Questioned for experienced performers - feeling discouraged


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Questioned for experienced performers - feeling discouraged

Postby kateconnors1 » Thu Sep 12, 2013 2:50 pm

Hi everyone,

I am a 301 student and I feel discouraged about my progress. I feel like I have learned a lot about the framework of the harold and how to perform a harold, but I don't feel like I am "getting better" as a performer. I attend my classes, shows, jams and am in a practice group.
Some of my questions are:

Are great performers "naturals" or did they develop from tons of practice?

What can be done outside what I listed above to improve?

Was there a milestone when you went from understanding how a harold works to performing to the top of your intelligence?

Any other thoughts??

I appreciate anyone's input. Thanks for taking the time to reply.
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Re: Questioned for experienced performers - feeling discoura

Postby jonhess1005 » Thu Sep 12, 2013 4:00 pm

kateconnors1 wrote:Hi everyone,

I am a 301 student and I feel discouraged about my progress. I feel like I have learned a lot about the framework of the harold and how to perform a harold, but I don't feel like I am "getting better" as a performer. I attend my classes, shows, jams and am in a practice group.
Some of my questions are:

Are great performers "naturals" or did they develop from tons of practice?

What can be done outside what I listed above to improve?

Was there a milestone when you went from understanding how a harold works to performing to the top of your intelligence?

Any other thoughts??

I appreciate anyone's input. Thanks for taking the time to reply.



Hi!

The first thing I should say is that I'm not the most experienced improviser on these boards. I am a 401 "graduate" and am in the Advanced Study program, though I haven't been able to register for any of the recent classes due to scheduling conflicts. That said, I do have some performance experience and I know exactly how you're feeling right now.

My advice would be to perform with that practice group if you're not already. Practicing to get better is great, but performing what you practice in front of an audience will make you even better. I would also make sure that you have a group and a coach that you work well with. If you're just in a group of people who are looking to dick around for 2-3 hours a week, or if you want to be focusing on other things, then you should probably reconsider your group/coach.

As for your question about being a natural. I think everyone has a different opinion because we're all different performers with different backgrounds but I can say this: I don't consider myself a natural, but I do consider myself a (somewhat) good performer. Even if I'm not very good compared to members of UCB House Teams, I'm comfortable on stage and I have fun. Naturals in improv seem to be rare. They probably exist, but it seems like a hard thing to be.

With all of this in mind, you're also just in 301. Think back to 201. How did you feel after your show? Did you feel like you did a good job? Probably. That's because in 201, you're taking skills that you learned in 101 and making them more efficient and more cohesive towards a structured piece. 201 gives your improv skills direction and meaning—and a way to be funny. You've already learned something, and now you're learning new ways to make it better. Now you're in 301 where you're, once again, learning something completely new to you. I'll bet that this class is the first time you've ever learned/performed the Harold, yes? Well I bet you weren't a fantastic improviser for your first few 101 classes either—and that's just because you're learning some very complicated material that you're not familiar with yet. Stick with it, because if you love this art form, and if you love this way of making people laugh, then you're going to want to take 401. 401 is a fantastic class because the curriculum starts to get more personal. Much like 201, you start to learn new, better ways of tackling material that you were only introduced to in 101 or 301.

The more you practice, and the more you perform, the better you'll feel about your skills as a performer. Billy Merritt once shared an anecdote about something The Swarm's first director once told them when they first started practicing. She asked them, "how many Harolds have you done?" and they replied with (I believe), "500", to which she responded, "Ok, so you've only got 1500 more to go." Their first director was Amy Poehler. Now I'm paraphrasing, but the point is that you've probably only done a handful of Harolds, right? So be patient, because if you want to get better at them—and if you want to feel like you're a better performer—all you've got to do is keep performing, keep practicing, and keep trying new things. There will be a moment in your improv journey where you feel—wow, that was a great fucking Harold. And that will be an amazing moment. Not all of your Harolds will be amazing after that, but it will give you the confidence you need to keep at it.

Keep going. You're only at the beginning of your journey to master the Harold. I'm nowhere near the end of that journey—and few people are. It's a long journey, and the end is probably only reached by working with other people.

Good luck! And congratulations if you made it to the end of this response!
Jon
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Re: Questioned for experienced performers - feeling discoura

Postby Chris Griswold » Wed Apr 23, 2014 9:18 am

Kate,

I'd like you to know a couple of things first. Everyone goes through that stress, so don't feel alone. Actually, I should clarify: Only people who care about getting better and have a good likelihood of excelling have that stress.

You're in good company.

You've also made it past 201, which I believe is the hardest class at UCB, so pat yourself on your back because you are a champion already.

I'm glad to hear you're in a practice group. I hope it's one that meets regularly and has a regular line-up (good attendance, no drop-ins), and I hope you're aiming toward performing if you aren't already. Stick with it as long as it makes you happy; address the problems or form a new group when it feels like a hassle or just isn't working anymore.

It's true that some great performers are naturals, but most performers got great by practicing, performing and watching shows. I have a learning disorder that makes me take longer to respond to stimuli, and most people wouldn't know it because I've used improv to model behaviors for myself that I can trigger and then my brain will catch up to. But I've only been able to do that through practice. In practices, we build muscle memory so that we don't have to do as much work onstage.

I think the biggest thing you can do to improve beyond practicing, performing, and seeing shows, is to focus on having a good time doing it. Improv must be fun for you. That's the only way it gets good. Everything you do must focus through the lens of having a good time, enjoying the hell out of what you are doing. When you feel yourself getting frustrated, I really want you to think, what would be most fun for me?

It's not always the smartest, most deftly performed improv shows that we remember later. It's not always the funniest. If you think back to improv you've loved, I think you'll see that a lot of those shows were just a lot of fun. Cagematch and ASSSSCAT are two wonderful shows, and the first relies mainly on the spectacle of competition and the second is just great performers fucking around and having a good time.

The way you word your questions shows me you're very focused on "getting it right." And while you want to learn these structures and methodologies for creating good improv, I think your focus should always be on yourself and your own approach. The things you're learning in class - harold, pattern game, etc - don't let these things be your masters. Understand that these things are just your tools to get your ideas out.

All we want from you in improv is your ideas, your memories, the way you react to things, your philosophies. That's what makes you special and unique. Being able to get those things out is what makes someone great. Whenever you're trying to learn something in improv, think, "How will this let me show who I am, what my life is, onstage?"

But this will likely not be the last time you feel like this. During my first ASH, I was seeing my weaknesses directly, and I thought maybe I shouldn't be doing this. I kept going, and I learned so much, and I overcame that feeling.

To sum up:
    Focus on having fun and being happy.
    Think about what makes you unique and question how your improv can show that.
    Be in a committed practice group. Leave an uncommitted practice group.
    Most great performers make themselves that way.
    Work offstage, play onstage.
    201 is hard.

Feel free to reach out to me if you ever need advice or encouragement. Let me be a resource to you. chrisgriswold@gmail.com

Although I am one of the registrars, all of this was my own personal opinion, and does not reflect the views of the Upright Citizens Brigade.
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