Tag Archives: Improv for Actors

Improv for Actors 2 Performs!


This is us: Improv for Actors 2.

For two terms, we have studied improv together at the Second City in Toronto as part of the “Improv for Actors” program. In the second class, we lost a few faces and gained a few new ones, but what has always stayed the same is our close bond.

I think I speak for all of my classmates in saying we have a special group, and felt early on that we could really trust one another, which is so important in improvisation. I feel fortunate to have formed close friendships with all my fellow improvisers, to have been inspired by them and to have learned from their abilities.

On June 6, 2012, we put our improv skills to the test: We performed live at the John Candy Box Theatre at the Second City Training Centre in Toronto. There was nervousness and excitement in the air before going on stage. We had so much fun, and based on all the positive feedback we received, we have a lot to be proud of.

A special thanks to Shari Hollett and Chris Earle for being such fantastic teachers!!!

Make A Story

In this game all the players on stage will be telling a story. To make things more interesting, each player is assigned a specific genre. Individual players speak when directed (the director points at the player for their turn), and continues the story, but in their genre. It makes for a very funny scene!

Switch (or Freeze)

Switch/Freeze is an improv exercise with two players performing, and standby players, waiting for a moment to join in. At any given time, one of the standby players can clap their hands and shout out “Freeze!” The two performers on stage must freeze. The standby player then takes the pose of one of the players, and that player leaves the stage. A new scene is resumed. A very fast paced activity.

Sounds Like A Song

“Sounds Like A Song” is an improv activity, where at any given time (an inspired time), a director or audience calls out “Sounds Like A Song.” At that point, the last person who spoke launches into a song based on the last line that was spoken, often accompanied by a pianist. Heightens the scene and adds drama and musicality.

Switch Left

“Switch Left” requires 4 players. The players stand in a square, 2 by 2. Each pair of players receives a suggestion from the audience (a relationship or a non-geographical location). The two players in front begin to perform a scene based on their premise. When the director calls out “Switch Left”, the players rotate one spot to the left. Now, two new players are in front, and act out a different scene. The players rotate, but for every unique couple, their scene stays the same, and continues to evolve as it comes back to their turn. Each player ends up in two different scenes.


Clap is an improv exercise with 3 or 4 couples. One couple performs at a time, and at any given time, one of the standby players can clap. The new couple comes on the stage, and they start their scene (completely different scene) using the last sentence that was spoken by the couple before. Ideally, the exercise ends when all three scenes can end on the same sentence.

Sounds Like A Song 2

It’s such a fun scene, we decided to do another one!

And here’s a happy picture of our incredible class! Here’s to our next performance! 🙂

Toronto Second City Improv for Actors 2 class


On the road again…


So here we are again. The start of a new improv class at the Toronto Second City: Improv for Actors 2! After a two week break, it’s exciting to get back into the swing of things and start our next improv course. We have a lot of familiar faces, and a few new faces in the second Improv for Actors class, one being our fantastic new teacher: Shari Hollett.

I can already tell Improv for Actors 2 is going to be a lot of fun. Shari made us all feel comfortable from the start and we played some really neat games which I enjoyed (see below for the exercises).There are two new elements to this class, which we didn’t have in the last Improv for Actors class:

  1. We’re going to be incorporating musical improvisation.
  2. We’ll be having a final performance, which is scheduled for Wednesday, June 6 at 9pm at the John Candy Box Theatre at the Toronto Second City Training Centre.

I’m not sure how I feel yet about performing improv live in front of an audience. I’ve performed on stage a number of times as an actor and loved it, but I felt confident knowing I had a script, and a director, and rehearsals. Improv is another story – it’s all in the here and now, just using the skills we’re been taught and seeing what happens. That said, I’m not going to worry. I have amazing classmates and I’m studying improv to be in the moment. If I start getting nervous about a show that is over a month away, I’ll be defeating myself. There’s also a small part of me that’s excited to perform for family and friends. 

Narrative Poem 

Standing in a circle, we continued our work on narratives from IFA1 by telling a narrative poem.

Every student in the class started one poem, and each poem contained only as many words as people in the class (one word per person, going around in the circle).

It was amazing how well the poems worked. I think having a definite length to the poem and knowing your position in the poem in relation to the person who started (ie. if you’re close to the end, try to bring the poem to closure) helped to guide the direction and make the exercise successful.

Beads on a String 

This exercise was so much fun.

The goal of “Beads on a String” is to “string” three random sentences together to create a story.

Three people start the exercise, and can say any sentence at all. Player 1’s sentence will be the beginning of the story, Player 2’s sentence will be a sentence somewhere in the middle of the story, and Player 3’s sentence is the end of the story.

The three people stand apart with space in between them and say their sentence.

One at a time, people go up and say one sentence to support the story, and “bead the string,” helping to connect the sentences and the story together. When someone goes up, s/he stands between the first and last person, in the position where they would like the sentence to be. (For instance, if 6 people are up, and you want your sentence to go right after the first person’s sentence, you would stand right beside player 1 in the second position). The only positions someone cannot stand is the first or last position (the beginning and end of the story remains constant, hence the need to bead the story together).

After someone goes up, all the sentences are repeated in order.

In the end, there should be a completed story.

Complaints Department 

I have to say this exercise was particularly exciting for me, because I got to play with Tony Rosato!

Tony, an SCTV and Saturday Night Live alum, was in my class last term, and I was completely awe-struck. I didn’t jump at opportunities to improvise with him because I felt timid. I mean, he’s really amazing. Even though I wanted to work with him, I also loved just getting to sit back and watch him. He’s incredibly funny and entertaining, and I’ve learned so much by watching him.

I wish I could say that now that I’m in Improv for Actors 2, my timidness has suddenly gone away. Not so much the case, but Shari put Tony and I together for this exercise, and boy am I glad – it was so much fun.

So, let me explain this exercise. The idea is that there is a complaints department. There are two people who play. One player is the customer, who has a complaint (ie. a return to a store). The other player works at the complaints department, and tries to handle the customer’s complaint in a positive manner and to the customer’s satisfaction.

For this exercise, each student would play three different customers, and use different characters for each one. They would improvise with the same complaints department worker. The complaints department worker would not change character.

There were so many fantastic scenes, and because each student played three different customers and also later played as the complaints department worker, we did not have enough time to finish this exercise in class, but I can’t wait to continue next class.

As a customer, I played an old lady returning a sweater without a receipt, who used a walker and wanted to set up the complaints department worker (Steve) with her granddaughter. I also played a high status woman who was upset that her cashier mistakenly did not take 40% off her purchases as advertised. Then when it came to the third character, I ran out of ideas, and just played a medium status person returning a toaster.

When I was the complaints department worker, I had Tony as the customer. He had me in stitches. For one of his characters, he played an Italian man who wanted to return a pair of pants that he was wearing. He was so deadpan and serious, I had to hold back laughing. I thought it would be really fun to put up some barriers and say we can’t take back pants that are being worn, but I remembered that as the complaints department worker I’m supposed to satisfy the customer. Later, I saw that other students did put up some barriers, and I wished I had taken the opportunity to do so and not be overly accommodating. Next time I’ll take more risks. If I’m wrong, I’ll learn, and that’s not a bad thing.

I would love to write about all the other scenes, but it would be much too long. Mitch played some incredible characters, one that was completely in mime with no dialogue. Again, I’m so amazed by my classmates and feel very lucky to have the opportunity to not only play with but learn from them every week!

Lessons Learned

  • Listening to your partner is very important.
  • If you realize that your partner hasn’t heard something you’ve said, do not ignore it. Bring it up without blocking. The audience notices everything and if you ignore it, it won’t make it better. (For instance, in the above exercise, if you return something without a receipt, and your partner says he sees on the receipt it’s within the return period, you could then say “My, you really are helpful, you even managed to find my receipt!”)
  • Be willing to take risks

Image: hinnamsaisuy / FreeDigitalPhotos.net