I have been with The Maydays since our founding year in 2004. We are 13 years old this month! I’m passing on the things we’ve learned as a company; what inspires us and what has kept us together for such a long time.
No matter the difference or similarity in your various improv backgrounds, there is always something you can learn from the other people in your group. Take the time to teach others your superpowers and have humility when they are teaching you theirs.
2. Research and Development
Just like skill-sharing, it’s incredibly valuable to learn from players and teachers you admire. The Maydays take the time to build our own intensive at least once a year. Last year we went to Chicago en masse to learn from different veteran teachers every day, other years we have brought US teachers to us for three to five days.
When we have new Maydays (which isn’t very often) we make sure one of the other players acts as the go-to for them, answering any questions they may have. In the past we’ve taken new players from an audition and the mentor is really their first friend in the Maydays, making sure they get integrated fast.
4. Travel Together
Playing abroad at festivals and at other theatres is a great bonding experience; especially when you’re all staying in a hostel room together! It’s like a sleepover for people over 30. Playing to new audiences is also a really great way of testing your work.
5. Social Time
It is difficult to make social time for your fellow players, especially when they’re spread all over the UK (Stroud, Nottingham, Brighton, London) like the Maydays are. If you plan far ahead enough and make it a priority, it is possible. We have a Maydays ‘Christmas’ every January where we all hang like a family at one of our houses, have a big meal, play games and stay overnight. When we are teaching at our improv festivals in March and September, we always find time to have a sauna, a beer and play a bunch of board games.
Comedy is a competitive business and it’s important to remember to be supportive of your fellow players. Go and see their other shows whatever they do outside of your group and try not to be a dick when they get an amazing job or opportunity that you would have liked. You’ll appreciate it when they do those things for you. We’re also close friends and it’s great to know that these are the people you can call when something goes wrong.
Shift and change. Improv companies that do the same things they always did in the same way will get left behind. Keep developing your established and successful shows, keep making new shows and keep taking risks. We teach people not to be afraid of failure and it’s important to live that lesson.
8. Learn from Failure
If you do receive a bad review, make a show that doesn’t work or have a hard time improvising in a different way, accept that you are learning. Projects may be abandoned and some reviews can be valuable resources for improving your shows.
9. Celebrate Successes
Sometimes I forget to celebrate the things that go well because that is what is supposed to happen! If you get a great review, a sell-out show or a reward, enjoy the shit out of it and build on it as much as you can. Awards and stars can sometimes seem arbitrary, but they are what our industry sells. Celebrate personal successes too; they benefit the company as a whole; even if they’re personal.
Yes, honestly. A family-like company that has been together for 13 years sometimes needs a professional outside moderator to hear and help with internal politics and personal struggles. We find that small problems can come out on stage, so unlike many other art forms, it is important that we regularly clear the air and have a good level of trust.
11. Play with Others
In the spirit of not putting all your eggs in one basket, it is certainly a good idea to play away a little. The skills you learn by playing with other improvisers, trying out other shows, guesting or learning with different schools of improv keeps you inspired and flexible as an improviser.
12. Art by Committee
We make art by committee on stage, but making company or directorial decisions in this manner can not only take forever, but lead to bland artistic compromise. After years of being a co-operative, we have rotating artistic and company directors, and a separate director for each show.
13. Build Community
The people that like your show or your classes are to be treasured. Thank them for their praise, give them opportunities to play, learn and grow and have a drink with them. They are the next generation and they may have something to teach you.
14. (because break the rules) Improv Comes From Living
Make sure improv isn’t the only thing you do. Leading an interesting life with people you love makes for the best work.
In jotting down this list, I am excited to remember that improvisers are family that choose one another. There are difficult times and personal disagreements sure, but every time I’m with the Maydays, I’m extremely grateful that I found them 13 years ago and that they continue to be my friends and my artistic home.
Read my friend Chris's blog about spending five years in Project2.