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Overcoming Improv Adversity

By Ryan Nallen, The Second City | Jun 3, 2014

As improvisers (and as people in general), sometimes things just don’t go your way. However, it’s all about how you overcome that adversity that makes all the difference.

Here are 3 common adversities you may live through (if you haven’t already) and how you should react to them— with the focus on growing as an individual and getting better as a performer.

“I didn’t get a callback.” 

You will next time. 

When I’m hit with bad news, I always keep in mind that there will ALWAYS be another chance to try again. No matter what, there is no event that is the be-all and end-all for deciding your future. You may audition for a talent agency and you don’t hear anything from them. You try again. You may audition for a show and not get it. You try again. You may need to audition over and over and over again, but if you want it bad enough, you will always try again

Here’s some tough love: you didn’t get a callback because you’re not ready yet. If the phone didn’t ring after the audition, there was a purpose for it. Perhaps it was so you can work harder or refocus your efforts or better identify your goals. Figure out what it is you need to learn.

“My team got cut.” 

There are two ways to deal with this situation:

  1. You can react with anger and curse the theatre for making a “big mistake,” saying, They’ll regret this!!!
  2. Or, you can focus on what you’re going to do next to get you back to where you need to be. Be mad, sure, but DON’T STAY mad. You’re not going to progress in your profession, nor are you going to progress in life, if you stay pissed off about something that didn’t go your way. We all know people like that. We all avoid hanging out with people like that.

So your team got cut. First of all, be grateful for the opportunity you were given and the fact you even made a team (some people would die for that chance), and then look at making a new team or taking your existing team and continuing to perform somewhere else. 

Just because the team got cut doesn’t mean that YOUR WILL TO PERFORM got cut. You fell off the invisible improv horse and it hurt like hell, but now you need to convincingly get back up and ride again.

“I didn’t get accepted into the program.” 

You will… if you try again. And maybe even a few more times after that.

First, go back to the drawing board. Ask for notes; ask for feedback. Be open and listen to that feedback, because it’s going to help you adjust where you were— so you can get to where you want to be. You may agree with the notes or you may not, but the fact of the matter is, you now know what the Powers that Be thought of your performance and what they recommend you do next.  

When I first auditioned for The Second City Conservatory, I did not get accepted. I asked for my notes, and it was suggested I take the Improv for Actors class. So I took the class, and I learned some invaluable things that have stayed with me to this day regarding my improvisation and acting abilities. 

Guess what? I am now a graduate of The Second City Conservatory. 

In the end, it’s all about how bad you want to succeed as a performer and your level of commitment to doing the hard work in order to get whatever “IT” is to you. How you deal with your situation is up to you, not someone else.

Ryan Nallen is a graduate of iO, The Second City Conservatory and the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago. Ryan performs improv comedy with his independent team Switch Committe, as well as on the Playground Incubator Team Desperado. In addition, he is an Associate Producer for Big-Little Comedy, which is responsible for the Big Little Comedy Festival each year. He’s a frequent blogger (, iO Water Cooler and the National Improv Network), Instagramer, Pinterester, and Tweeter in his spare time. Based on that previous sentence, it can be assumed he has a lot of free time.

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