Why Improvise; You have a Script

“You should tell them about the time, right in the middle of the third scene, when a cue was misinterpreted and the clock began to strike a full scene ahead of schedule.”

Okay then, get off my back. I’m going to tell them now!

(The actor who happened to be on stage is far too public a figure for me to reveal, and I’m sure he reads anything and everything where his name appears. As a matter of fact, his publicist spends a tidy sum keeping his charge from making the headlines. I guess you know you’ve arrived when you have a public relations team whose mainstay is keeping your life private.)

While it is one of my more comedic recollections, please trust in me when I tell you it wasn’t funny at the time. But, I digress. Back to our (very young at the time) actor’s prematurely climaxing clock, as we referred to it from that point on. We had a single actor, moving to down stage center and preparing to deliver his most important and most poignant speech of the play.

A long moment of silence, signifying his attitude of deep contemplation, when the clock began to chime. Without any display of outward anguish our actor looked into the stage left wings and caught sight of the actor who was scheduled to appear with him in the very next scene, when the clock should have legitimately begun to strike the appropriate hour.

The actor in the wings was visually unstrung, and immediately began perspiring as if he was the one being “screwed to the heavens,” as it was later on aptly described.

The audience had not a sense of what was transpiring before them. It was then, as a young stage manager, I became aware of what a true actor can accomplish.

(On stage actor hesitates in further contemplation looking skyward, then speaks, unscripted:)

“Thank you, oh Lord, for chiming your recognition and sharing with me the relief of what tomorrow will bring.”

(Our actor then turns away from the direction of the off-stage actor as the clock continues, and he delivers the scripted cue line for the next scene. As the clock completes its tolling the next scene begins without missing a beat or our audience becoming privy to what the future holds.)

Success became ours to enjoy because of the improvisational skills of two actors.


The premature clock became the scripted scene.

The fellow responsible for the clock striking prematurely could never be found after that evening’s performance. I had nothing to do with his disappearance. He was gone before I could get to him.


Here are some things I’ve gathered along the way. Perhaps you will find them useful.

A premise:

“No matter how talented… an actor must be sacrificed if he or she cannot contribute to the harmonious atmosphere of the group.”

Because I have found myself in charge of a great many of “Life’s Happenings,” I need the utmost of displayed confidence regardless of what is churning within.

Remember your elementary school report cards? They had that box on the upper right side of the card, which had to do with your social character traits. “Gets along well with others,” “meets new situations with confidence,” and “could do better,” are the three I feel are the most prevailing attributes for any professional.

Now that you’re no longer in elementary school, the report card as we knew it to be has been replaced by actual human beings. I always get a chuckle when I’m told not to be judgmental. Try telling that to a living, breathing audience.

If you want to get along well with this group of people, your audience, learn how to convey the truth.

Believing in one’s self is the strongest ingredient for showing confidence, especially when others are depending on your performance.

All creative people live with there own personally inflicted stigma of “could do better.” If you’d like to avoid complete craziness, study your craft relentlessly!

Our life and our work is a process; albeit the fact it is set up backwards has nothing to do with our work habits. The more experience you acquire, the better you will perform, regardless of the creative form you’re involved with professionally. You may be gifted with God given talents, but so are many folks in our subjective form of life’s pursuits. The best of the gifted actors are the ones who work the hardest at the continued process.

And to you, permit me to gently offer :

Enter as if you are a blank page. Be in the here and now while thinking about your past, and at the same time, show a degree of wonderment over what the future may hold.

Fill your blank page with expressions of your past.

The song that you may have hummed to yourself as a child can easily be recaptured.

The marvelous or not so marvelous odor or scent experienced can readily change your facial expression.

Add to this the sounds of today. It may only be your own breath that you’re listening to, but nevertheless, it’s there for you to hear and feel.

Your ability to recall the past and listen to the present is a simple step towards sharing your being and self. Your audience of people will believe in you, if for no other reason than your courage in sharing who you were, who you are, and perhaps additionally, your aspirations for the future, one day to be revealed.


While looking at the pictures of various historical figures, one might wonder what goals and aspirations a particular figure may have had.

Question Them

What happened to them in their earlier life?

What music did they listen to?

What daily rituals may have influenced their lives, and affected the lives of their most intimate colleagues and loved ones?

Take notice of what age brings to the face of your historical figure. A line in the human countenance may bring an engraved attitude with it.

What do you see engraved in this picture from the past?

What does the face reveal? Bearing; demeanor; calm?

Plain and simply stated, look for the emotion. It’s as if you’re being introduced for the first time.

No salutations are verbally being offered by the other party, yet they are in most cases showing you a great deal.

Many of these expressions are ones that you might be revisiting. The look of consternation on the face of an historical personage may be the very same look that you yourself have displayed at one time or another for the entire world to see. We see, we experience, we borrow, and we do.

While I’m not sure which of my mentors uttered the words, “Go with the flow,” or “Don’t confuse the issue,” I am certain that simplicity was their goal.

“Keep it simple” was the essence. If the truth is the only thing to enter your mind, then delivering a truthful line is the only thing that can be delivered.

The doctrine of the Stanislavski system worked exceedingly well on the plays of Anton Chekhov.

Chekhov wrote truthfully about ordinary men and women. He searched for the inner beauty in people and exposed their triviality and vice. Chekhov’s influence drove Stanislavski to strive to create an artistically conceived image of life on the stage. Whether you’re an experienced actor, or one trying your wings for the first time, Stanislavski has become the most accepted system for any actor to grow with. Comedy or tragedy, the method has become our most revolutionary acting tool. Given circumstances, subtext, images, real or imagined, and the beat goes on, ever changing, and always demanding that the actor continue to develop their improvisational skills. It is not a question of whether or not the actor wants to. If the actor is to grow, and have the ability to meet life’s subtleties, vagaries, tragedies, or outright desperation, then the choice is a simple one. The method will help you grow.

So look into the faces of your historical characters. Live their joys or misgivings. Empathize and redeem what their faces offer. Then through motion, or sound, or both, become, be, and continue to be.

One Comment

  1. What I read here will help me with a project I am doing. This information strengthens me to be focused on connecting with the audience and bringing to them a memorable experience; to be completely what I need to be make their experience complete. Thank you much.

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