I Vs. We
There are two schools of thought when it comes to improvisation. One is to support yourself and trust your ensemble will support themselves. The other is to support your ensemble and trust they will support you. I went to a show at a well known improv house that believes the first theory. It was horrific. There was no unification, jokes were forced and flat, and quite frankly, the performers did not seem to be having any fun at all. How sad!
I’ve been to a few other major Chicago improv houses that implement the second theory in which all performers support one another, and they are just infinitely better. I always keep an eye out for the performers that don’t get too many laughs, and I’ve noticed this happens for one of two reasons – either they just aren’t funny (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One of the first rules you learn in improvisation is to not TRY to be funny) or they are too busy supporting their teammates and setting them up for the punch lines. Now THAT’S a smart improviser. Do they get the most applause? No, but their effort to support their teammates makes the entire show more interesting and unified. This theory, without a doubt, simply works better.
The practice of supporting our teammates directly applies to us actors in our own community. I am always saddened when I witness fellow actors taking it out on others for their lack of success, as if (get ready, I’ve said this before) . . .
There is only so much happiness and success to go around.
I have a friend in New York who recently scored a role in a musical. After the mention of his earned success to his friend on the phone, he exclaimed, “Great, well now I know I didn’t get the part!” and hung up on him.
Actors like this one are so fearful everyone around them has sucked the success-tit dry and left no opportunities for them. Because, let’s face it, the day will come when theatre, commercials, television, film, and print will stop existing, right?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it’s not ok to be sad when an opportunity does not come your way. On the contrary, whatever your emotions may be are yours to own, and they are RIGHT. That being said, note how you feel while also noting the happiness your colleague’s recent success has brought to her.
The holding of these two emotions is a great combination of professionalism and good mental health.
So other than noting our colleagues’ successes, what can we do to support our community? The possibilities are endless! Retweet their stories, see their shows, let them know when you see their commercials on TV, go out of your way to congratulate them, even if it’s via text. Etc. My good friend Sarah J. Eagen, an L.A. actress, does a “Saturday Spotlight” where she features one artist each week on her Facebook page. I love that. This support is phenomenal, and it goes a long way.
We don’t have much, folks, but we do have each other. Let’s celebrate each others’ success stories and make the acting community one in which we want to be a part.