We can safely say Viola Spolin is the Mother of Improv. Her method of training is the base of improv and has been taught around the world. To train in this method is one of the most rewarding and beneficial methods an actor can use. Learning to live in the moment and be able to react to the moment is not only handy for actors but for everyday life.
The method is taught through a series of exercises and games that allow for interaction and spontaneity while learning to rely on your wits and smarts as well as body language to convey the moment.
Viola developed such games as:
Group Counting: All of the actors sit in a circle. The goal is to simply count as high as possible, by one actor saying one number at a time. Any actor can count whenever they feel inspired. But, this requires careful listening and communication, because if two actors speak at the same time, the game starts over. This is more difficult than it sounds!
Tug of War: The actors must play tug-of-war without an actual rope. The goal is for them to really create the rope in their minds with a sense of competition and teamwork. All the actors should leave the stage genuinely feeling like they had played a real game! When playing this, stress the importance of building of the other actors.
Point of Concentration: to give the imaginary rope reality.
Gibberish #1- Demonstration: A lot of Spolin’s exercises involve demonstration because it just further simplifies the task at hand. This is a one player exercise where the actor stands on stage and attempts to sell the audience something- but only through speaking in gibberish. When finished, he will repeat his pitch, but with real words. The challenge for the actor here is to make sure that he has direct communication with the audience (doesn’t stare above their heads, really connects with them personally). The first and second pitches should not vary that much. Don’t hide behind your words!
Point of Concentration: to communicate to audience
Who Started The Motion?: All of the actors get into a circle, and one is sent out of the room. The remaining actors decide the leader, which is who will be beginning all of the motions (like tapping their foot, nodding head, etc.) and call the other actor back into the room. The leader will then lead the other actors into their series of motions, and the group will copy his or her every move. The observing actor’s job is to figure out who the leader is!
Revised -- Original content courtesy of The Hollywood Acting Coach