sign up for our

Home Shop Subscribe Advertise Articles Directories Classifieds Calendar FAQs Contact Us Login

Push The Boundaries Of Your Voice Over
Imagination With Improv. Say, 'Yes, And ...'

By Kim Handysides
Voice Actor & Coach

Have you ever taken an improv class?

My first improv teacher, Diana Mady Kelly (University of Windsor, School of Dramatic Art) blew my mind wide open early in my career by introducing me to the power of "yes, and…"

A student of both Viola Spolin and Uta Hagen, the grounding in "working in the now" Mady Kelly taught me has informed all my work since, and has made me a better voice over actor. 

Improvisation, or improv, is a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters, and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up live and in real-time.

It is a fantastic way to tap into your observation skills, and allows you to focus on being grounded and connected to places, people and actions as they are created.

This handy instrument in the actor's toolkit can help make you a better voice over actor in several ways. 


Voice acting can be a very isolating profession, whether we are in the midst of a pandemic or not. Especially with the growth of home pro studios and self-direction, it is not unusual for a voice actor to have very little interaction with their fellow humans (immediate family notwithstanding). 

Joining an improv group or taking improv lessons means you get out of your personal space and comfort zone (both physically and emotionally).

In the current Covid climate, exploring online improv troupes and groups is a way to connect and create. Improvisation schools and troupes are popular, as are theater sports (competitive comedic improvisation), and all have one thing in common: stepping out of your personal booth (and other boundaries you may have erected) and teaming up with other actors in the pursuit of storytelling. 

This collaboration allows actors to "play" off of one another and build stories together – the more elaborate and interesting the better. You're encouraged to flirt with the unconventional and adopt the eccentric.

Improvisation is a safe space for pushing the boundaries of your own imagination with others who have your back and play along. Literally. 


Improvisation is fast-moving and always changing. 

To do it well, improvisers must be fully present in the moment as the scene, story or game evolves. Because while being present is just good advice for generally living life, if an actor isn't paying attention, their contribution or lack thereof can grind the improv to a halt. 

Lack of comfort in staying and playing in the now leads to awkward moments when everyone realizes things aren't going well, whether the medium is theater, film or voice work. Being able to stay connected and grounded in the here-and-now benefits the voice actor once back in the booth. 

Paying attention to the copy, being present in the world of the project, can make for fewer mistakes, less overthinking, and more relaxation and engagement for the actor.


Improvisers make up worlds from nothing!

This imagining and then describing what exists and is happening in the world around them, is what brings the improvised story to life. 

Like for children at play, improvisation happens when actors imagine whole worlds to connect to - full of people and places and activities that then exist collectively in the minds of the audience as they are being created.

I call this "world building" and I use it in the booth every day.

Voice actors spend their performance time in small quiet spaces talking to imaginary people. By deciding who they are, who they are talking to, where they are, and what circumstances led them to talk about the product, service or subject, a voice actor fully embodies a character and brings a script to life. 

All voice over acting IS acting, and a nimble and strong imagination is a valuable asset in any genre, be it commercial, corporate, animation, gaming, audiobooks, e-learning, etc.

Improv can greatly enhance the care and feeding of the imagination.


The first rule of improv is to always say "yes, and…" 

This means, whenever fellow improvisers are developing a story, the job of the actor is to agree to whatever direction the story takes and to take it further in the service of the story's telling. 

In order to effectively agree and participate, the actor needs to stay open to possibilities and new directions as they are introduced.

This openness allows for creativity to flourish. The actor can drop preconceived ideas about what is happening and simply "go with it" to find new ways to connect and explore the story.  

This is especially helpful for the voice actor in finding new, fresh ways of delivering the script authentically.

Staying open, in the moment and "yes-anding" helps you better work with directors and creatives in a session.

You find previously undiscovered voice over performance options whose existence you might not have been aware of until that moment. And in those moments, real brilliance is possible.
Kim Handysides is a top voice over artist in commercials, eLearning and narration. With a background in theatre and film and a thorough grounding in radio and television, she was a 2018 Voice Arts Awards nominee, and "loves sharing advice, tips and experience with anyone who asks."
She also loves dogs, mountains, beaches and story.



Your Daily Resource For Voice-Over Success
Tell Us What YOU Think!
Please Note: Since we check for spam, there will be a slight delay in the actual posting of your comment.
Your Name:
Your Email Address (will not be published):
Your Comment:
Your Comment:
Security code:     
Comments (2)
Russ DeWolfe
4/29/2020 at 11:27 AM
This is a great description of how improv can help your voice acting skills. So many times we are just told to do stuff and it takes us time to figure out why we are doing it. But...when we are told why up front, the learning curve is flattened a bit...Thanks Kim

Can you or commentors put links to online improv classes so we can start today?
Darla Middlebrook
4/29/2020 at 10:39 AM
Good advice!!
After retiring from almost 40 years as a speech pathologist (SLP), I worked to become a narrator of audio books. Prior to and during my career as an SLP, I acted on stage and in films. Taking advice from VO coaches and this website, I began to participate in live improv classes. After finding a good online coach, I began to participate in an online improv class with other voice over actors. We meet almost every Monday via SKYPE. The teachers and others have been a great help. My narration skills have improved with each lesson, I've made new VO friends and had lots of fun while learning. All VO-actors should try to find good coaches and classes that help online.
Back to Articles
For essential voice-over business strategies
Get your bi-weekly dose here ... all things VO!
Inspiring interviews help your VO career
Email alerts to new VoiceOverXtra articles