Thursday, December 27, 2007

State of the scene, part 3: City 3 turns two.

Yeah. I got a lot of writing done on the plane last night. 

City 3 has been a non-profit for two years. The forums have been in existence for two and a half. At their last meeting, the board committed to focus more on education—which is a fabulous thing, because man, do we need it.

Welcome to part 3 in a year-end review of KC improv. Today’s subject: A rant about respect for the craft. Here we go.

In bigger improv cities, it’s “pay to play.” Before you get a minute of stage time, you pay hundreds—maybe thousands—for hours and hours of classes.

Not so in Kansas City. The bigger troupes need steady supplies of players, so they audition you, train you and put you on stage. Maybe you’ll get a class in the basics—most likely, you won’t pay for it. Players are considered “experienced” after a couple of years of weekly rehearsals and monthly shows.

So we’ve created an improv community with a desire for instant gratification and a maybe not-so-healthy sense of entitlement. It’s all about stage time—love of performing is more important than appreciation of the craft. The majority of players are getting most of their training on the job. In front of paying audiences.

Which isn’t, in the long run, good for our art.

We need three things (more…but I’ll play by the rule). All based on the idea that if we love this art form and want it to be successful in KC, we have to stop making excuses and work a lot harder.

Thing #1: New improvisers—earn your place on the stage.

Hundreds of people move to the big improv cities, work temp jobs and wait tables, live in crappy, crowded apartments and put every cent they have into their education.
Nobody’s asking you to do that here.

But if you want to be a decent improviser, you’re going to have to invest money, time and effort. And a lot more of it than you feel like you have. You may have to stretch your financial resources—or give up beer and cigarettes—to pay tuition. You might have to completely rearrange your schedule to accommodate one of the rare workshops you’ll find locally. Because we’ve got no local gurus, your instructors may be learning how to teach as you’re learning how to play.

Every single chance you have to be on stage and hear feedback will make you better. And you owe that to your fellow players, your director and your audience.

(As a side note, quit being so damn snotty about short form. Use it to learn scenework, character work and stage presence, as Spolin intended.)

Thing #2: Directors—we have to raise our freaking standards.

(Yes, I'm including myself in this.)

We have to stop putting players in shows before they’re ready. We must raise our expectations of new performers—insist that they’re trained, confident players before we charge audiences to see them. (If high turnover is the reason for the plug-and-play approach to casting, you’ve got a better shot at retaining experienced performers if you don’t force them carry newbies through shows.)

And we have to stop giving it away. The best directors have invested hundreds of hours in learning their craft and spent maybe a bunch of money on classes and books. Teaching a teaser class or one free class is one thing; not placing a value on your expertise is another. Teach workshops, and cast from your students. Charge for coaching—$5 per person for a three-hour rehearsal is standard.

(Another side note: We have to stop putting up shows after three or four rehearsals. We’ve got to respect the craft enough that we don’t charge an audience to see it until it’s baked. And I’d argue there’s not one of us in town good enough to pull a quality show together in nine hours.

Thing #3: Experienced improvisers—nut up and teach a class.

I never thought I’d say this. But we don’t need instructors to be perfect right now—we just need them to be committed.

A visionary along the lines of Del Close or Mick Napier hasn’t emerged in KC, but we have plenty of people who could help newbies get better. And there are ways to make yourself a better teacher. Read books. Read online interviews with improvisers. Analyze your own work and figure out your personal philosophies. Start with a three-hour, single-subject class in something you’re good at—characters, scenework, object work, mime, whatever.

It’s hard. It takes work. It’s not always as fun as performing. But the community needs you. Please, please, please do it. 

End of rant. For today. Now I have to get in touch with Tommy and schedule a rehearsal...

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