It finally occurred to me that the primary reason for all the angst is that the kids have to choose between their friends and their troupe—something not even grownups are particularly good at. (I can't begin to tell you how many times I was accused of overlooking a player's flaws because we were friends or dating, or my old business partner let someone really mediocre on stage because he was going out with her.)
With my old troupe, Lighten Up, at least we didn't know the majority of the people auditioning for the group. We judged them entirely on what we saw in three hours of auditions. A lot of the time, these kids know each other, which means they're more or less likely to assume potential based on their other experiences.
Fair or not fair? How does what you do or have done outside the group affect the kind of member you'll be? What do your personal choices off stage say about the ones you'll make on stage? And, as a current member, what do you owe Exit 16...vs. what you owe your friends?
Improvisation is about trust, so I've always assumed part of what you owe the group is loyalty to your fellow players...and that extends to potential players who audition. That may mean cutting them slack, assuming positive intent (to use corporate language), keeping secrets, showing respect. That's part of the reason my posts about the kids may come across as vague sometimes.
(Plus, they're kids. They make mistakes. I make mistakes. It's part of the way we learn with and from each other.)
Anyway, it was a rough week. That loyalty was stretched—even betrayed—a couple of times in a couple of ways. Ultimately, I did something I've never done before: I left the kids Wednesday night with the final decision unmade. Typically, we make our picks in a meeting at Perkins, then the kids let the new members know they're in.
Because of the weeks' events, I contacted all the new members through email, and posted the final list on Facebook. I made the final call on the way home, alone. But after listening to the passionate discussion and looking at the members' final votes, the decision ended up having almost nothing to do with the smart, talented kids who auditioned, and everything to do with the kids in the troupe.
And, honestly, with how I've felt about coaching them the last year.
I thought about three things as I made the decision about who would join the group next year:
- What I've learned from auditioning, teaching and directing improvisers since the early '90s, and from coaching Exit 16 for almost a decade.
- My loyalty to the troupe—not just the kids in it, but its history and its connection to the school.
- The exhilaration, frustration and exhaustion that came from coaching an incredibly talented, very strong-willed group this year—and the feeling that my grasp on control and discipline has been tenuous, at best.
- Because that way, the experienced players will outnumber the newbies by two. There will be more kids who understand the expectations, standards and principles of the group (including the ones we learned right here at the end) than kids who don't.
- Because they'll only outnumber me 10-1 instead of 12-1.
- Because they'll get more stage time and attention.
- Because there are even numbers of girls and guys.
- Because doing smaller shows at the Corbin has been good for them—and a smaller troupe will make them better faster.
But am I 125% certain we've got the right troupe? Again—yep.