Fragile Things

I’m spending bits of this weekend recording scenes for the Democracy Burlesque holiday radio show. DB is a political sketch comedy [more or less] group that I performed with regularly for two years, and they’ve invited me back to join them for this performance.

My association with the group ended for a number of reasons, but it also ended amicably, which I think is relatively rare for a theater group. I’ve left groups before angry and burned bridges (none of which I regret, incidentally), and I’ve been in groups that collapsed because we collectively decided we weren’t getting anywhere (not that we had any clue where “anywhere” was). But there have only been a couple of instances where my departure from a group wasn’t because my frustration with the group made not leaving impossible.

Independent theater troupes in Chicago are fragile things. Very rarely do people get involved without passion—which is a good thing, on the whole, but it also means that tensions get high quickly over things that often don’t deserve it. (As well as some things that do, as with my aforementioned burned bridges.) There’s also a really-not-that-compatible problem in Chicago comedy (improv particularly, but comedy generally): People have too many opportunities, so each one means less. One of the worst things to happen to an improv troupe is when a couple of people reach the conclusion that rehearsal is optional.

These issues operate on different scales. On a micro, whatever-you-happen-to-be-looking-at-at-the-time scale, everything means everything, and any point you may lose is a serious threat to your dignity, future, and well-being. On a macro scale, the next thing is right around the corner, and every corner.

I don’t really mean to rant about the state of Chicago comedy; I don’t have any new to add to that discussion, and I’m more interested in practical implications anyhow. So instead I’ll offer advice. Care, appropriately. Find others to work with who also care, so that you can assume that they care.  Accept losing once in a while, especially if you’re wrong. Focus, and demand a base level of focus from your colleagues. Avoid jerks. Don’t try to burn bridges, but don’t be paralyzed by the prospect of burning bridges.

And if you should travel over one of those unburned bridges, enjoy it.

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