Do you like to be the best at what you do? Whether you’re a soccer player, a guitarist or an actress, you probably want to do your best every time you take the field or the stage.

How do you get to be your best? Practice, of course! Some pursuits require years and years of practice, while others might take only hours or days.

For some people, though, the thrill of performing without any practice can’t be beat. Instead of spending hours and hours practicing a particular move or routine, some people simply step up and give it their best shot right on the spot. We call this brave feat improv!

Improv is short for improvisation. Improvisation, whether it involves film, television, theatre, music or even live comedy, is a type of performance art.

Improv has been around a long time. How long? Probably about as long as performance itself! The first plays were probably created spontaneously — on the fly — without complete scripts or stage directions.

Many film, television and theatre actors use improv techniques to help them practice for a rehearsed, scripted performance. Improv techniques are also an important part of regular acting classes. Doing improv helps actors think on their feet and become more aware of the other actors around them.

Improv techniques also teach actors to listen carefully, communicate clearly and be spontaneous. Sometimes called “ad lib,” improvising can help an actor make the best out of a situation in which someone forgets a line in the script of a rehearsed performance.

Of course, improv is also entertaining to watch all on its own. Seeing actors make up their words and actions as they go along can often be quite entertaining. The best improv actors have confidence in their abilities and can create great, unscripted performances using nothing more than their innate acting ability and their instincts.

32 Join the Discussion

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    • We’re so glad you learned something new today, Wonder Friend Maddy! Perhaps you’ll be able to attend an improv show sometime soon! :)

  1. Hi Wonderopolis!

    Our class was wondering, do all people in the acting business do improve even if they are acting from a script?

    We really like the movie that you posted!
    We think wonderopolis is awesome and wonderific!
    We have seen a movie that had notes at the bottom that said the kid improvised!

    We predict that tomorrow’s is going to be about people getting different jobs. We think that we are going to need to do something on wonderopolis.

    • Good afternoon, Froggy1! It sounds like you’ve been doing a great job of WONDERing with us today– your questions are just like improv! :)

      Thanks for telling us about your favorite parts of today’s Wonder, and we love the connection to the video, too! Many movies include improvised scenes and lines– the director and actors work together to decide what works best in the movie overall!

      We think you’re on the right track with your prediction for tomorrow, we can’t wait to find out if you’re right! :) See you soon, Wonder Friends! :)

  2. Thanks, I’ve heard people say improv before, but I never knew what it meant! Thanks! I’ve been in a few plays, and in one I played a sorting squirrel. When I dropped a nut on the stage I was embarrassed, but I just chased it and put it in the bad nut pile! :)

    • Hey there, Mincraft Butter and Wonder Friend C! Thanks for sharing your comments this morning! :)

      We are so glad that you’ve seen improv before, Mincraft! We’re happy to know this Wonder was a homerun! :)

      Wonder Friend C, it sounds like you’re familiar with the theater already– you have used improv in your previous role as a sorting squirrel! What an awesome connection! :)

    • YIPPEE, our Wonder Friends Ashlee and Jusin are here today! While today’s Wonder was not improvised, we really liked WONDERing about the art of improv with you today! You both shared awesome comments and we appreciate them.

      Ashlee, thanks for the additional clue– that is a very important part of improv (no script allowed)! :)

      Jusin, we Wonder if you have ever seen or participated in an improv show? :)

    • Good afternoon, Wonder Friends Annie and Anna! You are both Wonder Friends of the theater, how cool! :)

      Annie, it sounds like you would be awesome at improv– you just “go with the flow”, as they say! Way to go! :)

      Anna, thanks for telling us about your cool drama class at OLHMS! We Wonder if you played any improv games to warm up? :)

  3. I liked today’s wonder a lot! Me and my sister do improv sometimes at our library. It’s pretty fun I like making pepole laugh. :) It makes me proud to be funny. :) Thanks for the wonder! :)-blakeleigh-

    • Cool, Blakeleigh, you and your sisters must have a great time together! We Wonder if your siblings are your audience members… we bet they’d enjoy your improv show!

      We hope you keep up the great work of keeping people laughing! :)

  4. Hey, did you guys ever do a WONDER on the book ‘Wonder’, by R.J.Palacio? It was a really good book, and it won awards and prizes and it’s famous and everything. People said it was a ‘wonder’, so I guess that would fit in with your theme!

    About Improv, yeah, it seems cool. I’m just happy that I learned something today!

  5. About the book again, it’s brand new, and it came out this year, so it’s not old.

    Just thought you’d like to know.

    • Thanks for telling us about the awesome book, Wonder, Passerby! :) Some of us here at Wonderopolis have read it– it is such a great story. We are so glad you brought it up- what an awesome connection to Wonderopolis! :)

    • We are so glad you learned something new with us, mjscott! Perhaps you’ll be a member of an improv audience soon… or maybe you’ll be on stage with an improv troupe! :)

  6. hi wonderoplis,

    I have not been on here in a long time.
    I did not know what improv is but I do now.
    How long have you been doing this website? :) :) :) :) :) :)

    Your friend

    • Welcome back to Wonderopolis, Jayd! Thanks for visiting us as we Wonder about improv and other funny types of theater! Wonderopolis celebrated its second birthday on October 4, 2012! We look forward to enjoying even more Wonders with you again soon! :)

  7. Improv is acting with no props and you get a ramdom idea and keep adding words without a script. So improv is acting with no script and no props.

    • That’s a great description of improv, Kennedy! We are so excited that you’ve been WONDERing with us today! It sounds like you’re familiar with improv, have you ever been a part of an improv group? Or have seen an improv show? :)

    • Hi Emma! We’re excited that you enjoyed our improv Wonder! Perhaps you can be an astronaut who does improve in space? We think that would be a pretty WONDERful job! Thanks for sharing your comment with us– keep dreaming and WONDERing! :)

  8. That was a really interesting topic. I think I would be good at improv because I can make poems really quickly and I sometimes even make up my own jokes! I’m also very social and interactive and coud probably keep the conversation going for a long time. Improv also looks fun to go to. I’ll ask my parents if I can see a show like that one time.

    • HOORAY, Wonder Friend Nadia! We are so excited that you enjoyed our improv Wonder so much! Improv is a lot of fun, whether you’re participating or watching from the audience! We hope you can see an improv show with your family soon! We look forward to WONDERing with you again soon! :)

    • Thanks for sharing your comment, Max! Have you tried improv? It’s lots of fun and a great way to use your imagination! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is improv?
  • How long has improv been around?
  • Can you create your own improv skit one line at a time?

Wonder Gallery

914Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to give improv a try? Grab a few friends and family members to help you explore one or more of the following activities:

  • Watch some examples of improve in action. Jump online and surf over to your favorite video site. Do a search for “improv” and see what comes up. Ask an adult to help you pick out two or three good examples of improv. What do you notice about the performances? Are there any things they have in common? Were any of the performances as good as a regular, practiced performance?
  • Spend some time thinking about what it would be like to perform improv. Then brainstorm how you might use today’s modern technology to help you with improvised performances. How might the Internet, tablet computers, smartphones and the like make you a better improv performer? Discuss your ideas with an adult. Do they agree with you? What ideas do they have?
  • Up for a challenge? For a fun, simple improv exercise, write, speak, or act out an improvised story one line at a time. One person starts with an opening line, such as “It was a dark and stormy night…” The next person then adds on to this line to continue the story. And so on and so forth. Adding to the story and making it unique and funny can be a great way to liven up a family get-together or a party. Don’t hesitate to throw a curveball when it’s your turn to add a line. Sometimes taking your story in an unexpected direction makes it more fun for everyone!

Still Wondering

In 1943, Martha Graham collaborated with Aaron Copland and Isamu Noguchi to create one of America’s artistic treasures and a widely-respected work of modern dance. By using the An American Story in Dance and Music OurStory module from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, children and adults can enjoy exploring an important and exciting moment in America’s artistic history.

Wonder What’s Next?

If you’re coming to Wonderopolis tomorrow, we’ve got a job for you!

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