I’ve been saying this in my workshops lately, “Making your partner look good is our credo as improvisers – it’s not just a t-shirt slogan”
I’ve been feeling the need to say it in almost every workshop in the last year – why? Has something changed? It must have. Of course that change is likely my awareness, perception or level of tolerance. As I suspect the action I am finally responding to has been happening for a long time.
I have been witnessing more frequently and clearly improvisers who are not adhering to the credo. Granted some are untrained, or trained poorly, some are just new and taking their baby steps, some are still exploring the practical how to apply it and some simply don’t follow this belief. These are not of whom I speak.
I’m speaking of the Abandoneers! The improvisers, who understand, agree to the credo and then choose to abandon it consistently. Picture them as Buccaneers, if you like, for the comparison to the self-serving, hijacking, thieving action of the Buccaneers is intended. Please do not picture them, as the sexy ones for these are more the onion breath variety.
You see, I am talking about the group of improvisers who sail in our impro seas that look you in the eye during a workshop and nod and agree with the credo. They claim to believe in it, the discus the work in depth with you using all the proper terms and phrases making you believe they are of the same ilk and then on stage abandon it, and you, completely.
I am fascinated and annoyed by them. Fascinated because I believe some do not realise their own actions. Annoyed at the ones who know full well they are choosing themselves over their partner. You can walk the plank, they will take the gold.
What annoys me is the deceit. Why claim to believe in and train in a style of work, perhaps even teach it, and then in the application of the work totally sell out and not apply it? I don’t understand this. Well, no, I do. I know it comes from the desire to be good, to get a laugh, to deal with the fear of failure. I know the anxiety is now amplified by the ever present hope of – this show, this night a powerful casting agent will be in the audience looking for talent and you must deliver your best. You must stand out and be noticed for your immense talent. *yawn*
I know the aims, objectives and pressure of product over process is difficult for improvisers and companies. But if we sell out each other and the foundations and ethics of our work – then what do we really have? With the work so firmly based on trust this internal deceit is crippling in our growth.
I’m not saying everyone should play the way I think. I am simply saying play the way you have agreed to play with your group. Don’t nod at the philosophy and then go on stage and dump it. Find a group that speaks your language, start a new group, there are other options.
What I also find interesting is how the Abandoneers survive. Why haven’t we called them on this? Why haven’t we helped them in their own development, understanding, training and application? Why are they often left to sail the high seas of their own ego?
Is it because open, accepting, supportive available improvisers are easy targets to take advantage of? Is it because the expectations of an impro group are unclear and conversations are often couched in ‘oh lets just have fun’ and ‘it doesn’t really matter’? Do we have the right as a company, group or duo to have conversations and expectations on ethics? That these conversations should include more than just what to wear, and everyone needs to pitch in with clean up?
Do we let the Abandoneers run amuck because this motley crew perhaps gets laughs and groups are afraid to loose these players?
As improvisers we should break rules in improvisation, explore and challenge. We should do this in the work, but we should not sell out or compromise our player ethics. When the ethics are put in question, then so is trust & honesty in the work, when honesty & trust are at risk the work is compromised and the development stilted. When the ethics are not adhered to the group alters from selflessness to selfishness. How can notes be given honestly? How can we truly abandon to another ideas? How can a group move forward as a collective when it isn’t truly that?
Why do we allow the Abandoneers to hijack our scenes and our future again and again?
As I write this I realise I have been blessed having so many moments of working with different groups where it was a company of performers who were truly performing with the ethic of make your partner look good in word and action. These shows, these players, this work is the most exciting, rewarding, inspiring, stimulating, creative and challenging.
Perhaps I am more aware now of the Abandoneers because I crave more and more to play with those of the same credo. I’m not interesting in reinventing the wheel. I want to explore what’s next and I know that can’t happen with someone who is going to abandon the work and me.
Perhaps I am more aware because I feel sad that not everyone has experience that joy of working with the truly like minded.
I really would like everyone to experience that rush and for that feeling to be the norm not the special treat.
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