What’s your favourite improv quote and why?
“Hold on tightly, let go lightly.”
In an improv performance this manifests as “I have this amazing idea, I’m going to do it, it’s going to be brilliant.” Then you get on stage and you find that the idea isn’t going to fit with what the other person has said or done. You’ve come on stage with a strong plan but now knowing that it doesn’t fit, you change your attitude to “My idea no longer works, I’ll just throw it away and instead I’m going to work with what’s in front of me.” I think that works in any team based environment.
If you’re trying to push an agenda; say it’s sales for example, it’s common to go into a meeting with a client and be like “I really want to sell X”. However if they’re telling you the problem for them is a different problem then you’ve come in with, then let go of your agenda lightly. Don’t worry about what you came here to sell. Ask yourself: what do they need? It might be different from what they wanted but there’s still a client there and they need you.
The genuinely inspiring Patti Styles once said to me “Make your partner look great”. What she means by that is that improv is a team game, it’s not a competitive sport. It’s about making the team look amazing and that means making your team players suggestions look brilliant.
What can you add to make the light shine brighter on their idea or suggestion? The focus is on the other person not yourself. As soon as you take the pressure of yourself and focus on someone else, it means your own performance is likely to be much better too.
“Don’t bring a cathedral into a scene, bring a brick and let’s build together.” Del Close
I love this quote because I think it sums up everything about improvisation. You’re never on your own. You’re always building something together, the responsibility is never on one person. So that allows you to take greater risks and the end result will be completely unexpected and way more interesting than if it was just one person.
The idea to ‘accelerate your rate of failure’ by Keith Johnstone.
This came from his own observations of becoming better at drawing faces. He initially struggled and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts, he came to the conclusion that he wasn’t very good at it. While working ss a school teacher, he observed children drawing faces. Keith noticed that before the children judged their own ability, they would just draw endlessly and keep trying to get better.
Seeing that they were much better at drawing than he was, Keith took on the same attitude as these children. He decided that his goal was to draw a thousand faces. There was a great deal of failure with large peaks and troughs of quality along the way. However, by the time Keith got to a thousand faces, he had become pretty good at drawing.
When I first get into improv I thought I’d apply this same attitude. I’m not going to do one improv show, I’m going to do a thousand. It means that the first dud show I did gave me the attitude to say ‘I learned from this’ rather than ‘This is game over’. I think this philosophy gives people that same persistence and tenacity.
Remember that you’re not deliberately trying to fail, I think people often misinterpret that point. We’re still trying to put on a good artistic endeavour or trying to run a successful company but you accept the fact that you’re not always going to get it right. Whereas, if we’re too timid we’re not going to grow. If it takes a thousand mistakes to make a good company, you’d better make that 500 mistakes pretty quickly. It’s an iterative process to get things going and it’s quite liberating. It takes the pressure off and it means you can go for it like a legend.