Allow me to rage, give voice to thoughts hushed and guarded, unexpressed, trapped, traversing the crania of teachers of serious acting, for fear of grave offense against what THEY say, for fear of pissing off a longtime student who has wandered or wants to wander from serious acting training, and by serious acting I mean training geared towards creating a serious actor, which is to say not someone without a sense of humor, no, no, not that, definitely not that, god have mercy, forbid it, but rather one whose sense of humor is not necessarily the issue per se, that is to say, the thoughts of those of us trying to train a skilled actor who simply can have a real shot at a career in film, television and theatre, an actor who is skilled in both comedy and drama, and can honestly investigate a writer’s premise in any style and any form and do so richly and believably and consistently for as many performances as you’d like, in as many or as few takes as is your preference, on as little notice as you’d wish. Got it? So here goes: Fuck improv training.
There. I said it. Why? (And keep in mind I’m talking about the improv-comedy tidal wave that has taken over the training landscape, not improvisation as a tool in otherwise ‘serious’ programs….)
1. It reinforces highly superficial tendencies in the actor – the glib, facile responses that are all geared towards generating a laugh. Because improv always goes with comedy. It never goes with drama. Only comedy. So all this improv training is about being fucking funny, you see. And apparently a rule has been passed that funny people are not funny, not fully funny, not truly professionally funny, until they take an improv workshop. Improv training has its rules and its guidelines, each program has its technique like any school, but my experience is that it’s all impatient, microwave popcorn acting for popcorn comedies, and has no real interest in encouraging actors to get down and dirty with story or character or truth or believability, or much of anything that historically has marked the skills of a good actor. So for its ceaseless contribution to superficial cheese-ball acting, fuck improv training.
2. As a teacher, it can take a while to get an actor to understand acting, how the writing, the story, the behavior, the inner life all line up, all of the myriad ephemeral little tasks and skills that need to coalesce to make a fine performance, not to mention encouraging the actor to get a grip on their occasionally chaotic personal lives, get some discipline, take themselves and acting seriously, and take the idea of persistent career administration seriously. Like any artistic training, it can take years, and my experience is that just as we’re getting somewhere on this complicated trifecta, the actor takes off to “do improv for a while.” Their agents want it on the resume. So for interrupting countless conversations with students who are just breaking through, fuck improv training.
3. There’s not a scintilla of evidence that improv training creates a better actor, even for comedies. I’ve cast my share of projects, and not one improv-trained actor has outshone another traditionally trained actor, and frankly, it’s the reverse and by FAR. Most anecdotal feedback I’ve gotten from fellow directors and writers who have just gone through a casting process, for both comedies and dramas, is that they want to shoot improv training in the head. I’ve talked to working directors and casting people and asked if they can see a difference and the answer is an emphatic no, and that was for the minority who happened to notice this training on the resume in the first place. So for wasting the time of so many casting and directing professionals who have to watch improv-trained actors blow their auditions sky high, even for the comedies that are supposed to be the target market, fuck improv training.
4. It’s part of the childish, impatient cultural subtext that is ‘gimme it now.’ No, spoiled child. You don’t get anything of value now. You don’t become a master at anything by doing ten weeks of ‘something fun’ or ‘something else.’ You get something of value by training your ass off and training hard and training for years. Name me another skill where that isn’t true. “Yeah, listen, Madame Violin Teacher, I’ve been playing my Suzuki method for a couple years now, but I think I’m going to do some improv violin. They say it will help get me work.” “Hey, Mr. Carpentry Master, I’ve been apprenticing with you for a few months now, but I’m not feeling my career coming on, so I’m gonna do some improv carpentry. I’m gonna shoot nails everywhere, just, you know – I need to be free.” Medicine. Teaching. Science. The Visual or Performing Arts. Athletics. Hell – even standup comics work their asses off for years to evolve a voice and consistently good material. No, no – you never would hear something so lame in any of these fields. But in acting – yes. So for its connection to the childish ‘gimme it now’ sense of entitlement and amateurishness that so-called serious teachers fight tooth and nail every day, fuck improv training.
5. Improv training has been marketed beautifully – there are articles in the trade mags each year now about where THEY go to look for comedic actors. THEY are going to this showcase, and then THEY will go to that comedy night. No, no! Oh, no… THEY are not even going out anymore! THEY are staring at the computer screen looking for comic brilliance to pop out at them. It’s all frantic bullshit. I maintain that THEY have always sought and always will seek one thing: talented actors. A talented actor can find humor where there’s humor, and pathos where there’s pathos. A talented, trained actor can improvise on the spot, per the request of a director so interested. A talented, disciplined actor will ensure his or her talent is out there to be seen in all forms, on stage, on screen, and online. But this relentless marketing has resulted in agents robotically ordering their clients to ‘get some improv training,’ it has led to improv workshops with Levels 1 through X, and boy, once you get to Level X, descending through the clouds will be none other than Lorne Michaels himself, ready to blow you AND invite you to be a cast member on SNL. So for its insidious, clever marketing, which has made it seem as if improv training is now the sine qua non for an actor’s resume, even though if you named the 100 best actors of the last 75 years, I would bet good money that not one single person on that list is improv-trained, fuck improv training.
That is all.