To improv or not to improv, that is the question. (Well today’s question). One of the top questions I’m asked by actors is - “is it ok to add to the scene?” I think actors are most curious about this because everyone has a different opinion on the matter.
With any advice, you have to listen to experts, and then trust your gut. Often, actors will tell me that they’ve heard the opposite opinion from someone else and that can be incredibly confusing. Remember, these are just people’s opinions.
Some casting directors will advise “Never improve. It scares writers.” Others, however, appreciate a bit of added comedy and creativity.
I’ve dissected the opinions I’ve heard from writers over the years and have a few pieces of advice.
First and foremost, have a long, hard talk with yourself. Ask yourself the following question: Am I a good improviser? It’s FINE if you’re not. Not all actors are funny, and not all actors are dramatic, and many of the above are not skilled improvisers.
A button is a commonly used improvisation in auditions. It tests your timing, writing and creativity. These skills may very well not be in your wheelhouse. If this is the case, trust the script and let it guide you. Maybe an addition is not wise and will make you even more nervous.
The idea that writers will not like a single improvised moment is one I’ve never witnessed. What writers are wary of is an iprovised line every other beat. It makes them nervous that you do not have the ability to follow the script.
In my experience, one clever added line that ends the scene in a fun way, has never upset writers. In fact, I have seen writers jot down the lines for future use!
The question is, “When do I improvise?” “When is a button acceptable?”
One way to tell is by referencing the sides. Does the scene end on you? If not, this may be an opportunity to redirect focus and end the scene back on you.
Buttons can be verbal or physical. So don’t feel the need to push too hard to find that perfect ending. A button can be as simple as a sigh and as complicated as a funny added line.
Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules on this one, so I recommend experimentation. Tape your rehearsals and watch them. Did you feel your added button contributed to the scene? If so, go with your gut. If not, trust the script and say the lines as written.