And now, the time has come, and we have reached the final chapter…
The chapter I’ve been dreading since Monday: The New Movement Theater. I’ve been dreading it because I don’t know what to say. I’ve set foot in TNM’s downtown theater only twice—both times as a venue for the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival. I’ve never seen a TNM show.
The sum total of what I know about TNM is:
- It was founded by some people (some person?) who broke off from ColdTowne Theater after that crew immigrated to Austin from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
- You aren’t allowed to perform at TNM unless you’re a TNM student or graduate. For their students and alums, this is a fantastic policy. I’m jealous of the stage-time.
- TNM folks don’t play at other theaters very often.
- There’s a second TNM theater in New Orleans.
- They host an improv conference and have a nice website.
- They teach Chicago-style long form improv.
That’s it. That’s the extent of my in-depth knowledge of The New Movement. I don’t know what kind of improv they teach, and I don’t know what kind of improv they put onstage.
But I do have an opinion on one thing. It involves me telling you a little about my history.
Until I started doing improv in the summer of 2011, I was very into slam poetry. From 1998-2008, without almost any interruption, I was a very busy slam poet. That meant competing at the Austin Poetry Slam just about every week; and going to national poetry competitions; and touring a little bit; and writing quite a bit; and practicing and rehearsing; and drinking Lone Star.
The reason I eventually left the “world of slam poetry” is because, for me, it felt very … individual. It was a one-versus-everyone competition. Team work isn’t part of the equation. You write on your own, memorize your poems on your own, and peform them on your own. And you are scored by the judges individually.
And as evidenced by this video, the word “poetry” is used … loosely:
Which leads to isolation … which leads to animosity … which leads to hurt feelings … which leads to suspicion and distrust. The world of the poetry slam is filled with smart, interesting artists; but it is not filled with genuine camaraderie. I grew to hate that. I grew to loathe the cynical little fuck that the poetry slam brought out of me. (Note: I’m still trying to suffocate that guy.)
And from my perspective, The New Movement—and its policy of not giving stage time to non-TNM’ers, and its seeming unwillingness to engage with the broader Austin improv community—is like the poetry slam. “You do your thing, we’ll do ours, and we’ll see who wins.” If this were Chicago, where actual talent agents might be in the audience, or if this were NYC, where off-Broadway producers are scouting for new sitcom stars … well, then I understand a bit more of a competitive approach. (Hell, I sometimes yearn for more “competition” in Austin improv, and less of the kumbaya.)
But this isn’t NYC or the Second City. Nobody’s doing improv here so they can “get a production deal” or get an SNL audition. Those who want that juice go to Chicago. And we throw them big happy parties, and we love them, and we send them all the help and support we can. But here in Central Texas, it seems that the improv itself is the end, not a means to something sexier.
What makes Austin an improv mecca is its openness, its willingness to give you room to play. Of the five major improv schools in Austin, four of them play along.
So let’s say that The New Movement is Dave Barry: Funny, popular, but nobody I know reads him….