At some point in their acting experience, every actor has run into the same problem – forgetting their lines. Whether they’ve been in the business for their entire life, or they’re performing in their very first play, every actor reaches the point where they just can’t remember what they were supposed to say. Sometimes it comes back to them right away, and sometimes it doesn’t; however, actors are trained on what to do in the unexpected latter situation. In the event where an actor would forget their lines or something unplanned would occur, a trained actor knows just what to do – improvise.
Improv, or improvisation, is a crucial part of becoming a skilled, well-trained actor. Every actor has to know what to do in the case that they forget what they have to say, or if someone else does. No one wants to just stand on stage, looking like a deer in the headlights, making it very clear to the audience that they have absolutely no clue what to do next. In order to prevent embarrassment, actors are taught to learn how to improvise.
Often, improvised lines or situations can even end up being a great addition to the show. In some cases, improv is even what certain actors prefer. Special troupes and clubs off acting classes and other opportunities that are rarely scripted, leaving the actors to create entire performances focused mainly on improv. These groups can lead to careers based in improv, such as roles in popular sketch comedy shows like Saturday Night Live.
It was actually during a situation of accidental improv that famous comedian Amy Poehler first realized she wanted to be an actress. During an elementary school production of The Wizard of Oz, in which Amy Poehler was playing Dorothy, she forgot her line and had to improvise. The laughs and reactions she got were what first inspired her to start acting.
I, Gabby, have a similar experience, although I am highly uncomparable to Emmy-winning actress Amy Poehler. I was in my very first performance in the 5th grade, a play called Knights of the Rad Table that was a parody of the time of King Arthur and the Renaissance. I played, if I can remember correctly, a ghost and Damsel #2. During a rehearsal, in which I was playing the damsel role, I messed up and accidentally pointed the wrong direction as I yelled, “Let’s go this way!” The group I had been directing this instruction to promptly went the other way, as they had been instructed to, while I wandered off in the opposite direction. Our director thought it was so funny that she kept it that way, and my wrong, albeit funny, mistake was included in the actual performance.
Here at Hedgerow Theatre School, we believe that improv plays an essential part in building up the skills of a young actor. Not only should an actor be trained to know what to do in the event of forgetting their lines, but having proper improv knowledge can improve both an actor’s skills and the production itself. Improv games such as ‘Freeze’ and ‘Taxi’ can help to demonstrate that a story can go any way, and an actor just has to roll with it – because that is their reality, no matter how crazy it may seem to those looking in. Improv teaches actors how to work on their feet, encouraging creativity and lessening the nerves that are often described as “stage fright”.
Improv encourages actors to insert themselves into scenes and to get involved. I know that, from personal experience, improv has really helped me to come out of my shell and ease some of my stress about performing in front of others. This can be especially helpful in the cases of our younger students, who are more likely to get nervous up on stage. Which is understandable, of course. Getting up in front of people and doing silly things, especially if it’s your first time doing so, can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience. Improv is a tool used by actors to make this experience just a little bit less scary.
Improv is a widely popular acting technique in the Philadelphia region; clubs such as ComedySportz and PHIT Comedy offer classes and other improv opportunities. Hedgerow Theatre’s own teacher and acting fellow, Brock Vickers, is a trained improv actor who participates in these improv groups in the city as well as improv opportunities with Hedgerow.
This coming April, he will be teaching a improv class for teens. Improv Your Own Play will be held on Saturday mornings from April 9th to June 4th. More information can be found on Hedgerow’s website, under the ‘Youth Classes’ section of the Education tab. We as the Hedgerow Theatre School teens are very excited to participate, and we hope to get lots of other students along with us as we explore the wonderful world of improv!