Musings of an Uncertain Sunset

I offer the following exhibition of a wonderful three years with the Yeti family:

As we wrap up a third season with a wonderful After Dark set at 49th State Brewery, we also announce we will no longer be signing season contracts. I’m very specific in this announcement because even I don’t fully understand what it means. I suspect the Yeti will hibernate for some time while we explore other endeavours, but our passion for what we have built will never cease to exist and therefore the opportunity still remains. Our third year has seen us take on great challenges and succeed in some amazing shows. Two pairs of guest artists and a collaboration with a local theater company to bring a mash up of scripted and improvisational theater. We truly lived a mission of challenging comfort to find better art.

But it is getting harder. The administration of a show remains, the difficulty of getting everyone to rehearsal builds and you can start to see different horizons to explore, one Yeti at a time. We thank Scared Scriptless for a lovely collaboration this year, but the venue, the house of improv comedy has an unknown and uncertain plan and we are no longer interested in the stress of wondering what we will walk in to on show night. We are also not interested in navigating the open road of new venues.

So we rest, we rejuvenate, we wait until the mood strikes to create. It is a passion that never dies.

I would like to leave you this season with some reflections and personal opinions on what I have learned in pushing this project forward the past three years:

  1. Everyone knows one of my foundation principles is a well rehearsed product. Urban Yeti is my third project as a director. It has only strengthened my resolve on rehearsal. If you don’t rehearse you do not deserve the stage, no matter how talented you are. If you find yourself in a situation as a performer or director dreading rehearsing your product, find a new horizon to explore or new people to work with. This is natural and healthy.
  2. Respect the audience, acknowledge their influence your product and use this relationship to become a stronger artist. Time and time again I run across performers who have an attitude of ‘if they don’t like it, fuck ’em’ or who bask in the glory of putting the audience in an awkward place. Respect the fact they paid money to watch your show and you owe them more than a random shot at local theater. Improv is the type of industry which can solely thrive off of other improvisers and students in larger communities. That’s cool, I get it, but trust the Yeti when we say if you endeavour to build something a fresh audience can grasp and enjoy, the high is so much sweeter.
  3. One of my failures as a director prior to Yeti was being unable to bring a group of performers together even though we strengthened the audience and business. This was on me, so in our next project we decided to build from scratch and invite artistis into the ensemble to start long form work. We lucked out with the Yeti family and it turns out we got people engaged in goals leading us across the country. Failure is okay, it is the nature of improv, but learn from it and mix it up. I wish I started with projects where I hand selected people prior to taking on projects where I inherited. I would have been a much stronger director and I think today I would get a different result.
  4. If you can, learn to follow through experiencing leadership. If you have only performed, take on directing, take on producing, even if it is a small project. Really put yourself out there and get in the game. You will open your perspective and enhance the way you connect with other artists. I often find the hardest people to work with have a track record of throwing away these types of opportunities.
  5. No one owes you anything, especially in a world of hobbiest improv. Apply your criticism through this filter. Didn’t like only having 20 minutes for your set? Didn’t like how the venue treated you? Didn’t get cast from an audition? Didn’t get accepted into a festival? Acknowledge someone else is making their own way and putting a lot of time and effort into something larger than you. You’ll eventually find an opportunity, even better you might decide to create it yourself. This is something I personally struggle with. There will always be criticism and judgment, especially in an artistic world. It’s fun, we thrive on the gossip. But when push comes to shove, I encourage you to respect what others are doing because their committment deserves it.
  6. Side note: Styles is the hardest short form game in the existence of improv comedy. I have never seen a game of styles which resulted in a coherent story. Who can do that? Do improv Gods exist?
  7. I might be in the driver seat a lot of the time, but Josh and Mallory are two keys to the success of this project. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to project legitimacy. What comes up when someone searches your business? What experience does the customer have when they view your website and submit a question? What do people see when you promote a show? Brand is important and I would argue Josh and Mallory contributed the most to creating the brand of Urban Yeti Improv. I recommend finding a Josh and Mallory for your project. Also, best they be named Josh and Mallory, but you can’t have our Josh and Mallory. Please don’t leave me Josh and Mallory…
  8. What happens outside of the improv in a show, house opening, the introduction, the game transitions, the intermission, closing, reception line, music, all of it matters. When you are outside of the improv, the only direction for a show’s energy is down and it is the job of either a host or the ensemble to minimize how far down the energy goes. A good host stablizes and bridges the energy of a show. My style, my products will likely always use one. But a good host should never believe they are a focus point. In this regard, the host is the ultimate supportive improviser. They always set up their scene partners for more success.
  9. I’ve read a lot of great books on comedy. I’ve been to a lot of great workshops. Through all of these experiences I feel like there was only one absolute: No one has the key to success. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a really awesome principle about improv comedy. Each instructor I have worked with approaches improv differently and has alternative focus points (relationship, finding the game, heightening, never letting go of your idea, JUST GET UP THERE AND DO SOMETHING) and I have found the purpose is more to play with your community. This is why I love the nature of our open reheasals in Anchorage. It is truly the art of play and letting yourself lose the inhibitions that chain us down in our every day routines. On the other side of this lesson is a cautionary tale of those who start to avoid opportunities because they don’t feel they will grow or they have seen it before. I would take 100 introduction to improv courses if offered over my lifetime. The variation in play would be amazing to experience.
  10. When I started this project, I was still a leader who wanted to make a point, use achievement to set myself apart from others, put past experiences behind and publicize the shit out of our new found successes. We still publicize our successes for branding purposes, but the spark of competition has died in me and I’m glad it’s gone. In the first year it took its worst form in the way I wanted to set ourselves apart from Scriptless. My development as a director has been paired with my development as a manager over these past years. Passion and drive is just the beginning, the next level you have to achieve is being invested in other people’s success when it is not your own. I’m just at the beginning of this next level in my journey. I have seen others further along and further behind. Be the example of maturing in your collaborations, share your journey with others so they can learn.

Thank you for allowing me the time for reflection. I have enjoyed these chats even if I’m talking to myself.

Acknowledging this is an uncertain sunset means I must accept the possibility this could be my last blog for a while, a time capsule for the future. Because of this I want to end with the moment I will look back on with the most fondness. I end with the single best moment in my artistic career: