Here is a common question I get from people that live in places other than Chicago, New York or LA. How can I make up for my small communities lack of access to the amount of and quality of your improv resources? Firstly, this is only true to a degree, there are many communities outside of the big 3 that have thriving, vibrant and healthy communities that are doing quite well, thank you. Generally speaking though Chicago has a larger number of quality shows of more varied styles than anywhere in the world.
Some things to think about before you go looking:
There are no right answers. In searching for resources (books, workshops, teachers, videos etc…) realize that everything out there is skewed towards one style or the other. And style should never be confused with right and wrong.
The advantage that the big communities have is a matter of scale, not one of talent. I’ve been to some great cities that, pound for pound, have stronger players than here in Chicago. Be proud of that. You probably get more stage time than some teams here at iO. The larger community in Chicago (or New York or L.A.) means that there are a larger number of strong players and while small communities may have one brilliant/savant player, the big cities have several. Same thing with teachers. Smaller theaters may be blessed with one or two gurus, Chicago has a good 6 or 10.
Your community is different than all others. What are it’s strengths? What style of play suits it? What do your audiences expect? Improv is huge tent and you don’t have to act like some other group to be let in.
Okay, that being said here are some ideas to overcome a possible resource deficit:
Research: While there aren’t many books about longform improv in a formal sense there are books that are tangentially related. “On Acting” by Sanford Meisner and the last half of “Audition” by Michael Shurtleff are from the acting world. While I haven’t read “Games People Play” by Eric Berne I’ve heard good things. David Mamet also has a fair number of non-fiction books that I’ve enjoyed and found applicable. Most major improv communities and/or theaters have internet message boards. Join up, be active.
Explore improv: I was working with an improv group in Canbera, Australia last March and was impressed to see just how much they do with so little. They only have 2 nights of shows every 8 weeks and few opportunities to rehearse but rather than playing it safe and presenting the same shows over and over again they create new forms for each of their 2-night show runs. You can be your own resource when you work to uncover things on your own.
Field trips to see shows: There are strong theaters in every region of the country. Load up the van and go check them out. I bet if you were to contact them first they’d be more than happy to help out and maybe set up a workshop or two.
Festivals: I wouldn’t have ever moved to Chicago if I hadn’t seen and met players from here at improv festivals.
Bring in instructors: Cheaper than taking the class out into the field, try bringing an export to you. Most improvisers are pretty approachable and would be more than happy to discuss an out of town workshop or two. (email@example.com … what’s that doing here?)
Intensives: If you’ve got a whole week free in your schedule or five weeks free in the summer many theaters offer multi-day, all-day intensives. They can have a summer camp vibe to them and usually include show passes which can be as valuable as the classes.
Encourage innovation: This can be difficult for theaters that have to sell out shows just to stay afloat but if you’ve got just one night free that you can give over to a group of players to do whatever they want it can pay dividends. Some of the sharpest, most influential play at iO happens during these vanity shows at weird times on weird days. My own show, 3033, plays Sunday night at 11pm. We don’t do much to pay the bills but (I hope) we inspire and energize young players and our peers.
That’s it. Hope that’s helpful
*** Your comments and questions are always welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by email@example.com on December 30th, 2010 :: Filed under Uncategorized