Improv is a great adventure. When you commit to it, you get satisfation, fun and developement. You egage with your emotions, in some way you fall in love. Everything is going smoothly, untill… right. Here comes the crisis. You write to me about it with fear. Keep calm. Do you break up after first fight?
“Everything was going well, I had several really good performances, and then something happened. I feel like I’m really weak on stage. I’m davastated. Maybe I should quit?”
I’ll tell you a secret. Your “improv shape” can be like a sinusoid. Don’t deceive yourself – when you feel great after several shows, it doesn’t mean you’ll be the king of the world now. It will drop. You have your average “shape”, and you can go up and down from that point. It’s very dramatic period, when you suck for one, two, three shows… but this is life. As soon as you make your peace with it, it will get easier for you. Talk to your group. They are fighting the same fears. With my previous group there was always someone who came to a rehearsal saying “I have crisis” and the rest was taking care of him – and they knew, the time will come for them too. All you can do is relax, and do your best. When the wave is going down, it has to go up at some point.
“Our group was developing so fast, and suddenly we stopped. We are stuck. We don’t know what to do.”
Congratulations! Welcome to advanced improv reality. It’s time to accept the fact, that crazy-speed-developement is behind you. You’ve learned, you’ve performed, you’ve built your audience, you’ve been to some festivals. You have different needs than in the beginning. Don’t panic. You are growing up. Now you need to honest with yourself and answer – what excites me? What stopped? What am I afraid of? Where should I go now? When you know what you want, talk to your group, but chill over a beer, don’t make a big deal, don’t start the panic. Don’t be scared of this moment, it’s “achievement unlocked” and plan, what to do next. Learn harder. Play formats, that you haven’t before. Work with new teachers. Go abroad. Cooperate with groups that you feel flow with. Divide your group into smaller parts and play something with other number than usual – it’s different way of thinking, when you have only one, two partners on stage. Invite teachers to your rehearsal and show and ask for feedback. Maybe you don’t see your patterns that makes you stuck. Change the source of your inspiration, play with literature, news, music, paintings, dream. Anything that causes a spark inside of you is good, and worth trying at least once. Now you are more conscious of what you are doing, make a good use of it.
“I feel rutine. I don’t have my own group, and I wouldn’t have time for it, but I go to jams and workshops. Should I take a break?”
Think, what you’re missing. You’re clearly not fulfilling your needs. Like above, I’d reccomend to experiment and check, what excites you. Maybe you are fed up with jams? Maybe you are learning in the same school all the time? If improv is important, maybe gather a group of people, who have as much time for it as you, so you could find a perfect way of working for you. But if you’re not sure if improv is The Thing that you want to commit to, you could use some distance. Maybe take a break for few months – when I was in film school, it was so intensive, that they wouldn’t let me go to many rehearsals, shows, festivals, and after that I could’t be more sure, that I want my improv even more, than before. But beware, maybe during your break there is your “perfect match” organising a new group?
“Our group is having a hard time. We started well, but after some time it turned out that we have different visions of improv. We have a democracy and no leader, but because of that we can discuss everything for hours, and not agree in the end. We all have strong personalities. I’m afraid it’s going to end badly…”
Democracy in a group is hard. Some say it’s impossible. I would say, you all need to be mature, or at least act like mature people. But can any of you admit, that you’re immature? A lot depands on your personalities and commitment. Democracy can work, if you divide the responsibilities – for example one of you takes care of social media, other of contacting venues, etc. Make up a plan. That’s the easy part, the problem begins when it comes to deciding bigger things – where to perform, who to play with, how we look, what we believe in – what we represent all together, as a group. You have two options – to vote, and even when the result is 5:4, the majority wins. Or you choose one person who has the last word in that kind of situation. The one, that is experienced, reliable, or just the opposite, the crazy, but brave one. Democracy won’t work if you keep avoiding responsibility. Remember that the audience can see when members of a group have problems between them. Do you want them to know that? Oh, and strong personalities as a gift for a group, but need more dyscipline.
One more thing. If you argue often, maybe you didn’t really set up rules and visions in the beginning. You need to be coherent as a group. Audience needs to know what they can expect from you. For example, with my first group we refused participating in any competitions, because we believed that improv should not be competitive. That was our deal. If you feel, that you cannot fulfill some of your visions with this group – you can always start another project dedicated to this other vision.
“Me and my girlfriend just broke up, and we are both a part of one group. We both care about it. Is it possible to do improv together after breaking up?”
Of course it’s possible – again – if you act like mature people, and with respect to each other and to the group. Your group members probably are your friends and want the best for both of you. You can talk with your group about the situation and decide how to act. What you cannot do, is to affect the group with your conflict. I’ve experienced the couple’s fights during rehearsals and believe me, there are not many things that can irritate so much and make you wanna go home. Because what the rest can do? Get involved? Calm down? And usually those fights aren’t straight “about them”, but hidden in fights “about improv”. It makes it even harder for the group, because they can’t say “leave it behind doors”. If your hearts are hurting by working together, give yourself time. Maybe switch, divide rehearsals in two, so you can exchange for some time, group will understand and be grateful, that you took care of them too in this situation.
Ultimate crisis: the end of the group.
All of young improvisers are afraid of the end of the world – I mean, the end of a group. One of my friends said that “it’s like a fear, that your mother will leave you.” When my first group ended, we all felt lonely, useless, and without perspectives. It was like breaking up the long relationship, it was hard. But after years I must say, it was the best thing that could happen to us. As we say in Polish – nature can’t stand the emptiness. All of the people started new projects, adventures, and started EXPLORING AGAIN. If something doesn’t work – try to fix it. If you cannot fix it, change it. Don’t be afraid. You need to brave to be an artist. I feel I personally needed that first “ending” to become independent and strong improviser. And to be myself, whatever project I get involved, with all my heart. And I wish you all the same. But don’t break up just because of that 🙂
And how you deal with your own crises?