For Veterans Returning Home or Moving Away // Author: Bobby McCosky
In my previous post, I dove pretty deep into how to get back into improv if you have been away for a while, and have a few years experience under your belt. Today, I want to focus on what to do if you have lots of experience, and are returning after a year or so, or if you are moving to a new city.
For a lot of people who have been doing improv 5+ years, the idea of jumping into a level 1 class is a non-starter. Similarly, if you were on the stage at Second City in Chicago, and you move to a newer, smaller city, the idea of starting at the beginning of classes kind of lets the wind out of your sails. You were good enough to be on one of the biggest improv stages on the planet, and now someone in Kansas City is telling you to take classes?
First, let me start with the veteran players who stepped away from their city for awhile, and want to get back in, but don’t want to take classes. I will always recommend classes as a way to get in touch with what is happening in your city, but let’s say you aren’t going to take a class. What should you do?
I would first reach out to any of my former teammates to see if they are still involved in the community. Take them out to lunch and get caught up on how the scene has changed since you have been gone. In improv, 4 years can be a monumental amount of time. New schools of thought, new books, new theaters, new graduates, etc. Almost any improv scene in the country is different in 2018 than it was in 2014, and 2010.
Performance or Teaching Opportunities
Another option is to try to get into any open spaces you can. Jams, open mics, anything that is a proving ground if you feel like you are good enough to perform, but just need to make some connections. You may even see if any improv venues are looking for people to teach one off workshops. This may be tricky if people don’t know you well, but if your resume shows lots of experience teaching, someone may give you a break. This could be a great way to get involved and use your talents not only to better your own path, but the paths of others. Similarly, you could see if any independent teams need a coach. A great way of showing people you care about the scene (that you took a break from) is to not worry about yourself and your stage time, but to invest your knowledge into the students that are just getting into this artform.
This gets a lot trickier if you are someone with lots of experience in a smaller city that is moving to say Chicago, or NYC. I would still recommend reaching out to ANYONE there that knows you and can vouch for you at any of the big theaters, but unless your resume is insanely impressive, it’s going to be hard to not have to start in some sort of class. There are opportunities for open auditions fairly often, but even with those, it usually helps to know someone who can vouch for you. Don’t let that discourage you, though! Go in and try to have a great audition. Do your best to support the hell out of your scene partners. Look like you are happy to be there and talk to everyone you can.
If you audition a bunch and aren’t making any headway, I would recommend enrolling in classes at a theater you enjoy. You may be able to skip a level 1, but odds are you will not be able to do much more than that. Again, don’t let this discourage you. Let it motivate you. You know you’re great, that’s probably why you are moving to the big city and doing this! So, put in the work it takes. This city may not know you now, but I guarantee almost everyone on the main stage has been EXACTLY where you are at this very moment: at a crossroads of, “Should I start back at the beginning, and humble myself, or should I just give up, and find something else to fulfill this passion in my life?” Obviously, you know what choice the performers made. If you love improv and your goal is to be on one of the big platforms, classes are the price for admission. Know that now.
What if you’re an improviser who has lots of experience, moved to one of the big cities to follow your dreams, but are now moving back home – or to a smaller city – and you still want to pursue improv? What should you do?
In this case, it’s a combination of everything above. Go see local shows, touch base with old improv friends, see if anyone is hiring for an ensemble or holding open auditions. All of these are avenues for you, especially with your knowledge and experience levels, but I would stress that if you enjoy teaching improv, please, please, please try to give back to your community. Pass on the lessons you’ve learned to others.
I’ve had friends return from Chicago after trying to make it in the scene, and they sometimes return with their head held low, as if they failed at something. I always try to stress in our conversations that you followed the fun. You followed the fear. So many people have the desire to take a leap, but they never chance it. Just like in an improv scene, when you take a big risk, there is always a chance it will fall flat, BUT your teammates are always there to support you and make any mistake look like it was planned. That little “mistake” leads to a beautiful thing larger than you could ever imagine. If you find yourself back at where you started, think of this as your second beat. A chance to heighten and build on all the hard work you did in the first beat.