In July I wrote a blog 6 Ways to Make a Successful Improv Team and I wanted to do a follow up and dig a little deeper. So you’ve made a team…now what?
It’s an exciting and sometimes hard task to start a new team. Getting people to share a common schedule for shows, rehearsals and more. I’ve started, coached, directed a ton of teams in my over 10 years as a improv instructor and below is some advice I have for improv teams once they get started.
I’ve Got a Conflict!
This will happen 90 percent of the time. People will have conflicts. If you can’t get on the same page this way you’re going to have a difficult time from the start. There is a lot of, “Well I got this on this day so I can’t do it.” I see it on teams all the time. Then it ultimately comes down to who’s conflict outweighs another members. The only true good excuse I can think of is work. It pays the bills letting you do this art sometimes. If you are in a play, another team or some other commitment then that’s great go for it, you should do those things. But don’t commit to an improv team if you are doing those things. It’s all about priorities and when you start a team shouldn’t your team be a priority?
Priorities and Expectations:
An improv team needs rehearsal and practice. It takes a certain focus. In Long-form you have to create group mind, connect, know your philosophy of play and discover a shared language if you want to be a successful team. I want to believe that every teams intention is to make the next great improv team, but you have to set realistic expectations that match your teams priorities. If you want to be the “next great improv team” that’s going to take work and that’s some high expectations. You don’t have to decide on a form but you do have to start speaking the same language in expectations. If you want to be just a practice group and play then that’s a different expectation. A high expectation is a good thing, you should strive for greatness. But it takes work and your priorities need to be focused on this one group in order to have a chance to try and reach your expectations. My advice for a new group is sit down, have a chat and make sure everyone is on the same page. What kind of group is this going to be? A practice group? The best harold team ever? The new form team? Just make sure you’re speaking the same language and know what your expectations are so you can prioritize together.
Developing a Same Language and Group Mind:
Developing a language for a team and group mind is probably one of the hardest things to do in improv. It takes patience, time, wisdom and commitment. You don’t get this right away so don’t think it’s something you can get overnight. But you can start figuring out if you can achieve that by starting to speak the same language. What I mean by this is sharing, as an ensemble, what you agree upon as far as your philosophy of play. For instance, my Harold Team King Ten, speaks a language and philosophy of thematic, theatrical and deep idea based Harolds. We know this, we all agree that this exists within the bible of our team so we know what to look for when someone is trying to point it out or pull a move that associates itself with that move. Your team might want to be a team that plays physically and has no edits. It’s agreed upon you know what’s up. Start telling each other what you love about improv and try to incorporate that into your ensemble.
Who to Get as a Coach?
Not all coaches fit a team. I’ve coached some teams where I clearly was not a good fit and have told them that. Once you’ve decided what kind of team you’re going to be and have set those expectations find a coach that will fit those expectations. Sure you might have to try a couple first and if you’re a practice group you can probably filter through different coaches to get different flavors. If you’re a team that wants to be a great harold team, find someone that has a track record of coaching great harold teams, if you want to do a JTS Brown or Deconstruction find a coach that knows those forms inside out. You owe it to yourself and your team. Set yourself up for success. Yes, it cost money to get a rehearsal space and a coach, but you have to invest in your improv and acting education if you have set those priorities and expectations. Stay true to them.
Don’t Try to Be That Great Other Team Be Your Team
This is big. Watching improv is probably one of the best things you can do to learn how to be a better improvisor and team. Watch shows together even! But don’t become that team. Why? Because that’s already a team and they do what they do. What do you do? What stamp is your group going to put on improv? Your team is your own thumbprint on improv so be different, play to your strengths as an ensemble. Those people you just watched are 8 or so people who come from a different walk of life then you. Allow yourself to find who you guys are.
If anything this is the single most important thing. Support your fellow ensemble on and off stage. Make them look good in life and stage. Be there for them, learn who they are as a person, their passions, triumphs and failures. Know them as a human. This will help you connect and know them on a deeper level gaining each others trust and if you can do that the sky is the limit onstage.
Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com