The Improv Life: Everything’s Changed, Nothing’s Changed

The Improv Life: Everything’s Changed, Nothing’s Changed

We used to do shows in Downtown Santa Ana when I first started.

Those shows were special to me because performing in my home town was validation that I was on the right path.

I would ask my work if I could get off early in order to make it on time.

I’d then go to Starbucks, get some coffee, and get in the zone.

Nothing else mattered. My entire week was building up to this moment. We’d then do the show, win, lose, or draw, and then it was over. But I just wanted to be back on stage. The cycle would start over as I waited to be booked.

There would be jams, practices, dinners, whatevs. We did improv wherever they would have us. LA was close, but the cultural distance made it seem a galaxy away.

We were hunter gatherers learning how to kill our food in the parking lots, cafe patios, and random community college spaces of Orange County.

We were our own teachers because that’s just how it was. An exciting time, a time of growth and exploration, a time that would impact us forever.

But doing a show, man. That’s what it’s about. And that’s still what’s it about. Doing a show is the end-all and be-all of this art form for many of us. I know that’s a controversial statement for some, but there’s a different feeling to doing improv in a living room with your team as compared to doing a live show with your friends in front of a packed theater.

The audience, man, we need them. The energy they give us affects how we perform, and this exchange of energy is what makes performing live one of the best experiences on Earth – you’ll get the highest high performing at your peak in front of an engaged audience hanging on to everything you do.

All these years, so much has changed, but the core things remain the same, and that’s why I stay in this amazing game.

#improv #performer #show #theater #dtsa #validation #artist

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The Improv Life: It All Comes Down to Communication and Connection

The Improv Life: It All Comes Down to Communication and Connection

I took a series of personality test years ago courtesy of my university’s career center. Taking personality tests became a norm for me while at Cal.

The Myers Briggs was used extensively by a professor of mine to help students gain insights into their personalities, flaws, and opportunities for growth. I took his class 3 times.

This other test I took was specifically to assess which careers I would be best fit for.

Honestly, I looked at the results and didn’t process them. I had Brazil on my mind as I was leaving for a life changing study abroad experience.

But I knew better than to just throw them away. I put the test results in a folder and decided I’d look at it later.

Later became years later. I was thinking about my life path, and if I had made the right choices. I dug up the folder, pulled out the test, and poured over the findings.

What they said was this: I was best equipped to work in something with communication and connection which could involve writing, leadership, and other stuff in those areas.

When I read it, I was a writing tutor, leading an improv group, part of others, doing weekly shows in Orange County and LA, writing blogs and poems.

Honestly, it was like looking at a photograph of myself wedged in the corner of a mirror with the photograph looking back at me: this was who I was then, who I am now, and probably who I’ll always be.

Ironically, it was that same Brazil trip where I decided that no matter what I did with my life, I was going to live as a writer. I wanted to live as a writer – because looking back – writing (and all its forms, which include improv and performing) was a way of communicating and connecting with people – a 2-in-1 activity that would express my heart and fulfill my soul, giving my life a purpose that would transcend any job, place, or relationship.

That’s a hell of a promise I made to myself, and looking at these test results all these years later only confirmed that I made the right choice.

#improv #personality #personalitytest #communication #connection #writer #brazil #choice #destiny #heart #soul #purpose #promise #fate #theater

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The Improv Life: Why Bits are Important to Friendship

The Improv Life: Why Bits are Important to Friendship

I had this job once where no one did bits. I’m not kidding. I would throw a great line just waiting to be riffed on, and the potential bit would die on the vine.

Or some body would unknowingly deliver a great premise just asking to be tossed around a circle and have every possible joke made about it. But it would just become nothing.

Hanging out with comedians and writers had spoiled me. Everything was a bit, a run of jokes to see who could come up with the funniest line. I mean not everything was a bit, but the possibility to see the humor in every situation and riff on it was always on the table.

Nor did they understand the concept of bits. I tried teaching them, but they never understood. It’s not that you need your co-workers to be good at bits; it’s that bits make life fun. They inject humor into any situation that otherwise would’ve been boring and absent of meaning.

Not that every situation must be a bit. And living in a constant state of bitiness can be exhausting. You’re always on (or feel like you have to) and you feel like you can’t be your honest self for a moment.

But not doing bits at all. Damn. That’s a hard one. What they don’t tell you is that a bit is a shortcut to friendship. If you can do bits with someone, you can also be honest and real with them when you need to be.

Friendship isn’t always about making each other laugh. It’s also supporting each other during the different movements in the opera that is life. Sometimes you need someone to laugh with; other times you need someone to hug you while your world falls apart. And if you can do bits with someone, you know you can shed tears with them too. That’s why bits are important – it’s a way to find real friends.

Shout out to all the friends I made throughout the years because they were good at bits.

#bits #improv #comedy #friendship #community #relationships 

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The Improv Life: My First Walk on Santa Monica Blvd in a Real Long Time

The Improv Life: My First Walk on Santa Monica Blvd in a Real Long Time

Took a walk on Santa Monica Blvd for the first time since the pandemic hit on Saturday.

It hit me different. Felt like no time had passed although it’s been over a year and a half since I stepped foot near the Pack Theater, one of my comedy homes.

I walked to the Broadwater Theater for my Fringe Show with Company of Angels, and I thought of all the people I would usually see on this walk, other Pack peeps going to the bar after a show, walking to their cars after a long night at the theater, going to go get tacos, whatever.

I really thought I was going to see someone I knew.

I forgot that theaters create time sensitive neighborhoods where you can see people you know and like during a very specific window of time, like Sundays from 6pm to midnight.

How often in life can you expect to bump into people you like and look forward to seeing? Theaters create those opportunities, and those opportunities to connect become relationships, and those relationships are what create a community.

I missed my Pack Theater Community in that moment, especially when I realized I wasn’t going to randomly bump into someone and share an unexpected special moment. I don’t know, it would’ve been cool to see Bryan Musil and give him a hug.

The positive takeaway is this: as I’ve been reconnecting with theater friends I haven’t seen in a while, it feels like no time has passed because we all went on pause together, so we can just pick off from where we left off – I hope we can all pick up from where we left off when we meet again.

#improv #theimprovlife #comedy #sketch #clown #packtheater #actor #writer #people #relationships #community #memory #saudade

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The Improv Life: What I’ve Been Thinking About After 4 Days of Performing – Thoughts on Bad Improv Shows, Being on the Backline, and Purpose

I got a lot on my mind that I want to share.

I’ve just done 4 shows in 4 days, and I’m awash in knowledge!

I was so lucky to play and learn from so many amazing people, and I got all these thoughts and insights that I need to share right now before I lose them to the tide of time.

Thoughts on Bad Improv Shows

*Was lucky enough to not have a bad show in this little run I just did!

1. You can’t predict a bad show; they kinda just happen, and you deal with it as it happens.

2. Good shows go by too fast, and bad shows take forever to end.

3. Not respecting your teammates and their choices is one of the root causes of bad shows.

3a. You don’t like a scene partner’s choice, so you try to course correct by adding a new idea to the scene. An idea you think will save the scene, thereby by saving the set.

3b. It’s disrespectful, condescending, and happens more than you think. I’m thinking of a specific person as I write this, and I’m wondering if there aware of their arrogant behavior. In their mind, they think they’re helping.

3c. And I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t confess to doing this myself under the guise of “helping” when it was really a matter of taste.

3d. Agreement on taste is something improv groups don’t talk about enough. We call it style when we mean taste. Style is how you do something and taste is the product.

3e. People can have similar styles but different tastes.

3f. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a situation where your taste is different from the majority, and you’ll have to leave (or someone will ask you to).

4. Bad shows can also come from insecurity.

4a. You’re insecure about your abilities, or don’t trust your teammates, so you project that insecurity and lack of trust onto your scene partners, and you poison the energy of the show in progress.

4b. I was on a team where every single member did this, including me. We were a bipolar team going back and forth from grand slams to big losses.

4a. The audience won’t always tell you if you had a bad show. Sometimes it’s your teammates in the vibe they give you after a show.

4b. But the audience will let you know you’re bombing. You’ll know. You’ll feel it in your posture and go into a silent panic asking yourself and your teammates through eye contact, “How are we going to get out of this.”

4c. Talking to a show audience after you bombed is soul crushing. Their lips say “Good show,” but their eyes say “You sucked.”

4d. It’s the eyes, man. The eyes say it all.

5. After a bad show, you just want to get the hell out of there.

5a. If it’s a good show, you go out to eat together.

5b. The more you do this, the higher your batting average gets with good shows vs bad shows.

5c. But it’s also on you to be conscientious about your style and growth, and how your choices (or lack of them) can lead to a bad show.

6. Bad shows are going to happen. Don’t let them get you down. And if you have a good show, celebrate it, but don’t let it prevent you from going out there and doing it again for fear of failing.

7. Every show is a sandcastle that will be washed away by the rolling tide of the ending day.

8. One last reason for bad shows: Chemistry: sometimes you don’t vibe with someone and that’s okay. Play with other people.

Being on the Backline

Just so many insights.

9. I’m always listening, listening, and listening, and then when I’m done listening, I listen some more.

10. I’m paying as much deep attention as I possibly can, always asking, “Am I needed here?,” “Can I add anything?,” and “Is the scene fine as is?”

10a. In your mind you’re thinking, “How can I help?” And that’s the million dollar question for me every time I’m on the backline.

11. One of the best lessons I’ve learned about being on the backline is to let scenes breathe. Give your teammates the space they need to find their scenes, develop their characters, and figure stuff out for themselves.

11a. The stronger your teammates are in their characters, the stronger they’ll be in their scenes.

10a. In your mind you’re thinking, “How can I help?” And that’s the million dollar question for me every time I’m on the backline.

11a. The stronger your teammates are in their characters, the stronger they’ll be in their scenes.

12. But if you have to edit because the scene is asking for it (your teammates are asking for it) then you have to edit.

12a. Tag someone out and start a new scene with the remaining person, sweep edit to wipe away the stage, take edit to start a scene with someone else without knowing where it’s going.

12b. Editing when helping your teammates get out of an awkward position is always a good choice.

13. I like being on the backline for a lot of reasons.

13a. If I’m playing with new people, I’m learning their style, thinking about how I can compliment it, add to it.

13b. But sometimes you just want to watch a hilarious person crush.

14. It’s also learning about restraint. You might have a really funny idea, but it would  interrupt whatever is happening or take away focus from your teammates as they develop something. Plus, you don’t want to take away stage time from them.

14a. I guess part of me being on the backline is wanting to help and protect my teammates.

14b. Rich Sohn’s voice just popped up in my head telling me that, “That kind of attitude is condescending towards your teammates because it presumes you don’t trust your teammates to take care of themselves.”

14c. He would then add, “Take care of yourself first and then worry about your teammate,” meaning know who your character is and take it from there (that’s how I interpreted it at least).

14d. Everyone should study improv with Rich Sohn at the Pack Theater. Dude knows what he is talking about.

15. But I still want to practice restraint.

15a. My ego and my humility are constantly arguing whether I want to join the scene because I want to add to it or because I want to become the center of attention. That’s a real question. Always.

Purpose

Insights on insights on insights.

16. Improv is a gateway to other types of comedy.

17. Start with improv, and then go try standup, sketch, clown, character, whatever – let it be your door to trying new things.

18. Trying new things is about exploring parts of yourself that need to be discovered. It could be something you find is not for you, or you may stumble upon a key to unlocking parts of yourself you didn’t know existed.

18a. It goes the same with people. The more people you open yourself up to, the more likely you are to find some compatible collaborators.

18b. Honestly, it’s always fun playing with someone new when your energies align.

18c. Doing improv with someone you vibe with accelerates friendship. Truth.

19. If you can, help out the next generation of improvisers. Share your knowledge and experience with them. Do shows with them, play with them, but I understand that this is not everyone’s bag, and that’s alright.

19a. Just don’t be a dick to new people.

19b. Your tenure at a theater, status in a community, or years of doing improv doesn’t give you the right to be disrespectful to people.

19c. I’m guilty of invoking all three at some point to be rude to people, and I feel sorry for that. I’m trying to be better every day.

19d. Still plenty of people who do this. You know who you are.

20. Look, just be nice to people and don’t be a dick.

21. This community has a long memory. You won’t forget the people who did you wrong. However, you’ll always remember who helped you out.

22. Be someone worth remembering for good reasons.

Take care, y’all.

#improv #shows #performer #theater #writer #actor #bts #cast #ensemble

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