I’m guessing these questions are inspired by the reblog of Mick’s newsletter where he said:
Study acting. You won’t, but you ought to. You won’t because you think you are SO fucking funny, and don’t need it. But you do. You really do. I tell people that, and they say “yeah, yeah, but what do I need to DO to get an edge?” I say it. No one does it. It’s such an easy edge.
Let’s take them one at a time.
What finally is the relationship between acting and improvising?
I think it’s only recently that improvising has been seen as this thing that is separate from acting. Improvisation has long been a part of acting training in some form, whether you are talking about Comedia or Meisner. Their separation is unnatural in my opinion. If you are learning to be an actor, you have to learn how to improvise on some level.
In Meisner you are learning to improvise with emotions and behavior and desires, both yours and your scene partners. This past year I’ve been studying theatre in a more European mode and although we are focusing on our voice and our body instead of our mind, and although we sometimes use masks, we are often creating in a way that a conventional improvisor would recognize. There is a heavy emphasis on finding and developing games, and using improvisation to devise theatre. And even though those games feel quite different from the games of content that I see improvisor doing. So anyway, they are intertwined.
Do actors make for good improvisers, good improvisers, actors?
Yes, usually, but not always. I’ve worked with actors who would make lousy improvisors and vice versa, but the skills for each certainly help the other. When I was a younger performer, I noticed the things I was learning in acting class (pay attention to your partner’s behavior and emotions, trust your gut reactions to them, act on your impulses, go after what you want) all helped with my improv. More recently my physical theatre training has helped the way I carry myself on stage and and helped me make a greater range of character choices in improv.
And I’m sure I’m a much more flexible actor because of my improv. I’ve done thousands of improv scenes and tried on many types of characters that I would never be cast as. This has made me much more comfortable making bigger choices in my acting. Early on it helped me combat stage fright. After doing a couple hundred improv shows, I returned to doing a play and I found I was much less nervous on opening night then before I had done all that improv.
What does each take or leave from the other?
Improv should take whatever it can from any performance art: music, dance, singing, clowning, performance art and certainly acting. Acting always should have an improvisational core, in my opinion, so it should take all it can. In a lot of ways, acting is improv within the contraints of a script and direction.
I hope this helps, feel free to follow up with other questions.