Practice Makes Perfect for 10,000 Hours of Improv

New York City Improv team Milhaus hangs out outside the People’s Improv Theater, March 24, 2013

New York City Improv team Milhaus hangs out outside the People’s Improv Theater, March 24, 2013

The Beatles. Bobby Fischer. Bill Gates. Milhaus. Three of these are known experts in their field, and the fourth is right behind them. Being the best takes time; takes practice; takes opportunity.

“How much time are you putting in?” asks 10,000 Hours. Founded just over a year ago by New York actor, improviser, and teacher, Julia Morales, 10,000 Hours is a program designed to give improv students a chance to practice their craft within a supportive community.

10,000 Hours takes its name from the theory in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. The idea is that 10,000 hours is what it takes to become an expert. If Morales gets her way, the improv and comedy world should get ready for its next big stars.

I spoke with Morales March 23, at a 10,000 Hours mixer—a casual meet and greet over cocktails and baked goods, hosted by Manhattan’s Comedy Bar. Over a tray of blondies with Cadbury eggs baked in, Morales described her program as a way to “pay it forward” to the artistic community. Improv, by the very nature of its form, is supportive and team-oriented. But in a city where classes can cost hundreds of dollars and competition to get on performing house teams can be fierce, the chance to practice regularly and affordably is invaluable.

Open to all artists, 10,000 Hours’s coaches donate their time and only charge participants five to eight dollars—and sometimes even this fee is waved if students just can’t pay. Nobody is turned away. The goal is to “get in as much practice without breaking the bank,” says Morales happily.

And Morales should be happy because her program works. I spent the following  evening with improv team Milhaus as they moved from a jam (a session where performers and audience members can get on stage together) to their regular 6 p.m. Sunday performance at the People’s Improv Theater to a third venue at the Triple Crown Ale House. The group’s nine actors moved seamlessly from one event to the next.

Clearly friends on stage and off, they exuded the confidence and camaraderie that comes from performers comfortable in their own skin. With no formal director on site, the team quickly assembled outside the doors of the PIT to break down their performance. They discussed what worked, what they liked, and what to keep in mind for their next show—only 40 minutes from away.

No arguments, no egos, no fuss, they picked up their backpacks and were on their way down 24th street, heading west through Madison Square Park, towards 7th Avenue. Passing around a bag of peanut M&M’s, they shared their thoughts on the 10,000 Hours program with me. All spoke highly of its contribution to making them better improvisers, better artists. “I’ve learned to make big choices.” said Jamie Aderski, both as an improv actor and theater actor. Cayla Merrill, petite and bubbly—was quick to agree with the benefits of the program. “I’ve learned to trust myself.” Merrill said, referring to the confidence consistent practice offers.

And as for the support and community 10,000 Hours offers, all stressed the impact it has for performers.  “I think it validates it. If you’re doing it, you know how much work it takes.” said Greg Boz. In a city known for theater and theater schools, improv isn’t immediately seen as an equal craft. What is something they’d want people to know about improv? “It’s an industry … this is something bigger.” Said Boz.

Milhaus performed its second show of the night, the second of three teams, and concluded with a jam.

Further proof that 10,000 Hours works to foster the improv community? When it was all over they asked me why I didn’t join them on stage for the jam. One thing is sure… they definitely made it look tempting.

One of the three major improv theaters in New York City, The People’s Improv Theater also helps support the 10,000 Hours program to train and nurture emerging improv artists.

One of the three major improv theaters in New York City, The People’s Improv Theater also helps support the 10,000 Hours program to train and nurture emerging improv artists.

Milhaus is about to take the stage for their regular Sunday show. With no props, no sets, and no costumes, well-trained improvisers know how to create a story together.

Milhaus is about to take the stage for their regular Sunday show. With no props, no sets, and no costumes, well-trained improvisers know how to create a story together.

It takes 10,000 of practice to create an expert. Improv team Milhaus concludes a Sunday night show and is one hour closer!

It takes 10,000 of practice to create an expert. Improv team Milhaus concludes a Sunday night show and is one hour closer!

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