Tag Archives: confidence

That Guy

In a jam or workshop, a good general rule is to assume every player in the room is an artist, a poet, a genius. In this lovely ideal world, jumping into a scene with Stranger A is just as safe and potentially awesome as jumping into a scene with Stranger B.

But that’s not how it often works. Often, after the first round of scenes in a workshop full of strangers, I catch myself on the sidelines doing some mental math about how best to avoid being in a scene with that one guy.

You know, That Guy.

  • That Racist Guy who has only been in three scenes so far, but every one of them sounded, at best, like something your grandmother who still says the n-word would say.
  • That Wild Guy who doesn’t seem to know his own strength. He just started a scene by jumping into a scene partner’s arms, and the partner obviously wasn’t ready for it. It’s jolly and innocent, but you have no guarantee he’s not going to do the same to you, and you’d rather not end up with a back injury from a game of Freeze.
  • That Gross Guy who is sexual or violent right out the gate of every scene, saying things that wouldn’t make it onto network TV unless it’s by the criminal in an episode of Law and Order: SVU.
  • That Touchy Guy who is extremely touchy. Whenever he’s in scenes with women, he quickly establishes a romantic history and therefore feels justified being overly physically affectionate. He would do this even if you initiated the scene as his mom, his boss, or his niece.

The common denominator here is that That Guy is That Guy over and over again. It’s not a character he’s playing for one scene or set with teammates he knows. It’s that he has a pattern in workshops of treating players he just met like they’re garbage. If you jumped into a scene with him, you’d get stuck either saying yes-and and seeming to condone his That Guy-ness, or you’d bicker and risk being accused of denial, a cardinal sin of improv.

Most women have a radar for That Guy. When the teacher asks for volunteers, we wait until That Guy’s already had his turn. Or we wait until one other woman or guy-we-know-outside-class has volunteered, and then we jump up to be the second person in the scene. The result is that the men end up with a lot more stage time than the women.

We cannot take for granted that a teacher — even a really good teacher! — will pick up on that every woman in the class is creeped out by That Guy. At least, not of the teacher is a man, which is likely. The teacher will, instead, think we’re hanging back because we’re insecure. He tells the women to be more confident instead of telling the men not to be jerks. My theory is that this is part of why Level 1 classes usually have a more equal male-to-female ratio than Level 5 classes.

Earlier this summer, in an effort to relax about who I played with, I ended up in a scene with That Touchy/Gross Guy. (He’d already threatened to knife a woman in an earlier exercise with no provocation; I think she’d asked him to set the table or something.) His first line in our scene would have gotten him reported to HR for sexual harassment if we’d been coworkers, and I spent the rest of the scene shutting down his attempts to get physically closer to me. I dropped any kind of attempt at character. I think my second line of the scene was, “I am not going to allow you to touch me,” which backfired, as That Guy takes that sort of thing as a challenge. He got grosser, and I had to go to greater lengths to avoid being touched by someone I didn’t trust. I was 7 months pregnant, and this was neither funny nor graceful.

When the scene was over, the teacher didn’t give notes on it. He just moved on to the next pair. After the workshop, a different guy approached me and asked if I was alright. “That was hard to watch. It was not ok. I’m sorry you got stuck with That Guy.” This is the only time I’ve ever heard a male classmate say something like this. He later told me and some others that he had survived abuse and found that sort of scene triggering and Not Funny.

By the time I stopped in the bathroom after the class, all of the women were standing around the sink, talking not just about what a jerk That Guy was, but how unsafe they felt for the rest of class because the teacher hadn’t called That Guy out. I was not the only one affected. For the rest of the workshop, which we had all paid for, the women were too busy protecting themselves to get their money’s worth, and the teacher either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

I wonder if teachers don’t call out That Guy because he’s often clueless, not malicious, and the teacher doesn’t want to distract from class. But that That Guy is ALREADY distracting from class, because all the women on the sidelines are manipulating the order of when it’ll be their turn instead of learning new things and taking risks. Not calling him out is privileging That Guy’s time and money over everyone else’s.

Will Hines has probably the best advice for teachers about calling out That Guy, as well as how all of these rules change with context in a group of people who already know and trust each other and allowing for students to make honest mistakes. From his post, “Chivalry and Improv”:

Teachers should stop those scenes immediately, quickly note that it’s rude for a guy to do that to a girl and not allowed, and either re-start the scene or move on to two more people.

I don’t think a lecture is necessary there; it puts the male student on the defensive and asks him to be resentful. And students are allowed to screw up in class. Abruptly stopping, saying it’s not cool and restarting quickly saves time and send a simpler stronger message: just don’t do it. …

I like putting it in terms of the audience rather than the feelings of the female actor. The female actor, if she’s the type who likes improv, probably isn’t as easily offended as an audience would be, and probably doesn’t want anyone to fight her battles. It’s not fair for me as the teacher to presume what she feels and frankly, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about any one student as it is creating a standard of politeness for everyone for the audience to see.

Find people you trust and enjoy, and this becomes a non-issue. Circus Police doesn’t have That Guy. Most teams I enjoy watching don’t have That Guy. The better the players, the more you can relax and play without wasting any energy on That Guy.

One of my goals as a teacher is to nurture an environment where players don’t have to hang back on the sidelines to avoid That Guy, while also being a place for everyone (including That Guy, who I have to hope will grow out of his That-Guy-ness) to become better players. Any suggestions?

Questions and Answers

The last night of The Improv Retreat, the counselors did a Question and Answer session. I jotted down what I could, and I looked up #TIR2014 on Twitter to fill in some of the gaps. (Thank you, strangers, for tweeting during the Q&A.)

Any misquotes are because my handwriting is the worst; PLEASE correct me if I got something wrong.

When did you realize you were good at improv?

  • A few years from now, I hope. (Jill Bernard)
  • The moment you feel like you’re better than everyone else in the room, you’ve stopped improvising. (Rene Dequesnoy)
  • It’s for others to say if you’re a good improviser. For you, it should be enough just to be an improviser. (Joe Bill)

 

Should I focus on playing with people better than I am so I can rise to their level, or should I put my energy into mentoring newer players?

  • EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME. (Jill Bernard)
  • Regardless of who is “farther ahead,” play with the people you love because you’ll talk about improv differently with them. (Matt Higbee)
  • The next phase of learning is teaching. We learn from the mistakes other people make. (Rance Rizzutto)

 

What do you do when you’ve lost your mojo?

  • Focus on listening to other players and making your scene partner’s offers more specific.
  • Watch a totally different kind of performance, like Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. (Michael Tatar)
  • EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME. (Jill Bernard)

 

What do you wish you could tell your younger self?

  • Relax. Don’t beat yourself up for not pretending well enough with your friends. (Tara DeFrancisco)
  • Concentrate on loving the work and having fun, and everything else takes care of itself. Don’t stress about whether you will become next big thing. (Charna Halpern)
  • Play with people who get you. You can tell when a team doesn’t get a player because they make no sense. (Jill Bernard)

 

Straight white twenty-something dudes are awesome and all, but how do we get more diversity in the improv community?

  • It’s not enough to open your doors. You have to chase after different kinds of people. In the long run, a good strategy is to teach improv at a high school. Make it part of kids’ culture early. (Jill Bernard)
  • The more open you are, the more open the person next to you will be. (Rance Rizzutto)

 

Do you find improv therapeutic?

  • If enough awkward kids come together, they become the cool kids. (Rance Rizzutto)
  • This is our island of misfit toys. Comedy gets fun again when you stop caring what other people think and get weirder. (Tara DeFrancisco)
  • Yes, but improv isn’t therapy. My degree is in theater. Also go to a doctor. (Jill Bernard) Improv is therapeutic, but oh my gosh improv is not therapy. Thank you, Jill.

 

Is there anything you miss about being new to improv?

  • The hunger to do it all the time. (Michael Tatar)
  • I don’t miss a thing. I still have everything I had then, plus some. (Joe Bill)

 

How has improv affected your life?

  • When you say yes, you have more adventures! And improv has made me more spiritually aware. Also, I get fewer parking tickets. (Charna Halpern)
  • Improv has affected single thing about my life. I play with my best friends, and they are the funniest people in the world. (Tara DeFrancisco)

 

Thus ends my blogging of The Improv Retreat, 2014. If you weren’t there and wish you could have been, go ahead and mark your calendar for the weekend after Memorial Day, 2015, and like The Improv Retreat on Facebook for updates. I hope I see you there.

And if you were there, did you take notes in any of your workshops? Would you be willing to share them? Leave a link in the comments, and I’ll add it to the list below.

Maria Konopken summarized her time at The Improv Retreat at National Improv Network:

“The camp experience is something I will not forget mainly because it took you out of your comfort zone. From each of my workshops they emphasized being here in this moment — this is what matters.”

Dan DeSalva wrote a review of the retreat at Life’s a Funny Scene:

Campers’ experience ranged from short-form to long-form; twenty-year vet to two-month beginner. … Everyone was so positive and open to meeting new people and learning new things while still being confident enough to share who they were with the rest of camp. It was an amazing atmosphere, void of judgment and full of weirdness.

I am a loser who is not on Twitter, but lots of people are, and they used #TIR2014 (which, if you follow it far enough back in time, becomes about the Texas Independence Relay) and #GablesUp to post about camp.

Here’s #TIR2014 on Tumblr. (Again, you will find the Texas Independence Relay if you look earlier than late May.)

In which Eeyore’s audience is Kind and has Brains.

In some troupes I’ve been in and others I’ve coached, I’ve noticed a tendency to argue with the audience after the show is over. We’ll call one of these troupe members Eeyore.

Dear Eeyore,

When someone from the audience approaches you after the show and says, “Good show, Eeyore!” say, “Thank you. I’m glad you came.” Then stop talking.

Always say thank you, even if you didn’t think you did a good job. This audience has not only paid to see you play but has also sought you out afterward to say hello. That makes it a Kind and Thoughtful audience.

If you say, “Really? You think so?” it seems like you are asking your audience for specific critique. That is your coach’s job, not your audience’s. 

If you say, “Thank you, but I didn’t feel very good about it,” that makes it seem like you don’t think very highly of your audience. 

When someone tells you you did a good job, believe that they mean what they say. If you disagree or question them, you are suggesting either that he is a liar, or else a Bear with a Pleasing Manner but a Positively Startling Lack of Brain.

They’ve got Brains, all of them, not only grey fluff that’s blown into their heads by mistake. They Think. And we already know that they are Kind and Thoughtful, so let us assume they are telling the truth. They really did enjoy your show.

A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference. Just say thank you.
Love,
Alyssa

How to Be a Jerk and Have No Fun.

Are you having fun?

If you are not having fun, seriously consider the possibility that you are a jerk.

I’ve created a handy quiz, like in a magazine, to help you figure out if you are the jerk.

Click the picture to see full size.

If improv isn’t fun, it probably has to do with judgment. You’re judging other players, judging yourself, or judging your coach. Judgment is antithetical to acceptance, to YesAnd.

If you are the jerk in the troupe, not only are you sabotaging yourself, but you’re making it hard for your friends to play with you and hard for your coach to direct you, and now nobody’s having fun. Just like you. So congratulations.

The solution to not having fun is to have fun. That means showing up — physically and emotionally — and playing with your fellow artistic geniuses. Having fun doesn’t mean everything will be easy, but who cares if it’s easy if you’re having fun?

For the sake of argument, let’s say I’m wrong about you being a jerk. It really is everybody else’s fault.

It does. not. matter. Have fun.

Even if everyone else really is better than you, have fun. If you’re having fun, your shortcomings won’t matter as much, and you’ll get better faster.

Even if one of your troupe members really is a black hole of comedy, have fun. If you support them anyway, you might be surprised. And even if you’re not surprised, this scene is over in three minutes, so who cares?

Even if your coach is asking you to exercise muscles you didn’t even know you had, have fun. Be sore later, but have fun now.

Even if you think your director is trying to ruin your life by turning your troupe into an extension of his own maniacal ego, have fun. And maybe consider firing him later, but don’t think about that during practice.

I know that middle column of the chart well because I’ve spent some time in all those white boxes leading to JERK. I know that 90% of that was my own fault. The other 10% was the fault of my coaches for not calling me out.

As for that lower left hand quadrant, I’ve written here about playing with depression and here about finding a troupe with a common goal. Do whatever it takes to have fun anyway until it’s time to walk away.

And there is a time to walk away. The good folks over at People and Chairs have an excellent post called On Coaches, Chemistry, and Finding Your Dream Team that talks about this. I recommend reading the full post, but the ending especially is gold (emphasis mine):

At some point, it will be time for you to leave: your team, your Coach, or the theatre company that trained you. This is a good thing.

When you do, try to do it with grace and respect.

That team who liked fast-paced shows while you prefer slowprov? Wish them the best as you both pursue your own interests.

That Coach who drilled you on game of the scene till you wanted to throw a chair? Be thankful for the skills they imparted, and for helping you define your own beliefs.

That theatre company that gave you a start? Say a silent “Shalom” and step aside to make room for some new up-and-comers.

Be grateful for each and every experience, then focus on doing more of what fulfills you. In life, as in the Harold, nothing is ever wasted.

Yes, there is time to walk away. Figure that out with your coaches, your teammates, and your journal outside of practice. During practice, have fun anyway.