Wherever you are on your improv journey, these tips can help you get more joy.
1. Support the shit out of each other.
Photo © Kevin Thom
When someone makes a move, be the first to support it. Don’t wait to figure out what they’re doing, just respond.
Match their energy, heighten the move, scene paint, narrate…anything to add to it. It should look like you knew the move was coming, and love the idea. Move as a team.
Sometimes support means knowing when to edit. Your gut always knows when it’s time, so don’t hesitate if it’s telling you to sweep.
And support doesn’t stop with your team.
Attending other people’s shows adds your energy to the room, not to mention the show. Even better, bring friends and family from outside the community to share the experience.
And why not buy your favourite improviser a beer after the show? You can’t afford it? Oh. Then just tell them you liked the set and offer a sip of yours.
2. Be on time.
Yeah, we know. Improv sets are notorious for starting 10, 20, even 30 minutes late or more.
Some players are habitually late, so their team can’t start without them. If that’s you, make a new year’s resolution right now to be professional. You think TJ waits anxiously before every show, wondering where Dave is?
Being punctual shows you respect the audience, and your team. Also, be on time for rehearsals. Yes, even rehearsals.
For producers, don’t hold off the show waiting for more audience to arrive. Train your audiences to be on time by starting shows on time.
3. Don’t talk shit about your set.
Cameron’s first coach, Rob Norman, shared this pearl of wisdom: If you just got off stage and think you had a bad show, shut up.
Everyone experiences things differently. So while you may think you had a crap show, your teammates may have left the stage on a high. Don’t be a Betty Buzzkill. Or Danny Didn’tliketheshow. Or Maset McSucked.
Same goes for your audience. If someone compliments you after the show, don’t shake your head and start mumbling about how terrible you were. Just smile and say “Thank you.” (Try for that free beer!)
4. Stop “should-ing” on yourself.
You should have come in as the mad scientist. You should have brought back the pirate character. You should have swept before that scene died a slow, painful death.
Shelve your shoulds.
“There’s no ‘should have;’ there’s always a ‘could have.’ You should’ve been someone’s father, or you should’ve been someone’s boyfriend… But no. I could have, and it might’ve gone a different way, but you can’t judge yourself like that or your’re gonna not be entering.” – Scott Adsit
While you’re at it, stop comparing yourself to others in the comedy community. There is no one else on the planet like you, so comparing yourself is an exercise in futility.
When you find yourself thinking “How did he get on a Harold team and I didn’t?”, “Why did my web series not get a jillion hits?” or “I’m 25. How come I’m not already famous?!” - stop.
Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, make a list of what you do. We’re serious. Get a pen and write it down: your friends, your family, your cat, your health, your encyclopaedic knowledge of Batman. Then read Mike O’Brien’s advice for aspiring comedians. And as David Razowsky says, “Replace ambition with gratefulness.”
5. Broaden your horizons.
When Standards & Practices were invited to perform at Improvaganza, neither Cameron nor I had ever been to Edmonton. It turned out to be inspiring and life-changing for both of us.
We laughed our asses off, made new friends, and walked away with a new perspective on our craft.
Improvaganza, CIF, DCM, and Out of Bounds are amazing opportunities to connect with others who share your passion. If you’ve only ever studied or performed in one place, you owe it to yourself to see how others play, and festivals are a great way to do that.
6. Take notes. (Part One)
If you want to remember stuff from workshops or classes or rehearsals, write it down. When you’re trying to remember how to do a Deconstruction months from now, you’ll be glad you did.
I use Moleskines, or you can just press “play” on your smartphone’s voice memo app. Of course, you’ll still have to transcribe it, but it’s a great tool that lets you stay focused during class.
Take notes. (Part Deux)
Whether it’s an instructor, a coach, or an out-of-town improviser teaching a master class, when someone gives you a note, take it.
Chances are they’ve identified a tendency or behaviour that’s limiting you in some way. The least you can do is listen. When you argue, you miss an opportunity to learn. And take time away from others who want to.
7. Learn something new.
Improv is awesome, but to be really good at it, you need other things in your life.
So sign up for singing lessons, learn to juggle, join a softball team, enrol in cooking classes, make short films using Vine. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you’re stretching your synapses by trying something different.
Here’s one that’s simple and costs nothing: Try using your non-dominant hand for everything for a week. Cameron did this on a regular basis and now he’s pretty much ambidextrous. (Editor’s note: By ambidextrous, Sally means I can masturbate with either hand.)
8. Live boldly.
Every time we’ve done something that was a stretch for us, in work, in improv, or in life, we’ve grown exponentially. From signing up for Level A at Second City, to quitting a full-time job to pursue our true passions, it’s scary sometimes. But so worth it.
“We are not on this planet to make little, tiny moves.” – David Razowsky
Photo © Kevin Thom