Updated: Feb 21, 2022
Mass American popular culture doesn't necessarily concern itself with quality. How do you recognize or instill a zeal for quality in a culture where even the mildly mediocre is "awesome"?
Ted Lasso is mediocre. Its entire plot and character types were lifted from the movie Major League (attractive, wealthy cougar now owns her husband's team; hates the team and wants to undermine it and everyone on it; employs a weak, unwilling lackey who used to work for the husband; hires the worst possible manager and players, etc.), and added to it two-dimensional British, American and gender stereotypes to propel the formulaic narrative. It's mediocre at best. But the winner of seven Emmys?(Hollywood both bestows and benefits from the Emmy winners each year.)
We're also obsessed with TikTok, with popular music that is autotuned, click-tracked, focus-grouped, depersonalized, over-produced, sampled, and taken largely out of the creative control of actual accomplished musicians.
Of course, these things are just entertainment. They are not supposed to represent the best we can do. They're just supposed to be mindless enjoyment. A distraction from mindless employment. But we trumpet their greatness nonetheless.
In this climate of adored mediocrity, how do you instill a zest for quality into an improv troupe? In a nation where everything that's okay is great, how do you reach toward true greatness in your improv?
It is possible. It is a constant struggle that can feel like trying to roll a boulder uphill (if you let up for a second, it rolls back down and flattens you). It requires a strong belief and a clear vision, and it requires total buy-in on behalf of everyone. It is possible.
You can do it by breaking things down to basics, stressing the basics, and then building back up again. It's not a thing you explain; it is a thing you feel. When your troupe does awesome work (not just "awesome" work), they feel it. The more they do it, the more they feel it. And the more they feel it, the more they like it and want it.
And audiences, when they watch a truly excellent improv performance that oozes quality and confidence and that extra-something that comes from watching real quality (that extra-something that is too often missing in other areas of life), feel it, too.
True quality, though, is consistent. Who'd go to a fancy restaurant that achieves quality only some of the time? So, the work is unending, and the vision has to be fed and shared. But it is possible. It is being done.
Think of Quality as Vitamin Q. Americans — though they themselves might not realize it — have a Vitamin Q deficiency. They need supplements. When you supply Vitamin Q to them (coated in their favorite flavors), they feel good. They want more. Someday, they may even realize why. They might even begin to insist on it.