Follow the Follower | Gagen MacDonald

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Follow the Follower

Jan 08, 2015

In my life, the power of the Let Go and Lead presents itself most vividly in the time I dedicate to writing and producing sketch comedy revues around Chicago.

For a writer, the production of a sketch comedy show is a process of continuously diminishing control. This sounds negative, but it’s not.

When an idea for a show is born, it is just that: an idea. It is private, and it is malleable, and if it stinks, as it often does, it can be deleted from my hard drive and no one even knows it happened. While there is certainly some anxiety that accompanies the writing process, it’s a pretty safe place in the creative cycle. It’s also the least rewarding place.

Eventually, for a sketch show to become a sketch show, ideas have to be exposed to air. This is to say, someone has to read scripts out loud and become characters with quirks and habits and voices that I can see. This is the point when all writers inevitably panic and internally scream to themselves as scripts begin to be read: But wait!! He can’t hear the voice in my head. He doesn’t know how I want him to say, “What, she’s my cousin???” He’s not accenting the she right! But, ya’ know, the way he said it is kind of funny. And… wait…wait…what’s that thing he’s doing with his face…I love that thing he’s doing with his face! That’s hilarious! Keep doing that! Keep doing that thing with your face, funny man!

This is the creative process of sketch comedy. Once that actor touches that sketch, it is no longer mine, it is ours. What I intended when it was my idea, or how I heard it in my head, or how I saw it in my imagination, doesn’t matter anymore. It’s his idea now too. It’s our idea. So we say yes to each other’s funny faces and our laugh lines. We find ways to build on each other’s intentions. We do everything we can to make each other look successful. As a writer, he is not my vehicle; as an actor, I am not his ball and chain. In the place of individually judging each other or vying for creative control, we build based on mutual agreement and support.

Ultimately, as writers and performers, we cede our control too to the audience. Not matter what we do, we cannot control when they’ll laugh or what they’ll think. They might like my funny lines or his funny faces. They might not. That’s OK. Sometimes they’ll laugh at things we never meant to be funny. That’s fine too. At a certain point, we just need to get out of the way and let the idea speak for itself.

The point is, as comedy has taught me time and again, when you try to turn an idea into a reality by strictly controlling its creative evolution, you terribly, terribly limit its potential. In his interview with Maril, Howard Schultz discusses his original concept of Starbucks, which consisted of 5 beverage options. Today, it contains more than a hundred thousand. Had Howard limited his idea for what the company could be to only what existed in his head, Starbucks might still be a single coffee shop on Seattle’s bay. It might not exist at all.

Ideas are not precious, static commodities. They need air. They need to be presented to talented, energetic groups of people. Those people need to be trusted. They need to be given the space to say yes. They need to be able to respond. And when they do, we need to say yes back.

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