Tag Archives: improvisation

Marketing and Show Promotion

Like most performance arts, improv suffers from an excess of interested performers and producers, but a relative dearth of available interested audience. And like most performance arts, improvisers and producers of improv tend towards a one sided view towards the challenge of finding an audience for their improv. They see it as ‘how do we sell tickets and get butts in seats?’ rather than ‘how do we form relationships with a community that will want to support us?’, not realizing that answering the 2nd question is the most effective way of answering the 1st question.

Improv theaters with training programs grow an easy audience by giving students free passes to shows. But they’re not making money at the door when those students attend. Comps fill your seats but don’t pay off your expenses. And their word of mouth doesn’t go far, since nearly all their peers are also improvisers, and in our post-modern self-absorbed society almost none will pay the word of mouth any real mind.

Big Chicago improv theaters like iO and Second City have a long-standing built in audience for its main shows. However many of their lesser shows, and most shows elsewhere, struggle to fill seats even during prime time slots. Most shows seem like a case of a show in need of an audience, or shows made primarily for the sake of those making them, rather than made for an audience in need of a show.

Some inconvenient truths about producing improv shows:

– Unfortunately, when producing a show, your goal typically is to make money, at least enough to pay off your expenses to produce the show. No one’s into making improv shows to get rich, but anyone who makes a show happen at least wants to pay back the $200-400 or so to rent the venue, plus the cost of any rehearsal space, or a board op if they needed to pay one. And of course it’s nice if they can ever pay performers a little for their trouble. Turning a profit isn’t even on the radar. It’s just about making the show worth your while.

– The bulk of most improv shows’ audiences consists of other improvisers. These peers don’t have a lot of free time or disposable income. Rarely will they pay full price to see a show. But, like theater and dance, improv doesn’t do much to engage or cultivate an audience outside of its own peers.

– Marketing efforts often amount to the same ham fisted and too often annoying methods: Flyering + postering, Facebook invites, disposable-quality YouTube videos, email lists, begging for press from publications and websites, etc.

– Unsolicited word of mouth also comes up empty. I hear a couple dozen times a week about some really awesome show someone saw or otherwise knows about. When I hear about a show, I’m respectful about the input but I’m likely not going to see it. Whether or not I have the time and money… hell, even if I am interested, I have far too much else going on. So does pretty much every other improviser, let alone anyone who is not into improv or your improv group.

– Most people’s natural introverted aversion to sales and marketing (people generally don’t like directly trying to persuade someone to do something they probably don’t want to do), combined with the comfort zone of one’s social circle, leads people to lean on Facebook and other passive marketing methods that feel productive but often don’t bring much of anyone to the theater.

– We forget that other people are just as low on disposable income as we are, and are as strapped for time as we are. Most share our same schedules. If you don’t have the time and money to see a show costing that much, at that time… they probably don’t either.

– We forget that, if we aren’t interested or willing to pay to see a show at that time, for that price, with that content, etc… others in our demographic probably aren’t either. We forget that, if the investment and effort to see a show seems like too much of a bother for us, the driven working improviser… it’s probably too much for other driven working improvisers, let alone the not-as-driven casual audience that you want to pay full price to see your show.

– The more roadblocks you place to seeing your show (like ticket prices $10 and higher, a late start time on a work night, an unfavorable venue, an uninspiring lineup of groups, spammy and annoying marketing), the easier it is for anyone, let alone an improviser, to say no-thanks. Most non-improvisers also don’t have much money, and choosing to buy a ticket to a show, even a $5-10 ticket, is often for them an important one. You face a steep uphill battle to convince them to come.

– Simply put, it takes far more interest in and empathy for a target audience, and a committed interest in that audience’s needs and lifestyles, than we want to admit. The work to engage your community is just as important, if not more important, than scheduling and staging the actual show. If you don’t cultivate an outside audience, then you may as well have never produced the show.

No one in performing arts likes confronting the reality of show marketing. We generally don’t do it well, and we rely on methods that were outdated a decade ago to reach a changed culture that doesn’t respond to those methods. Effective marketing needs to be more personal and direct, and more about building relationships with a larger community that will in turn take interest and initiative in seeing your work with minimal or no solicitation.

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While I think we can do better, and find a better way to cultivate an audience community, there is also one final inconvenient truth: There are currently far more improv performers and far more shows than our culture wants or needs.

Let’s never mind that improv is still a strange unknown topic to many people, and that if people were aware they may be more interested. Jai Alai is a strange and unknown sport to people in the U.S. You think there’s a huge untapped market for that? You think all they’re missing is mere informative marketing? Highly doubtful. While improv is more applicable, sure, the ceiling for its reach may be lower than people want to believe.

I recognize that the unfortunate best answer, for both improvisers and potential audiences, may either be for the community as a whole to do fewer shows, as well as eliminate shows produced in unfriendly time slots (unless overwhelming audience demand presents itself)… or to create a more affordable and attractive way for improvisers to stage free and otherwise easily accessible shows (i.e. more shows like Shithole).

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In the interim, we ought to stay optimistic and open minded, to grow our audience for paid shows while we can, and find a better way to do it.

I’m not saying I have answers. But I do see what is not working, and I do have at least a general idea of how to do things better.

 

It’s important that we engage an audience that may want and be more easily able to see such a show. I have some ideas in mind to find that audience, in early stages, but it’s definitely more than posters, a Metromix listing and a Facebook invite.

I’d love to talk it over with an artists or producers who also want to change the paradigm on show marketing, and help find and grow a new audience for our work.

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Energy is essential, especially when you don’t have it

 

One common refrain among peers before shows is that they find themselves in a “low-energy” state. Part of their nervousness or apprehension about an imminent show is that they suddenly find themselves lacking the high energy they would prefer to approach the show with.

Many carry their apprehensive, tentative sluggishness into the set, and it adversely affects their participation in the set. Whether or not they do jump in as needed, their choices often lack alert tenacity, and frequently fall flat.

I strike many as a high energy performer, and many wonder what my secret is. I don’t take any drugs, and at most I’ve had a cup of coffee shortly before the show.

It turns out I’m probably just as tired as they are. I’ve stepped on stage for shows often feeling like I’d rather be in bed. But I refuse to let that keep me from making the strong choices I want to make and being as present as I want to be. Once we’re on, that show and the moment are all I care about. I refuse to feel any exhaustion.

The secret is that I’m also tired during practice or rehearsal or class, and because of that I make a point there to give my best within the reality of not feeling so hot. I have spent years getting used to giving my best and pushing myself to play the way I want to play when I’m feeling far from my best, knowing that someday I’d need to perform shows in that condition.

An improv show or any theatrical performance requires a higher plane of energy. An audience will frequently turn against a show if they feel the performers are not giving their best.

On a 7-point energy scale, 7 being full speed ahead and 0 being still, most of us live anywhere between a 1 and a 3. Theatre, improv, any performance, requires at least a 4, and frequently demands you incidentally push yourself to a 5 or 6.

There are going to be a lot of days where you feel like a 2 (1 is akin to laying down and relaxing). Pretty much everyone who says they’re feeling “low-energy” is around a 2, where living at a 3 feels like an effort. There are a lot of days where I walked into a space feeling like a 2, but I gave my work a 4-6 anyway because that’s what it demanded, and what I demanded of myself. I got used to meeting those expectations, and now I can give that level of effort even when I feel “low-energy”.

It takes more than going through the motions of a warm-up to find energy when you’re “low-energy”. You need to be actively present and aware, play with purpose and a sense of urgency. A good warm-up can get you there if you as a player are focused on connecting to that state of awareness, presence and sense of urgency. Warmup scenes can get you there. Shadowboxing, a run around the block, or a great conversation can get you there if you’re seeking to connect to that state.

However, it’s easiest to reach that state when you routinely find and perform in that state during practice, on a regular basis. The more often you play with presence, awareness and a sense of urgency, the less trouble it’ll be to do a show with “low-energy”.

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You’re Always Coming and Going From Somewhere

 

An easy way to create character choices in improv is to realize your character, much like yourself, is always coming from somewhere, and after this scene will be going somewhere else. This is not to say you should create in your mind a comprehensive character history for whatever character you happen to be playing. But it helps to come in with an idea of what has led your character to this place in time, with the other character(s) in your scene.

Is your character in the middle of a shitty day? Having a great day? Perhaps your character spent all day preparing for this moment, the scene you’re in right now. Perhaps your character has dreaded this moment. Perhaps your character has been enjoying the journey of the last day, week, month, year, life… or loathing it.

Perhaps your character has a long work day ahead, and isn’t looking forward to it. Perhaps your character can’t wait to get the hell out of there. Perhaps your character never wants this moment to end, or whatever happens next is nothing to this character unless they get what they want in this moment.

Imagine for a split second where this character is coming from, or where they plan to go next. From there, put yourself emotionally in that character’s shoes and imagine for a split second how you’d feel in that situation, where your head would be at.

Give it no more than a split second’s thought. You are in the middle of a scene, after all!

Take whatever sense memory you can glean from that idea into this scene, and play with that from here.

It could be the bit of information you need to help drive your improv in the scene.

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Keys to making a big improv jam work

Chicago improv has a lot of drop-in jams. You have the CIC Blender on Sunday nights at 8pm. Annoyance has the student jam on Mondays at 9:30, and right down the street the Playground does the Mixer at 10:00. Second City apparently has a Thursday night jam I did not know about, as well as a Musical improv jam on Saturdays at 4pm. iO Chicago just started a monthly DiOversity Jam. Various shows will do rando invitational Mash Up jams.

Do enough improv, do enough jams, and you’ll run into telltale jam issues: Inexperienced players. Tag out runs happening 10 seconds into your two person scene. Aggressive players taking liberties and steamrolling. Large meandering group scenes. Having to do improv with That Guy. The fact that you only get 10-20 minutes as an unfamiliar group to improvise, and that’s it. Jams are a great place to do some improv but not typically a great place to practice great scenework or things you want to work on.

A lot of these issues can be addressed with Will Hines’ classic That Guy advice to GO TO THEM, engage the source of your issue, meet them on their level and bring them to a level you both can enjoy. When you run into an issue that takes you out of the moment, the sooner you can jump back into the moment, the better.

One major issue this doesn’t address is the subject of a big jam, where everyone wants to play but there’s only so much time to get everyone in… meaning everyone has to go up in big, separated groups. In many jams, even a group of more than 6 can be troublingly large for a 10-15 minute jam, but in many cases groups of 8-10 are common. In these situations it’s clear that it’ll be very hard to keep everyone involved, let alone ensure everyone can have fun.

These are important things to do in a jam with big groups.

– This is not the time for slow 2-3 minute two person scenes. Players on stage should just be blunt and get to the heart of whatever idea they want to bring to the scene right away. These scenes should be about a minute long, and/or should include as many players as is reasonable. Scenes with 3-6 people should be typical and encouraged.

– HOWEVER. Tag runs are often quite confusing for the younger performers you see in a jam, and a tag where anyone’s not on the same page can take multiple people out of a scene and kill its momentum. You are much better off just editing to a brand new scene with whatever idea you want to bring in, than trying to walk on or tag in and start a run, unless the game of a walk on run or tag run is very obvious.

– Matching is VERY important in group scenes. Everyone needs to match and take one or two sides in a group scene, whether everyone is collectively monologuing as a single point of view, or doing a scene as two contrasting and separate points of view. Any more points of view than that and people will absolutely get lost. Everyone playing a group scene should do their best to match energies in a group scene. It’s better improv and it’s more fun.

– Again, these scenes should be edited quickly, unless the majority of the group is on stage and everybody is clearly having a good time, or off-stage players can find some way to do a run of walk ons (again, usually not a good idea, and it might be better to just edit into a new scene).

– This may be useful for jams with prelim workshops like the Playground Mixer: If possible, try to do a basic workshop or primer on the above ideas: Quick scene establishment, quick editing, match into one or two points of view in group scenes. This way, players know of and have those tools and concepts at their disposal, better equipping them to jump in and have fun.

A jam with too many people can still be fun if you proactively take a sound approach to doing so. Hopefully, this will help improvisers do so.

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The Five Tools of Improvisation

On Reddit’s Improv subreddit there’s a discussion about what would be improv’s “five tools”.

Scouts in baseball will rate hitters on a scale of 20 to 80 (20 being a total lack of that ability, 50 being average among peers at that ability, and 80 being among the best ever at that ability) in five key aspects to playing baseball. In baseball those tools are:

  1. Running speed
  2. Arm strength
  3. Contact hitting
  4. Power hitting
  5. Fielding

While I find Reddit useful for information and ideas but generally abhorrent as a community, the post did make me think about what the five scalable tools of an improviser would be, how I’d rate players if I had to objectively rate them.

Much like how I conceived The Improv Diamond, I brainstormed ideas until I found they all revolved around five improv skills. In listing what I consider the five tools of improvisation, I also provide examples for what would be rated a 20 (rock bottom), a 50 (average for their peers) and an 80 (top level in this skill):

Cooperation. This person’s ability to yes-and stuff, and build character relationships. Also, how this person is for other players to work with. While those items seem separate, they do go together on several levels.

20 – Oblivious to what’s happening in a scene, in their head, and in their own world. A difficult person to work with.
50 – Builds well on what is introduced, with a focus on the relationship between their character and others. Invested as a player in what’s happening on stage, whether in rehearsal or in a show. No big problems working with this person.
80 – Present and aware of everything their scene partner does, treating every offer like a gift while building on it with their own gifts. People love working with this person. They have their shit on lock.

Acting. The thing actors do in theatre and film. The ability to demonstrate emotional investment in a scene and get people watching to believe that you are playing a character. The charisma to make an audience and players believe in you.

20 – Is always themselves on stage. Doesn’t react to things that happen in the scene. No real charisma. Audiences wonder what the hell this person is doing on a stage.
50 – Can buy into a scene and react accordingly to things that should affect that character. May be able to play some characters outside of their usual quality. Audiences don’t feel this person is out of place on stage, though they probably blend in with other such improvisers and only stand out if they’re in a group with weaker players.
80 – Can become a wide variety of colorful, amazing characters at will. Audiences are hooked by this person, and many pay/attend to specifically see them.

Risk. The courage and will to take initiative and make moves on stage. The lack of fear of making moves.

20 – Stage fright. You have to make that person go out and do a scene.
50 – Will readily initiate scenes and has little problem carrying a scene. May brush off offers to do riskier moves, but will readily provide what is needed.
80 – Will do or play just about anything.

Specificity. The attention to detail in a player’s dialogue, action, character choices, object work, etc.

20 – Vague, not at all clear, to the point where it seems like they’re waiting for the other person to establish details for them. No intent effort to provide any information about the scene, setting, characters or relationship.
50 – Consistently, clearly establishes who, what, where early in scene, and their offers establish or acknowledge details in the scene. Rarely do they give more than what is needed to make the scene work.
80 – Establishes things so clearly you and scene partners can see and feel where they are, what they mean, and they recall these details throughout the piece. TJ and Dave level attention to detail.

Intelligence. A player’s level of observation and knowledge about improvising. Seeing or knowing what to add or heighten in a scene to best serve a show, the sense of when and how to edit, etc.

20 – No real vision of what’s happened or is happening. At best they see and respond to what’s immediately offered to them. If queried about a show, probably has no idea or opinion beyond whether or not they liked it. They either lock up or make moves that clearly came from in their head rather than building on what was established.
50 – Can add needed moves or characters to a show. Choices add to the theme of the show rather than come out of nowhere. Can match or change energy of show as needed. Knows when to edit. Readily does all these things as needed. Can effectively observe, analyze and discuss moves made in a show, though they’ll leave any higher concept stuff to a coach or director.
80 – Easily, readily identifies the show’s arc and effectively collaborates with cast to build upon it. Always seems to make a great show-building move at the right time. Has such a high level grasp on improv that they should teach or coach others.

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Those are my five tools of a successful improviser. Your mileage may vary! But I believe a successful improviser should carry effective ability with cooperation, acting, willingness to risk, specificity and improvise with intelligence.

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What To Do If Your Improv Team Has Little Practice Time

This is a continuation of the thread began here.

What To Do If You Have Little Practice Time

1. Regardless of your coaching level, if you teach, coach or direct improv, you will be short on time.
2. Physical ability improves play, so get your players in shape. Use motion and moving exercises where players improvise while moving.
3. Spend most of your time on individual skills (character, observation, object work, adding to what is established, edits, matching), where second for second you get the most improvement.
4. Squeeze in team skills before shows, e.g. the intro/get, striking chairs, group games, the curtain call.
5. Give homework. Do exercises in practice that players can repeat at home.
6. Make sure every player practices multiple two person scenes.
7. Don’t talk your players to death. Get them going and doing. Never leave any one person sitting for more than half an hour.
8. Plan practice and then time each exercise with your phone or (if available) a stopwatch.
9. If possible, have an assistant coach or instructor help out.
10. Use the time before a show to actually practice. If available, use intermission as well.
11. You don’t always need a stage or a meeting room to practice.

Counterproductive Beliefs

1. Being concerned with the show or audience will help us entertain them. No. Worrying about the audience isn’t going to make the show good, but using your abilities to create great scenes will. It only takes 5 minutes to figure out and adjust to a given audience’s expectations if players use their attention to detail to note how their audience is reacting.

2. To win an audience over I have to be clever and play to their tastes. Doing this without giving them a good show of your own is pandering! Referencing what the audience knows without skillfully building characters, relationships and scenes for them to care about is worthless, even detrimental. Committed attention to detail in establishing character + environment, and building strong relationships, makes for effective scenes and an effective show.

3. Running the set we’re going to do in the show is the best way to spend our time, because players will learn everything they need for the show itself. No, players will then just make the same mistakes in practice as they will make in shows. Without building their individual scenework skills, players can not be effective team players once under the lights before an audience.

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Sidney Goldstein, Basketball and Improv

Years ago I landed a copy of basketball coaching guru Sidney Goldstein‘s book The Basketball Coach’s Bible. Obviously, I’m not a basketball coach, though I was working on my hardwood skills at the time and found the drills informative.

Goldstein has a solid fundamental philosophy on developing basketball skills, one a lot of coaches don’t share. Most coaches recruit and play the best talent available, treat drills as a warm up and think that drawing up plays and running their players in scrimmages will make them better. Goldstein believes any player of any shape or size can learn and develop the skill to do anything with regular, proper practice. Goldstein for example says a 7 footer could learn to crossover dribble and hit a jump shot with practice, and the reason most can’t is because most coaches focus on having them stand near the hoop, rebound, block shots and dunk on people… and thus never teach them those other skills.

Most typecast the tall guy and then have him use the same small rudimentary set of skills, as well as typecasting the short guy to be the dribbling point guard who drives the lane, plays super low on the perimeter, etc. I bet a coach who would bother teaching players the way Goldstein does could create a great group or professional basketb- oh wait there’s a whole league full of people who do.

But I digress. I read through Goldstein’s topics, specifically his Advice to New Coaches, and couldn’t help notice parallels to learning and teaching effective improv. Both basketball and improv are active skill based endeavors that for any preparation has to be done in the moment on the fly, where a combination of execution and creativity determines success.

Seven Ideas That Will Make Your Class, Show or Group More Successful

1. Don’t let your players practice bad habits in practice. Remember: if your players practice negative habits, then they become experts at those negative habits. If you must, keep scenes and exercises simple and build upon simple improv to keep players practicing with positive habits. Institute restrictive rules during individual sessions if needed e.g. you must move when speaking, only say one sentence at a time… or use a short form game like New Choice as an in-scene coaching tactic.

2. Don’t try to do it all! Focus on fundamentals, on how they perform and develop 2-person/group scenes, how they edit, how they make moves and how they improvise from source material. If they can’t do the simple things effectively, the bigger picture is going to cave in anyway. You don’t need to synthesize skills. A player will learn more involved skills in only minutes after properly executing individual ones. Often, with a fundamentally sound and practiced team, practicing the overall form is the easy part.

3. Don’t focus too much on doing full runs in a session. Learning not only follows repetition, it follows rapid or consecutive repetition. In a full run of a form or show, you do not achieve this type of practice because a player may only get to make a given move once or twice in a set, or may only get 1-2 solid scenes. In a scene or exercise, a coach can watch each individual’s work closely. A coach watching 6-10 players in a game probably won’t have opportunity to correct or even detect most mistakes.

4. Build from the bottom up. Stick to having players respond to what has just been said or done in the moment, building on existing information in lieu of inventing new information. More complex stuff like callbacks, deconstruction and expansion are a bigger picture extension of this skill, and if they don’t do the first thing well, they’re not going to nail the other stuff. Always start with and focus on building upon the moment.

5. Condition your players. Conditioning makes a difference, and man are a lot of improvisers not in shape.  In the last few minutes of a set, conditioned teams miss fewer opportunities and do more cool shit faster than poorly conditioned teams. Conditioned players are better performers. All conditioning should involve improv skills. Want to have players run around the room? Okay whatever, but have them pass a phrase or do a two person scene this way or something.

6. Write down your practice plan. Yes, a lot of good teachers and coaches already do this. Yes, Mick Napier famously is amazing at his job without doing it. But generally, you can get 5-10 times more from your players if you plan. Plan for the day, week, month, and season. All but daily planning involves deciding when to introduce particular skills. It’s okay if you don’t stay exactly on schedule. Some skills, like edits, two person scenes and adding to the moment, need to be practiced every session. Others can be practiced every other session. Many team skills, especially full sets, can be postponed. Make sure your plan keeps players involved all the time, not sitting and waiting for other scenes and players to finish.

7. Give homework. Players can and should practice skills at home, even if another player is not available. Consult Mick Napier’s Improvise for solo exercise ideas. Have your players see shows and report back. Assigning homework yields remarkable results. Homework assignments should follow what you do in practice, not involve new material.

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That’s one example. There will be others I share later.

As always, you’re totally free to take this with a grain of salt. It’s food for thought.

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An Improv Idea: The Scene Portal

The Scene Portal is a variation of the Swinging Door, i.e. a dual-scene mechanic where a player in the middle stands or otherwise ends up between two players, then alternates between both of those outside players in playing different scenes.

The one twist with a scene portal is that any of the middle person’s lines can be relevant to *both* scenes. If the middle person says a line to one player, the outside player can respond to that line as if it were said to him/her, and the line becomes relevant to their scene. This of course can get quite fun the more out of context the line is to the outside scene.

This doesn’t mean that *every* line the middle person says in one scene is relevant to the other player’s scene. A line only becomes relevant to the other scene if the player outside of the scene responds to it and swings the middle person around.

In effect, the Scene Portal is a swinging door scene where any given line can provide a portal for the central character between the two scenes. The portal definitely spans space, and can also span time.

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Five years of improv (… well, sort of)

So, five years ago on this day, I took my first improv class at Unexpected Productions in Seattle. It would be a slow climb to where I am today as an improviser, in part because I was also training in other disciplines (Clown, Stage Combat, auditioning for and performing in theatre projects), but in part because I practiced at a much smaller volume than I do today. I went to the one class on Tuesday and that was it. Occasionally I’d go to a jam, or occasionally I’d do a workshop.

It wasn’t until I concurrently took a class at Jet City Improv and met the guys with which I’d form the group Wonderland that I’d practice on a more regular basis. And even then that was no more than two 3-hour sessions of practice a week. But it was regular practice, even when I wasn’t in class, and it also afforded me the chance to occasionally lead an exercise or coach scenes.

Having to stay ahead of the curve with my group pushed me to study up on improv, read books about it, watch a lot of it. Seattle is largely a short form and themed long form play town. They don’t do the montages and Harolds that are done elsewhere (though U.P. has recently introduced a Harold-themed 8pm show, and Randy Dixon’s Harold is typically more free form than the typical opening-scenes-game-scenes structure).

Over time, a) I learned a lot about improv and b) I gradually became bored with seeing the same shit and the same people doing it over and over. Plus, I was getting a chance to do clown pieces, do more experimental work, and most of all I got cast in Jenna Bean Veatch’s Sideshow, which introduced me to the dance community and sent me spiraling into quite the coming of age as a theatre performer… one that led me to gradually fade improv and leave it behind during 2012.

The timing of that exit is a bit weird and unfortunate because it was at the 2012 Seattle Festival of Improv Theater that I met Joe Bill, Asaf Ronen, Marz Timms and others who more than any of us realized did a LOT to shape the improviser I’ve eventually become today. Joe Bill introduced me to the Invocation, which when done with commitment is one of the great Harold openings. Asaf Ronen showed me that directing improvisers is not so much about knowing the answers as it is being just as observational and adaptive as a player on stage. Marz Timms showed me how to break the 4th wall in improv and not only keep an unruly audience in check but see them as a companion to what you’re doing. (And yeah, they’re also terrific performers)

And then a few months later I had dove headfirst into dance, and all but left improv behind. I occasionally played or checked back in, but I was definitely into dance and would stay in until the year I moved away. To be fair, the scene and my situation had by that point stagnated a bit, and unless you earn the favor of one of the big theaters, your opportunities to play are a bit slim even if you’re creating your own. I had taken in such great lessons, but I didn’t feel there was much of a place to apply them. In fact, I probably applied more of these ideas in my experimental and dance work with Studio Current, GENDER TENDER and others than I ever did with the Seattle improv scene.

The catalyst to come back to improv was actually my 2014 summer trip to New York City. Improv by no means was the goal, but I got to see shows at PIT, UCB and Magnet, and the enthusiasm for playing showed me something more inspired than what I had experienced in Seattle. I knew there had to be something more to improv. Shortly thereafter I was asked to move to Chicago, and with my arrival I dove right back in, armed with past experience and all the lessons of the past gestating in my subconscious. I didn’t realize how good I was at this shit until I started doing it regularly again.

As of this date I have logged 230 hours of improv in 2015. Compare that to the 277 hours of improv and sketch I logged total in Seattle between 2010 and my exit. Again, that just came down to opportunity volume: In Chicago I can practice all the time whereas in Seattle I might have had two days a week to get it in. (And I logged over 1600 hours of total performing arts practice in Seattle doing mostly lots of other stuff; improv was one part of a larger puzzle). But at this point I feel like it’s making sense on a higher level, and now I’ve got ambitions beyond just Harold teams or headlining 8pm shows.

Five years down. Many more to go.

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Warm Up With Commitment

I had a class with Pad Connelly, and during a class warmup he made a very good point, which probably gets to the root of the problem I have with warm ups in general.

He advised everyone during a mildly complicated pass-the-name exercise to speak and act with total conviction, even if we weren’t entirely sure we were acting correctly.

His inference: The point of a warmup is to get you into a higher-energy place for scenework, and too often people see a warmup as That Thing We Always Do Before We Get To The Real Shit… in turn missing the point of the warmup, which is to get you in a higher-energy place to maximize your time and energy doing ‘The Real Shit’. So really, the purpose of the warmup is not to effectively execute the warmup. The purpose is to get you actively ready to do what you’re about to do.

Pad made a great point. An effective warmup ultimately comes down to whether people engage those warmups with commitment. Often the reason players aren’t ready to go after a warmup isn’t necessarily because the warmup sucked, but people’s commitment to the warmup sucked, or their commitment in general sucks. That’s not necessarily going to change if you do a better warmup. Often, the warmup doesn’t need to get better. The attitude and approach needs to get better.

In general, I still stand by Elia Mrak’s POV and the SAID principle when it comes to warmups. I think the best warmups are those directly relevant to what you’re actually going to do in a scene.

That said, I’ve found there’s hardly ever any need to argue about it. I have no problem doing the warmups which classes, coaches and teams rather we do instead. If it gets everyone going and feeling good, then great. I tend to slide into go-time pretty easily, so I’m fine with doing a silly pass the whatever game with commitment.

Still, people follow their curiosity, and if a scene-based warmup gets people more into the mode of doing scenes (since after all you’re warming up by doing actual scenes), then it may be better for a group than the typical warmups… especially if the group tends to struggle out of the usual warmups.

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A Monthly Repertory of Shows works for NYC improv, and could work for your theater too

Check out the schedule for NYC’s Peoples Improv Theater and UCB Chelsea. First of all, yes, there’s a sizable volume of programming and that has a lot to do with NYC’s teeming volume of audience and talent. This sort of loaded schedule is the only way to get a lot of them in.

When I visited these theaters, the midweek shows sold well, and not just because NYC is big and full of improv fans. I saw a monthly Harry Potter themed show turn away people at the door, as well as several other monthly themed shows.

Most theatres with nightly programming tend to run the same shows each week, or multi week runs of the same show on one or more nights. Several of these runs tend to sell fewer tickets, while some runs sell very well. Many lament the difficulty of promoting the show and getting butts in seats, but the NYC Improv model illustrated in the above calendars speaks to a key difference: Most theatres run the same shows over and over again, while the NYC theaters spread many monthly shows throughout the calendar.

Yes, the NYC theaters still have weekly flagship shows (Magnet Theater runs a more Chicago-like schedule of weekly shows and weekly headliners with guest groups). I also recall that the Magnet off-night shows were more lightly attended, despite being a popular NYC improv theater on par with UCB and the PIT as well as having a smaller venue.

I suspect that UCB and PIT’s monthly repertory had as much to do with their lucrative off-night houses as the vast NYC audience and improv community.

Show demand for a monthly show doesn’t get stale from repeated runs. If you miss a weekly show or a show in mid-run, you know there’s several more performances coming soon. You can go tomorrow night or next week. If you miss a show that only runs on the 2nd Tuesday of the month, you can’t see the show again until at least next month. If you’re a fan of the show, there’s incentive to save the date on your calendar and make sure you’re able to see it that night.

This also means you don’t have to cultivate nearly as much of an audience as you do for a multi-week show. You’re only filling one date a month instead of several. You only have to worry about getting enough asses in seats for that one show each month, instead of having to find enough asses in the seats for a show… multiplied by the number of shows in a month. There’s less of a likelihood of playing several empty houses.

You probably sell more seats for several differently monthly shows on, say, a Thursday, than you do for one show playing every Thursday night in a month. Each of those shows has its own individual demand, fills its own niche, and each cast has its own potential audience to draw from. But if you do a weekly Thursday show, that single show’s people now have the pressure of finding people to fill their seats for ALL those nights. Few will come back to see the show again, and many will easily skip shows knowing there will be other shows the following weeks.

The NYC theaters have developed many, many groups and themed shows they can run monthly. It also allows its players more freedom. Instead of being tied down to a show that’s running once or many times a week for a while, they only need to perform that show once in a month, and now have the time to explore and perform in other projects (and while yes they ought to rehearse for that show between performances, they are also free to, say, take a couple weeks off and then come back to rehearse 2-3 times before the next show). Performers can now actively explore working on multiple shows without overwhelming their schedules.

You can give a single production a 3-6 month run of shows on a given day of the month, e.g. the 1st Tuesday night, the 4th Wednesday night, the 3rd Sunday at 7pm, whatever. If they love it and it’s doing well, you extend it, and if it’s not you can sunset the show with a final performance and then replace it next month with a new monthly show.

If you’re concerned about the lack of freedom to allow emerging or experimental groups/productions the chance to perform a show, you can have them open for a given show. In fact, if you want to give a group a multi week run, you can have them do a brief opening set for, say, *every* Tuesday show that month, or for several different midweek shows during the month. Even if the group’s not good, you still have the quality monthly show headlining. If they ARE good, then you can explore sunsetting one of the lesser monthly shows and moving the new group into headlining the monthly slot. This also gives them the freedom to perform as a group elsewhere in-between shows.

Now, if you have a lucrative weekend show that always fills the house, you can still run that weekly at 8pm or 10pm on Friday or Saturday. That shouldn’t change. This is about finding off-night programming that will actually, consistently fill seats.

Chicago’s improv community has enough of a demand and market to fill a house seven nights a week. Many theaters who do 7-night programming struggle to fill the house on off-nights. A NYC style monthly repertory of shows could help them do so.

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The Greatest Year Of Your Life (?)

Right now I am in the middle of what some instructors have told me is “the greatest year of your life.” Like every experienced improv newcomer to Chicago, I’m knee deep in the year or so of classes at one or more of the big schools. I’m halfway through the iO and Annoyance programs, and currently on a team at One Group Mind. Together with a handful of closer classmates I’ve tested the waters on doing some off-night improv sets at many theaters and bars. Right now I’m practicing improv anywhere from 3 to 5 days a week.

One big recurring thought, realization, I keep having, especially as I take the long view on my forthcoming schedule, is that this hyper-active improv experience will probably end. My iO 5B session, should I stay on track, will conclude in late February, followed by a 7 week Sunday night run with my class. Should I get the fortunate chance to study with Mick Napier at Annoyance on my first try (his class is a difficult one to get in), that too will conclude in February.

As great as it would be to continue with one of the post-grad programs, i.e. the Chicago Improv Den, CIC, Second City Conservatory, the likely answer is I not only will probably take a break from classes, but I’ll probably want to take a break.

– They’re not cheap. Each class is $225-300, payable every couple months. Personally, money wise, I’m treading water. This is WITH the cost of classes and dues, so losing that expense may be good for my budget.

– As good as making such a large commitment has been, I also risk burnout if I don’t scale back. I don’t want to totally break from improv: I enjoy it and still want to practice. But I also want to make time for other things in life. Vacations are hard to take when you’ve got weekly classes you don’t want to miss.

– I’ve always believed and still believe that you shouldn’t train for too long an uninterrupted period. It’s good to train, then take some time away and practice on your own. Too many students become class addicted and never break away, never develop on their own and eventually cease to progress. I think a year and change is a good uninterrupted time to intensively study and develop before breaking off.

The practice has been great for me. I’ve not only learned a lot from the classes I’ve taken, but it’s compelled from me a commitment to a practice and a community that I enjoy.

Obviously, presuming I remain with One Group Mind, I won’t completely break away. Being in an ensemble is an important ambition of mine and Sosa Mimosa allows me to retain a weekly practice commitment.

But not only is the end of “The Best Year of My Life” not such a bad thing, I would hope the years to come are better than this, that I continue finding and creating opportunities to perform. I realize people in 5B will feel some pressure, but I don’t plan to worry much about the long odds of making a Harold team. Whatever happens will happen and I still plan to have a future in improv one way or another.

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Confronting Your Improv Problems

I like to think of myself as someone who can improvise well with anybody, and to my relative delight I’ve gotten compliments throughout my time in Chicago for my ability to have great scenes in class/jams/sets/etc with players who (will remain nameless and) are difficult for others to work with.

I didn’t decide on this recently. It’s one of the first improv goals I set for myself, dating back to my time improvising in Seattle. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a class, group or show where we didn’t have one or more people that people didn’t like performing with due to inabilities, character issues or other bad habits.

Will Hines did a fabulous job describing and addressing the most common dilemma my classes and groups ran into: That one difficult performer that dragged everyone down, aka That Guy.

I always lent an ear to my peers’ concerns and complaints about That Guy (or That Woman). But I always approached scenes with That Person as a challenge to myself, doing my best to make a decent scene with this person.

One of my heroes growing up was the wrestler Ricky Steamboat, not just because he was a talented and charismatic wrestler who wrestled legendary matches, but because I learned after he retired that whenever he was paired in throwaway non-televised matches with poor wrestlers, he would personally challenge himself to have the best match possible with that guy. And despite no expectation or reward other than doing his best for everyone, Steamboat and those guys would tear the house down in a terrific match, often the best match his opponents ever worked.

This in turn inspired in me the mindset that, whenever I had to do work with weak or limited performers, I would play the best scenes I could with those performers and make us all look as good as possible. I figured it would make me better, and whether or not it made those troublesome scene partners better, at least they could hopefully enjoy playing in a great scene.

I didn’t always succeed at first, mostly because when I started actively doing this I was still a newcomer learning improv.

When I got back into practice in Chicago, I surprisingly found myself having more fun in scenes and feeling less self conscious with these ‘difficult’ players than I did with better players I enjoyed watching and performing with.

It reflects how I approach a lot of serious issues and problems in my life. Usually, when I’ve got something that needs to get addressed, I confront it, whether it involves another person or it involves myself. This approach (while not one I ALWAYS use; some circumstances make it a bad idea) has solved a lot of problems for me, and it’s an approach that I recommend when people share issues or concerns with me.

It’s also an approach people don’t like, for the same reasons kids don’t like getting shots: The idea of confronting your fear seems painful. Sometimes confronting the source of your issue is as painful as suspected, but often it not only isn’t painful, it’s quite a relief once you do it because it wasn’t as bad as you made it out to be.

In any case, I appreciate Will Hines’ putting into words the approach I’ve tried to follow as much as reasonably possible.

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Brainstorming Conversations, and the deal with Harold openings

Recently in a (non-iO) class I was told that the opening and games in an iO style Harold are intended to be a theatrical version of a brainstorming conversation.

Of course, in practice a typical iO Harold opening looks and sounds like a bad children’s show version of the Invocation. I’ve had players, both highly experienced and not so experienced, tell me over time that they find most iO Harold openings lacking, because of the default to this presentationally playful but otherwise banal version of the Harold opening.

Personally, I got used to seeing these Harold openings and didn’t think much of it, figuring iO Harold teams were told to do it specifically that way. But now that people bring it up, I see that a) no, they have the option of doing it differently yet b) choose to make this detrimentally default choice.

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Why does it happen? Well, having seen quite a few Harold shows, I do vividly recall one key recurring factor: The opening music, regardless of which musician is playing, always tends toward this tinkly, childlike, Mister Rogers Neighborhood quality, which lends itself to the players on stage sliding into that child-style group game.

It would be very hard for the improvisers to do a more adventurous or otherwise divergent opening against that music. In fact, it would essentially be a denial of that musical initiation… even though the musical initiation has the problem of being pretty much the same exact initiation every time!

While I can understand the intent of playing that style of music, to avoid a darker or overtly serious opening that might take the audience out of their enjoyment or sap their energy level… the tone the current default sets also cuts off a myriad of other useful and interesting choices that could easily engage and entertain the audience.

I can also see wanting to avoid forcing a stylistic choice on the team by playing a stylistic musical riff. But the incumbent music ends up forcing a stylistic choice on the team’s opening anyway!

I realize I’m not a musician. But in Seattle, the improvised music (often on a keyboard or piano, just like iO and most Chicago theatres) sported a wider variety of musical styles and sounds. So it’s certainly possible to give Harold teams a greater variety of style and sound in opening music choices. I trust that the musicians here are capable of playing in many styles, and themselves are operating mainly out of habit.

I don’t think silence or otherwise eschewing the musician is necessarily the best alternative. Some non-iO houses do open sets without a musician, and many of these shows are great. But I do believe the musician’s input can add a lot of texture, environment and other value to the set if said musician is available. It only appears that input needs to have more variety.

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In any case, regardless of the music, the bigger issue is that Harold teams tend to do the same half-baked opening, and then use that same approach for the group games… when they have the option and opportunity to do something more contextual and creative. The music is only one factor in why teams default to the same sort of choices every time.

It’s also hard to initiate a group choice players aren’t used to making, to quickly get everyone on the same page. I can see groups doing the same thing simply because everyone will immediately know what to do, whereas trying to quickly do, say, snap monologues or improvise a talk show or something else makes it harder for everyone to quickly get on board and yes-and the opener or game.

However! The statement I opened with sheds some light. The opening and games in a Harold are intended to be a theatrical version of a brainstorming conversation. A brainstorming conversation. You take the suggestion and everyone, as theatrically as truthfully possible, bounces ideas derivative of that suggestion around until everyone feels good about starting a two person scene and taking off from there.

What if the players saw it as, and made it, that sort of creative yet truthful conversation? The child’s fever dream that opens most Harolds isn’t much of a sincere conversation. Everyone’s indicating and bullshit play acting. Truth in Comedy is iO’s goal, but there’s little truth or comedy in the conventional Harold opening.

As George Lewis would tell us in clown training, the harder you try to “be funny”, the less funny you are. Original and truthful is different, and probably will not only be funny but give the team more material from which to create scenes.

What if groups tried making the opening and games more of a conversation? For example, start by flocking into a couple groups through matching, and then having a group on group conversation, giving, taking, breaking and reforming as needed to bounce the idea around? Or someone initiating an actually crazy idea, and everyone yes-ands that? Or both?

That’s just an idea. I’m not saying I have the solution to Harold openings and games. I just know what we usually get is a half-baked solution that can easily be displaced and improved upon, until someday the sort of opening we see all the time today becomes a contextually original solution to someone’s set, instead of the same shit everyone does.

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Warm Up By Doing

I am a fan of warming up for improv by doing brief scenes. I am not a fan of warm up games. This is because scenes closely resemble what you are warming up to do, while warm up games don’t resemble in any meaningful way what you are about to do. Pavel Tsatsouline refers to it as ‘greasing the groove’, i.e. If we want to get better at something, we must do that something.

Elia Mrak summed up my feelings on “warming up”.

is breakfast warm-up eating? is washing hands warm-up showering? are “good morning” warm-up words?

no. they aren’t warm-ups. they are just the first part of the entire meals, hygiene, and talking situations. and that first part should always include the elements of the whole.

you practice eating lunch by eating breakfast. you practice showering by washing your hands. you practice sentences with phrases. you practice in the doing. you practice full. from the start.

a “warm-up” doesn’t exist in life. so why does it exist in movement?

let’s look at what you do.

getting ready to dance? start dancing. getting ready to run? start running. getting ready to play tennis? start playing. getting ready to lift weights? start lifting your (body) weights.

f the warm-up. don’t do lunges unless you are about to do lunges. don’t do high knees unless your activity involves high knees.

just start at 10% of your full range of movement possibilities. start slow. start soft. start small. but start full. with all of the movements you will be performing later. and remember, 10% only refers to a tenth of your total energy output. 10% energy is still 100% of your movements. now gradually build that into 20%, 30%, 40%, etc…

(great. hope you enjoyed said activity)

now, getting ready to warm-down? no you’re not, cause that doesn’t exist either.

just taper your activity level down from its climax, gradually back to 10%, arriving at slow, soft, small. but always full.

like a good meal.

The application of games like Wordball and Kitty Cat Careers to improv don’t make much sense to me. Yeah, I suppose they work on initiating action, basic communication with players and reacting to players… but so does tossing a ball back and forth. Or, hey, improvising scenes.

Are we in class to study the performance of passing noises and gestures to each other for an audience? Are we about to go on stage and spend 60 minutes pretending to be a cat doing a human occupation while the other players guess what career we’re emulating?

No. So why the fuck are we warming up to do that instead of playing improvised scenes?

There appears to be among those in favor of warm up games a mythos against warming up with brief scenes, like we’re not ready to do them yet when the session starts and to do so would be somehow damaging. What’s going to go wrong if we do simple, basic, brief low-pressure scenes just to warm up, without being “ready” to do scenework? So what if these short warm up scenes are clunky, not good, not deep, not interesting? Is the Improv Police going to shut down the theater for doing scenes without officially licensed, sanctioned preparation?

Warm up games are like basketball players warming up for a contest by standing in a circle and tossing a balled up towel at each other. Or football players warming up by lifting boxes and carrying them across the field. Or baseball players warming up for baseball by making pizzas and swatting houseflies. While some of the instincts practiced may generally apply to what they do, these tasks are not at all like what they’re getting ready to do.

In reality, baseball players warm up by throwing the ball, running the field, taking batting practice. Basketball players warm up by taking shots with basketballs. Football players warm up with field runs, tossing the football and running agility/contact drills in full gear. Note that these tasks all closely resemble what they will need to do in games.

It would thus make sense that improvisers are better served warming up by doing scenes, since that closely resembles what they will need to do in shows, classes and practices. Brief two person scenes, 30-60 seconds, no notes or judgment, about whatever the hell you want (within legal parameters and reason), and your only goal is to start and maintain a connected scene. Everybody does 3-4 of these scenes.

Warm up games are one thing if you’re preparing to learn or perform short form games. Even then, the games should be similar to the scene-based short form games you’re about to practice once you’ve “warmed up”. Zip Zap Zop and Pass The Chlamydia aren’t really warming up the scenic skills you will need to play these short form games, whether or not they’re warming up your awareness. In fact, it may make more sense to just warm up with scenes anyway.

Playing simple, brief two person scenes will do just as much to engage your needed awareness and reactivity… as well as your improv lizard brain and the scene building skills you need to do actual improvised scenes. The best way to prepare to practice improv scenes is to practice improv scenes.

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Warm Up Games are one of the more divisive and controversial topics in improv. Some swear by warm up games and can’t imagine doing away with them. Some hate them with a passion and insist there’s a better way to warm up.

You can go ahead and lump me with the latter, though “hate” is a strong word for my opinion on warm up games. In fact, when I have to do them I have as much fun playing these games in the moment as anybody.

I just don’t find warm up games relevant or productive. Usually, once done, the players are nowhere closer to ready to play than they were when the games started.

Here’s a couple of ideas behind what I suspect is the real M.O. for people who support warm up games:

For many younger players still intimidated by improv, or who still struggle with it, warm up games are merely a fear-driven forebearance of the dreadful moment they’ve finally got to go up on stage and make scenes for real. This opening practice is done under the guise of getting “ready” for a task they mentally will never be truly “ready” to confront. Basically, they’re an excuse to put off doing actual scenes, for now. The games are a “safe” way for players to begin practice, if nothing else a ritual for ritual’s sake.

To the ritual or routine idea (and I respect the value of routines), I say any routine can be a ritual. So why not make doing brief scenes your opening routine or ritual? It will actually get you into the needed mindset, unlike Bippity Bippity Bop.

And, if you’re not comfortable jumping off the street into scenework, the only way you’re going to get comfortable jumping into scenework is to practice starting your sessions with actual scenes until you get used to it. If you’re not comfortable jumping into them, that’s something you can only work out by confronting it and developing the habit of jumping into it.

Secondly, conversely, for many coaches and teachers, games are a way to clear the heads of their players. The idea is to overload or preoccupy their minds with the involving inanity of a game (especially more advanced versions of Big Booty, Zip Zap Zop or Bippity Bippity Bop, with all the extra house rules). To the credit of those who reason this way, focusing on following all the rules can mentally fry players to the point where their improv lizard brains then take over for their tired out cerebral minds.

But this is more of a temporary mini-aversion therapy approach to addressing the issue of getting players out of their heads, rather than developing in players the practice and skill to immediately jump into scenework. I have found that the brian-fry effect of warm up complexity is only temporary, and still leaves players struggling to make scene-building choices once it’s time to practice. They may not be as mentally preoccupied, but the scenework is often just as diffused and difficult. Meanwhile, warming up with scenes does a stronger job of getting players into the rhythm of scenework.

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So there’s my opinion on warm up games. Take this or leave it, and obviously none of this ever has or ever will stop me from participating with full commitment in warm up games. But I don’t find it efficient, let alone the best way to get people ready to make up improv scenes. I prefer to warm up by doing: Warm up for improv scenes by doing improv scenes.

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Be Ham Fisted: Break your comfort zone.

I recently started reading Brian Tracy’s Maximum Achievement, one of umpteen personal development books out there, and one of the oldest (originally published in 1993). There was no specific impetus to seek the book out: During my random Sunday research I landed upon references to it, found it and started reading it. It’s sold as a business book but the principles apply to pretty much everything in life.

What separates Tracy’s book from the others is it has far less self-congratulatory fluff text than the others, and far more analysis and discussion on how our minds fundamentally work, plus how you go about re-aligning yourself for success from the ground up. About 1/3 of the way in, I’d already highly recommend it, even if you just read the first 120 or so pages and put it down with a new understanding of how your brain works.

I bring the book up not just because I’m reading it, but because he hit my current situation right in the gut with this quote:

“A major difference between leaders and also-rans is that superior men and women are always stretching themselves, pushing themselves out of their comfort zones. They are very aware how quickly the comfort zone, in any area, becomes a rut. They know that complacency is the great enemy of creativity and future possibilities.”

A comfort zone, in any area, can quickly become a rut. I am in a rut. It never occurred to me until now that my rut could, in fact, be the direct product of my comfort zone dictating my actions. Why did I suddenly lose confidence in my abilities? Perhaps my growth and experience has just landed me in an unfamiliar place. The umpteen mile road trip of our lives just has me on a steep highway incline climbing up a mountain range. It may not seem that way, since I don’t distinctly feel like I’m struggling with anything in particular, but the combination of my experience with my current work has me re-learning to walk with yet another new set of bionic legs.

Or, conversely, my previous comfort with my work (which I’ll peg from about mid February until about a week ago) may have been a plateau of development, where I had developed substantial ability but at that time wasn’t growing or pushing myself. I had enough time to get comfortable with my ability in that period. Suddenly, I’m once again pushing myself, and that comfort has dissipated.

The next line from Tracy after the above quote eerily echoes another concept I’ve been working with:

“For you to grow, to get out of your comfort zone, you have to be willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable doing it the first few times. If it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing poorly until you get a feel for it, until you develop a new comfort zone at a new, higher level of competence.”

I did a scene in Jorin Garguilo‘s iO class where I didn’t quite get to the heart of the scene. After the scene I totally knew it, and Jorin addressed it. Instead of telling him yes, I know I know (a defensive tendency I’ve always had to work on quelling), I listened and took the notes.

A classmate chimed in (the following is all paraphrased), “If the dialogue in the scene isn’t conducive to him making that point, how do you do it without being ham-fisted?”

Jorin replied, “Go ahead and be ham-fisted. If you have important information to share, do what it takes to get it out there. It might be awkward for a moment, but it’ll move the scene forward and make it better.”

I realize part of our comfort zones as improvisers is to make our dialogue and actions fit our usual narratives and patterns of behavior. And often times those narratives and patterns can be useful and engaging.

But a lot of great, funny scenes are about testing and often breaking those patterns. The most frequently productive way to do this is with brutal honesty in the moment, e.g…. your character hates another character’s cooking. I bet just saying it as bluntly as possible will not only make a funnier moment and scene than the most clever lines you could concoct, but getting over the hump of revealing that info will push the scene somewhere no one would have imagined it would go, which probably makes a better scene than to dance around the subject and not say what your character is feeling or wanting.

Plus, most of all, we as the audience and your fellow players may not know what you’re thinking, or see what you’re seeing. Trying to figure the scene out if we’re not sure will take us out of the scene. Plus, bottling that detail inside gets you in your head and takes YOU out of the scene. If you as a player get that info out there, everyone now knows, keeping everyone (you, fellow players and audience) in the scene with you and allowing us to enjoy where it goes.

I realize one of the things that draws me to improv is each scene’s fascinating exploration of humanity. That exploration is a lot more possible and fun for players by challenging our comfort zones, which includes clearly communicating thoughts out of our heads and into the reality of the scene. We get in our heads because that is part of our comfort zone. We can’t be present and in the moment without getting out of our heads, which requires we get out of our comfort zones and be willing to take the risk of truthfully being in a scene as a character.

I don’t know if this will break my rut, but I do know this idea is worth considering. Plus, you ought to read Maximum Achievement.

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