Stagecraft + Book News!

Note: This is a reprint of a previous Improv Illusionist newsletter. If you’re not receiving my email newsletter, you can subscribe here and get my “Learning the Improv Illusion” series as a bonus.

Welcome to another issue of the Improv Illusionist Newsletter, a monthly update from me, David Raitt, with a focus on the improv skills of environment, object work, and physicality in character and performance. I’m honoured by your interest.

Hello, friend! I hope you’re doing well.

I’m writing this the morning after our company’s monthly pub night improv show. We had some guest performers from the professional Toronto scene, and to see them play was very inspiring.

And that’s the key word: PLAY. To watch improvisers mess around, delighting each other with their goofiness, is magic. It’s something that’s easy to forget as we talk about storytelling, and character, and object work. The real joy in improv is to do all these things with an infectious spirit of play.

Interestingly, I think we can find more play by experimenting with our actors’ tools. Here’s one that I find very helpful…

Improv and Stagecraft

I’d say most improvisers aren’t trained actors. They come to improv through watching shows, become curious, and start taking improv classes. They don’t have much interest in doing scripted theatre.

But improv is as much theatre as the formal kind. It’s storytelling in front of an audience, where we’re simultaneously the actor and playwright. Improv IS acting. And you can get much better at improv by learning and using more tools of the classic stage actor.

One of the most effective of these is Stagecraft. This is the use of the stage and physical space to enhance your performance and engage the audience. Your physical movements in relation to the stage space and other actors can set a mood, enhance emotional reactions, and even get you more laughs.

Stagecraft is a huge topic, but here are some tips on how you can use it to your advantage:

Use the space

Don’t be afraid to move around the stage. A change in location can help to establish a new setting or shift the tone of the scene. It can also symbolize an emotional reaction: as the character’s emotions change, their body does too.

Use the space to create a sense of atmosphere or to emphasize a particular moment. Do you always start your scenes front and centre? What happens if you start in an upstage corner? Or right on the apron?


Similarly, be aware of your distance from your scene partner. Moving closer or further away can create tension or establish a different relationship.


Experiment with levels to add variety to your physical movements. Sitting, kneeling, or lying down creates a different dynamic.

You can also think about playing levels, with one player in a location above or below another. Maybe you’re a kitten caught in a tree, and your partner has to rescue you. Play levels by adjusting your body and eyeline to look toward where the other player would be if there really was a tree on the stage. It’s kind of like playing a split-screen effect you might see on TV.

Eye contact

Remember that eye contact is a powerful tool for improvisers. Use it to establish a connection with your scene partner or to communicate an emotion or intention.

You can also change up the emotion of a scene by breaking eye contact at key moments. In the game Look/Look Away, players alternate between intense eye contact and looking completely away from each other, signalled by the coach or a music improviser. It’s a fun way to experiment with eye contact.

Just remember that avoiding eye contact for too long will eventually break the connection with your scene partner, which harms the scene.


Of course, physicality conveys emotion and intention. Use body language, facial expressions, and gestures. Your object work can also symbolize your inner state. A frustrated character could start tearing the pages of their book.

Entrances and exits

Pay attention to how you enter and exit the stage. An interesting entrance can create excitement and anticipation, while a well-timed exit can provide closure or leave the audience wanting more.

Sound effects

Use sound effects to enhance the scene. Mimic the sound of a car engine or the wind to create a more immersive experience. Technical improvisers or even players on the backline can contribute sound effects too.

Stagecraft helps you add more visual interest to your scenes, which draws the audience into the story. You don’t have to rely as much on clever dialogue or outrageous narratives. Play with these ideas and you’ll find much more variety in performance.

Things to Try

Ideas for exercises or scenes to work out your physical improv skills.

  • Play a scene with Levels, where the characters are at different heights. Maybe you’re digging a hole, or climbing up the outside of a building.
  • Entrances and Exits: Each character gets a word from the audience. Whenever that word is used in dialogue, the character must enter/exit the scene. Players can then force each other to enter or leave, which is fun to watch. You can even use your own word to motivate yourself (though that’s a gimmick that loses steam as you use it). Try to have a purposeful justification for coming on or going off.
  • Try an audio-only Radio scene. Players can sit behind a screen, or just have the audience close their eyes. Add sound effects to create environment. How else can you communicate a sense of place through dialogue?

Book News!

Check out the awesome book cover designed by Ben Anslow.

The Improv Illusionist by David Raitt - Book Cover

And we now have a publishing date! The Improv Illusionist is coming out on August 24, 2023.

Get more info and pre-order links here.

More for the Improv Illusionist

Emotional Safety Resources

Improv Exercises for Physical Skills

Improv Books — Reviews & Recommendations

Improv Podcasts — Reviews & Recommendations

Question(s) of the Month

How much acting training do you think improvisers need?

Hit Reply and share. I love to chat with readers, and it gives me ideas for future content to help the whole community.

Do you have any feedback about Improv Illusionist, either these newsletters or the website? Send me a message or just reply to this email. Seriously, I read and respond to everything.

See you again on April 6th!

Ex nihilo!

David Raitt - Headshot

Hi, I'm David Raitt. I've been performing and teaching improv and sketch comedy for over 25 years.
MY MISSION: To help improvisers everywhere (re-)learn the power of environment, object work, and physicality in character and performance.

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