Continued from Part. 2…
One of the more alarming aspects of my time in improv was watching how the group would sometimes make “group thought” decisions and ostracize someone. This curious syndrome is called “Hive Brain” in a recent episode of the fictional cult drama The PATH. When I went through levels A-E (and then 1-5) at the “SC” improv training center, I remembered that every level would end with the entire group turning on one person who inevitably would not return for the next level. I wondered when it would be my turn.
In one instance the class turned on the only person who had a connection to Hollywood. The woman was very friendly but a bit older. She was the sister of a woman who was one half of a Hollywood power couple. You would think that this woman would not be shunned because of that connection. But for reasons I can never explain the entire class turned on her. It didn’t seem like a good strategy to me at the time and I never saw her again. Looking back I can only think that she was ostracized because she was older and that the other class members had never even spoken to her to find out who she was. I remember one classmate seemed shocked when I explained who she was directly related to. “Hive Brain” makes terrible decisions by the way.
I remember a class turning on me one time too. I decided to change instructors because I wanted to hear what someone else had to say. This was a bad decision because I was considered an outsider by the entire class and the instructor. It got my back up. I suspected part of it was also because I was cast into a show that the rest of them wanted to be in. There must have been some envy. I stuck through the class but immediately went back to my somewhat friendlier class for the next level. (Thank God there was another class or I would have been toast).
This is one way Improv differs from other comedic arts like stand up or even sketch. Stand-up has its problems too but it is not usually related to “group thought” or “Hive Brain”. Stand ups tend to be more independent thinkers and performers since that is the nature of the performance. But group thought is part of what makes improv work, and not work at the same time. It can work on stage but doesn’t work well off stage. I would argue that the individual performer is not respected in this setting, especially if one individual finds themselves at odds with what the larger group wants.
This is where my story becomes strikingly similar to cult survivors. I have survived this industry despite numerous knockdowns. When I became at odds with several of the leaders of the improv community I was “set apart” and punished severely. I recently watched some documentaries on cults and I see that this is a regular part of how people are controlled within a cult. It is a Machiavellian strategy. Make an example of the one person who isn’t fitting in properly so that the others fall in line. Whether it is deserved or not, all that matters is the fear it instills. An important note here is, the improvisers will be loyal to the hand that they think might feed them one day… even if what they feed them is a pittance.