A few months ago, I started talking about dominant and recessive skills to talk about how improvisers interact with each other, because I thought it was a nice analogy. So I wrote an essay about it, that will be soon published in a book putting together a couple of essays from the SIN members.
The SIN is an international network of improvisers and producers that is willing to explore different aspects of our art and community, and share it on an international level. I co-created it two years ago with Ben Verhoeven and Manuel Speck, and it’s a beautiful platform to express a million things.
This article is a short extract of the essay, so if you like it, stay tuned to be able to read the full versionn of it. The main picture is from ImproAmsterdam 2018 and features Dan Seyfried, with whom I never felt like I had to choose between being myself (recessive) or try to force something else (by being dominant). A huge thanks to him.
About myself and where I come from
I’m a full-grown geologist, in my former life. Weirdly, I stopped being interested in biology at the age of 14 and just stopped studying it. But people associate both geology and biology, so I’m going to use of that double-cap to introduce a concept that I’ve been working on for a while now: the analogy between improv skills and genes.
During my improv training in the early stages, I’ve been told a lot things like: “You are a good storyteller, but you are not funny”; “Good listening skills, but not a shiner”; “Solid but boring player”. This is all true. Through the lens of a competitive format like the match that praise efficiency, smart lines, fun jokes and rely on pleasing the audience as an individual, I’m not a great improviser.
When I started travelling in the English-speaking community, I discovered a whole new world. Here the formats are all considered equals (when in France there is mostly the match and the other concepts). Here you teach and learn improv in a non-competitive environment. Here you learn how to “make your partner look good”. Here everything is pink and beautiful and loving and supportive … at first sight. After a while, a lot of late night nerdy discussions, a million shows performed and watched, and going back and forth between the two communities, I started realize that it was not that easy. Of course, nothing is just black or white: everything is about which kind of grey you prefer.[…]
About the point
Now you start seeing me arrive, with my frustration of being one of these “shadow workers” and you might even think that I’m just bitter, or just a bad improviser. But here is my point: I don’t think that we can evaluate the quality or the type of an improviser, but we can do that with their individual skills that will compose their skillset. Here are the two main categories:
Dominant skill: A dominant skill can exist by itself, regardless of what are the skills used by any of the other improvisers. It can take the focus by its simple existence and is creating space for itself.
Recessive skill: A recessive skill can exist by itself or not, but it needs space create consciously by the unanimity of the cast to be visible, valued and to grow. It can support other skills but is not creating space for itself without collaboration.
Light can shine in the dark; darkness cannot grow in the light. And even though we need light to create a shadow, a balanced life needs days and nights, light and darkness, as a good improv scene needs dominant and recessive skills on stage.
About all that and more
I’m not saying that one is better than the other. We should thank and praise both the soloist and the rest of the cast. With specifics. Honestly. Because it’s not a battle, with a looser and a winner. We need each other. We need to recognize each other’s value. And we need to learn how to say thank you, congratulations, amazing job, with specific details to both dominant and recessive. And because today it is already the case for dominant, we mainly need to learn how to do that to recessive.
Stay tuned to hear about the project and the entire essay, and in the meantime: take care of each other.