The bright spotlight is shining on the princess. Her hands and legs are trembling. Her mind goes blank. It is so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. Her partner whispers, “Come on, say your lines!” However, she just freezes with an expressionless face. Her partner prompts her by narrating to the audience, “Where were you going, princess?” She suddenly remembers her lines, “I was going to the castle,” she murmurs.

The show carries on! Her partner manages to save the act by improvising the lines. Although they may not have followed the script, they definitely kept the show going.


So, what do we call this? It is improvisation.


Stage fright is indeed a common phenomenon in the acting world. As astounding as it may sound, many famous actors do struggle with stage fright on a regular basis. At times, when on stage, one’s mind can go blank and in turn we tend to forget all the lines that we have memorised. That’s where improvisation comes to the rescue.


Improvisation (aka improv) is not a new concept, as a matter of fact, actors have been using improvisation for centuries. For example, in the 16th century, Italy relied on improvisation for much of its storytelling.


Improvisation is unscripted and requires the actors to narrate lines or act in spontaneity. It is a performance that is not practised but instead invented by the performers themselves on the spot.



The Important Principles of Improv


Firstly, teamwork is a very important principle in improvisation. It requires a group of independent storytellers to work together cohesively, an important element is making a team look good. It is important to always make your partner look good and fulfil his or her potential. The performance will not look good if one actor is trying to bring another actor down. In improv, it requires all members to support one another. At times, during a performance, a team member may run out of ideas, hence he or she needs to be supported by fellow members. By having one another’s support, it builds stronger teams, generates creativity and creates better scenes.


Next, you need to be a good listener. Active listening means making good eye contact, keeping an open stance and listening carefully to the ideas being shared. It does not mean ranting through your pre-formed ideas. Can you remember the times when you sat in meetings thinking about what to say next, rather than giving the current speaker your full attention? By doing that, we lose many potentially creative ideas. Hence, when we pay close attention to details and listen, we are more likely to see positive outcomes.


Lastly, improv encourages collaboration and creativity. If you remember nothing else about improv by the time you finish reading this article, just remember “Yes, and…”. How many times have we reacted to ideas with a “Yes, but…”? Or even a “No, but…”? By reacting to ideas in such a way, we are automatically shutting the door without giving these ideas any chance. Once we begin to say “Yes, and…”, we are opening the door to new ideas and building on these suggestions to create something innovative. In addition, the ‘yes’ in “Yes, and…” shows one’s willingness to create greater collaboration in the team.



How can improvisation help students with learning difficulties?


Improvisation provides the opportunity for an individual to develop one’s self on various levels. With improv exercises and engaging activities, individuals will be taught to think and react on the spot. This will help the individual to learn how to cope with uncertainties.


Students with learning difficulties often struggle with generating ideas. With improv, students are taught to think out of the box where there is no right and wrong. Hence, giving the students the confidence to generate their ideas freely.


Some students may struggle with communication skills where they face difficulties verbalising their thoughts. With improv, students are able to verbalise their thoughts in a safe environment where all ideas would be respected. Working together in groups would also require students to communicate with one another effectively to create their scene.


With improvisation activities, students would be able to learn how to work cohesively with their group members in a team. With the activities, students would be required to listen to one another’s ideas and work on developing the ideas, thus demonstrating listening skills, teamwork and creativity.


This personal growth results in not only being a better performer but when the individual can transfer this learning to other areas of his or her life, like school, work or relationships.



Speech and Drama Arts (SDA) Classes


The aim of our Speech and Drama Arts Programme is to provide an outlet for students to express themselves, their emotions and to demonstrate their talents in a fun and artistic way.


Improv is one of the concepts taught in SDA classes. For a start, SDA students are given the opportunity to explore object improv activities. Object improv activities are fun! Such activities allow students to use their imagination and encourage them to think out of the box. For example, a student would pick up a pencil and say that it could be used as a screwdriver.


As they progress in SDA class, the students are required to work together in a group to create an unscripted scene, hence working on their creativity and spontaneity. With such activities, students are given the chance to interact with their peers and express their ideas freely, in turn, their peers are taught to reciprocate the ideas and be supportive of one another’s ideas. The sky’s the limit!

Click here for more information on the Speech and Drama Arts programme.

Written by: Amrit Kaur Gill,  Senior Educational Therapist, and Speech and Drama Arts Teacher