In praise of amateurism

In praise of amateurism

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the underdog. Here’s a little love for the little guy. The newb. Let’s give respect to the first-timer creeping into the room, wondering if they should just have gone to the gym instead. Let’s sing the praises of the IT consultant struggling with the complexities of three-way dub. The academic speaking without research, the homemaker uncomfortable with the limelight. Let’s remind ourselves that every improviser on the TV and in the West End was there once too. And as we easily slip into the comfort of zappping after we zip, let us remember that it is not innate, that it confused us once too.

Let’s raise a glass to everyone who is bad at improv. The people who realise two seconds after destroying a scene that they have done so. Who come up with the perfect move as they get on the tube home. The people who turn up to do shows in unfit rooms run by uncaring landlords. The people who persuade their friends to come for the third time, as a favour more than anything.

Let’s raise a glass to those who turn up to a practise group week after week, even when others can’t get there, or have more important things to do. Let’s raise a glass to those who say ‘I know there’s only three of us, but let’s play anyway’. The people who bring snacks and pay babysitters and don’t look at their phone during your scene.

Every single one of those people deserves respect. The professionals get applause and to be on posters. The professionals get paid (sometimes) and they get to travel. They get to play to full(ish) houses in theatres with better kit and on occasions, a dressing room.

And as we raise this glass, let us also remember that as soon as you are comfortable, you lose both the quick, urgent edge of desire and the delight when something comes together. Let us remember to make ourselves sweat.

Amateurs do it for love. Not for the output, the result, the reward in the future. But for the simple, visceral delight of doing it right now and by doing, being part of a global community of make ‘em uppers. Let us respect their love of the art, their desire to be better. Because that is the love that raises the quality of what we do. It is what makes it sacred and not simply habitual. It carries us from the first heady rush of ‘what is this thing’ to a seasoned and measured delight in the subtleties. It gets us from the infatuation of first love to the gentle comfort of companionship.

Improv, like any complex non-linear skill, is not learnt rationally through a syllabus, but through frustration and release, the slow unconscious understanding that comes from immersion. From forgiving yourself when you make the same move for a fifteenth times, but using the irritation to fuel change.

You git gud not just by being bad, but by looking your own badness in the face and being delighted not with the result, but with the fact that you did something. You were there. You had your say. You git gud by doing, honestly and open heartedly. You git gud by not caring and caring at the same time.

There is no quick route in improv, nor a painless one. Being bad at something sucks. And it hurts. People watch you doing something which doesn’t work and they wonder if they are better. Your brain screams at you that because this is not working, give up and get out.

And what happens when you have finally got gud? Then you get more gud. You see the next mountain that is there, you pick up your pack and thank the lord that mountain is there, for otherwise what will you climb?

Jules Munns

Jules is the one of the founders of the Nursery Theatre. Jules is also the director of Impromptu Shakespeare and a member of the Maydays, as well as one half of Ten Thousand Million Love Stories.

1 Comment
  • Jackie Barrie
    Posted at 17:45h, 05 November

    That reminds me of seeing TV recordings of the Whose Line troupe many many years ago, when they were still new and raw and edgy. I’ve seen them perform more recently in the West End. They’re so good. The show is so polished. But it’s a bit less risky. And perhaps, just a tad less funny.