I love hiking. Once a year, I grab my backpack, my water bottle and my camera and I traverse a new patch of wilderness. Some hiking trails are well marked and well trodden. Others are much more difficult to follow. When the sun is going down and you’re a little bit lost, nothing lifts your spirit more than a cairn. That’s a stack of rocks left by other hikers to let you know that you’re still on the path. If you’ve been hiking for a while and you don’t see one, that’s a red flag.
As you go along your improv journey, are you leaving things behind to help the next generation?
When I began taking improv classes back in 2000, I couldn’t get enough of it. I ordered every book I could find. I read every blog post. Since I didn’t live in an improv mecca, the websites and books sustained me until I could move.
I’m thankful to those who took the time to write about something they learned. It helped me on my way. It’s also helpful to read about other improvisers’ struggles. We all blow auditions real hard. We all find shows/teams we love and have to cope when they die. We all are pretty sure we’re better than that one dude on SNL.
When you pursue show business, you spend a lot of time feeling alone. Truth is, all of us are feeling alone. We just feel alone surrounded by other people who feel alone. No one likes talking about that.
Navigating the improv wilderness is no different from navigating the actual wilderness. You can pay a guide/teacher, but they’ll only take you so far. You can look for trail markers and try to follow another person’s path (as Farley followed Belushi). At some point, though, you end up in a part of the forest that is unique to you. Yes, you can turn back by taking more classes or auditioning for another team at that old theater. But that’s like going back and forth on the same trail. It’s fine for a while, but you’re not learning or seeing anything new. The true test is to go beyond the well-worn path to forge one of your own.
That’s your obligation to yourself: To follow the established path until you feel confident enough to try to blaze a new one.
Also remember that you are not the only person in the wilderness. Take time to leave markers for those coming behind you. That’s the purpose of this blog. I hope upcoming improvisers can use it to gain some clarity or wisdom or hope as they learn the ropes. If you’d prefer, you can also pass on your wisdom by coaching, teaching classes or even just giving a word of encouragement to a younger player. We all hear, “Nice job,” and, “Good show.” Be specific with your compliments. Approach someone and tell them you loved their editing or you really liked their Crocodile Mayor character. With a little bit of goodwill, you can help transform the wilderness into more of an established trail, and that furthers the art form and all those who will pursue it for years to come.
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton