What is Impro/Improv/Improvisation?

"Making it up as you go along"


"Playing it by ear"

"What those actors do on 'Whose Line is it Anyway?'"

It's all of the above...
But for us, 'impro' or 'improv' is acting without a script. It is about generating and then developing an idea, a story, or a scene from nothing.

Actors use impro skills to get into character as a means to an end. For us, impro is not only part of a process, but also the end product - the creation of a new idea or performance. It is also a good way to build confidence in yourself and your creativity. Also, impro is not a solo activity - it is about generating ideas and stories with another person or group of people so communication between all the participants are heightened and improved through the practice.

Impro is a skill anyone can learn.

How is it done?
Live improvisation is one of those skills that always prompts the 'how did they do that?' reaction. At its best, improvised performances can leave audiences suspecting that some or all of it was planned, but the acts are not 'cheating' by adapting old routines or slipping in bits of pre-planned script, they are actually making it up as they go along.

Although improvised performances and performers can seem astounding, in fact, impro is a skill based on a deceptively simple set of guidelines.

Accepting ideas is the golden rule of improvisation - every idea (or 'offer') must be acknowledged and then developed. From this basic beginning, we can then learn to shape and build upon this principle creating improvised games or scenes or even an entire improvised play.

Becoming a good improviser takes practice. As in any skill, from playing a sport or a musical instrument, to touch-typing or using a word processor, practice and repetition are the ingredients for success - impro is no different. Anyone can learn to improvise - it's then up to practice to refine and develop the skillset we use.

A brief history of Improvisation
Improvisation is part of the staple diet of the modern actor. As well as the improvised performance, more often actors use impro games or techniques to help themselves get into character. Typically in rehearsal an actor might improvise what happened before or after the actual scripted scenes.

Improvisation has existed as a performance for centuries - going through phases, like any genre, of popularity and obscurity.

In the 16th century Commedia Dell 'Arte performers improvised on the streets of Italy. The actors had basic frames within which they could improvise their own action and dialogue.

In the 19th century, Stanislavski and Jacque Copeau both drew heavily on impro within their acting theories and practices - which still form important parts of modern acting.

When the age of cinema was born, improvisation often found its way onto the screen. During the filming of the Marx Brothers' classic "Monkey Business" the director Norman McLeod quickly learned that when the brothers started to ad lib, he should just let the cameras roll until they got tired. He often thought the improvised material surpassed what had been scripted. Also Charlie Chaplin developed his early comedies through improvisation and rehearsal rather than by writing scripts.

In the theatre, improvisation continued to be forwarded by Viola Spolin and Keith Johnstone, who produced the essential texts "Improvisation for the Theater" and "Impro" respectively. Viola Spolin created a set of impro games to develop acting ability organically. Keith Johnstone expanded on the improvised game and created 'TheatreSports" - a performance in which the improvisers "compete" against each other in a series of games or challenges. TheatreSports was the direct forerunner of shows like "Whose Line Is It Anyway?". Johnstone's work was also the first to examine the notion of status (how dominance and submission affect performances).

We continue to see improvisation in various forms on our TVs - most obviously in shows like "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and "Thank God You're Here", which have been huge TV hits around the world. But shows like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" also draw heavily on improvisation - Larry David's comedy hit relies on talented actors to improvise their scenes from sketchy plot outlines. And the films of Mike Leigh are created through the use of lengthy improvisations in rehearsals to develop his ideas.



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Why/How do businesses use Impro?

Impro workshops are finding their way more and more onto the business agenda.

There are a number of reasons why this is the case. The main one is that impro is all about teamwork. Creating a story from thin air involving the input of several minds is a tricky business and can only be achieved if all the participants operate together harmoniously.

The "performers" need to able to listen and communicate clearly and effectively to make the games, scenes or stories work.

Participants not only discover how creative and spontaneous they can be but often report an improvement in confidence, assertiveness and especially "stagecraft" (and to the average business that means things like public speaking and communication skills).

And on top of this impro is entertaining and tremendous fun. So all the learning takes place with a smile on the face. In the hands of skilled tutors even the shyest of people can find a place to blossom.

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Are you the sort of person to try Improvisation?

Here are some of the occupations of the students we have taught:

Computer Programmers







Street Performers

Market Researchers


Business Analysts


Company Directors



Sales People

Communication Officers


Stock Managers



Stand-up Comedians






Child Minders

Schedule & Operations Executives




Film producers and Marketers

Holistic Massage Therapists

Admin assistants

Improvisation for everyone | All content © Sprout Ideas 2008-9 | e: info@sproutideas.co.uk | t: 0208 923 2545