Set Goals. Live Forever.
Okay, let’s talk about goals.
We’ve all got secret giant dreams, don’t we? Maybe you’ve got a goal written out and posted on your bathroom mirror so you look at it every day. (I’m picturing Rachel from Glee on the elliptical at 6am with “Tony Award” posted on the wall in front of her… just me? Okay, cool.) (Let me love what I love.) Maybe you started taking improv classes for a very specific reason and you’re slowly and methodically working towards it. (Power to you.) Maybe you’ve got a goal that you hold in your heart and you haven’t told any of your friends about because just saying it out loud makes you feel wild or dumb or full of yourself or insane. Maybe you feel too small or too new or not serious enough or just not good enough to even have an improv-related goal.
Guess what? Goals are cool and healthy and every single person who takes an improv class or gets on a stage should have one. At least one! A few.
If you aren’t trying to get better in some way, why are you doing this?
I don’t mean to say that everyone who does improv should throw their whole life away and DEVOTE THEMSELVES TO COMEDY and DO IMPROV ALL THE TIME and QUIT THEIR JOB. I just mean that this takes up a lot of time (and often money) and if you’re doing it, do it right. Decide to set goals. Decide to get better.
Getting better can look like a million different things: you can be more confident talking to strangers or you can be comfortable on camera when a director tells you to just try something different or you can say yes to things at work that make you a little nervous or you can really beautifully execute the second beat of a Harold or you can put together a team and produce your own show or you can sign up for an audition or you can just have more fun in life.
Because, surprise! We all do this for different reasons and they’re all valid.
Figure out what you want and set some goals.
I think it’s important to have three different kinds of goals.
Specific, performance related things that you want to improve on.
Goals that you can personally focus on and make happen.
Enormous, giant, beautiful, wild dreams that may never happen but are something to work towards.
And then you really need to focus on those top two types: goals that you can control. Want to get on SNL? Lovely. Thrilling. Exciting. Nearly impossible! And what happens if it doesn’t happen? Will you feel like you failed? Damn, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment. Keep that goal! Work toward it if it makes you feel good! But also, give yourself goals that you can control. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but if your only goals are things that other people make the final decision on, this industry is real hard and real heartbreaking. I feel very confident in my skills as an actor and improviser (yes, I have things I’m working on - more on that later, everyone settle down and be cool) and still, guess how many times I’ve been given a hard no - often, not even a “no thank you” or a “you’re great but no” - in the face of something I’ve been working towards? So. Many. Times.
You’re going to hear “no” a lot.
Recently, I went to an audition for a part in a play that I have loved and dreamed about playing since I was fourteen. (You see now why I loved Glee’s first season? Okay, thanks.) And I walked out knowing I hadn’t gotten the role and also knowing that unless another theater company does it real soon, I’ll be too old to play that role. WOAH HELLO all of my insecurities combined! How fun! Now I sure haven’t figured out the answers to life or how to be a well-evolved person, but I left the audition still legitimately feeling good. Which was wild. Want to know why? Because I had still accomplished the goals I had set for myself.
Performance goal: I wanted to feel good about the monologue I auditioned with, so I met with a coach. I rehearsed it walking home from the train every night. (My neighbors definitely think I’m insane - last night I thought I was alone on my street and was singing a song from Aida and then made direct eye contact with my neighbor who was out having a cigarette… I’m fine.) I rehearsed it all the damn time. I felt good about my monologue. Great, even.
Goals I could make happen: I wanted to make sure I didn’t sabotage my own success. So I updated my reel and resume and website. I printed extra headshots. I got to the audition early and cancelled afternoon appointments so I could sit in that room and wait until the director could see me. (Theater auditioning is very weird and involves honestly hours of sitting.) I made it a priority.
Because I had focused on the goals I could control, when the wild dream goal that I couldn’t control didn’t happen, I still felt good. It was very, very weird. And also very, very cool. Am I still disappointed and frustrated? Hell yes. But I also did absolutely everything I could to make it happen. Sometimes those huge goals don’t work. The other goals keep you going.
So, pick some specific goals.
Performance goals? Anything you do on stage and want to do better! Acting in general or getting off the back line or playing believable characters or increasing your range or playing more emotionally.
Goals you can make happen? Putting a team together or writing every morning or producing a variety show or writing a pilot or shooting a sketch.
Then work towards those things. Tell your coach about your performance goals so they can help you. Start a writing group to keep yourself on track. Take an acting class. Do the work.
But still pick those huge dream goals. And work toward them everyday, by doing the other things. Focus on the goals you can control. But hey, nothing wrong with wanting to be on SNL.
Dream big. And do the work.