Do the Work that Fills You Up

do the work that fills you up-01.png

Sweet friends. 

What is your ideal show? Think about it. What will help you grow artistically? What will bring you joy on stage? What kinds of people do you want to work with? What kind of message do you want to give to your audience? What do you want to create?

I have been thinking a lot lately about the fact that whenever we are on stage, we have a voice. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to ram my political and ethical beliefs down the audience’s throat every week. But it does mean that, even though I mainly work in comedy, I have the ability to reach people. And that matters to me. One of the things that fills me up more than anything in the world is creating a safe space for people to be vulnerable - whether in a classroom or on a stage. (Another is convincing people to read books, and I would maintain that I can do both at the same damn time.) I want to do shows where people feel things. I want to talk about human connection. I want people to see their insecurity and pain and weirdness on stage and I want the actors who are playing in that world to treat those things with respect while finding the humor in them. 

I did a show up in Alaska recently, a monoscene about two astronauts breaking up in space. Afterwards, multiple of my high school students told me they didn’t know that improv could be serious. I asked them if they laughed during the show - and all of them said that they’d laughed the whole time. (One girl also told me she cried, but that may have been more about being a teenager and less about the astronauts.) When I asked why it wasn’t comedy, they told me about how the show also made them feel sad and worried about the characters. But through those feelings, they laughed. THAT’S THE COMEDY I WANT TO DO, BABY

I am not interested in doing shows where an audience laughs the entire time and leaves without feeling anything. I’m just not. I’m interested in doing shows where the audience laughs, but they also gasp or feel moved or discover a tiny sense of wonder. Earlier this year, my 85-year-old grandpa read his poetry as the inspiration for an improv set in a show that I run at the Annoyance. His last poem was a love poem to my grandmother (who was sitting in the front row in a fur coat, just to set that scene) and he started crying while he read it. And then the people who knew him started crying. And then almost everyone in the audience started crying. And then we got to do improv where we made people laugh in a very full way. All 80 or so audience members were weirdly vulnerable in a comedy theater together and then we got to create and discover joy in a way that felt like it mattered. That is my ideal show. Yours is different. That’s why this art form is good and interesting.

Y’all, we don’t have time to do every show in the world, so do the work that fills you up. 

cassidy russell