Choose the right teammates
I consistently have people reaching out and asking for advice on creating an improv team, managing the team, and working together as a team. Typically people come to me once the team is in "trouble".
By trouble, I mean communication has stopped, the fun is no longer there, and now this feels like work.
I get it. I'm experienced, a mentor, and I cast teams! The biggest difference I see with theater cast teams, is that the performers might not have known each other prior to auditions and they may have never thought to perform together. With the right coach and direction, these teams tend to succeed and when they don't, auditions are held again.
When people create their own independent team, I see them forget the last part of what theater teams do. That is, things are no longer working therefore it's time to recast. That's because of the nature and how these "indie" teams are created.
My experience is such that there are two ways indie teams come together. They meet the people in their class and there are a few other students that also seem to really love what they are learning. They find this out about each other and then they say "hey, we should do this outside of class" thus a team is born.
The other way is that people have been improvising for a bit, have met a variety of people, have forged friendships and connect off stage. They say to each other, "hey, we connect so well off stage, let's start a team" from there they might ask a couple of other people that they both know and seem to like and voila, they now have a team.
This is great! It's wonderful to find people who love what you love. To feel you have a group, a tribe, a team.
The thing is, it takes more then "hey, we should be a team" to make an actual team! It is great for trivia night though so go beat Larry and his gang from accounting. 😆
There's a blog post I wrote for the AdLib Theatre website about getting your indie team on the same page. That's a great place to start with your team.
In business and executive coaching there's an approach to making growth happen. Choose the best clients.
We should also being taking this approach in improv. Choose the best teammates.
The "best" is determined by you. It's a personal journey, discovery, and decision. For me, the best teammate is the person who has the same love of improv, drive, commitment, and focus. That means this person not only says they want to be an improviser but takes the actual steps to become that improviser. Makes improv a priority so there is time to rehearse, discuss, read, study, travel, and perform. You have to make room in your life for improv. You don't just wake up one day and decide you are good. You work at getting good.
Once your good, you work more and strive for great.
Here's the thing, you might think you have that in place and then as you get going tiny hints along the way begin to pop up that maybe this isn't the best team for you.
Everyone's red flags are also different. It's even different within the team. From something simple like let's get matching shirts (please don't 😵) to the big things like, "eh, practice isn't necessary, we are just going to go up there and have fun".
Teams should have a trial period. Put together your team and say for the next two to three months we commit to practicing as a team before we even hit the stage. Even improvisers who have been at this for a period of time still need to adjust to the new dynamic, aesthetic, and vision of this unique team. It also quickly weeds out who is serious and who just likes the idea of being an improviser.
After this, start hitting the indie circuit. Don't go straight to hosting your own night (unless nothing exists in your area then by all means go out there and set the world on improv fire). How can you host your own night if you don't even know that you perform well as a group? That doesn't mean "good" improv. That means did you have fun on stage together as a team. More importantly, have a bad show and then ask "but was it still fun?".
If the answer is yes, you probably have the best teammates.
Performing together for a bit, rehearsing together, all of this will help you determine if you have the best teammates. Do you look forward to rehearsal or is this just feeling like something you have to do? Sure, there will always be the one night where you don't want to go but you go because you've committed. However, if it consistently feels like work, sheesh, you're on the wrong team.
Indie teams means you get to do what brings you joy. What makes you smile.
What feeds your improv soul.
It's okay if you thought this was a great idea and it's turning out not to be the right fit for you. It's okay if you were really close off stage but turns out on stage it's not the right mix of people. Just being friends isn't a guaranteed recipe for success. It's why theater's hold auditions. We know that there needs to be a mix of energy, strengths, and diversity.
If it turns out this isn't your team and these aren't the best teammates for you, be honest with yourself. Improv is a truth serum and audiences read it loud and clear when teams like one another and are having fun.
Be honest and kind with your team. Just because it's time to move on doesn't mean you can't support one another, be friends off stage, and still come together from time to time. People who love improv and love you, they'll understand. They might be sad to see you go but they won't hold you back. They won't put it on you to hold the team together and everyone in the long run will be better for it.
People tend to stay on indie teams for too long. They do it out of loyalty and guilt. That's not a healthy way to improvise or live your life. They fear this is their last opportunity. In improv, there is no last opportunity. You might have to get creative based on your location but it's possible.
Improv is all about being comfortable getting uncomfortable. Editing when the scene requires and creating something from nothing. Yet, performers get stuck. They fear getting uncomfortable to meet new people, enter a new improv scene or class, and having to create something from nothing.
I'm pretty sure that is the definition of irony. If it's not, just yes, and me on this!
So today after you read this, do some reflection. Perhaps journal some of your thoughts. Maybe even improvise a scene with yourself. Figure out if you are doing what's best for you and choose the right teammates!