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Improv is improvisation on the stage. Generally, improv is comedic. It takes great skill to be an improv actor – it is certainly a different sort of skill that a film actor needs. And improve actor does not need to memorize any lines. Instead, an improv actor must be witty and funny and be able to think quickly on her feet. It is very tricky to do improv.

More specifically, it is very tricky to do improv well. You need to know your audience and feel the mood. You need really know the other actors that you are working with – to get an improv “game” or scene to go well, all of the improve actors need to be able to work well with each other. Improv actors need to be able to set each other up for jokes and know how use other moments to come up with jokes of their own.

Improve may seem like it is without structure – there are no scripts. There are no lines to be memorized. Improv actors may not even know what sort of setting they will be in for their next scene. But there actually is quite a bit of structure to improv. Improv actors do not generally just start acting on stage. Usually a group of improv actors is given a sort of “game” to play out and a topic or setting.

The game itself will have very specific rules. For instance, there is an improv game called “stand, sit, lay.” For this game, an audience member or someone unrelated to the improve group will offer a topic. Then, a group of three improv actors will have to act out that topic. Of course, it is not as simple as that – at all times while acting out the topic, one of the improve actors must be laying down, another must be sitting, and another must be standing. Two actors cannot be in the same position at the same time. What’s more, an actor must have a reason to suddenly lie down (which means that the actor that was previously lying down must suddenly stand or sit – and have a reason for that, etc.)

There is another improv game in which the actors must have a conversation, but they can only speak using the form of a question… or, the actors can only speak using song titles, etc. There are tons of improv games out there, each one with its own set of specific rules that must be followed for the game to work like proper improv.

Improv, as you can see, is both a combination of improvisation (which seems to mean a lack of structure) and also structure at the same time. It takes a lot of skill to be good at improv.

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