Taoblog: Avoid Shallows

Right vs Might

“He who tires to shine dims his own light.”  — Tao Te Ching

“In improv, there are no stars. Only constellations.”  — Tao of Improv


Poor improv. It’s always in need of salvation. So many people do it. So many of us do it wrong. Thankfully, there are a small (but growing) number of people who are willing to act as improv’s saviors. The improv illuminati. The improvigentsia.

Of course I’m being facetious. Improv is fine and getting bigger and better every year. You’ve just begun wading into the improv pool. You’re only waist-deep in it, but you can see the folks over in the deep end. They are doing complex dives off the high diving board. Spinning. Tumbling. Back-flipping. Making a big splash.

And there you are. Wading. Dog-paddling. Treading water. Perhaps you should climb out of the water, dry yourself off and leave the pool to the acrobats.

No. You shouldn’t. Improv is what you do with it. It’s not about making a splash. It’s more like synchronized swimming. And in synchronized swimming, there’s no splash. No individualism. Sure, you have to be a good swimmer. The point isn’t to stand out from the group, but to melt into it.

You don’t need to worry about drawing attention to yourself. The moves you make in improv scenes might be small ones. Your characters might be subtle. You may care less about being verbal and care more about being emotional. Nuanced. It’s tough to make a nuanced splash from a diving board.

Before you let someone (myself included) tell you what isn’t right, think about might. You might be onto something, even if no one else sees it yet. You might be the best improviser in the group, even if you spend less time grabbing the spotlight. What you or your team are doing might be cooler than anything that’s being done in the Improv Vatican (wherever you think that might be). You might not be in need of salvation.

Yes. Never stop learning. Yes. Always keep an open mind. Yes. Listen to those with more experience (and weigh what they say, because their truth might not be THE Truth, just the one they subscribe to). And yes. Keep believing in yourself, and know that there is no one right way. No one holds the only key.

As in any pool, don’t be distracted with what’s happening on the surface. It’s what’s going on underneath that counts. It doesn’t matter if the pool is shallow, as long as those in it with you aren’t.


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