It was four years ago (I was 18 years old) when I decided to take my first Level 1 Improv class at Theatre 99. It lasted eight weeks and my teacher was Greg Tavares, cofounder of Theatre 99 and the infamous local improv troupe The Have Nots!. Taking that class was a great experience, but honestly, I hit a wall after learning the basics.
Though it’s been four years since I’ve participated in any kind of improv, it’s always been in the back of my mind to get back into that culture. So when I heard Greg was releasing a book on improvisational acting, I knew I needed to get my interest back into it. His book speaks so many truths to my desire to be a better improviser.
The book is titled Improv for Everyone and it really is for everyone. The books reads... “This is the book for you: the improviser who loves improv and wants improv to love you back. You could try to figure improv on your own, or you could just read this book.”
I recently spoke with Greg about the book and his experience in writing it. The following are excerpts from our interview:
HB: Now Greg, what sparked your interest to write this book?
GT: Learning how to improvise is hard. That’s the best way to put it. It’s a learned behavior and the skills that you need to do improv are not natural. It’s almost like learning a new language.
This is the book I wish I had when I first started doing improvisation.
After you learn the basics of improv, you usually plateau and hit a wall early on. And there isn’t a great book about improv methodology teamwork, so I wanted to create a book that anybody could read without being an insider to the improvisation culture.
HB: Describe your experience with the manuscript process.
GT: I checked my computer recently, and June of 2009 is when I created the first Word Document—so three years ago.
For the past 10 years I’ve been teaching classes at Theatre 99, so with the curriculum I’ve created, and by going through every detail of my classes for the book, I kind of created an arch with it.
But it’s such a hard thing to do—to write a book, haha!
HB: Yes, definitely! I saw you were published with M&L Books. Did that publisher give you any guidance or did they just tell you to go with it?
GT: M&L Books is actually my friend David Mendel, who works for Arcadia Books as a book designer.
I’ve known David as a friend for years as a scripted actor, and we’ve actually worked on a couple of projects together. But David has published books before independently out of Arcadia.
So I approached David about a year ago and asked if he would take an honest freelance project.
David didn’t give me a lot of guidance on the actual manuscript, but instead, on what I wanted the book to look like. We refined it over and over again.
HB: Now you also talk about how you can train yourself to be AWESOME, can you explain this learned behavior?
GT: Cooperation is the key. That’s the real measurement of anyone’s ability to do improvisation.
The core skill is make-believe though. It’s innate, it’s an acting skill, and everyone does it. But the real key is cooperation, which is not natural.
Improv can get you into a fight or flight place, and you have to learn how to desensitize that because no one is in control. It’s all cooperation.
Every human being I have ever met is self-focused, in a positive and a negative way. We are obsessed on ourselves, and you have to place an importance on moving your focus onto others. That is the first lesson I teach, and I recognize that it takes effort and it takes learning.
HB: So who is this book for then and who is not for exactly?
GT: I think it is for everyone, I went as wide as I could with the title, Improv for Everyone, haha!
There’s a couple of catch-phrases I use, like "it’s for the people who love improv and wants improv to love you back."
I want people to read this that have already discovered that they have a love for this art form.
One of my chapters is named “Improv Is Enough.” A lot of improv has been a stepping stone for other things, but improv is not a stepping stone for me.
This book is not for someone who only wants the audience to laugh, though, or for someone who is approaching this for straight-up comedy. I go out of my way in the book to explain that this book is not for you.
“First things first: Reading this book will not make you funny. A book can’t do that, and what’s worse is that, right now, as you browse this book for free, you are already as funny as you will ever be. If you just want to 'be funny,' this book and improv are not for you; so if that is your goal, put the book down and go somewhere else.”
HB: So are you teaching any classes based off of this book?
GT: I am, a couple of classes, actually, at Theatre 99.
I’m also going on a book tour—going to New York City, Atlanta, Virginia, and upstate South Carolina, teaching improv and going over my three stages of an improv scene:
- Building the Agreement
- Exploration of Point of View
HB: When is the release date for Improv is for Everyone?
GT: Well I already have the book, but we’re having a release party and a show at Theatre 99 on October 3rd where the public can buy them.
*Buy Tickets Here: Improv For Everyone at Theatre 99 Book Release
HB: Do you have a website people can go to to buy the book as well?
You can listen to the full interview between Greg and I, in which Greg goes into more depth about his journey with improv (he's self-taught) and why this book really is for everyone.
You can also download a free sample of the book in .pdf below THEN BUY THE BOOK! (...in that order).
You know you want too!
Greg acts, teaches, and directs in Charleston, South Carolina. He did his first improv show in 1985 and has never stopped. In 1995, he cofounded The Have Nots! with Brandy Sullivan and some other friends. He cofounded Theatre 99 in Charleston with Brandy and Timmy Finch in 2000. He wrote the curriculum taught in Theatre 99’s training program and gets as much out of teaching as he does from being on stage. He performs and teaches at improv festivals all over the country. He has a BFA in acting from the University of South Carolina and an MFA in directing from the University of Nebraska but still has nightmares that he never finished high school. When he is not acting or directing, he is hanging out with his best friend and wife, Sara, and their son, Lincoln. If you want to reach out to Greg, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.