Ok, it's a step-by-step process. But I can go through my tax returns and tell you improv has opened up a hundred doors for me in my career. As a performer, teacher, guest lecturer, etc. But I didn't start that way
My roots are in musical theatre. Having done 30 or so musicals by the time I was 17, I was a veteran of the grandest form of live performance. Then in my junior year of high school I discovered ‘Who's Line is it Anyway?' and it changed my life. I formed the improv club at my high school, and I had found my niche. It had been calling my name all the years I was up to my neck in box steps, baritone lines, and mic checks, and now that I was listening, I never wanted to stop.
I went to Second City in Chicago to intern and watch the best in the country work. I spent my nights off at Improv Olympic across the street. I took immersive character-based classes in New York. But what went from a passion turned into a career right back in Orange County.
I joined Improv Shmimprov in 2007, a few years after its inception. It operated in a small theatre in downtown Fullerton with late night shows on the weekends (it still does). It was wild, insane, the most I've ever laughed. There was nothing we wouldn't do or say, and the audience loved every minute of it
Within a few months of pushing the group to the rest of the country we were being booked at colleges across the country. We were requested for events across Southern California: theme parks, birthdays, retirements, bar mitzvahs.
Then Disney called us. My pitch was enough for the mouse to take a chance on us on Disney Cruise Line. Three years later, we're still sailing the high seas and making jokes.
And as all this occured, from unpaid hobby to full-time management job, my musical theatre career has never been better.
How? When all my attention is placed on making demos, creating riders, selling our shows to corporations (and doing almost every regular show on the weekends)–how on earth did I amass almost all my AEA points in the same amount of time, without moving to New York?
The rising tide lifts all boats. Laughter, and love of what you do makes you better. You don't get a choice in the matter. Success doesn't care about who you're auditioning for. You've earned your confidence. Hard work, dedication, and passion are universal and they make you better.
Improv has taught me more than I realize, and it's only when I sit down to write about it I truly get a glimpse of how much I owe to improv.
More than anything, you laugh. A lot. What other art form exists in which your main task is creating laughter? Laughter is the ice cream of human expression–it's the best! But creating it with your fellow wonderful human beings–that's the enormous cherry on top. I've never been a musician, but I jam. Regularly. Improvisers, like musicians, make up the notes, the rhythms, the crescendos, the climaxes and the resolve–together. How rewarding it is! With all the shows we do around the country and on the ships, the most fun I have is at our little shows in Fullerton, where anything goes. I and someone else get to write our own little play, and we can do wrong.
Second, ‘yes, and.' This is the first commandment in improv. It means if your scene partner says something establishing important content, you acknowledge it as truth, and add to it. For example if your partner says ‘What a lovely day to lounge here by the lake,' you say ‘Yes, and I've been chilling these smoothies in the water.' No matter what is said, it's established and it's true, and you can't change it, you can only make it more complete. It's like building a sandcastle with your friends when you're a child. Someone builds a moat, so you build a bridge over it. Someone else builds a tower and you put a flag atop it.
NOTHING IS A BETTER PHILOSOPHY FOR THE PATH OF LIFE THAN ‘YES, AND…' You cannot change what has been established, you can only acknowledge it and make it more complete. Sometimes I have been at odds with life's occurrences: a mistake at work, a break up, even a death. But then I think ‘Yes, and…' I can't undo what's been done. I can't pretend it didn't happen. Or I'd be a crazy person. I can just do the best I can going forward.
Think it's just big life stuff? Try auditions.
You're running late. You forgot your audition book so you had to go home and get it, but then you hit every red light on the way to the audition. You're ten minutes late, and they have a reputation for running things on time. You're late! You can't hide it. When you run in the clock will clearly say 1:10 when you were expected at 1:00. No one else was late, but you were. You were late! So what are you going to do about it?
Nothing. I was late. ‘YES, AND…now I'm here, and I'm standing in the audition room.' You made it. Congratulations, you're alive, you're dressed like a baller, and you rocked your audition. You realized any thought other than ‘time to audition like a boss!' is useless to you. You got a smile, a handshake even, from the folks behind the table. Being late was the event that happened before you arrived. Then you arrived, and your story began. Being late has evaporated. It never happened. It had no power! (Mind you, I don't encourage you to be late to auditions, but if you are ‘yes, and' it move on with being awesome)
Third, and maybe the most awesome part, aside from the laughter, is that you are surrounded by ‘yes, and-ers.' Everyone is rooting on everyone else. Support and gratitude. It sounds like a hippy notion from the 60's, I know. But let's apply it to auditions again. You're in the waiting room. The dreaded waiting room. You have your side (ie. the pages of the script you're going to read) and you're looking at all the others who have your same side. You're suspicious of them, jealous of the ones who had more time to poof their hair, so mad at the one person who is always at all of your auditions because you're so alike. You're anxious and peeved.
This, to me, sounds like the worst possible mindset to be in before an audition! You're gonna go into that room and think people will invest time and money into an actor who's dripping with icky ish? Blech. Even YOU wouldn't hire YOU in that state.
Try this instead: look at everyone else who's auditioning, and to yourself, wish them good luck. Break a leg. Want something good for them, and truly believe it. If you get the part, great! But if you don't, you'd like for someone to get a good day out of this, right? Why not someone in your room. Just like in an improv scene, you're inventing the future right there, so make it a positive one!
In looking back at this blog, I realized I started with the financial doors improv can open for actors, and ended with the emotional ones. I think that's fitting. As much money as you'll make doing what you love, you'll do it because you love it, even if you never made a dollar doing it. It's the thing that makes you happy, and if you can laugh 100 times more than the average person, and create wealth while doing it, well, then ‘who could ask for anything more?’
Improv Shmimprov's classes are a first step you can take to opening up these doors. You'll laugh more than you ever have in any other class, and finish the course armed to the teeth with how to ‘yes-and' better, how to set up your scene partner better, how to remain present, and of course, how to set up one-liner jokes! (Seriously, be prepared for puns, cause they're comin')
So sign up today for a class! Let's have some fun this summer, and get you kickin' butt with your gold-plated boots next year!
Improv Shmimprov classes begin August 1 and run for six weeks. Classes are 11 AM-1 PM on Saturdays, except the first class which is 10 am-12 PM. The inaugural classes are being offered at a reduced price. To sign up, go to www.shmimprov.com/classes
Drew Boudreau lives in Orange County, CA. He is booking manager, performer, and instructor with Improv Shmimprov. For more information, visit http://www.shmimprov.com