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Dublin: 17°C Wednesday 22 September 2021

Four weeks in and I'm doing my best impersonation of the pope

It’s uncanny.

This article is part of a series on learning long-form improvisation.

IT’S WEEK FOUR of my long-form improvisation classes and instead of talking we’re focusing on miming.

When learning improv there can be a lot of emphasis on what to say, but how we move our bodies is equally important in selling a scene.

wave Source: Tom Maher/Gaiety School of Acting

One of our exercises this week involved pretending to be awoken by a loud bang.

We then had free reign on who we could be and what we could do. Nothing was off limits, bar our vocal chords.

We had drug addicts, one night stands and an annoyed woman on a plane whose seat was being kicked by the child behind her.

My divine inspiration came in the form of the pope.

I prayed and waved and blessed children with gusto. I also attempted to look holy in an imaginary cassock and headdress.

All of the mimes made it pretty clear who each person was pretending to be. Equally importantly, they were all compelling to watch – proving an important lesson: words don’t need to fill every gap in a scene.


In another exercise people had to act as the human embodiment of certain animals. It was interesting to see scenes go to places they never would have had the animal angle not been there.

We had human versions of lazy pigs and devious snakes and nervous horses.

shutterstock_279194732 A photo of laughing horses that has not been edited in any way. Source: Shutterstock/picsbyst

In improv, people often talk about being ‘given a gift’ by the person you’re on stage with – they might call you mum or sir or Ms Jones and suddenly you’re a person. You have something to work with.

Their words and actions form a large part of the character you become, and your words and actions do the same for them.

Wanting different things

Another tactic we used was having two people in a scene wanting different things and trying to get it without actually asking for it.

There was one in particular that stood out. A man really wanted to ask his housemate out on a date, whereas she really wanted him to move out.

They were chopping vegetables and a great back-and-forth about the situation ensued, without either of them ever actually saying what they wanted.

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It was everyday and simple. And funny.

This proved a point our teacher Danny Kehoe made last week about not going too big with problems, such as creating an alien invasion.

If you keep talking, stay in character and add – not take away from – what the other person is saying, “The funny will come.”

Practicing  improv is very freeing and very random. One minute you’re sitting on the floor waiting for your turn, the next you’re surprising everyone – yourself included – at whatever you’re acting out.

I still have all those thoughts of ‘Why the hell did I say that?’ and often think of a great reply – two minutes after a scene has ended.

The fact we’ve to perform a show, in front of people other than our small motley crew, in a few weeks is sinking in. And yes, I’m kind of bricking it.

Here’s hoping the funny will come.

More information on long-form improv classes at the Gaiety School of Acting is available here.

For those of you looking for a video of my exploits, that’ll come at the end of the series.

Read more from the series here:

‘There’s always a desire to create an alien invasion, resist it’

‘One minute you’re a drug dealer, then a ballerina’

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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