How to improvise

Do you like to speak in strange accents, or sometimes complete gibberish? Fancy telling the story of King Arthur in the style of Raymond Chandler? Feel the urge to stick your arms through someone else's sleeves, and pick their noses for them? If so, impro may be your only hope.

The fine art of making it up as you go along has been around for a long time. Originally used as a technique for teaching actors to act, and to develop new script ideas, it was a young actor named Keith Johnstone who first brought it to public attention.

His book Impro, first published in 1979, remains the seminal work in the field, and the organisation he helped to found, TheatreSports, is the main worldwide network of performers. But it took television exposure to bring impro to the attention of the great British public.

Channel 4's Whose Line is it Anyway? (above right) was first broadcast in 1988, and suddenly everyone wanted to have a go. As well as making stars of Mike McShane, Tony Slattery, Josie Lawrence, Paul Merton and Clive Anderson, the programme also provoked a massive increase in interest in impro as both a spectator and participation sport.

The transition from payer to player couldn't be easier. There are dozens of workshops all over the country offering basic introductions to the skills behind good impro and taking you right up to performance level. Whether you are an actor looking to expand your repertoire, a writer hoping to free up your creative processes, or just someone who enjoys larking around, these courses have a lot to offer.

You will learn how to "make offers" - suggestions for developing the scene. And equally important, you will learn not to "block offers" from others.

For example, if you begin a scene by miming painting a wall, and someone comes on and says, "Haven't you finished grooming that horse yet, corporal?" - that is an offer, and responding with, "It isn't a horse, it's a wall and don't speak to me like that, I'm your father," would be blocking. It might get you a laugh (in which case it is also an example of gagging) but it stalls the scene, destroys the illusion of truth and leaves you nowhere to go.

On the other hand, saying, "No sir, I don't seem to be able to get the paint out of its coat," would be "accepting" and "building" and adding something new.

It is developing the flexibility to deal with these constant challenges to your prior visualisation of the scene that makes impro fun. And it is from seeing you struggle that the audience derives its chief pleasure.

You will learn about "status' (eg "corporal" and "sir"), "raising the stakes" ("But this is The Queen's horse for the Trooping of the Colour"), and the other hidden mechanics of good impro.

Don't worry - you won't be asked to improvise a sequel to War and Peace at your first workshop. But you might be astonished at how quickly you learn the skills even when you're starting from scratch.

You may also be surprised at how impro can enliven your thought processes in everyday life. Still, don't be surprised if your father's response to enquiries about the Queen's horse are met with a firm "block" - and a demand that you finish painting the wall.

SIMON EVANS

TheatreSports UK (Natalie Haverstock, 0181-450 8830).

Courses are also run by Spontaneous Combustion (Stella Duffy, 0181-346 7487).

Keith Johnstone's 'Impro' is published by Methuen, price pounds 7.99.

The seventh series of 'Whose Line is it Anyway?' begins Friday 10.30pm C4.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions