From comedy television Whose Line Is It Anyway? to paper advertisements for a theatre class at the rec center, most people have encountered improv in some form.
BYU-Idaho’s own theatre department is home to an improv troupe, who have performed multiple shows throughout the semester, called Comic Frenzy. The final show is Thursday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the drama theatre in the Eliza R. Snow building. Tickets can be purchased for $1 at the door.
What is improv though, and where did it start?
Historians trace the origins of improv back to commedia dell’arte, which translates literally to ‘comedy of professional artists.’
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Commedia dell’arte is a theatrical form characterized by improvised dialogue and a cast of colorful stock characters that emerged in northern Italy in the fifteenth century and rapidly gained popularity throughout Europe.”
The earliest of which dates back to 1545.
These plays were framed on a set “schema” that established a basic plot which actors improvised, or performed spontaneously. This allowed them to “tailor a performance to their audience, allowing for sly commentary on current politics and bawdy humor that would otherwise be censored,” according to the Museum of Art.
Today, improv looks a little bit different. Modern improv has its roots in the early twentieth century with improv games that served as drama exercises.
Many credit the late Dudley Riggs, an “improv pioneer” according to Minnesota Public Radio. He started Instant Theatre Co., which later became Brave New Workshop, one of the oldest live sketch comedy and improv associations in the nation.
This style continues to thrive, as do other improv games and activities. It’s all about creativity.
“The first rule of improv is ‘Yes, And,'” According to Backstage.
Because everything is made up, building on that phrase yes is key. It helps to create a “base reality” that establishes the scene, making improv shows often fast-paced and highly entertaining.
To learn more about improv in action, check out BYU-I’s last Comic Frenzy show of the semester, tonight.