As a guy who runs an improv company you connect with people on so many different paths. Some folks are just looking to communicate better so they take a class, some folks are invested in Specs while others are out to chase another dream.
As I travel, I hear about some theaters who discourage folks from leaving their theatre, or actually bar them from playing other places under threat of banishment. If a student plays or studies elsewhere they get a cold shoulder or be made to feel less than.
Or folks feel jealous about another performer’s success or a team or company for that matter. The movie Don’t Think Twice focuses on that behavior.
I understand it completely. It doesn’t mean it’s right, but I understand the voice of fear that whispers in these folks ears. Especially those who make a living doing this stuff. I can see why it is scary.
All kinds of human emotions come into play. It could be just jealousy at the success others are having. It could be that you are left behind, you are attached to a theatre while others can go freely and focus on their dreams. It could be seen as losing talent, so you shows aren’t as good as they were. It could be fear that they will no longer value your time together, or even worse yet think it was a waste of their time. Perhaps it’s about fear of losing your status, you were once a teacher but this person is going to know more than you and your whole relationship is built on you having a higher status. It can feel like you have lost and something else has won. Or maybe they will learn more and think what you taught them was wrong, and that it will invalidate what you teach.
I empathetic to those fears. I think as a company owner a lot of fears storm through. It is up to us to not listen to them, don’t look them in the eye and don’t give them power. Because ultimately they are bad for you, your community and the people you interact with.
Reframe your fear. This might come off as preachy or condescending, I get it, but it’s my diary. This isn’t me bragging either, I think most of this should be the standard, not something I am proud of.
Improv is not a zero sum game. We are constantly making new fans, students and players. One taken from you doesn’t mean you have to take one back in order to replace them. Nope, we live in a world where 70% of folks have no idea what we do. We operate in an art that major cities only have a couple hundred improv seats to sell. Every day, more and more people search for improv classes. We are in a true, “build it and they will come” time. We are not in competition. Start building each other up. We will all benefit.
Instead of hoarding folks, work to make your place the most attractive community, be the kind of place people want to come to, instead of the place people fear to leave. Your job is create an environment where new folks become the folks you are sad about losing. If you aren’t feeling success from other folks success, perhaps running an improv company isn’t for you. Del Close barely played improv, he fell on the sword of making this art stronger by teaching and inspiring. You have signed up for that duty. It is important and worthy of your heart.
When folks move on, be happy for them. Enjoy the time you had with them. Encourage them. Create a positive memory on their exit. Maybe they will come back some day, or even better maybe they will become a huge star and your theatre will have a powerful friend and a further selling point. Do not take credit for their talent, take joy in their success. How would you feel if someone kept saying they were responsible for what you have achieved?
If folks train or play across town, they get better. We are a collection of all of our improv experiences. Let them have that journey. Encourage it. If they get better somewhere else, take excitement in that. It will show up on your stage. If you are sad that you aren’t the priority, don’t blame them. Ask “What can I do better?” It is up to you to create an environment that folks choose to make a priority. Also, as long as they honor their commitments, your theatre being a priority is more important to your ego than the theatre. Encourage them. Celebrate them.
Everyone is on their own journey. They will find in this art or another what they are best at and what moves them. Everyone is different. If they find another style works for them, be happy they have figured it out. There are many paths to improv Nirvana and it mostly has to do with the individual. Remember when you fell in love with what you teach? Imagine if someone kept telling you you’re wrong.
Everyone is your peer. From the day 1 student to the 50 year vet. You are all on just different parts of the journey. But the only status you feel is imaginary. Along the way others helped you and it is your job to help others. That doesn’t make you better than them, it makes you part of a community. You are special, regardless of not being on a sitcom. Success, love, compliments are not zero sum games. We make more. Do not think others getting those means you aren’t.
This is where this gets borderline religious…
You serve improv and in return improv will serve you. I have operated (with failings here and there) under these guidelines for years and the bounty that improv has provided is amazing. If you think improv is only there for you, you are going to live in fear and push people away. If you serve improv, you will make life long friends and have the time of your life.
This pic is of the hilarious Jess Uhler. I’ve had plenty of amazing folks come through Specs but this pic is the one that inspired this topic. She has played for so many people and places, she is now committed to working it in LA. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have worked with her. I would much rather enjoy the time she spent here than lament her being gone. For her and so many folks in Specs that have moved on, her success is my success.