Awareness of your own standards and the standards of your environment is crucial to becoming an Improv Hero. Like it or not, your environment has an enormous impact on your own standards, so setting clear goals for yourself, independent of your peers, is important to ensure you achieve your personal success and not the success of someone else.
“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” — Jim Rohn
If you’re deeply entrenched in an improv community, it’s likely that you have a troupe that you practice and perform with regularly. There’s nothing quite like playing with people you like—the chemistry that comes from playing with friends can elevate a regular show to a higher level.
Every player has their own set of goals in improv. One player may want to become the best improviser in the world, while another is simply looking for a creative hobby. It’s common to have different goals, but it’s important to recognize the difference in expectations that results from those distinct goals.
The issue arises when your expectations and standards differ tremendously from those of your teammates.
Oftentimes, teams are created from a group of friends. It makes sense that chemistry in day-to-day life would be conducive for good chemistry on stage. I’d much rather play with people I like than people I don’t.
However, in a group like this, it’s very important to be open and clear about what the team is striving toward and what each player wants from improv. It’s vital to have these conversations regularly between individuals and as a troupe, because people change and commitment levels fluctuate.
When we’re direct in our communications about our improv goals, we can adjust our expectations for each player.
A player who stresses a desire to improve substantially in a very short time would be more inclined to attend more practices and workshops, whereas a player who is satisfied with playing from time to time at the same level would be happy with fewer practices. Expecting those two players to perform at the same level, however, can lead to disappointment and resentment.
Compromise is at the heart of almost any team effort. Whether it’s a case of tolerating a player you don’t like for the sake of the team, playing a game you don’t enjoy for the sake of the show, or even being a part of a show you don’t agree with for the sake of self-improvement, it’s difficult to find a team that doesn’t require some level of compromise.
The biggest problem I’ve found is when a player is willing to compromise their individual goals to an extreme. Oftentimes, one player has enormous improvement goals but puts them all aside because the majority of the team isn’t willing to put in that level of work.
I don’t want anyone to lose sight of their goals. Many talented players have lost their spark because they compromised their own standards over and over again in favor of maintaining the status quo. There’s no need to fall to mediocrity when you reach for the stars, but you also don’t have to sacrifice playing time with teams simply because your goals don’t match.
I believe that there are three key elements that can help you maintain your sense of individualism in a group: setting clear individual goals, managing expectations, and establishing clear boundaries.
I will not bore you with another grade school explanation of setting SMART goals. However, I do want to stress that you should be making a set of individual goals separate from your troupe. My reasoning is that it’s very easy to lose sight of the importance of your own wants when you’re in front of your team.
I want you to write your goals independently, so that you have a strong understanding of where you are and what you want to accomplish. Additionally, you need to continue to refresh and review your goals, in case you find your activities straying from the path you personally wanted for your improv journey.
Oftentimes, we look to others to hold the same standard that we do. Recognize that other people have different goals from yours, and you can’t expect anyone to behave as you would. Failure to adjust these expectations is a quick path to suffering.
Establishing Clear Boundaries
This is where the two elements above come together and take flight. When you’re aware of your own standards and goals, and can take into account the differences between yourself and other players, you can set clear boundaries for everything you do.
For instance, my improv community is fairly lax when it comes to punctuality. Frequently touted as “improv time,” players are excused for being 10-15 minutes late without warning. I personally do not subscribe to this at all, and thus demand timeliness from myself with plenty of forward notice in the event that I’ll be late or missing.
Establishing clear boundaries is all about setting standards and being willing to defend those standards. If you set clear standards for yourself, you can find yourself standing out from your competition, especially if they’ve lowered theirs in the face of environmental pressure.
To maintain your individualism in your improv journey, there are three steps: set clear goals, manage expectations of others, and establish clear boundaries. If you can do those things, you can prevent yourself from being swept up into the crowd and losing your improv identity.