At this point in my career, I have been studying improvisation since 1994.
I am lucky enough now to be able to teach it, and sometimes even get paid to perform it.
The 20 years I have given to it have been invaluable ones. I have learned from some of my idols—on stage and in the classroom. Every single minute is part of my success and level of experience. And it has made me a lover of this very intangible thing we give our lives to pursuing.
In essence, improv makes me happy.
But it is also part of the thing that infuriates me.
That thing is ENTITLEMENT.
Improvisation is an art form—and like any art form, it takes time to master. The other thing about improvisation is that it is ever-changing and growing. So I really don’t believe that we can ever truly “master it” but we can definitely try. What I’m seeing and hearing is a lot of people not even trying because it takes too much time and effort.
I will hear past students and fellow performers talk about how they’re losing patience, or that they’re ready for a stage, or that they have nothing left to learn.
That third thing is utterly ridiculous. Learning is listening and that is probably the most prominent cornerstone of this course of study. Also, we’re not just studying improv—we are studying life and people and places and every little brush stroke that goes into this crazy painting we try to create with words on stage. So to say that one is done learning is just plain (and parents please excuse this word) STUPID.
Now patience is hard. I am not a patient person. I am a compulsive in the way I shop, text, email, call, ask, respond—you name the activity and I’m only looking for immediate gratification. But again, improv isn’t one of those things that you can just make happen. It actually requires patience doing it and learning it. We’ve all seen those scenes where someone is trying to make things happen vs. them just letting them happen. I myself have been the impatient forcer in scenes such as these. And they feel completely unsatisfying and kind of wrong.
I mean, look at how one trains to become a doctor. I would never assume that improvisers are the same as doctors, but they are both professions, right? Both require study. Both require hands-on experience. Both require listening and observation. You show me a doctor that rushes through his or her course of learning, and I wouldn’t want to go to that doctor. Same for improvisers—show me one that flew through any program in a rush to get on stage, and I wouldn’t want to watch that improviser perform.
Finally, let me bring in the whole Second City stage thing. I’ve toured and directed for Second City. I was never fortunate enough to work with a resident stage. And guess what? Sometimes it bums me out. But I have to remember that a lot of people will never be that fortunate. If you break it down into numbers, you see maybe 6 people get a stage every one year. That’s 60 people per decade—and I think that might even be an overestimation. 60 out of thousands and thousands of improvisers. And sometimes it has nothing to do with whether one is ready or not…it has to do with balance and numbers and being in the right place in the right time.
It essentially has a lot to do with luck. And luck doesn’t care if you think you deserve it or if you really deserve it or not.
Lastly, let me bring up what has been irking me the most: those performers out there that either (1) don’t want to rehearse; (2) don’t want to warm-up and; (3) don’t want to go to see shows. At improv’s core is ensemble—it’s about working with your team and supporting a community at large.
This has probably been a rant more than a blog. So let me try to leave on a positive note…
Improv can be beautiful and rewarding and awakening and everything you’d like it to be. But you have to let it be all those things. Let it take YOU for a ride…don’t try to take it.