The short answer to this question is YES! Absolutely. In fact it is one of the few things in this business that I can give an unconditional answer to. You need improv!
Sometimes when I say this, an actor will ask me, “If I'm just going to be performing from a (film, stage, or television) script, why do I need to learn to improvise?”
So here are some of the reasons why every actor should get plenty of improv training.
You will often be asked to do some improvisation at an audition, even if you are using a script. For example, when I auditioned for a Harrison Ford film, I did the dialogue from the script and when the scene was supposed to end, the casting director keep it going by asking my character another question. Had I not been used to doing improv this might have thrown me, but I just answered his question and we kept going like that for several minutes.
Almost every commercial audition will involve something that is not in the script, even if it's just the action. Also, there are some auditions that only use “interview” questions – meaning the casting person will simply ask you a question or two. In fact, you will almost never know everything you are going to be doing at any audition until you get into the room.
Having improv skills gives you the confidence to know you can handle something new in an audition. Like they want you to improvise catching a mouse, or sneaking through a dark house, even though that was not in the script you got.
On the set, the director may want to try something new at the last minute. I've had directors shoot the scene as written and then say, “Let's do it again and try improvising the dialogue this time. You won't believe how often improv is used on a film or television set. And the director will expect you to be able to handle that. (Which means not only being able to do it, but to do it well.)
A good improv class will help you set the scene at an audition. It will teach you to visualize your environment.
Improv will aid you in learning to be “in the moment.” Because there is no script, you must really listen to the other person and react honestly to what they say.
So there are a few of the reasons to get into an improv class and stay there for awhile. I know some people are a little afraid of doing improv, but once you get a little comfortable doing it, it's a lot of fun. And you will learn to develop some interesting characters that you may be able to use at auditions and for sketch shows. (In fact, doing improv scenes is a great way to develop material for sketches.)
I've trained, and/or performed with many improv companies over the years, including The Groundlings and Dee Marcus at Off The Wall. I've done improv sketches with Robin Williams, and George Lopez, as well as various members of SNL. I even co-founded a couple of improv troupes. I continue to do improv every chance I get in order to keep my actor tools sharp and ready to go.
If you have any other questions – about improv or anything else - leave a comment or drop me an email.