What makes an improv theatre or performance “professional”? If we go by the definition of the word “professsional” at dictionary.com we would get:
Professional: following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain.
But if you consider yourself or someone you know and admire to be a professional improviser, what do you use as a criterion to measure level of professionality? I am going to bet “livelihood” and “gain” are not your (only) criteria – I know that is the case for myself.
The criteria we all use are subjective, I know, and one might use one or more of the following:
- Quality of the work (but how do you measure quality?)
- Cost of your services (workshops, coaching, training) and performances (ticket fees)
- Graphics design of posters, flyers, website?
- Extent to which one makes a living through improv? (the dictionary definition)
- Amount of time spent on improv?
- Amount of time and expense spent on one’s improv education?
Tender Love & Care
So yeah, what makes improv professional is subjective. My personal – hence subjective – criterion would not be monetary. It would be “Tender Love & Care” – TLC or “kindness, love and attention”.
Let’s start with the Care part (dirty secret: there is no “tender” part).
Care for yourself. Your safety. Your integrity. Your values. Your priorities (whether those are making people laugh or making them aware of whatever cause you might be heralding). Your fun on stage.
Care for you fellow players. Their integrity. Their values and priorities. Their fun on stage.
Care for the audience. Care about how you touch your audience (that is what theatre is about in my book). From laughter, over reflection, to tears. About the whole of their experience.
Perhaps (more about the “perhaps” in the next section) you care about how nice your venue is. That boils down to care for your audience.
Perhaps you care about how you dress on stage. That boils down to care for your audience. They are paying (if not monetary then at least time-wise) so you might as well present presentably.
Care for your stage & lighting. Care and respect for you tech crew (if you are lucky to have any).
Care for the art form. Celebrating & learning what it has established to be. Or pushing the boundaries of what it might be or become. But also including educating yourself about what others have made it to be.
It’s Not Absolutes
Caring does not necessarily do all of that at the same time. You do get to choose you priorities, and you may have to live with the lemons life has handed to you. Perhaps you can only (afford to) perform in a run-down theatre. That does not mean you care any less. No money for color flyers – that does not mean you care any less.
There’s a flip side. Spending money/time/effort on veneer, and loosing sight of what is main importance is imho carelessness (or ignorance). Like spending time & money on a flashy website, if you don’t have your basic skills down, is … heck, you are fooling yourself, perhaps your fellow players, as well as your audience.
Care is a personal consideration. What you care for may not be what I care for. If you care for making your audience laugh and you can do that by making jokes, and that makes you and you audience happy, by all means, go for it. If you care for political or sociological activism in your improv, and that strikes a nerve (or touches your audience in some other worthwhile way) – go for it.
Playing safe, relying on what you have under your belt would be lack of care in my book. But perhaps not in yours.
What about the Tender part?
TLC is just an expression (in the English language at least – perhaps not in yours (hey almost half of this blog’s readership is not from USA/Canada/UK, did you know that ?)) We do not need the “tender” bit (but hey not a bad word about tender).
The expression is “loving care”. If there is love in what you do you’ll probably touch others. Be those your audience or your fellow players. Preferably both. They’ll know. And if they do, I’ll bet they’ll consider you “professional”.