I recently had a chance to perform for another theater – which creates great cross promotion, pollination and continues to solidify the community – all things that I support and do everything I can to foster.
As each new show/ opportunity/ company arrives on the scene i begin to see something else wain. It’s the yin and yang of community. As people find a home, they get settled. They settle. They stop. Where there once was a bunch of smaller groups scrapping their way around town and starting shows everywhere they could, have now gotten…. lost.
A wise man told me a while ago, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.
So that leads to the menu of items needed to foster a healthy and vibrant community that can be self supporting:
- space: there HAS to be a performance venue to be in front of people. If you don’t have opportunity to perform, and readily available space, then the dream starts to fade. That can be anything – a bar, a black box, a street corner.
- leadership: someone must take the reigns and say ‘hey, let’s do this!!!’ We all need a push now and again, and a support system to help make that idea a reality.
- resources: you have to have the ability to be financially solvent. You have to have affordable housing, and a job that can afford your performing habits. Something to get things rolling till you can create new revenue streams on just your performances. you have to have a starting place that makes it possible to launch yourself into the abyss.
- staying power / vision: you have to KNOW what you want. You don’t have to know how you will get it, you just have to know that it is possible. And be willing to do what you must to get there.
I am sure there are 900 other items. Read Daniel Pink’s book on the Rise of the Creative Class and I am sure there can be a million more things I have forgotten. But for my corner of the world, this is the list I have.
So far. Of course, I will never stop refining it.
I am making up a pot of red beans and rice, which I am want to do on occaision. One of the main parts of Red Beans and Rice is the ‘holy trinity’ of foods; Onion, celery and green pepper.
It makes me think ‘what is the holy trinity of improv?’ In my mind it is a few things:
1. Confidence. Do something. Whatever it is. Just do it. Stop thinking about why you should or shouldn’t. Just do it. That moment where you considered it – that was your downfall – you should have done it. Stop considering and start moving. Your body doesn’t lie – if it felt like you needed to enter / exit / do something, then you probably did. Listen to your body. It knows more than you do.
2. Care. Care about the characters you are with. The fact that you are onstage with them means that you must care something about them, right? Otherwise, why would you be in this scene with them? (And, if you don’t like them – then leave. It’s not hard, just walk away. Really.) So care about them. Know them. Even if you don’t – it just means you know them in some other way.
3. Reality. People say really crazy things in life – so amazingly crazy that it seems unreal. But put those people in in an improv scene and they get timid, or blah. Or they got HOG SHIT CRAZY. It seems like it is one or the other. But they don’t reflect the reality of life. The joy in the lady talking to her toy bear on the bus. The guy who is buying ten cans of cat food and a frozen pizza in line in front of you at the store . The couple having the most undramatic breakup over coffee at the coffee shop. It’s all really amazing. If you just open your eyes and see it, it becomes the new reality for your life on stage. See it and reflect it.
I am sure there are fifteen other ingredients that I can come up with as well (like bay leaves, very very important the bay leaf is…), but for now, you get these three.
“Why Improv?” Or my favorite question of any talkback after a performance “so, which part was improvised and which part was scripted .” (answer: ALL of it was improvised…)
But to the point; why improv? I will refer to the title. Why not Improv?
When I began this journey 28 years ago – playing improv games for theater classes and then working as a character in Atlantic City Casinos (yeah, I was a clown, wanna make something of it?) – i realized I liked jumping off cliffs. Even as I worked professionally after college and moved to Seattle in 1989, I still found myself trying and doing the thing that was a challenge.
And this is unusual since I am typically a person that tries to do the least amount possible to have a the desired effect. Really. My main motion is to a point of stasis.
But one thing about Improv that always excited me was the chance to make something not just from my brain, but from a shared experience. Shared with the audiences suggestions the other actors offers and motions and my additions to the action. Form that crazy stew of personal interactions came this wonderfully joyous and beautiful output. That is what drew me in at first.
But then the question becomes; what keeps you? Why is it STILL Improv? (again… Why not Improv?) What keeps me is the continued lesson of Improv; What it is like to accept and add to offers daily – The fun of watching character interaction in everyday life – the narrative unfolding as you get older. It all feels connected to me. The journey being a shared experience, with suggestions and offers from others and my additions to the action. To me, there is not a question of ‘why Improv?’ Since I think it is everywhere. We can’t plan our lives, but we can prepare and be ready for what comes.
Plus – I love to make people laugh. Joy. It’s a good thing.
Here’s my getting to know you post; My name is Andrew McMasters. I started doing improv about 25 years ago. I am one of the founders of Jet City Improv. I like theater management and nachos.
Additionally, I love pointing out that I have never had what people consider ‘formal’ improv training. I didn’t go to Second City. I didn’t work with Del Close. My life hasn’t been altered by the previous teachings of the masters. What I like is… well… providing a meaningful comedic experience for an audience.
Let me say that again; providing a meaningful comedic experience for an audience. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE doing this work – but the truth is, we do it for the audience. Without them, we don’t have a reason to do this. This isn’t an art form that exists in a vacuum. It is a conversation – a DIRECT conversation with an audience, in a way that a lot of scripted theater cannot invite or explore.
That is what I love. Not just the thrill of doing it – but the desire to make contact with an entire roomful of people and create laughter that can last well beyond the evenings festivities.
A number of years ago, back when i was bar tending, I had a chef i worked with that was going through a tough time. His wife left him, he was having financial troubles, and close to being fired. He came in and asked me “how can you always be so happy?” I thought about it and replied ‘every weekend I get on stage and hear people’s laughter. I play. Others play with me. Audiences love it. It’s hard not to be happy when you do that every weekend.’
I still believe that to be true.