Young and old… experience and not…

October 25, 2011 by admin

Lately I’ve heard lots of discussions  about the differences between advanced and beginners (in various fields of work and life but especially in improvisation). In fact, there aren’t so many discussions as there are assumptions.  both good and bad to be young and old

When people talk to me about improvisation workshops, they talk about the number of years they have been working at improvisation. They say, “We are just beginners. We’ve only been at it for a couple of years.” Or they say “We are advanced and want to push ourselves more. We want an advanced workshop on …” and then they list all the topics they should be taught.

It’s a bit frustrating to hear the titles mixed with values – “we aren’t good because we are beginners.” Vs. “We are good because we are advanced.” There is a bias with age and ability.

Confucius says, “ Respect your elders because they are old and wise.“ He never met a majority of the current politicians or financial ‘experts’. And young people are supposed to be limited, and ignorant of how things ‘should be’ done.

Old woman and nurse in Lima

I would choose the idealism of those who stand for ‘ideal’ moral values over those who would benefit on the lives of the weak any time.

The Arab Spring has altered political situations in many countries. Look at the protesters. Most of them are the young students who shouldn’t know what “truth”  is. With luck, their kind will rule the earth very soon.

But I digress… In a class where I am told to teach specific things because the group is advanced… I almost always run into trouble because the only thing advanced is the ego. These groups and individuals who talk about ‘higher knowledge’ OFTEN (not always) seem to be compensating for a lack of understanding.

Give a man a bottle of aspirin and tell him to give them to people with headaches. You have taught him a procedure to affect a condition. If he then believes he is a great healer, he misses the point. He sells himself as a great doctor  but his pills don’t always work and so he asks for other pills to prescribe.

Is he a doctor? No. He keeps looking for new tricks to solve headaches but he doesn’t understand anything at the core of the problem. What causes headaches? What exactly do the medicines do?

In improvisation, those who are bored are generally those who have not discovered how to improvise. The packages that they play with have become dirty and there’s nothing inside of substance.

I just watched a taping of an improvised television show here in Santiago, Chile. Three of the improvisers are the senior improvisers who put the group together and along with a new, young improviser who is part of their group, they brought in a few guests who were their students.

It's not my birthday but I'll eat your cake!

The new improvisers were bright eyed and present. They saw the others on stage while the older improvisers had a look of sometimes being cool and sometimes being bored.

When I talked to them after the taping I was told that some of them had grown ‘accustomed’ to their positions. Some of them felt a little bored or tired. Some wanted the others to do the work.  Another excuse was that some were protecting their positions that they had developed over the years as the city’s best improvisers.  These are my friends and I like them very much but the pattern of behaviour is predictable.

And what does that mean? That means that their audiences start getting bored and look to the ‘younger’, ‘fresher’ improvisers for the work that inspires.

In a classroom with some new improvisers, some more advanced improvisers and some in the middle, there is a rich learning experience IF the improvisers can keep their egos aside and their minds open. Newer improvisers bring fearlessness. They aren’t trapped by rules. They lack some awareness and experience. Experienced performers bring a stability from knowledge but often bring an ego. They bring other baggage as well that makes them protect themselves from failure.

Imagine if you got laughs all your life for a behaviour that you could do whenever you want. Wouldn’t you use that tool when you felt the show was suffering or you were having an off night?  And then the danger of taking it easy on yourself by relying on that one skill becomes very tempting.

Some older ‘experienced’ improvisers are slowly breaking their bones with the weight of their own success. They use crutches that have worked before instead of going through the ‘pain’ of learning new things.

It’s no wonder we learn slower and less effectively as we age. But don’t get me wrong… I like working with all the improvisers. I get tired of being around any one type of improviser or person for too long. Variety is good.


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