The Illusion of Busy
a.k.a "The Moth Syndrome."
There’s been a shift in improv. Instead of being a part of just one group, improvisors have become proud of how many groups they’re in. They see it as some sort of status. I call it, and this is probably taken from someone else:
The Moth Syndrome.
Instead of being great at one group, you’re ok at 5 groups, which waters down your brand. Start looking at yourself as a brand, if you haven’t already.
As a moth is drawn to a flame, the improvisor is drawn to stage time. Some believe that a performer needs to get on stage, as many reps, perform as much as they can. There’s validity to that. In my experience, what will help you even more is getting those reps in with one group. When I started, it was the norm that you never, ever missed a rehearsal unless illness or extreme circumstance. The group was your top priority. Sometimes, we’d rehearse two or three times a week or more. I remember being a part of Wakamalaka (I’ll take about group names a bit later), where we rehearsed every day from right after Thanksgiving until the show opened the first week in January and only taking off Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Every one of us were in agreement: we wanted our group to be great.
Sometimes, your coach/director would not let you play in the show if you missed a rehearsal. Almost always, you didn’t play if you missed the last rehearsal before the show. More important than that, the groups policed themselves. It was clear that missing a rehearsal or show wasn’t really an option.
"The ensemble is on a journey and when you miss part of that journey, it affects the group."
Nowadays, people miss rehearsals and shows. Or, they leave shows right after their group has performed but before the show is over, without even thinking about it. I’ve personally heard these excuses, which blow my mind:
“I was tired.” “I totally flaked.” “I totally forgot.” “I didn’t get the email.” “I have to leave early to rehearse with my other group.” “I just wanted you to know, I might not be at the show or I’ll be late because I have another rehearsal/show/concert that night.” “I just wasn’t feeling it.” “I had a hard week.” “I’m going to a baseball / football / basketball game.” “I didn’t think we were having rehearsal because of the weather.”
What do all those statements have in common? What word starts each one?
To me, it boils down to ego and fear, from which is where most challenges stem. More often than not, sadly, people want to be on several teams in case one breaks up. It's feat they won’t be put on another team. And therein lies the rub. My unsolicited advice is: don’t wait. Form a group with people you dig seeing and hanging out with. Work backwards: rent a space so you have a deadline. Don’t wait for a theater to tell you that you’re good enough to play in their building. Because sometimes, you just aren’t adept at their style of improvising. Don’t forget, these companies are training centers. You are not entitled to anything. I had to learn that lesson the hard way. Why don’t they want me/ didn’t ask me to perform in their building? Because they don’t have to. It’s not my theater and they are doing pretty well without the input of Jay Sukow. Pure and simple.
My other piece of unsolicited advice: Take pride in your group and yourselves. Give your audience a professional show. Take the stage like you own it. Play smart. Resist the urge to come out and clap at the audience and jump around spastically. Think of the confidence pilots have walking through an airport. Or when a band takes the stage.
Take a clean, crisp bow together at the end. Be a professional. Show up on time because when you don’t, you’re telling the group your time is more valuable than theirs. Dress better than your audience. Get excited about the show and tell your friends and not just a Facebook post. Your excitement is infectious and it’s harder to say no to someone if they look you in the eyes and say, “I’d really like you to be there.” If you feel like “Ugh” when you think about your group and the people in it, then leave.
Sidebar: spend less time deciding on the name for your group. In my experience, the longer it takes a group to agree on a name, the shorter the time they stay a group. Agreement is a huge part of improv. Think about it. If you can’t agree on the name of your group, how are you going to agree on stage? No one ever left a show saying, “The show was “meh” but I tell you what, that group’s name! Man, I am coming back to see them just because of that!”
People are put into your life for a reason, for a certain length of time and, I’m convinced, they appear at the exact right time. Enjoy them for the time you know them. Sometimes, the hardest thing we have to do is say goodbye. Sometimes, we hold onto people for too long. It’s ok to let people go so that others can come into your life, or leave situations because the timing isn’t right and you’re unhappy. In fact, it’s pretty brave. Which is something I’m still learning about.
Live - Laugh - Love.
Thank you for reading. As Martin deMaat said, “You are pure potential.”
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