Tag Archives: People and Chairs

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.

You can’t be a human in a vacuum.

This video, created by the good folks over at People and Chairs, was a gut check for me.

Part of what makes it so funny is that the woman behaved as though she was putting on a generic, universal sort of lipstick (while we could see the specific color going sloppily all over her face). The man wasn’t answering an actual phone he could picture, just some archetypal phone.

The thing is, nobody owns an archetypal phone or universal lipstick. I own a very specific phone and — well, I don’t wear lipstick, but if I did, it wouldn’t be the Platonic ideal of lipstick, unless that’s what happened to be on sale at Target.

Precise object work may seem like a chore, but it will make your life on stage infinitely easier.

I found the idea of object work intimidating when I thought it was about being an impressive mime. The key mistake here is the word “impressive.” I thought object work was there for show, so the audience would understand that I knew what I was doing.

When someone told me that improv is not about impressing the audience, object work didn’t seem as important, so I didn’t put much energy into it. I put all my energy into being a human being in relationship with other human beings.

Lately, though, I’m realizing that it’s pretty tough to be a human in a vacuum. I’ve got to be someplace, and there are probably things in that place that I can touch.

Jet Eveleth, one of my favorite teachers, doesn’t coach you to “do more object work.” Instead, she says, “Live in your world. Touch your world.”

When I take that note, the whole scene opens up. I don’t have to stress about inventing clever things or coming up with the next plot point; I can discover what’s going on based on what I see in my world.

Object work isn’t mainly about technical precision, but a lack of technical precision is often the result of not really seeing your world. If my coffee mug grows and shrinks with abandon, then sort of disappears sometimes, my scene is likely to be clunky and forced. If I’m only pretending to see my world, you’ll have to watch me work hard to think of the next thing. That kind of effort is tiring and ugly.

I don’t see and touch my world for the sake of the audience. I see and touch my world because I want to give my brain a break, because I want to make my life easier on stage.