Monday, July 7, 2008

Let the deluge begin


Let the deluge begin, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

These are just early copies. Bess is getting a huge batch made...then the efforts to get them all over the city begin. Cary Cox, a Hallmark designer who connected with the festival through AIGA, has done a terrific job on our promotional materials. 

I realized at some point this weekend that—where the festival is concerned—I vacillate between being the capable one, the overwhelmed one, the optimistic one and the martyr. I imagine this makes it super fun for the folks on the planning committee, since they have no IDEA who they'll be talking to. It's funny—as much as I think about and try to improve my leadership skills at my real job, it never really crosses over into improv land. And honestly, it may be even more important out here, since we're all volunteers. I don't know if it's a lack of attention on my part, or a nagging worry that people on the committee aren't really interested in being led. 

It's tough. That's not me being a whiny martyr—it's just a statement of fact. And a segue. 

So I was e-mailing back and forth with one of my Tantrum pals last week. One of the coolest compliments we got from Mark Sutton was that our troupe has a great mix—of styles, personalities, approaches. It makes playing an absolute blast—it's been a looooong time since I've had as much fun on stage as I do with these guys. But it can make the behind-the-scenes stuff (planning, scheduling, etc.) challenging; we're always trying to find ways to get seven people together without anyone feeling bent over so far backwards that the snapping noise you hear is SOMEONE'S SPINE.

The most interesting part of the e-mailing was getting a chance to better understand where we're each coming from. One of the questions for me had to do with motivation—why do I think, feel and act the way I do? Taking it away from the specific issues in our e-mail string, it's a question I ask myself any time I'm in overwhelmed or martyr mode. Every now and then, I'm hit with the realization that I've spent countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars (mostly in that whole "owning a theater" thing) focused on making shit up.  

There are lots of different reasons: hanging out with smart, funny people...making audiences laugh...an outlet for being kind of a ham. 

But when I think about it, I love this stuff for the same reason I dig my real job. It's about collaboration. 

My favorite days at work are the ones that start with a problem to solve and end with the feeling that we had the right people with the right brains in the room at the same time, and we've come up with a solution together that we wouldn't have gotten to if even one of them was absent. Time doesn't matter, the room fills with energy and the ideas pile up. When you get to The One, everyone knows it. No one person owns it—a lot of times, you can't even figure out where it started or who it came from. Everyone believes. 

The perfect days happen just a few times a month. But they make the majority of my time—spent working alone in my booth on documents that inform the creative work, or editing copy, or dealing with action items from meetings—totally worth it.

In improvisation, it's the same thing. But even better—because it's pure creativity. And the stakes are lower: You're not working on a multi-million dollar ad campaign. You're entertaining an audience for one night. 

My experience is split almost 50/50 between short form and long form; I started studying and performing long form either 14 or 15 years ago. I love me some short form games—especially when you strip them of gimmicks and make them about scenes and characters. But it feels like appetizers to me—or, as my pal Beth calls them, appeteasers—just when you're totally into something, it's over.

To me, long form requires more discipline. Your muscles have to be stronger—it's the difference between doing one pushup and holding plank pose for a full minute. And your bond with the others in the group has to be stronger, because you're not just jamming for a night at a jazz club—you're part of a band. Both are work—they take talent and skill and practice—long form is just harder. 

And ultimately, sooooo much more rewarding when you do it well. I've been watching the DVD from Tantrum's last show, which was our best so far. There are lines and moves and callbacks that feel like they have to have been scripted—who could come up with something like that on the spot? But it's that collaboration thing. For one moment in time, the right people with the right brains are on the stage at the same time, and we've created something together that noone could have possibly come up with alone. 

It doesn't always feel like it when I'm plugging away at the production stuff, but after a show, I know why all the unfun work was worth it. I leave completely charged and ready to do again! do again! 

(Which, I hear, annoys the shit out of fellow players who would like 72 hours of breathing space or so before they start planning the next round. I'm just the opposite—I do better when I start from a full charge.)

1 comment:

  1. Ah, plank pose...my arch nemesis. I fully believe the pi-yo instructor at the Bonner Springs YMCA was having a love affair with plank. (both side and regular)

    I'm really looking forward to festival. I fully intend to be the annoying person backstage running around to see who needs Starbucks or whatever. (will that be something we do? I don't know what our duties will be when it comes time for this puppy to get kicked off. Am I as scarilly over the top eager beaver as I feel right now?)

    Oh, and your Tantrum show was awesome, I was truly impressed by the group. Felt priveleged to be there and several times I thought, "this is the kind of group I'd LOVE to be in someday."

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