Are You an Improv Pro?



9 Questions

What is improvisational theatre?

What is the purpose of improvisational techniques in drama programs?

What is the earliest documented use of improvisational theatre in Western history?

Who influenced the first generation of modern American improvisers at The Compass Players in Chicago?

What is the cornerstone of improvisational technique?

What is shortform improv?

What is longform improv?

What is the purpose of using improvisation in the creation of films?

Who wrote the book investigating the way in which improvisation improves communication in the sciences?


Improvisational theatre is a comedic or non-comedic theatrical genre where most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted, created spontaneously by the performers. The dialogue, action, story, and characters are created collaboratively by the players as the improvisation unfolds in present time. Improvisational techniques are often used in drama programs to train actors for stage, film, and television and can be an important part of the rehearsal process. Improvisation is also used outside the context of performing arts as an educational tool and in businesses. The earliest documented use of improvisational theatre in Western history is found in the Atellan Farce of 391 BC. Modern improvisational comedy games began as drama exercises for children, which were a staple of drama education in the early 20th century. In the 1970s, Clive Barker's book Theatre Games spread the ideas of improv internationally. Viola Spolin influenced the first generation of modern American improvisers at The Compass Players in Chicago, which led to The Second City. Many of the current "rules" of comedic improv were first formalized in Chicago in the late 1950s and early 1960s, initially among The Compass Players troupe, which was directed by Paul Sills. The Second City has produced such comedy stars as Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Bob Odenkirk, Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, Eugene Levy, Jack McBrayer, Steve Carell, Chris Farley, Dan Aykroyd, and John Belushi. Modern improvisational comedy, as it is practiced in the West, falls generally into two categories: shortform and longform. Shortform improv consists of short scenes usually constructed from a predetermined game, structure, or idea and driven by an audience suggestion. Longform improv performers create shows in which short scenes are often interrelated by story, characters, or themes. Improvisation is also used in the creation of both mainstream and experimental films. Improv comedy techniques have also been used in hit television shows such as HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm created by Larry David, the UK Channel 4 and ABC television series Whose Line Is It Anyway, Nick Cannon's improv comedy show Wild 'N Out, and Thank God You're Here.The Psychology of Improvisation

  • Actors routinely enter into an altered state of consciousness (ASC) when performing.
  • Improvisational theatre often allows an interactive relationship with the audience.
  • In order for an improvised scene to be successful, the improvisers involved must work together responsively to define the parameters and action of the scene, in a process of co-creation.
  • With each spoken word or action in the scene, an improviser makes an offer, meaning that he or she defines some element of the reality of the scene.
  • Accepting an offer is usually accompanied by adding a new offer, often building on the earlier one; this is a process improvisers refer to as Yes, and... and is considered the cornerstone of improvisational technique.
  • The unscripted nature of improv also implies no predetermined knowledge about the props that might be useful in a scene.
  • Because improvisers may be required to play a variety of roles without preparation, they need to be able to construct characters quickly with physicality, gestures, accents, voice changes, or other techniques as demanded by the situation.
  • In improv formats with multiple scenes, an agreed-upon signal is used to denote scene changes.
  • Many theatre troupes are devoted to staging improvisational performances and growing the improv community through their training centers.
  • Some key figures in the development of improvisational theatre are Viola Spolin and her son Paul Sills, founder of Chicago's famed Second City troupe and originator of Theater Games, and Del Close, founder of ImprovOlympic (along with Charna Halpern) and creator of a popular longform improv format known as The Harold.
  • In 2015, The Free Association opened in London as a counterpart to American improv schools.
  • Alan Alda's book If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? investigates the way in which improvisation improves communication in the sciences.


Do you have what it takes to improvise on stage? Test your knowledge of the history, techniques, and psychology of improvisational theatre with our quiz. From the origins of improv in ancient Greece to its modern use in film and television, this quiz covers it all. Challenge yourself and see if you can become the star of your own improvised performance. Keywords: improvisational theatre, comedy, non-scripted, actors, co-creation, Yes, and..., Viola Spolin, Paul Sills

Ready to take the quiz?

Play Quiz