Happy Valley Improv is two years old. Can you believe it? We're toddlers. Terrible twos? You have no idea. In the blink of an eye, - the time it takes good improvisers to establish the who, where, what, and why in an improv scene - we've grown into a working improv company. Oi vey!
This is Sam. I am writing at Happy Valley Improv's behest. A post to bring in the new year. The new (sort of) tenets. The new mission. More on that in a bit.
Our company continues to grow. How do we keep up? The same way you keep up with a toddler, and I'm writing from experience here, you don't. You just survive. I'll write it again. Oi vey!
The four founders of Happy Valley Improv - Andrea, James, Nate, and myself - met a few weeks back to return to the mission of our growing improv company. James is an entrepreneur at heart. So he facilitated a process that allowed us to revisit our dreams and visions.
Incidentally, creating an improv theatre company is lots of work. And we all have day jobs. You wouldn't believe me if I told you how much time, energy, blood, sweat, and saliva goes into Happy Valley Improv. (Mostly saliva).
Anyway, we realized some things as we talked about where we came from, where we are at, and where we are going. We actually learned that what we thought was our initial mission was a little off. At first, we imagined we were bringing the art of improvisation to State College, PA. What we realized is that we are actually creating an improvisational community here. With all sorts of creative offshoots.
Naming this difference feels important to us. We are doing something new and unique. Creating a community with a particular set of values, practices, disciplines and, dare I say it, an ethos? I guess I do dare to say ethos because it captures how I conceive of improvisation, even if it runs the risk of coming off as pretentious, academic, or professorial. Professorial? Gag my face. Academic language? Gobbly gook. Did you know that ethos is a Greek word for character or the ideals or guiding beliefs of a community? The Greeks also used the word to refer to the power of music to influence emotions, behaviors, and even morals. Beautiful! I think our approach to improv has the same capacity. It's an ethos. For us, the heart of that ethos is found, created, and adhered to through our tenets.
We made two minor changes to the five tenets of Happy Valley Improv after our meeting. First, we decided to remove the word narrative from our first tenet. Yes, I've always approached storytelling as being essential to improv. And I still think it is. But we are trying to create tenets that allow for forms that have no predetermined outcomes. And narrative, I've come to see, is a little prescribed. Next, we decided to change our final tenet to: "Improvisation requires non-evaluative practice." This one feels important. So many of the students in our classes get hung up on evaluating how they did in particular scenes. Or evaluating how their partners did. That'll kill the improvisational ethos of a group, my friends. Whatever you did was what you were supposed to do. Want to do it differently next time? Okay, but stop evaluating yourself. Stop evaluating what others did. People get so insecure when they are being creative. Taking risks. They need to let that go to free up their bodies and their mind to do the work at hand, to improvise. To make new stuff. To channel what is already there. We realized that our final tenet was as much about evaluating ourselves as it was others. In improv, for us, we need to let that desire to critique and analyze the choices people (ourselves included) make go. Wild, man. Ethos.
So we updated the tenets a little. And we agreed that we need to highlight those tenets so that might exist as guidelines in order to create an ethos that ushers in a living improvisational community in State College, PA. What a mission!
Speaking of mission. We have a new mission statement. Want to hear it? Too bad. Here it comes. What have we decided the purpose of Happy Vally Improv is?
To cultivate and support a community of people dedicated to the study, practice, and exploration of improvisation.
Nice. A community of improvisational beings. I love it.
I'm in my fourth year in State College. So much has changed. I'm grateful that this community is here now. This improv company. Alive and growing. Who'd have thunk it? I came out here through an act of improvisational decision making. A little faith. And things are growing around me now. I'm growing too. That's good. That's improvisational.
Oi vey? No. L'Chaim, baby. L'Chaim.