Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The problem with learning...

...is that you just want to learn more.

I told the Exit 16 kids tonight that I posted their notes online. Their first response: "NO! Now we have to live up to it!"

After rehearsal, I talked for half an hour with two really fabulous girls about that, the festival, Thunderdome, shows, playing and improv in general. It's interesting talking to kids who have been doing this for three years who have some of the same feelings I do after almost 20: "I know what I should be doing. How come I can't translate knowing into doing?"


One of the books I have (but haven't read yet) is a Theatresports history: Something Like a Drug. No kidding. And the most potent crack on the playground is improv festivals.

You watch Susan Messing and Mark Sutton, and think, "Why the hell can't I pull that off?" Then you take their classes, and you get a glimpse of the philosophy and training that makes them that way, and you think, "OK, with enough training and dedication and direction..."

But of course, if you're honest with yourself, you acknowledge that the X-factor is talent.

I can train all I want. I can have the highest standards and the loftiest ideals, but at some point, my level of dedication (I'm a professional—but it's a hobby), training (intensives, at best) and talent (solid, but serviceable at best...I'm an adaptor, not an innovator) dictate how far I'll go.

I could choose to be more dedicated, but get more out of my corporate whore job than I ever did from running a theater (or festival, or high school league). I'm beyond-average obsessive about training—but not enough to quit my job, move to another city or use up all the vacation time and money on classes that I could use to hang out with my tiny, adorable nephews. And I've seen enough genuine, raw improv talent—and you can spot it when they're 16—to know where I stand.

At a festival in Austin a long time ago, I got to listen to Del Close, David Koechner, Adam McKay and Mick Napier talk about their work—and hearing about what it was like to write or play at SNL made me think, "Hmm. Corporate writing jobs—deep down—aren't that different." A few weeks ago, I hung out with Mo of the Union and she talked about what it takes to make it in Chicago.

Uh...not for me. So now the ongoing challenge is...how can I be the best improviser I can be within the constraints I've set for myself...and make sure it never stops being fun?

And then Keith throws out questions like this and gets me thinking about it in a whole different way.

I have a feeling that—even though my constraints and definition of "fun" are different from others—I'm not the only improviser in KC who wrestles with this.


  1. Ah, yes. Talent.

    That is what separates the transcendent shows from the ordinary ones.

    I'm glad you mention that training can only take a person to his/her potential. There seems to be an attitude that if someone can just take enough classes and see enough shows, eventually said someone will become an improv deity.

    I really don't wrestle with KC's role in the world of improv much at all. I'm at peace with it. I don't want to live and breathe this stuff. Now, if I could make a living doing this, I would. But I can't. I find just about everything, improv included, to be tedious once I reach a certain level of immersion. I know I don't want improv to suck up all my free time, like it did 10 years ago. I know my strengths and weaknesses on stage and do the best I can to be entertaining and a good troupe member.

    I just don't see KC getting significantly bigger/better than this from an improv standpoint. That's not a knock, because I think people are having fun and that's why we're doing this, I think.

  2. Dammit, Josh...when I agree with you, no one comes to rubberneck.

    But I do. Especially with this, which surprises me: "I just don't see KC getting significantly bigger/better than this from an improv standpoint."

    There are a lot of groups of varying levels of talent and experience for a town with limited space, finite audience and almost no dedicated improv stages. There's not much variety. FFC's variety show and CCC's roasts and CC's competition, maybe, but the rest of us are doing different takes on short and long form improv. So at some point, it's going to come down to survival of the most popular and/or entertaining and/or intriguing. I agree: We'll find our level, and we're probably not much off where we are now.

    Without better training—which won't happen until we have people willing to pay to study, which will lead to teachers willing to teach—we're not going to get much better. If you start from a good place—solid directors, good basic training—growth comes with experience. Innovation and improvement happen faster when you don't spend your time "discovering" things people have already invented.

  3. I figured the "KC won't get any bigger/better" comment would've brought the improv apologists/dreamers outta the woodwork. I guess I need to get back to directly disagreeing with you.


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