I'm stealing that!

I’d like to share my thoughts on a statement that is seeping into the international improvisation lexicon like a horrible mould.  A statement I find in complete contradiction to our principals of supporting your partner and valuing them and their ideas. 

The statement is; I’m stealing that.

If you haven’t had this said to you, here is how it works.  You finish a show then someone walks up to you and says ‘I liked your format, I’m stealing that.’  It is often said with a smile and from someone who, at heart, is a really nice person.

However, lets just pause and reflect on what is actually happening in this transaction.

I’m stealing that.

  • This is not an opening to a conversation.

  • It is not a compliment or observation.

  • It is a closed statement telling you what will happen to your work.

  • In essence it is saying I see value in your idea and I’m stealing your idea so I can benefit from it, like it or not.

There is also an odd misplaced feeling of having done the right thing.  As if informing someone of your intention to steal makes theft all right. 

It isn’t all right.

Dictating to someone what is going to happen to what they created is rude, aggressive, and controlling.  It is a manipulating conversational tactic which removes the creators right of choice and takes away their control of what they created.  It undermines and devalues the person who has created the format.

  • Why do improvisers feel that everyone has ownership of everyone's work?

  • Why do we feel that it is okay to deny basic rights to the person who created it?

  • Why is it acceptable to place so little value on the creativity and accomplishments of our fellow improvisers?

The most interesting formats for me always have something within the inner workings that you don’t see in the performance of it.  These formats are devised to test improvisers, capture a texture, engage challenging subject material, or perhaps look at other performance devises and possibilities.  These formats are special.  They open doors, push boundaries, create possibilities and inspire ideas.

This result comes from an investment of time, thought, experimentation and often research.  The individual(s) who created the form shouldn’t just be pushed aside and their work taken as if their investment means nothing.

When these formats are just stolen and replicated, without understanding the why, intention or how they work, they often end up being watered down versions loosing their original power and purpose.  A creative work that added variety to our community begins to fade.

This is not good for us as a community, for the people who created these forms or for the formats themselves.  Why should these creators, our sources of inspiration and ideas, stay in a form that just eats up and spits out their ideas without any respect?  We often give them no credit and by thinking you can steal anyone’s work we clearly give them no respect.  We openly steal their work, silence them from having any control and then use our impro language of you should ‘say yes’ to guilt them.  I guess the crazy idea of any financial compensation for their time or discovery is clearly out of the question. Imagine the possibility that those who work to inspire and challenge improvisation might actually make a living from it. Imagine these creators are invited to work with different groups.  Where the format is shared in an atmosphere where groups learn the intention of the format, they are challenged by the experience, and the creator is able to grow by the experience and the format develops even further. 

Imagine there is no stealing….it’s easy if you tried….(Apologies to John Lennon) 

It is possible!  It just means saying YES – to the first offer - their creativity and ownership AND respecting them and helping them by providing them creative opportunities.

A snippet of a recent conversation

Ok Patti.  I get your point.  What if I ask and they say No?

Patti: Simple, then you respect the NO.

But I want to do the format and they are stopping me.

Patti: They are protecting their creation, it is their right.

It’s not fair.  Why can’t I do it?  They are stopping my inspiration.

Patti: Okay, lets not throw a tantrum like a spoiled child because you are not getting what you want.  They are saying don’t do their format.  They are not stopping your inspiration; they are stopping your replication.

Respect their answer then ask yourself ‘What was it about that format that inspired me? Why do I want to do it? How can I do that in my own unique way without copying the elements of the original?’

I’m not trying to prevent people from using ideas that inspired them and creating something new.  I’m actually laying down a challenge for us to stop being lazy by just repeating what we’ve seen someone else create.

When did valuing your partner’s ideas become stealing your partners ideas?

Then I bought him a beer and we talked about what excited him in the format he saw and brainstormed ideas.

For years there has been debate after debate about improvisation and ownership.  No one owns imagination or a shared moment on stage, of course not.  No one owns the musical scales but musicians can still make a living (meager yes) on how they put the notes together.  No one owns painting, but artists create using the skills of the craft and are rewarding for their creations.  No one owns stories but authors and playwrights are rewarded and respected for their works.  Why can’t we apply the same basic respect to improvisers?

What I’m really talking about here is three things I think we need to apply.

  1. Basic Respect

  2. Allowing unique formats to thrive

  3. Challenge ourselves to switch from a copy to a create mentality

1. Basic respect.  You ask for permission.

If they answer anyone can do it, then do it and make reference to who or where it was created so our audiences understand the global impro community.

  • If they answer you can do it after I teach you, then hire them and learn.

    If they answer I really just want the group who created it to play it, then respect that.

    If you love the format so much invite them to come perform.

2. Allowing unique formats to thrive

Remember these formats are adding new colors to our impro pallet.  They challenge us on stage and off.  They help us to look at improvisation from other viewpoints and possibilities.  They break patterns and ask us to ask questions about our work, the world and ourselves.  These unique and dynamic formats should be respected, as should the person who created them.  Let’s not blur all improvisation into one.

3.Challenge ourselves to switch from a copy to a create mentality

Use the inspiration of a new format to challenge, question and create. If you want to do the format and have permission, then learn and understand how it was created, performed and why. 

“You can't copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling.” ~ Billie Holiday

Our impro philosophy is a super power we can use for good or evil. So instead of YESgreat format ANDI’m stealing that. Lets build a language of YESgreat format ANDI’ll ask your permission and respect your answer. YESI’m inspired by the format ANDthat is an opportunity to challenge myself

Lets honor instead of steal

Lets create instead of take

You may say I'm a dreamer...But I'm not the only one ~ John Lennon

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