How to Explain Improv to a Kid (or Parent!)

By Lulu French, owner, Rocket Improv June 23, 2021

Improv is comedic theater that is made up on the spot. It is similar to team sports in that you practice different skills and techniques with your teammates. When you play a sport you are improvising! You don’t know what is going to happen in the game when you go out on the field or court.  All you have are the skills you have practiced over and over. While you are playing you are also working in collaboration with your teammates. It is important to be watching, listening, and alert so that you are ready for whatever happens.

Improv is the same in that we learn skills and practice them with our teammates over and over so that when we go out onstage we have our skills to fall back on.

In basketball you practice dribbling, passing, and shooting hoops. In baseball you practice throwing, catching, and hitting baseballs. In Improv — especially when we are beginners — we practice…

  • Performing a variety of emotions.
  • Creating characters instantaneously.
  • Spacework (also known as Objectwork) which is the handling of objects that aren’t really there.
  • Fabricating an environment that isn’t really there.
  • Listening!  Like REALLY listening. Listening with both our eyes and ears and an open mind.
  • Being super aware of what is happening in the present moment.
  • Being our own director which means being aware of where we are on the stage in relation to the audience and each other.
  • Being big and outrageous! 
  • Putting ourselves out there!

And most importantly AGREEMENT, SUPPORT and TEAMWORK.  This is often summed up with the phrase… YES AND.  We want to embrace a feeling of "Yes!”  Yes to what is being created. Yes to our scene partners.  And Yes to our own thoughts and ideas. And then we And by adding to what is being created in the moment.

A. You smell.
B. (Yes and) I haven’t showered in a week.
A. (Yes and) Please stop camping in the backyard and come back inside.
B. (Yes and) I am Nature Boy now. I belong to the wild.

The scene unfolds as a result of listening and yes and-ing.

The more experienced and advanced you become, the more skills you learn such as creating obstacles to the want and noticing and building on the first strange thing. As improv is an art form, one can continue to learn the art of improv over many, many years!

Improv is also like sports in that there are rules, guidelines, and structure.  For most improv games there is a structure and then we improvise within that structure.

Here are some fuzzy yet amusing clips which were performed on the popular short-form improv show, Whose Line Is It Anyway. You can see how the structure of the scene is similar in both videos, but the improvisers completely make up what happens within the structure. This kind of quick, structured scene is called a “game."

Game:  Improbable Mission

1.  Car washing 

2.  Mowing the lawn

The cool thing about Improv class is that you hardly know you are building skills! Mostly it feels like playing games where you get to play pretend a lot. Some games are standing-in-a-circle games, some are group games, some are running around games, and some are scenic games. We start off with the easy stuff and very slowly over time the games get more complicated.  

Improv is a skill and can be learned with practice… just like sports! Anyone can improvise if they are willing to put in the time. 

AND Improv is fun to learn because improv students play games, act silly, and laugh a lot! Which is why so many kids love it! It doesn’t matter if you have any experience or not, or if you are shy or loud or silly or serious — Improv is for everyone. Anyone can improvise!

If you think your child might enjoy Improv, check out Rocket Improv! They have a summer camp coming up in July in Summit, and their fall session will kick off in September in Maplewood.