“Steamrollers,” “Stage-hogs,” and other myths

Going from an improv team consisting of three members to a Harold team that now consists of 9 is quite a change for me. The biggest change is stage time. Actually, the biggest change is my implied thoughts about what stage time should mean. When there are only three of you, you can’t take a break. You have to be ready to jump in at any time and playing every scene isn’t considered selfish, it’s necessary. When there are nine of you all vying for stage time, then things get a little tricky or at least they seem to. The more I think about it and the more I listen to notes from my coach and hear the thoughts of other players, I am beginning to believe that none of us should worry about stage time and ALL of us should actually strive to be “steam rollers” or “stage hogs” (a stage hog is defined as someone who is seemingly on stage a lot. A “steam roller” is someone who comes into a scene to steal your spot light and steamrolls you off stage).

I don’t feel like those labels are fair. I think more important is not how often or how little you are on stage, but instead your INTENT when you come onstage. If you crash scenes simply because you are bored or because you have ADD and you haven’t had a scene in 2 minutes, then you are doing it wrong. If, however, you are active (especially in your listening) and you jump into scenes as they need it and you begin scenes because you are inspired then you are doing it right.

Why does it matter then how often you are in a scene or how many scenes you are in? The ultimate goal, for any improviser, should be that the team puts on a great show for themselves first and the audience second. It’s a close first and second, but I believe that’s the order it should go in. I say yourselves first because it is each other that you are there for. It’s each other that you should be focused on. If you entertain each other, than the audience is guaranteed to be entertained by the joy you are showing in each other. Most of the time when a team or player starts to get in trouble is when they begin to play to the audience. They are making a joke that doesn’t benefit anyone and likely is at the expense of their partner. They are dropping f-bombs or racial slurs (I’m as guilty as anyone in all of this by the way) for the hell of it. They aren’t looking into their scene partner’s eyes and figuring anything out together. When you play for the audience you stick out like a sore thumb. That in turn creates tension and will lead to an awful show. Most of the time, yucking it up is simply out of fear and embarrassment for how you have judged the show to be going so far.

So, why then do we worry about how often we are on stage?

Number one answer: ego.

ego

We either want to make sure we get OUR stage time. Or we want to make sure others get THEIR stage time. Both feed our own ego. When we let others have stage time we are acting as though we are the gatekeepers of improv.

Can’t you see that I have sacrificed my brilliant idea for a scene so that you, mere mortal, can yack it up on stage? Why, you should be grateful that I am so charitable.

Then we get to show everyone how nice we are. Improv shouldn’t be about being nice. Improv should be about inspiration and acting in THAT moment you are inspired. More than likely, your inspiration will lead to others being inspired.

I would rather play with someone who is considered a “stage hog” than someone who is too shy to do anything.

Still the best improv book I have read:

ImproviseScene

Mick Napier, from the Annoyance teaches to take care of yourself first. You check in with you. If everyone did that, no one would be left on stage uninspired or confused about an initiation. No one would worry about not getting enough stage time or even worse getting TOO much stage time. Everyone would get the amount of stage time that the show calls for you to get. Period.

I have been in my head so much over the last two months  that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to just play. There was a big stretch that I didn’t know what it was like to be in my head. Somehow, I’ve lost that. And I think it has to do with the fact that I have been worried about taking up too much of the stage time. My thinking has been wrong. My biggest contribution to my team is to be inspired and then ACT on that inspiration. That should be all that dictates how much stage time I get.

Hopefully, from tonight on out, that will be the case.

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