I was lucky enough to be working with Bill Arnett in January (Chicago Improv Studio, IO Chicago). Out of the many useful pieces of training and advice, this one sounded pretty great “I want to be here right now. That’s my only motive.” That’s the most essential thing to help you improvise. And easy, right?
I had a tough (read ‘bad’) show a few weeks back and we were trying to figure out what went wrong. We did a proper warm up, there was a full room…
We were doing consistently good shows and had been for a while. But then this stinker came out of nowhere.
We have a policy to just say good things after the show and be constructive with anything else in rehearsal. But we lasted until the tube before we started evaluating what made our improv slip; ‘we were on first, it was a weird room, the audience had never seen improv, the warm up took the piss out of improv’ and so forth. But if a show’s good it tends to cut through the things stacked against it, or at least you can appreciate that the show was good, even if the audience didn’t like it.
Having just had Bill, I wondered if I wanted to be there right then. I had definitely wanted to be there when I arrived, but one of my show buddies was ill and the other was disappointed by that and had been partying till 8am.
I jokingly told my scene partner that I did not have his back, but on reflection I wonder if I was joking? (Also, shit joke, Katy). Perhaps I was mad that he was disappointed in only having me to play with and that he hadn’t slept. I felt like I was going to have to ‘carry’ him, which made it seem like work and not fun.
All you have to do is want to be there.
So I was blaming him for not wanting to be there which made me not want to be there. Newsflash; neither of us wanted to be there.
What if you don’t want to be there and you have to do a show anyway? You can’t drop out of a show just because the vibe isn’t right!
In this team, we normally suggest one personal mission before the show i.e. ‘I’m going to be silly’, ‘I’m going to play emotional honesty', 'I’m going to do some ridiculous characters’, ‘I’m going to use the space well’ etc. Then we all take on the missions as a group and that often determines the style and pace of that evening’s show. We forgot to do our missions. Our missions should have been ‘I’m going to treat you like an artist, a poet and a genius’, ‘I’m going to make you laugh’, ‘I’m going to use this weird space in wonderful ways’.
Our missions should have been ‘I’m going to treat you like an artist, a poet and a genius’, ‘I’m going to make you laugh’...
So my advice to you and future me is: want to be there: or fake it till you make it and make sure you treat your scene partner like a legend. There is no carrying, there is only improv, which is your favourite thing to do.
This applies to bigger casts too. Everyone is there to play the whole show. Take note if you ever decide just to be the walk-on guy because you’re a bit tired, or ill, or hungover. It’s not okay to just be comedy walk-on guy unless that’s exactly what the show needs you to do at the time. You can’t decide beforehand. You have to be there to serve the whole show and whatever is needed in that show. What if everyone decides to be comedy walk-on guy? That’ll be a shit show.
It’s not okay to announce you'd rather be somewhere else, or you don’t like the show you’re doing, because that stops other people wanting to be there and play with you.
Remind yourself of why you're doing it, why you want to play with those people and what you can do to give them a good time. If you don’t feel good about those people and that show, you should probably be doing another show. Or playing golf.
For me: I definitely want to be here right now; and for the rest of my life.