The Long and Short of it…

I loved the show last night and so did the audience. Great energy, genuine compliments from the audience in the receiving line. Nothing feels better on a Saturday night.

Second to last show of the season, one more left, I’m running out of time to communicate insights into our world of improvised comedy. There is a depth in every hobby we have. I’ve always wanted to show you our depth through this blog.

Remember my description of the three roles in the improv community? Actor, director and producer. I look back on three years, I look back on last night and I am the most comfortable producer in the world with Yeti able to sell out shows to Anchorage audiences with very few people who have a background in improv comedy. But as a director, I’m still as nervous as the day I started.

Our last show was the first time we have done a fully uninterrupted long form set for around 30 minutes in front of an Anchorage audience. We pulled one word went from there. No host transitions, no continued audience pull, no variation in format like we have done in the past to attempt to keep audience engagement up. It was good improv, but I wrote about the pace being a little off. Therefore throughout the last Yeti rehearsals I have hammered pacing and consideration of scene wipes at high moments and when it is known scenes aren’t going well. I think last night there was a trade off that took place with this strategy. Sitting in the back of the theater, we had a much more responsive and engaged audience who recongized the creativity of the scene work as a result of the pacing choices. High moments like split stage wedding, adult homecoming (putting your keys in the bowl), creepy yearbook photographer, grammar boot camp Hunger Games style, captain of the ship specializing in pranks were strongly received. The only thing that threw off the set a bit in the end was a disconnect between a very creative ‘standing competition’ set up and then layering a prison on top of it. It is a good example of the importance of world coherency and staying away from crazytown. However, no one can connect EVERY time, so I think this was a minor blip in an overall strong set.

The initial two person scene offerings in each initiation of the Armando were tapped out very quickly (20-30 seconds), thus not allowing the initial two people to fully explore the offer presented. I would allow at least a little more development but I also acknowledge it is a direct response to the high pace, bold initiatives culture I set for the show. It is in this that I find our depth today. My nervousness is in this culture I am setting. My desire to please the audience can many times go against what I believe to be the true nature of long form improv comedy. Most people teach to stick with it no matter what, commit to building a solid foundation that will create a world you can weave back into itself. Don’t worry if you get minimal audience response at first, it is all worth it for that moment of creativity when your team brings it all together. At that moment, the audience’s head will explode! Am i building something that is fueling this harsh opinion of the industry?

Am I an artistic director or just merely a facilitator that is tinkering with long form to a point where the creativity is sacrificed for easier audience enjoyment? But we just sold out our show to a 150 person audience who left happy. This is right…right? But does it feed the creativty of our performers, is it just another show to them, am I feeding their creativity or providing audience reaction supplements? Have I sold my soul to the laughing devil? 

Any director’s insecurities often serve as a foundation for the product they create. This is art, the great debate of subjectivity and culture. Is art legit if not enjoyed? Are we successful if our business isn’t growing?

What our players might not know is they each provide a unique indicator to me on how things are going. I owe our Yeti family a great deal for where we are today with this endeavour. But they each approach it with a different motivation and these differences allow me to see into a certain aspect of how well Urban Yeti is doing. Parsi represents how we connect to the wider community of Anchorage. Aneliese is who incidcates to me how we search with-in our soul to find the essence of long form. Erik comes to the table with how we please the audience to create a better experience. Mallory indicates to me our ability to connect with one another as an ensemble. Mary Jo is the litmus test of breaking boundaries and committment to the scene. Can you guess who I’m the most nervous about pleasing with our current product?

In this the reality becomes very clear. You will never find it all in one place, one theater, one troupe, one show. To the gentleman who wondered what became of the art of long form improv comedy, I answer the art will continue to balance between player ambitions and audience reaction. Your reaction is one in a sea of reactions. The group who performs to sold out shows will eventually yearn for something more creative. The group who performs perfect long form for smaller audiences will eventually yearn for popularity. Directors will constantly be out there tweaking the product in every rehearsal to try to match what they believe is the culture they want to set. I own the responsibility of choosing our culture in Yeti and with this choice comes success and consequence.

To every actor I say go and find what you want today and dive in, but I guarantee you will not want that experience forever. This is okay, it is healthy and even more healthy are actors, directors and producers who understand this nature of art and play to its strengths. I as a director will always try to recreate the reception line we received last night. I as an actor might desire more purity from time to time.

The true inspiration is in just getting on stage and trying and I will forever love this fact the most.