Hoopla’s quick guide to improv for beginners

Here’s a super quick guide to improv for people who have just started an improv course or are about to.

Have fun

Improv is for fun. It’s playing games, making up scenes and stories, and being other people and playing with each other. Hopefully some of these things below help remove some fears and help you to play on stage and have fun.

Don’t worry about making mistakes

You don’t get punished for mistakes in improv. There is no report card afterwards or grading system or detentions. Mistakes can often lead to a whole new thing in a story and can become the best bit.

Your scene partner says you are a Cat Burglar. You don’t know what that is so you say “Miaoowww” and steal milk from the fridge. The rest of the show supports you by being The Dog Police who turn up barking in their pedigree chum powered van.

So don’t worry about getting it wrong, as a mistake can be a gift.


There is no set way to do improv. Play with games and exercises and find out how to make them fun for you. Improv is a constantly evolving art form so your own sense of play is what makes it special. You can play improv games your own way and discover something new about them, rather than trying too hard to get them “right”.

You’re not in competition with each other

Your scene partner is in collaboration with you not competition. You’re not trying to out wit each other, you’re playing together to discover new worlds and characters. It’s ok to loose a tug of war on the improv stage, the rope is imaginary after all.

You don’t have to be clever, funny or entertaining and you don’t have to make up jokes

Trying too hard to be clever or funny can sometimes make people freeze up instead. Doing the opposite and being obvious allows us to relax and be in the present moment and discover things line by line moment by moment.

Put your attention on the other person

If you’re freaking out about the audience and feeling self conscious put your attention on the other actor instead. In fact do that even if you’re not freaking out. Eye contact, listening, touch, movement with them all help to stay connected to them instead of feeling self-conscious. It also helps to pick up what improvisers call “offers” which you can build on to discover a scene together.

Agree with what your scene partner presents you and add something that explores that moment

For instance if your scene partner starts with:

“Captain, welcome to the ship”

You could respond with:

“Thank you Lieutenant, and a great job you and the men have done with cleaning”
“Thank Captain Zarg, it’s wonderful that humans and aliens can finally meet”
“Ahhhh!!! And it be a great vessel for pirating!” *

Or any number of offers.

Each offer agrees with the scene partner and explores the situation. Notice that each line changes the scene in different ways. None of them are right or wrong. We are collaborating together to discover the story moment by moment, line by line. Your scene partner will also agree with what you present, so if you go for spaceship and aliens they will go along with that, and if you go with pirates they will go along with that.

Your characters don’t always have to be in agreement, just the improvisers playing the characters. For instance:

“Captain, welcome to the ship”
“I don’t feel very welcome”
“Sorry about that, I didn’t mean to sound sarcastic”

Also in general we’re trying to agree with the underlying reality presented by the improviser, instead of block it (saying no). Here’s an example of a block:

“Captain, welcome to the ship”
“I’m not the Captain, and there is no ship”

Although even that is not impossible to get out of, as we treat even mistakes as gifts. It’s only improv anyway and you haven’t broken any laws and won’t go to prison for blocking, so if someone blocks a reality accidentally we can still have fun trying to incorporate it somehow and make the block a gift:

“Captain, welcome to the ship”
“I’m not the Captain, and there is no ship”
“Sorry! I always get you and your identical twin mixed up. Dammit! That means the Captain has stolen it in the dead of night, I knew we shouldn’t have trusted him.”

Say the first thing that comes to you

Your impulses are great. Trust them and let them out, as long as they are coming from a place of love and support from your scene partner. If something odd blurts out don’t worry it’s only improv and you’re not at work, and we can make it part of the scene.

Watch some improv

If you haven’t seen improv it’s worth watching some while doing a course, it stops it becoming too academic as you can see what improv is on stage. We do live shows every week and also have a list of videos for reference.


Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Improv classes, shows and improv theatre in London, UK.

* All improv examples must include at least one reference to pirates.

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