The Anxiety of Improv Fantasies

Every two months, two of the theaters here in Austin let improv troupes apply for stage time. Today, the Hideout Theatre opened up for applications for January/February 2014.

There’s a little thrill when this happens, because it represents possibility. What fantastic improv troupes and shows shall I submit this time?!?

But then the anxiety sets in. What fucking shows am I gonna apply with?

Here’s my current situation: I’m in one regular troupe, Mandinka, and I’m in one regular “show” called Past Lives. That’s it. And for the last year or so, both groups have gotten some stage time around town.

But what now? What next? What fucking shows am I gonna apply with this time?

My improv calendar, being light these last few weeks of the year, has given me space to fantasize about new projects. There are too many ideas to make sense of or focus on. Mandinka and Past Lives will apply, and I’ll relish any spots we get; but I also feel an itch to do something else.

But what?

A couple of weeks ago, a hastily organized troupe consisting of me and two other male improvisers whose style I like, played a show at ColdTowne. The show, which was a delightfully hot mess, ended up earning us another show in a few weeks. That’s a lovely one-off experience, but it has zero staying power.

Not that I need every project I undertake to have staying power. Hell, most of them shouldn’t. There are only so many hours in the day, kiddos. (And 2014 needs to produce more than just a bunch of improv performances.) Yet still, what next?

For me, it’s all about people. I’m neither a fan nor an enemy of improv formats. I can take ’em and love ’em; or I can leave ’em and not mind one bit. I’m perfectly happy walking onto a stage, asking for a single word, then immediately launching into a 30-minute show. In fact, for me that’s the Platonic ideal of improv.

So then, with format not mattering all that much to me, it comes back to the people I play with. When I fantasize about improv, it usually involves imagining which improvisers I’d play with, how we might play together, the kinds of shows we might produce together, etc.

And then the anxiety: How do you ask an improviser out?

It can be a nerve wracking proposition, to ask someone to do improv with you—akin to asking out a woman—and not just any woman but a woman you kind of know but whose beauty has always intimidated you.

On the one hand, what if they’re just turned off at the very idea of playing with you? What if they secretly loathe your improv … or your smell … or that thing you did that one time in that one scene? What if they’re almost amused at your unmitigated gall, your presumptuousness at even asking them to join you in the grand old art of improvisational theater?!?

Or, assuming they don’t consider you a troll, what if they’re nervous about committing? What if they assume you’re asking for some lengthy commitment of time? How do you word your request so they know what you expect of them?

There are at least a dozen people I’d love to play with and haven’t. But who? And when? And how many? And what the hell do I want to accomplish anyway?

I keep a note on my iPhone dedicated to Improv Formats/Shows. I’ve been adding to it for over a year, and it’s pretty lengthy by now. Most of the ideas are likely shit. But I’d like to find a gem or two in there, grab the right people, and go.

But there are quite a few “right people.” Some of them I know, some of them I’ve just admired from afar. But in both cases I’m unsure how to approach them. I don’t want to prematurely suggest something, only to regret it later when another opportunity arises.

It’s a tricky business; because stage time, while generous, is limited. You have to select your pitches carefully and professionally.

So how do you handle this? How do we balance our existing projects with new ones, and how do we ignite the new projects in an exciting way?

1 Comment

  1. Rachel Austin on January 15, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    “And then the anxiety: How do you ask an improviser out? It can be a nerve wracking proposition, to ask someone to do improv with you—akin to asking out a woman—and not just any woman but a woman you kind of know but whose beauty has always intimidated you.”

    I’m 100% feeling this. Right now. Nice to know you’re suffering too. 🙂

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