I had nearly forgotten, it’s been 10 years. Damn pandemic messed with our concept of time. But here I am, 10 years on looking back on what performing an improvised show with a stranger has taught me about Improv and just being in that space. It feels like half a decade ago since I wrote 5 Improv Tips From 5 Years of Neil+1 so its only fair that I do a refresh, given I’m supposed to be wiser and mature.
But first a moment of vulnerability and self-indulgence. I’m very grateful for what I’ve achieved with Neil+1 over the years (and forever grateful to Matt Holmes for the encouragement and support when I started out). It’s taught me a lot about myself, improvising and how improv as an art form goes way beyond just laughter on stage. It’s very humbling to improvise with strangers, and you really do learn from every show and from the people you get to perform with. Many of my +1s have talked about how profound the process of improvisation was for them, with some getting clarity of life and career goals, totally unrelated to improv. Now while not every show has such profound impacts, its lovely to hear how being part of the show impacts +1s in such a positive way.
But now, to the tips! Here’s 5 more!
- Stop trying to impress others – including yourself
Its human nature to seek validation or approval in some form, and this can be a huge barrier to us really finding out what we true love about improv and being authentic. Improv isn’t a sport; we can’t measure success or progress by how many goals we scored this week, or how quick we rang a mile today. Its an art form that can be highly subjective in terms of what people find entertaining. If we are pandering to what we think others find impressive, we aren’t focussed on what we personally enjoy. Instead, get selfish. Focus on just finding the fun, whatever that means to you, are do that over and over. You’ll reach a point where you realise you are no longer performing for anyone and are instead truly being present and embracing the joy of what improv brings.
- Diversify the Voices Around You and Be More Inclusive
We all know diversity and equality is important in society but that means that we all have a role to play to eliminate barriers to access to improv regardless of whether we are a community leader or someone who does occasional performances with a troupe. The more diverse the culture around you, the more rich it will enrich the improv. It might feel that if you’re in a community where improv is a tiny part of the arts scene that you are struggling to get people involved but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to be proactive with how inclusive your scene should be. Two questions to ask yourself with the second being most important:
- Is your improv theatre/troupe/circle inclusive with no barriers to access?
- How do you know?
- Read Improv Books
Not trying to sound like Ms. Conlon from 1st year second school here, improv books can offer some great insights that you can’t always get in conversation, from shows or from workshops. I realise this might be something everyone will agree with. I’ve read countless improv books and while not every book has set my world on fire, some books have offered incredible insight in to improv approaches, techniques and the mindset of improvisers I admire. Some people are really good at articulating their views in writing. It doesn’t mean that you are learning improv from a book, but it does offer perspective, reflection and insight that we don’t always get elsewhere. To get you started, here are 3 books that I regularly go back to: The Improv Handbook by Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White, Jill Bernard’s Small Cute Book of Improv, and The Improviser’s Way: A Longform Workbook by Katy Schutte.
- Get the Balance Right Between Focussing On Your Improv Goals and That Of The Community
The one may not be relevent for everyone but it was very important for me. Community is something that definitely evolved for me over the years. I spend many of my improv years focussed on developing and building community. I realised (eventually) that it’s exhausting and not something I recommend anyone do long term without either a team with you or buckets full of money. What is important though is balance. Keep a track of both your personal improv goals and your community related improv goals. Stick realistic time frames on them and measure progress. Make sure you are giving as much airtime to personal goals as community, as the latter will inevitably be more time consuming and draining.
- Stop Doing Free Shows
I realise that improv models are different in North America and Europe, however the concept is the same: stop doing free shows. Put a value on the show and charge for it. Doesn’t matter whether its nominal €5 or the equivalent currency of choice. (Exceptions obviously include if you are being paid or funded elsewhere). The studies show the same thing – people don’t put a value on something that is free.
Then as a step up, be more transparent with how the money is managed if you aren’t paying performers are teams. How are the show takings being used? Perhaps the takings are too small to justify paying performers, so why not invest it in workshops for your troupe, markets, merchandise etc etc.
Will you be my +1?
I will be celebrating the 10 year anniversary with a special show in October 2022. Keep an eye out on social media for details!