Aug 12

“Don’t Think Twice”: Improv Rules and Artistic Envy

Two main themes or ideas inherent in Mike Birbiglia‘s film Don’t Think Twice are the benefits of improv and the disadvantages of artistic envy or jealousy

Bob Mondello, NPR, for one, sees Don’t Think Twice as “a celebration of improv”:

At the beginning of the film, the cast lays out the form’s three rules:

First: Say yes, meaning buy into whatever reality your partner presents you with.

Second: Remember that it’s all about the group, not about you.

And finally: Don’t think. Get out of your head. Live in the moment.

All good advice — onstage, or in life, or, as it happens, in movies, where, for a snappy 92 minutes, Don’t Think Twice manages to convince you it’s following those rules to the letter.

Sheila O’Malley, “…What would it be like if we all listened to one another like that? What would it be like if we accepted one another’s contributions with generosity and openness? What if we approached every interaction not with ‘No, but … ‘ but with ‘Yes, and … ‘. Birbiglia’s beautiful, sneakily profound film shows a world where ‘Yes, and … ‘ is the default.”

A social worker who’s also performed improv, Robert Taibbi, suggests five rules of good improv (Psychology Today):

Rule #1: Yes and.

Rule #2. Act / React. The core belief here is that everyone on stage should be always working to contribute to the scene…

Rule #3. You can look good if you make your partner look good. One famous adage in improv is that everyone is a supporting actor.

Rule #4. Be truthful, be vulnerable.

Rule #5. There are no mistakes…The attitude behind all this is that everyone is doing the best they can, that most things that seem to go wrong can be fixed, and that the rewards of spontaneity and risk-taking outweigh those of staying safe and put.

And what about the artistic envy theme in Don’t Think Twice? This won’t be big news: In any peer group that shares a common interest or goal, there’s likely to be competition and envy. Not many want to admit to this, though.

One who does, though, is author Anne Lamott. Despite being highly prolific and successful by writerly types of standards, Lamott suffers from this common envy-often-called-jealousy issue. From her decades-old and most popular nonfiction book Bird By Bird:

Jealousy is such a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you’ve been able to muster. But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you.

And the following witty admission is from Lamott’s 2007 Grace (Eventually):

…I know that when someone gets a big slice of pie, it doesn’t mean there’s less for me. In fact, I know that there isn’t even a pie, that there’s plenty to go around, enough food and love and air.

But I don’t believe it for a second.

I secretly believe there’s a pie. I will go to my grave brandishing my fork.