one-of-a-kind performance that exists for that moment in time alone. It all begins with the audience’s suggestion, which becomes a stepping-stone to build characters that inhabit scenes which compose stories that explore absurdities and truths which are often funny and always surprising.

It started many years ago when Viola Spolin created games to use in the classroom to unlock students’ inhibitions and free creativity. Her son Paul Sills took his mother’s games and a few friends from the University of Chicago and experimented with turning a classroom activity into a vibrant new spontaneous performance genre. It was the late 1950’s early 1960’s and the world was ready for something new. Sills and friends became the Compass Players, which evolved into The Second City, which gave birth to Saturday Night Live and countless other improv companies across the globe.

There are two basic forms of improv Short-Form and Long-Form. You will get a taste of both during Just Wingin’ It.

Short-Form is game-based improv: short scenes and games that last 2-5 minutes and are usually characterized by an extra challenge or gimmick. This form was practiced on the popular TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Long-form is a series of longer story-based scenes that focus on characters, relationships and patterns inspired by a single suggestion. Scenes may often seem unrelated to one another, yet the threads of ideas in the air are woven together by the performers’ conscious and subconscious often finding an ultimate connection by the ending scene.

No matter what the form, the experience is always exciting and unpredictable as the improvisers literally make everything up on the spot and the possibilities are limitless.

Notable Improv Alumni:
Mike Nichols
Elaine May
Alan Arkin
Tina Fey
Will Ferrell
Amy Poehler
Steve Carell
Stephen Colbert
…and many more.

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