By Kelly Leonard – Executive Director, Insights and Applied Improvisation
We have a pretty good track record of casting at The Second City. But what many people don’t know is that we build our ensembles based on individual’s differences rather than their similarities.
That may sound counter-intuitive, but it isn’t. The teams we build for the best stage work are exactly like the teams that companies put together to move business forward – they need to be collectively stronger together than they would be apart. That’s why we put groups of people together in the first place – because we understand that all of us are smarter than one of us.
And this isn’t just about more means better. We’re talking about human beings here. In the case of our stage ensembles – we are looking to blend individuals with a variety of strong-suits: some excel in improvising while others are stronger actors; one might bring a totally unique point of view while another is a natural leader who can keep the ensemble aligned.
Marching bands and synchronized swimmers require absolute conformity to succeed. For most of us, however, our success is tied to our ability to connect with a wide audience made up of more variables than we can even list: by gender, age, socioeconomic background, region, culture, language, personality and more.
There is a great improv phrase: “Action begins with the disruption of the normal routine.”
In other words, if we’re playing the same songs, watching the same shows, talking to the same people – we’re not learning or growing and we certainly aren’t acting in a manner that will bring us discoveries or transformations.
What we are doing is letting the comfort of familiarity take precedence over our desire to innovate. Harvard hires Harvard.
And, in the process, we are limiting the group’s ability to extend beyond its individual contributions because the individuals are so like minded and like experienced that nothing new is being learned or understood.
At the end of the day, discomfort is the natural and exhilarating state of a thing being invented.
Improvisation is a practice steeped in modeling discomfort. It’s a kind of boot camp for would be inventors – giving them real time experience in the full creative process, from ideation to execution to final product. Importantly, each step of this process is done in synchronicity with your fellow ensemble members – each of whom are similarly playing with the tension between the individual and the group.
Diversity requires a change of habit. We need to knock ourselves out of our normal routines. We need to welcome voices that challenge our preconceptions. We need to make space for our differences to mingle with each other. When we do that, it’s not that just anything is possible – everything is possible.