Acting Instructor Greg Atkins on the Importance of Improv and Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Beth Fhaner
 | Oct 06, 2017
Improv Class

​Greg Atkins, right.

Improv Class

​Greg Atkins, left.

Greg Atkins has been teaching improvisation classes at SCR's Theatre Conservatory for more than 30 years, and he strongly believes that improv skills are an essential part of an actor’s success. Not only does improv prepare an actor for myriad challenges including auditions and performances, but it is also beneficial in boosting confidence and overcoming shyness. Whether you’re going on a job interview, speaking in public, meeting new people or directing a business meeting, improvisation skills are an important part of everyday life.

When he’s not teaching improv, ​Atkins is busy writing and directing for major entertainment companies like The Walt Disney Company, Busch Gardens, Universal Theme Parks and Blizzard Entertainment, among other corporations. Additionally, he was a creative consultant on the hit ABC primetime show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and co-wrote/directed the television pilot The Everyday Adventures of Hannah Handleman (Super Genius). A published author and playwright, Atkins' book, Improv!, is a must-read for any budding actor.

We recently caught up with Atkins to discuss the benefits of taking an improv class and why he advises actors and students to “take a chance and get out of their comfort zones.”

For those who may be new to acting or performing, what exactly is improv?

Improv has become synonymous with "Whose Line is it Anyway?" and groups like Second City in Chicago and Groundlings in L.A. I teach my own style of improvisation, primarily geared for the actor and, by extension, anyone who has to stand in front of a group and interacts…whether on stage, at an audition, in front of a jury, at a corporate meeting or in a fight with your spouse. Improv is taking all the information already in your brain, quickly accessing it and speaking spontaneously with confidence and purpose.

What are the benefits of taking an improv class?

Students learn to think faster, access information quicker, make smarter choices, develop their storytelling skills and, in general, have fun.

Would you recommend an improv class for someone who might be painfully shy?

Actors are some of the shyest people I know. I have been lucky in my career to work with many well-known actors and they are not always extroverts. Many of these actors feel that they are able to “hide” behind their script and their characters. Many improv actors have the same feelings, the only difference is they are creating the characters and the stories on the spot. Just because there is no script, doesn't mean you are not playing a unique character…and this can be freeing.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of teaching improv?

It is never boring. My classes are fast-paced and fun. The ideas come out fast and furiously. We get to create interesting characters, situations and stories out of a simple word or idea. We laugh, we create, we get embarrassed, we succeed, we fail…it’s all part of the improv process. Also, some of my favorite people have come out of these classes.

Tell us about your experience as a writer and/or director on productions and special events for companies such as The Walt Disney Company, Busch Gardens, Universal Theme Parks, Blizzard Entertainment and Princess Cruises, among others.

I have found that improv strengthens all my work in entertainment. Whether writing, directing or acting, improv skills have always brought me success.

I am currently working on an event called BlizzCon. If you are an online gamer, you know what that is. I am writing and directing the on-camera talent for live broadcasts. I also am the ​executive ​director of InterActors, a company of 90 improv actors ​who speak 35+ languages. We travel around the world to help train and test doctors in the medical industry. We have upcoming gigs in Orlando, Prague and Rome.

Describe your work as a playwright and as the author of Improv!

I have written a book, not surprisingly called, Improv! and have numerous plays and musicals published. I was just selected as a winner of the Panndora Productions 11th Annual New Works Festival for my new play, Cadaver Dogs. (Now that I think of it, Cadaver Dogs would be perfect for the Argyros Stage!) And my 10-minute play, The Exchange, just won the 8 Tens @ 8 Short Play Festival with the Actors’ Theatre of Santa Cruz. And my latest project has been writing the book and lyrics for BEDLAM - The Musical, along with my composer Joseph Alfuso.

What final thought do you have about your improv class at SCR?

Many actors and students tell me they put off taking an improv class because it scares them. Don’t let fear control what you want to do. Try the class...take the chance…get out of your comfort zone. Almost all my students tell me afterward that it was the best thing they ever did for their career and their confidence.

Find our more about improv and other adult acting classes at SCR and enroll.