The other day during one of my improv classes, one of my students whose work has been getting stronger and stronger did a series of incredible characters and then said: “I have been doing this for five years. I just want to be consistent.”
This was not really a question; it was a statement. And the truth is after five years, he is a lot more consistent than he realizes. It is hard for ourselves to measure our own consistency because often we cannot see our own progress. That’s why we have teachers, coaches, directors and, if we are lucky, a couple of friends who can point it out to us.
The more classes we take and shows we perform in, the bar of what we consider good keeps rising. We just can’t see it. Our perception is off. Our bad shows or improv classes we had five years ago look much different than our bad shows or classes do today. Today, we are doing much more right than we did when we first started.
When you first start taking improv classes, usually you’re just so excited about learning and absorbing everything about improv. Then somewhere around the two-year or three-year mark, we start seeing the possibility of what we can do with this art form because we have gone to a shitload of improv shows that have inspired us and seen performers that we wish we could be more like. But unfortunately, we just can’t do it like they do yet, and we know that one day we could get to that level, but to get there, we need to have about 1,000 more bad shows and bad classes to get to the level of experience, confidence and craft we need to be consistent.
And even if we were able to get to the elusive state of being “consistently good,” we have to realize that it won’t be permanent. In fact, you don’t want it to be. I have experienced long stretches of doing great shows and then hit plateaus. And those plateaus all happen when I’m too consistent: doing the same type of scenes and/or characters over and over again. Consistency has turned into complacency. It is frustrating. It sucks.
Until I hit rock bottom with it, and fuck my ego that craves consistency and start taking risks and failing at a much higher level than I have failed before, I will never get better. When I take risks, I will “feel off” and uncomfortable during this period of growth until I hit another patch of consistency. How long this period of complacency will stay until I move into a higher level, I don’t know. This has been going on now for over 30 years, and my guess is having these types of peaks and valleys will never end, but I can tell you one thing that has been consistent is the time period between plateauing and taking risks to get back on top of the improv mountain keeps getting shorter.
Welcome to the world of the improv.