Improv for Actors: An Interview with Aniela McGuinness

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If you’re an actor for stage or screen then you have probably heard about improv classes. New actors are encouraged to take improv, but why?

We sat down with fellow Sick Puppy and real local working actress Aniela McGuinness to discuss improv and how it has helped her acting career.

Aniella was cast in Rock of Ages Starring Tom Cruise, co-starred on Burn Notice and Charlies Angels, booked national commercials for Home Depot and Mitsubishi and more, as well as starred in many independent films. She is also a main-stage cast member and improv teacher at Sick Puppies Comedy with over seven years of improv under her belt.

When I called her for this interview she was at the airport leaving on a flight for a new show she is working on in the Caribbean. Aniela is the definition of a successful local working actor, so who better to tell us why improv so important?

How has improv helped you with acting?

The job I’m leaving on right now I booked because of being an improv actor.
A model friend recommended this job for me. I was in a meeting with him and the marketing company and they asked for more photos of me, but I said I didn’t have any more, I’m not a model I’m an actor. So we watched my demo reel and I told them I had seven years of improv experience. The show I am going to now is not scripted. It’s fully improvised. There are bullet points, but there is no script. I will have to be quick and interact with people on the spot. My improv experience was a huge selling point for them. It helped them to trust I would be fine being on camera.

Why is improv so important to a producer or marketing company?

Improv makes you playful, and when your playful on set that’s when people really engage with you. I have booked work because people have seen my improv experience.

whiteshirtImprov helps before you even set foot on set! But how does improv help when the cameras are rolling?

When I did Rock of Ages it was very well scripted, but at the same time improv helped in that role because it made me better at stage business*. In improv I have to pantomime objects. In this movie I had a real tray and real objects and it was so much easier. You work with fake objects all day in improv, to have the real thing made my stage business so much more believable.

What would be the benefit of improv classes for an actor?

Improv is like that little doughnut that they throw out to you if you fall off a boat. It’s not a ship, it’s a doughnut and it saves you from drowning. If I’m stuck in the middle of the ocean by myself, I know I wont drown. Improv keeps you from drowning, but you have to work at it. You have to take more than one class. Like anything else you have to keep working that muscle. Just like a flotation device you have to keep blowing it up. It’s like the life jacket they give you on the plane. That’s a better analogy.

I really want a doughnut now. It sounds like improv has really helped you deal with the unknown. Does improv help calm some of those fears or nerves?  

You develop unconscious confidence. Like muscle memory. You can be playful and energetic without thinking about it. I still get nervous and feel that fear, but I just lean into it. I feel the fear and then I go for it. Improv helps with that. Improv wont take the fear away, but at least you get practice at being scared and still succeeding. You can be scared and still do well.

Aniela thank you so much for the info! Have a good flight and hurry home we miss you! 

I miss you guys too! I will be back soon, check out my YouTube channel, I have a funny short set to go live October 1st.

You can also see more Aniela at

* Stage business is the gestures and activities an actor performs as part of a scene on stage. Such as making coffee, folding laundry, or cooking.