Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Literate Ape Is Just a Jackass With A Blog

I disagree with 99% of this jackass the Literate Ape's rant regarding how "thin-skinned" the Second City and its actors are regarding bad reviews on their shows and unruly audience members.   It's written in the beginning of the article to be a reaction to how Second City has responded to the reviews they received and how combative audience behavior has forced productions and its members to assert themselves in a way to try to ensure that the show is presented in a manner it's intended to be seen.  I found it pretty hard to read because the author (who remains anonymous) tries to be sarcastic and funny with questions posed every 3rd or 4th sentence in order to make his weak arguments stronger.  All it does is slow things down when reading it.

This Ape Missed The Branch
In the piece, the author's very much attached to the idea that when one performs "comedy" that there are certain occupational risks that come with it that are acceptable and are to be expected.  He asserts that heckling is one of them and if the production can't handle it, they shouldn't be up on stage.  What the article seems miss about what they do over at Second City is that the scripted art being staged and maybe even marketed as isn't "comedy" but rather "satire" - work looking at making fun of interesting social, political issues that patrons should have some cursory knowledge in.  The improv being performed isn't "comedy" but rather "unscripted theatre".   Since "theatre" is being presented, the rules of "comedy" don't exactly apply.

For example, there are comedic Shakespearean plays.  It would be rude and tacky to stand up in the middle of The Merchant of Venice and shout out, "YOU'RE NOT EVEN REALLY FROM ITALY, YOU JAGOFF!"  That might illicit some laughs at a 2 AM open mic in a bar somewhere but first and foremost, Second City is a theatre (with the "re" ending vs. "er") which means there's an implied level of sophistication required from the audience to recognize what they're watching.  It doesn't mean that a patron needs a P.H.D. to get what's going on on stage but rather they need to understand what they are watch has deeper meaning than what it looks like on the surface.

The Second City and its artists have every right to try to steer their to a place where they can present their work as intended and give the audience a chance to soak up that experience and interpret it any way they choose.  Placing signs in the lobby asking audience members to be respectful of the artists, the theatre, and each other - however sad that these rules even have to be explicitly stated - is perfectly fine.  If that offends your sensibilities, you shouldn't go see it.

The presentation of material is typically not a two-way street.  It's one way. I, the performer, get to tell you how I feel.  You, the audience member, choose to pay for the chance to see what I have to say in the way that I say it and absorb it.  That's it.  Your viewing dollar doesn't buy you the opportunity to talk back or become part of my show. 

Owning Up To Being a Performer
The 1% I do agree with is the notion that many improvisers/actors are unprepared for heckling unlike stand-up comics. Stand-ups deal with it way more often than we do and see working examples of how to handle it at open mics and shows. Improvisers tend to learn the art of the craft but not necessarily the skills needed for reading a crowd, changing things up when things when the crowd turns against them, and how to empower themselves to deal with a-holes messing up a good show.

I realize that I stated previously that what we do is "art" and "theatre".  However, our audiences think we're doing "comedy" which lumps us into a loose association with stand-up comics.  Many of us perform improv in less than ideal locations such as basements, bars, karaoke rooms, and personal living rooms which don't elicit the decorum of a traditional theatre goer.   That requires us to have to straddle both sides of "art" and "comedy" and be able to not only improvise well but also make sure our audiences are with us.

I myself still need to master these skills but having played with Los Improviachis over the last four years I learned these skills on stage since we do a ton of audience interaction. It's taught me to own my stage when I go out there. If you're going to be a dick, I will turn the audience against you. Does it ruin the show? Sometimes but more often than not all it does is change the show to be something unexpected. We just work with the new circumstances and move on. We did a show where I handled a dude getting crazy during one of our games:


After the show, the dude and his girlfriend came up and apologized and we hugged it out.  Everyone I spoke to who saw that show felt that dealing with that guy in the manner done was entertaining and succinct.  

What Can Be Done?
First, read the article and make your own decisions.  Go see the current Second City mainstage show and make your own decisions.  Go see more improvisation and stand-up and make your own decisions.  Most of all, keep your cot damn mouth shut until you out of the theatre.

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