Online improv tips to help onstage improv

online improv tips for onstage improv

Online improv tips to help onstage improv


These last few weeks have been tough for many of us and we all have different ways of coping. Mine has been to try and carry on in as normal a way as possible by trying to do the things I normally do. For me, that’s the practice and teaching of improvisation.  But for improvisers, finding ways to quickly adapt an entire art form has been a very steep learning curve. Especially an art form based on based on eye contact, staging and tactility. We need online improv tips.

Like all challenges in life though, there’s often much to be learned. These are some observations on how doing improv online can serve your craft overall.


Keep your Offers Economic


Improvising effectively over the internet involves a time lag, therefore dialogue needs to be clean and clear with full stops on the end of sentences. This is also super useful for onstage improv where we have a tendency to talk over one another or have oursentencesrambleoninanundefinedwayfortoolongand then trail off into….


Focus on Facial Expressions


Without a script it’s so important to focus on our scene partners reactions. Over the medium of ‘to camera’ improv it’s not possible to have direct eye contact. However it does allow us to really take in our scene partners whole face. To take the time to really read it. Improvising in this way is also a treat for the watching audience who get to see these reactions playing out in full. A refreshing change from the profiles we normally watch on a stage.


Make your Characters Theatrical


It may feel counter-intuitive to make your characters theatrical in a non theatrical setting. However all the improvisation I’ve watched online lately has been most successful when the performances have been larger than life. Try standing (or sitting if you’re not able to stand) with a strong stance or choosing a gesture or unusual facial expression. With onstage improv, choices like this can really help dig into characters. In a longform set or show, this can also help you quickly get back in to multiple characters . Side note: It can be fun to play with quick change head and shoulders costumes for this too. Don’t use it as an excuse to play similar characters with different names and hats!


Make use of Entrances and Exits 


Adam Meggido of Showstopper always says ‘If in doubt, leave the stage’. Exiting a scene is sometimes the most powerful thing a character can do but on a large stage it can be hard to get the timing correct on entrances and exits. On a screen, your scene partners will see these clearly and respond immediately. Entrances and Exits can also be played at different speeds and angles. This will be great practice for honing the instincts and impulses for back in the theatre. Last week I laughed ecstatically when several characters descended out of shot ‘in a lift’.


Keep an eye on the Bigger Picture


As metaphor and literally. It can be hard to tune into peripheral vision on a stage when you’re also being present with the actor playing opposite you. On a screen you can see all the cast. Try experimenting with cameras on and off, audio voice overs and inner monologues, background and foreground characters and head and shoulders costumes. Then find the equivalent back on the stage. 



Finally, there are so many resources coming out everyday from Improvisers all over the world on how we can make our online improvisations playful and relevant. Let’s keep learning from each other and when this has all passed, let’s take some of those lessons back into our theatre spaces. In the meantime you can take online drop in classes with The Nursery and The Maydays 7 days a week 😉

1 Comment
  1. Jim Smith

    Helpful thoughts Heather. I agree that theatrical characters have been very engaging these weeks

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