Improv isn’t always all fun and games. Take it from someone who has gone through two team breakups within the past year.
To the average audience member, a team may appear to have amazing comedic chemistry on stage. But if the off-stage chemistry isn’t there, improv team members will often part ways and seek new theatrical horizons. Sometimes it’s simply an issue of conflicting schedules or a lack of managerial organization. Other times, it goes deeper than that and involves a web of drama, which can end in bad blood or tears. In either case, there are some key warning signs you should keep an eye out for that may foreshadow a painful improv breakup in your team’s future.
In this article, I’m going to share with you the warning signs I noticed in the days leading up to the breakup of my improv teams. If you spot any of these signs with your own team, you may want to start exploring other improv alternatives.
Only 2-3 People Show Up For Rehearsals
Unless you’re a very small team, when only a couple people out of a team of six or more regularly show up for rehearsals, it signifies a bleak future. This scenario is typically caused by conflicting schedules or lack of commitment.
It is unfair to the rest of the team if only a few people show up to rehearsals to build group mind, but then everyone shows up for a performance because it throws off the team’s delicate balance. Group mind is an integral part of successful improv. The only way to create group mind is if the entire group plays and practices together consistently.
One Person Drops Out Without Warning
If one team member suddenly drops out for no apparent reason, there is usually something deeper going on. It could be bad blood between two or more members, or even an issue with the coach. The sudden drop-out can open that hidden can of worms and create insecurity issues amongst other team members.
In scenarios such as these, the drop-out could be a godsend by bringing attention to issues that may otherwise remain bottled up, which is unhealthy not only for group mind, but also individual team members.
Two Members Date and Break Up
I was originally inclined to say any dating within an improv team is a surefire sign of drama to come. But really, the drama only comes if the couple breaks up while still on the same team. Relationship breakups often lead to division within the team, with members choosing sides in the drama. Additionally, the two involved parties, if they should both decide to remain on the team, would more likely than not have difficulty performing with each other on stage. (Another hit to group mind.)
There Are Divisions Within the Team
If two or more people do not get along, it’s going to affect the entire group. Again, group mind is essential in improv. When the chemistry is there, it shows. But when something upsets that chemistry, it throws off the entire team. So if you start to notice two or more team members talking smack about each other, or if you feel a negative energy when those members perform with each other and something just seems “off,” a breakup is forthcoming.
Members Aren’t Participating in Team Communication
When team members stop responding to group texts or Facebook messages related to rehearsal or performance attendance, it’s a surefire sign of a lack of commitment. Usually, these are the team members who only enjoy improv when it’s convenient for them. If improv isn’t the first priority on each member’s mind, that’s cool; as long as everyone is on the same page and communicative about their intentions. However, if some members are in it for the long haul while others are not, it becomes frustrating. Especially if members aren’t communicating when they’ll be at a show or not. If multiple team members are failing to communicate, it’s time to throw in the towel.
Your Coach Demonstrates Favoritism
Some improv coaches are super positive while others are a bit more critical and push you harder. Different styles work for different people. But when you get a coach who is only positive towards some members of the team and is more critical and negative towards others, it creates a feeling of division. While it’s true that some members may be more experienced improvisers than others, you should never feel like your coach only likes certain members and dislikes the rest.
If you feel like your coach is playing favorites, try to talk about it as a team, or perhaps consider finding a new coach. Otherwise, the team will feel unbalanced; a sign that it’s time to blow this popsicle stand. Check, please!
One Member Takes Charge Without Asking
Structure and organization are important, especially for a group of adults who play make-believe on stage, flying from the seat of their pants. An improv team usually requires at least one person to take the lead in scheduling shows, practices, and other team get-togethers. However, if one or two people take the lead without first communicating with the other members about who should take on the leadership role, it creates bitterness. You can imagine what that does to group mind.
Improv teams should feel like a democracy; there should be no unspoken hierarchy. Yes, someone may need to take the lead, but not without clear communication amongst team members. It should be unanimously decided. So as soon as that one member sends that message, “Hey guys, we’re going to rehearse this Saturday at 1pm - be there!” or something to that end, be forewarned.
You Feel Crummy After Shows
Anxiety is no stranger to even the most experienced improvisers. Nor is the occasional lousy performance. However, if you find that you are consistently left with a crummy feeling in your gut after shows and rehearsals, you should listen to it. While it may partially relate to a low self-esteem that you need to work on (focus on self care, if that’s the case), it may also be your intuition telling you that the group mind simply isn’t there. It may not be the fault of anyone in particular; it could just be that you’re not clicking with other team members. Or it could be because one or more of the other signs previously discussed exists and your gut knows it. In any case, always listen to your inner self.
You should never feel bad for, well, feeling bad after improv. It just means there’s something you need to address and shouldn’t ignore. Also, chances are that, if you have these feelings, at least one other person on the team feels the same way. A team only works well if all team members feel good about it. If you leave the bad feelings unattended, it’s only a matter of time before they grow into a full-blown breakup.
Hopefully, you don’t see any of these signs with your improv team. But if you do, don’t despair! All breakups usually come with some kind of personal growth. When it comes to improv, if you see any of these signs, a breakup is usually for the best. Something better is always waiting for you on the other side.