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Being Happy Where You’re At

Great improvisers are in the moment.

They have no need for the future or the past since they know it will not serve them.

They do not have an idea of how the scene will end.

They thrive on the uncertainty.

They are happy where they’re at.

This is the hardest thing for me to do, especially since I suffer from that disease of “what’s next?” It’s an affliction that saps my energy, robs me of my joy and steals my creativity. It floods my mind with obsessive thoughts about what I need to do to take my career to the next level. It’s relentless until there’s no joy left in what I’m doing.

Joy is the lubricant that keeps all the creative gears moving smoothly. Without it, life is a grind, and it’s a matter of time before my improv is a grind too.

When I was in my 20s and 30s, my “what’s next” disease always cropped up whenever Second City would have auditions for the Touring Company. At the time, I was performing the Harold a couple of times a week at iO Chicago. As soon as I got a touring company audition at Second City, my improv at iO would suck.

I was in my “what’s next” disease. I wanted to get into Second City so badly, that everything suffered, especially the thing that I needed most to get hired — my improv.

As you can imagine, I always tanked my auditions, and worse, I am sure that I missed out on lots of other great opportunities that were right in front of me at the time because I was so focused on the “one” thing that I thought was necessary to get ahead. (That’s another common side effect of the “what’s next” disease.)

I have seen this in my students’ lives as well. Last summer, for example, I talked to a former student who told me that one of his goals was to get an agent so he could audition for commercials and TV shows that are shot in Chicago.

When you are starting out and you don’t have many credits, getting an agent can be challenging. You send out mailers, hit up your improv friends to talk to their agents, and get headshots — all in the hopes you’ll get representation.

Talking to this former student, I recognized he was suffering from a little of the “what’s next?” disease, and since he had a pretty packed schedule of shows, we agreed that he should let go of trying to hustle for an agent for the time being.

I knew that if he just focused on doing what was fun and what was right in front of him, instead of “trying” to get somewhere, things would work out on their own.

And guess what? Last week, when we talked on the phone, an agent came to one of his improv shows and wants him to come in for an audition for representation.

I need to hear these kind of stories because they help remind me that if you’re doing what is right in front of you and you’re happy where you’re at, the Universe has a way of just dropping things in your lap. And those usually turn out to be the best experiences.

Want to try improv for the first time, or experience a new approach? Don’t miss Jimmy’s Intro to the Art of Slow Comedy Workshop on Feb. 8. Only $49 if you sign up by Feb. 1!

How to stay inspired when your improv career feels stuck

If you’ve been acting or improvising for a while, you’ve probably learned that success as a performer always seems to ebb and flow. If your improv career is in a dry spell right now and you haven’t been landing any auditions and no one is asking you to be in their show, it’s easy to just sit around feeling depressed.

But as any successful actor or improviser will tell you, if you want to make it in stand-up, acting, or improv, you have to constantly work at growing your career and creating new opportunities for yourself. If you’re feeling stagnant, it’s important to find ways to get inspired so you can get your drive back. Here are a few ways to get your creativity flowing again when your improv career hits a lull:

Take a Class

One of the best, easiest and first things that you can (and should) do to refocus your acting or improv career is to take an acting class or an improv class. Classes will not only help you re-learn the ins and out of the craft by teaching you valuable skills, but you will also get a ton of practice working with other people who have the same interests and desires that you do, which can lead to some great friendships and potential creative partnerships. Plus, classes are fun! Remember, no matter how experienced you are, the first place to go when you’ve hit a wall is back to the basics.

Perform at Open Mic Night

Another great way to re-ignite your improv career is to find an open mic night. Whether you want to put together a new stand-up routine, try your hand at storytelling, or want to perform a short sketch with a new fellow actor or improviser (possibly from one of your classes), open mics are a great way to get yourself up on stage and continue to work on your performance. Jumping in and performing a new bit for a new crowd will give you plenty of practice and a chance to perfect your acting or improv abilities. A lot of places that host open mic nights offer them from week to week, so you’ll have multiple opportunities to work on your sketch or performance. You can and should utilize the feedback you get from the audience to help you grow.

Go to a Play

Another way to get inspired is to see a show in town. This is something that you should be doing regardless of your stage in your career because you will always benefit from watching others perform. It can really spark something in you when you see a moving performance live! It’s a great escape from the every day and takes you into a different world, while also re-igniting your own passion for performing. You can take away some great ideas, and maybe even think about what you would do as a director or performer in the show you’ve watched — it gets your brain going when you can map out some of the things you would do differently in terms of staging, lighting, performance, and so on. You can even take some of those ideas and utilize them in your own acting or improv class!

Write

Writing is a great way to get your ideas and thoughts out. Studies actually show that when you write something down you’re more likely to follow through with it. It can also be extremely helpful if you’re having trouble with performing on stage because it gets those creative juices flowing in a different, less public way. Try keeping a journal handy so that when inspiration strikes, you have a place to write things down that you can utilize on stage. For instance, if someone has a mannerism that you find intriguing or even a personality trait or physical aspect that interests you, feel free to jot it down quickly as something useful for a character. Or you can write your own sketches, ideas for a TV pilot, storytelling pieces and more. By reconnecting with your creativity and letting a story come forth, you’re also improving your improvisation abilities.

Record a Video

Want another way to get your creative juices flowing? Try turning to video. You can get some friends together to film some sketches, try to make a viral video, or just record you and your friends doing a scene together. The videos don’t have to be professionally shot with an expensive camera, either. Just go ahead and record the videos on an iPhone. The videos can just be for fun, or, if you really love them, maybe they’ll be the impetus for creating a longer TV pilot or web series!

Listen to an Acting/Improv Podcast

One of the final things you can do to inspire you in your improv or acting career is to listen to a podcast. There are numerous acting and improv-related podcasts out there, and if you have iTunes or an iPhone, it’s easy to listen to the expertise of your peers (and it’s free!). Podcasts can give you insider information along with helpful tips and tricks of the trade. And you can listen to one at any time of the day, whether it’s in your car, at your job, at the gym, etc. Most of the episodes are relatively short and are packed with a lot of great tools for you to try. Some great ones we recommend are Improv Nerd (duh), Improv 4 Humans, WTF, Inside Acting, Off Camera and more.

There are multiple ways to re-ignite your career in acting or improv. The key is not to let your dreams of performing fade; your love of the stage should be cultivated and kept new and relevant within your life, always!

Donna Mauer is an aspiring actor and improviser living in New York City who has a love for all things Broadway. She currently studies at The Lee Strasberg Institute and is an active contributor on various theater and film blogs.

 

Want another way to get inspired again? Sign up for Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune-Up, happening Dec. 30. Only $79 when you register by Dec. 14!

Warning: Resentments are toxic to your career

If you want to kill your improv career, make sure to have resentments. Lots and lots of resentments, toward all kinds of people, places and institutions.

If your Harold team gets broken up and they don’t put you on another team, or you audition for something and don’t get cast, do what I’ve done and say: “Fuck them! I am never going to step in that theater again.”

You can lie to yourself with your self-righteous anger, believing you got screwed. But the truth is you felt hurt, disappointed, shame, and sadness — but you don’t want to go there, because it’s too painful. And you have no interest in looking at your part in the situation because you are having too much fun blaming, being a victim and not taking any responsibility for what happened. Instead, not knowing it, you’re closing the door on future opportunities by cutting them out of your life for good.

I have been doing this my whole improv career. There has not been an improv group or show or theater or place that I have taught at that I have not left without a resentment(s). It usually boils to down how I was treated or paid or how they did not give me what a wanted.

And I am embarrassed to say that at 50 years old, I am finally realizing how much my resentments and self-righteous attitude have gotten in the way of my success. I know some of you are going to be surprised by what I am about to say: I am pretty successful, but I could have been even more successful if I had not let those stupid resentments pile up over the years. I get it that I am truly powerless over them, but it does not make things any easier. Anytime my pride got bruised, I made the damage worse for myself, thinking I was protecting myself. Liar.

If any you’ve ever thought, “Why isn’t Jimmy even bigger?” I will tell you it’s because of all of the resentments.
Looking back at my career, the one regret I have is holding on to them for so damn long. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t let them all go yet, but I am starting to get in touch with how they killed my career and my relationships and realizing that when I cut people, places and institutions out of my life out of anger, nothing good happens to me.

I am sad about it and I wish I could give you some quick fix or some sage wisdom that you’ve come to except from me, but the best I can do in this situation is what my older brother, Bobby, used to say to me in high school: “I don’t want you to make the same mistakes as I did.” And I have made many, and today I realize that the only one I hurt is myself.

People have told me that “Having a resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” If that’s true, I have drunk so much poison over the years that it has become toxic to me and has made me immune from being even more successful. I may still be alive, but it has killed parts of my career. The good news I am late bloomer and I still have time left to change.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? We have two sections of Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy starting Sept. 8 and Sept. 13. Only $249 if you register before Aug. 25. Sign up today!