Improv refers to any type of performance or artistic skill-building exercise that does not follow a script, musical score, set of choreographed steps, or other type of planned instructions. Several different kinds of performing arts, such as acting, stand-up comedy, and music, frequently include improv. Improvisation can have multiple purposes, including helping performers think on their feet, work together in an ensemble, and tap into their inner creativity. It can also form the basis of some theater shows in which actors take suggestions from the audience and create a performance on the spot.
Many beginning and intermediate acting classes use improv games as a means to get student performers to feel comfortable with stepping into roles, as well as with speaking and moving in unfamiliar ways. These types of exercises can often be adapted for different story themes such as drama or comedy. Some of these theater students may go on to become improv actors, while others opt to pursue scripted roles.
Working with no script or rehearsal can often be an effective and challenging mental exercise. This type of situation usually requires performers to learn how to quickly respond to the immediate moment and come up with appropriate responses to unexpected cues. The spontaneous nature of improv can lead to innovative ways of interacting with both fellow cast members and with the audience.
Sketch performances have many of their roots in improvisation; new sketch comedy shows are often written from ideas that begin with improvisation exercises. Characters in these kinds of performances usually become part of a set script that still leaves some room for individual actor creativity. Some theater experts agree that script writers who take advantage of improv within a sketch framework have the best chances of creating quality material.
Stand-up comedians often use improvisation sessions to formulate their stage shows. Many begin with a set of exercises that involve movements as well as speech. Although stand-up comedy is known as an arena for solo performances, improvising performers can rehearse and brainstorm either in groups or individually.
Jazz is a style of music that relies heavily on improv with various instruments such as the trumpet and piano. Many well-known jazz compositions often begin with improvisation, and some skilled musicians are renowned for creating entirely new pieces on the spot during shows. Classical and rock music can also start with improv when a composer or songwriter is creating new material.