As we’re halfway through the year (sorry for reminding you), let’s do a check in on our New Year’s Resolutions! Or not. New Year’s Resolutions suck!
For a start, we begin working on them in the crappiest and most depressing time of the year. No one wants to shift all the pounds put on through delicious Miniature Heroes while it’s grey and cold outside. What makes things even trickier is that we often want vague things like ‘getting fit’, ‘making more time for myself’ or ‘becoming the greatest improviser in the world’. These are wants, they’re not well set goals that we can work on achieving.
A couple of years ago, Jules Munns of the Nursery Theatre introduced the idea of ‘SMART’ goals. I don’t use ‘SMART’ as gospel when planning out goals but the concepts have been invaluable to me. There are a number of variations on what each of the letters stand for depending on who you talk to but these are the ones I’ll use:
Specific: Focusing on a particular area for improvement.
Measurable: A quantifiable indicator of progress.
Achievable: Goals that can be achieved through a set of actions.
Realistic: Stuff that you can do based on your circumstances.
A great starting point that’s easy to neglect. If you’re like me you want to get good at EVERYTHING in improv (or at least a whole bunch of things) this can make things overwhelming at times. As a starting point, think about the projects you want to do and the skills you want to improve upon.
For example I’d like to expand my character range, continue to develop Fright Club’s campfire format and improve my practice as an improv teacher. These are still vague-ish and lack details but I have a good starting point to apply the other aspects of SMART to my goals.
Quantifiable measurements and artistic endeavours can make for odd bedfellows but it’s a clear way to track your progress for a specific goal. Often our feelings aren’t a great indicator of whether we are improving or not and our reliance on them as a measuring stick makes things messy. Feeling great after a show can mean I’m getting better but it can also mean I’m very much staying in my comfort zone. This applies similarly to shows we don’t feel that great about. Evaluating your progress through the filter of your own ego will drive you nuts.
If your goal is to develop and improve your improv show, take into account how often you’re rehearsing, how many shows you do and how often you receive coaching or training.
If you’re developing a skill, find ways of measuring how often you demonstrate it successfully. If I’m looking to expand my character range, I (or an outside eye or coach) can count how many times I show different characters in a 20 minute set during a rehearsal or on stage. For a more expansive look at developing specific skills in a rehearsal setting I recommend reading one of my favourite books: How to Teach Improvised Comedy: Using the Science of Expertise to Develop Masterful Improvisors by Jason Lewis (I’d have named it something a wee bit catchier but it’s still a great book).
Achievable and Realistic
Due to the nature of making an acronym that makes a word rather than a forgettable jumble of letters, these two sound more similar than they should but there is a distinction. The word achievable could be substituted for ‘actionable’, as in a set of steps that you can take towards your goal. Basically, is there stuff that you can do to progress towards your goal. If you can’t break down your goal into a set of actionable steps, then you probably need to have a rethink. Realistic is what it says on the tin, using your current resources (time, money and current knowledge) are these appropriate goals to be setting for yourself?
As a side note, I wanted to talk a bit about auditions at this junction. It’s fairly common that people will set themselves the goal of passing an audition for a specific project or improv show however I would advise against it. In fairness, you can take achievable and actionable steps; through practice and research, to improving your chances of passing the audition.
However I question how realistic it is as a goal. There is only so much you can do prior to an audition before the control of achieving that goal is completely out of your hands. Full disclosure, a number of times I’ve been ‘guaranteed’ spots on shows prior to an audition that I didn’t get. For some of these I just didn’t meet expectations but for other times, circumstances outside of my control changed and I was no longer a good fit for the cast. By all means audition but it’s probably more sensible to retool your goal if it’s to work for a specific company or in a specific show. It’s an unrealistic goal if I want to be in the cast of The Showstoppers but it’s not unrealistic for me to create a musical improv group that plays to that style and regularly performs around the scene.
Deadlines! They help massively and add a lot of structure to your goals. ‘Performing more’ is on many an improvisers list but it’s so much more useful to say ‘I want to perform twenty shows over a twelve month period’. If you’re three months in and you’ve only done three shows, it’s easy to see that you need to pick up the slack and start emailing more nights or start organising your own.
Be adaptive with your goals
At the beginning of 2017 I set goals which focused on acting work. This involved making sure I applied to a certain number of acting jobs per week, making sure to stay regularly practicing performance skills and to attend as many auditions as I could. Halfway through the year I completely reworked my goal as it turned out I wasn’t as passionate for acting as I thought I was. A week of singing Vera Lynn songs to disinterested pensioners while wearing a poor fitting soldiers costume in the boiling heat and ending up with a massive financial loss will do that to you. I began only taking on jobs that I could make a profit on or that I actually enjoyed (they occasionally flirted with each other but they never banged).
Another goal involved wanting to take an improv group to the Edinburgh fringe, with the aim of developing a new show to fill an hour, making sure to have the press packs done by a certain time and generally just boss the fringe. However the show went in a different direction and instead we focused on staying closer to home as there ended up being things that were better for the group and us without going to the fringe.
Once you’ve created a goal, it needs to be evaluated and continually evolve to best suit where you are now. This is not the same as ‘failing’ at a goal. Goals are meant to get us to the places we want to go, they aren’t ironclad contracts that we are bound to after they have become irrelevant or undesirable.
I found this stuff super useful and if you want to know more, a quick google of ‘SMART goals’ will give you loads of stuff to work with. Happy half-year (sorry for reminding you again)! LiamBrennanImprov@gmail.com