Improvising with Jane Saltzman

INJ 22 | Improvising

 

Jane Saltzman studied at Chicago’s famed Second City and performs improv along Colorado’s front range. She created the Earth Vision Institute, which launched alongside the documentary, CHASING ICE, in 2012. Prior to launching EVI, Jane was the Executive Director of OpenArts, a cultural institution in Boulder. She currently has four film and television projects in development and pre-production. For Jane, improv is like therapy because it’s a release from everyday life for a couple of hours and you come back somewhat refreshed.

Listen to Episode #22 here:

Improvising with Jane Saltzman

Our guest is Jane Saltzman. She studied at Chicago’s Second City and performs improv along Colorado’s Front Range. She created Earth Vision Institute, which launched alongside the documentary Chasing Ice in 2012. Prior to launching the Earth Vision Institute, Jane was the Executive Director of Open Studios, which is a cultural institution in Boulder. She currently has four film and television projects in development and pre-production. Welcome, Jane.

Thank you.

I ask this question to everybody. If you weren’t working as a writer, a producer, what would you be doing?

I hope I would be a correspondent on The Daily Show or the oldest person ever to be on SNL.

You’re not that old.

I’m older than anyone who’s on that.

Has Saturday Night Live got younger?

Leslie Jones is 50 and went to CSU.

She made big news. She ended up flying to Korea. She had these great tweets.

She’s 50 so that gave me hope. I’m older than 50.

I’m getting close.

I’m sorry.

You were doing improv or sketch. You said you had rehearsal.

We had rehearsal improv. We do improv.

Why call it rehearsal? That seems weird to call it rehearsal if it’s improv.

A lot of people say that. Even though it’s improvised, you have to build and maintain a relationship with your partners, your team, who you are performing with. In order to do that, you rehearse. Improv isn’t like doing whatever. There is, believe it or not, structure. There are important roles. The improv this particular team does is called Short Form or game playing. Each one of those games has rules, like on Whose Line Is It Anyway? the TV show. Each one of those games has precise rules that you constantly bend, misuse, and interpret differently than each other. Still, you apply the general rules of improv.

INJ 22 | Improvising
Improvising: In improv, there is, believe it or not, structure. There are important roles.

 

It’s like practice.

It’s practice, it’s team building. It’s the love fest, laugh fest.

Does your team have a name?

It does, it’s Front deRanged.

For people who don’t know Colorado’s Front Range, that will be less funny.

The common term here is the Front Range.

Is it the majority of the whole state’s population lives along the Front Range between Colorado Springs and Fort Collins? With Denver and Boulder in between, probably 75%. You’re doing Short Form improv mostly. Do you do the Harold?

No. That’s the difference. There’s Long Form, which is what I was trained in but I’m doing Short Form. The Long Form is more about building a scene. In some cases, it can be an entire play. Usually, an hour long, Long Form musical or Shakespeare and/or Drunk Shakespeare. Those can be one scene in one play and you’re incorporated. You’re incorporating things like Harold or tap-outs. The Short Form is literally gameplay.

Tell me one of the games you were practicing.

We were practicing Radio Show or Radio Call In. We don’t play that one very much. We’ve got our anniversary coming up.

Do you have a show for it?

We have a show. We let the audience pick what games we’re going to play. We have a big basket of games.

What are some of the names?

ABC Backwards and Forwards, Backwards and Forwards is a separate game, Entrances and Exits, By the Numbers, Pillars, National Geographic, that’s what we call it. Party Quirks, Slow Motion Olympics.

Is Slow Motion Olympics exactly what I’m picturing?

What do you picture?

You ask the audience to name an Olympic event and you have to perform it in slow motion in some way.

You’re wrong.

I’m glad to be wrong, but you do something in slow motion? Not the Olympics.

What we do is before we announce what the name of the game is, we ask the audience to give us a suggestion for a regular activity you might do every day. Like loading the dishwasher, hopefully, you don’t do that every day, but brushing your teeth, vacuuming. We say, “Welcome to the Slow Motion Olympics.” You have two announcers. They’re like the sports announcers. You have two competitors. The announcers design the competitors. For some reason, one of us is always named Olga.

The inside joke in the team?

No, it isn’t. For some reason, there are certain people who always, and I’m often one of the players, but one of us is often a Russian.

The East German.

It’s always Olga and maybe Sergei. We are warming up and it’s all in slow motion. We start slowly and then we try to beat each other. It becomes physical because say you’re brushing your teeth while you take your toothbrush and you stab the other player with a toothbrush. The idea is one person wins and one is on the ground, knocked out.

[bctt tweet=”You have to build and maintain a relationship with your partners or your team who you are performing with.” username=””]

It’s the athletes who decide this?

The sportscasters decide. They call everything. The athletes say nothing, they’re quiet.

In the stabbing situation, I suppose that comes up. Is it that the announcers are announcing the stabbing in which you follow that lead, or you start to stab and then they do the color commentary?

Most common is that it is the comments follow the action. I will have stabbed that person and then one of the commentators will cut, “She stabbed her in the groin.” Sometimes they’ll call out things and you have to be listening to hear it like, “She stuck her finger in the socket,” and better get your finger in a socket.

I’ve done some of the Upright Citizens Brigade Training.

Some of my teammates were in UCB.

One of the things I’ve talked to the house teams, they will say that as if they feel that they’re going down a path that they’ve done before, it feels familiar. Some things unfolding, and it starts to feel familiar from a show nine months ago. They’ll purposely take it away and move into completely different spaces. That’s an unwritten rule of improv or maybe it’s an artist’s perspective of improv, which is that everything you create should be completely new.

That’s the ideal. At UCB they’re doing Long Form like at Second City unless of course, it’s a sketch. The Second City also does a sketch. I would like to say that yes, that’s exactly what we would do. Sometimes we don’t. When you’re game playing, it can be harder to move out of something that’s familiar. Honestly, other than saying like, “Someone’s always named Olga,” I can’t for the life of me think of a time where we’ve run into a situation where we’ve repeated. You can imagine the last few years. I don’t think we’ve had a show where the word Trump hasn’t been called out from the audience. Sometimes we’ll pass and say something else plays. Even when, let’s say it’s Trump, because people like it. That’s how I’m referring to him as it. “That’s interesting, Jane.” Sometimes you give them what they want, and perhaps we’ve repeated a joke, but I can’t pick up one.

Many years ago before all this, my life became like this. I lived in Santa Barbara, California. They used to do ComedySportz. Some improvisers looked down on it and so on. I’m like, “What are you talking about? ComedySportz is hilarious and it’s fun.” I’m high testosterone so I like the competition part of it, especially when I was in my mid-twenties I suspect. What you’re doing feels a little like ComedySportz.

It is. A lot of improvisers look down on ComedySportz, which is in Denver. I can’t get any of my fellow players to go to a show with me. I used to go to it in Chicago where I’m from, and I get the issue.

What is the issue? I need someone to explain it to me. Is it not pure?

I would say in my heart of hearts, I’m a Long Form improviser. Short Form doesn’t always do it for me. I prefer to be more engaged in the scene for longer. In Short Form, you tend to go for jokes. In the Long Form, you’re taught to not go for the joke because you’re often killing a scene when you do that. ComedySportz is very much about going for the joke, the gag line. For those of us who were trained or prefer Long Form, it seems cheap.

One of the things I liked about UCB and we might be getting a little inside baseball talking about this. To me, that sits in the sweet spot between the Short Form stuff you’re talking about that’s gag-based and then this pure, don’t try to be funny improvisational comedy world where you’re creating these scenes. UCB clearly does want to cultivate the joke but they want to do it because you learn it in 201. The second course you take is all about what they call the game, which is the funny thing. How do you cultivate that? You do it within the rules of this Harold, this Long Form. The Harold is a game. It’s like basketball. It has rules, it has time.

Every Long Form you’re seeing has rules. When I was trained at Second City, we were trained to find the hook. It can be called a joke but find that thing that you can latch onto. The nugget, sometimes we refer to it as that and go with that. In improv, a big part of it is giving gifts. It’s so much fun because suddenly you didn’t know it. You may have been a stay-at-home dad, but you suddenly have ears that weigh ten pounds each. Whatever it is, you’re dressed like a clown. You’re finding ways to bring humor and without going for a punch line. It’s that idea of a punchline that can kill a scene. It can be funny for sure. We always want the audience to laugh and enjoy themselves. There’s another way for going after laugh than the punch line.

INJ 22 | Improvising
Improvising: You’re finding ways to bring humor without going for a punch line.

 

This idea of Gift Giving, it’s one of my favorite parts of improv. How do you describe Gift Giving? Do you do any teaching? How do you teach Gift Giving? How do you talk about it?

Sometimes we describe it as upping the ante in the scene.

Let’s do one. I’ll try to give a gift back to you.

“John, I had no idea you were at the Harbor Store. It’s good to see you in the tool aisle.”

“It’s Sunday and every Sunday I like to buy a new tool.”

“That’s awesome, even though dad left you all of his tools, including his favorite wrench.”

“That’s true. The thing about dad’s tools is they’re a little bit old. They have some bad memories.”

“Like the time he used the screwdriver,” this is going down a road I don’t want to go down.

That’s fine. We were not even warmed up. I’m sweating all of a sudden.

Talk about being on the spot. Anyway, what I should have said is, “When did you dye your hair pink?”

Any of those things. The fun thing for me about Gift Giving is that it brings a different energy to the scene, where the scene is not about me. I don’t need to make it just about me. I don’t need to say all the right things. I’m trying to make it easier for you.

The most important part of the Gift Giving piece is, let’s say I run into you in the hardware store and I’m like, “Look at that dress you’re wearing. I’ve never seen you in a dress.” You’re not allowed to deny me. You’re not allowed to say no. That’s the Yes, and concept is you have to accept that, “I’m a big, tall man and I’m wearing a pretty dress with pink hair to the hardware store. I’m seeing my sister for the first time like this.” You have to own it. Be proud of all that.

You keep it moving forward. How do you differentiate that from what the UCB people talk about pimping your scene partner?

It’s the same thing. I totally would be pimping you out.

The issue is there’s a fine line. I can work with being in a dress and having pink hair. Sometimes someone puts you in impossible, embarrassing, difficult situation.

I’ll give you an example that happened at rehearsal. We were playing a game. It’s the Scenes Inverse. You’re two people and you’re in a relationship. You start the scene and it has to be inversed. It has to be in rewind. Two of our team members were doing great and it was awesome because they were ramping it up. They were making the ending word of their sentence more and more difficult to rhyme and her final word was Wyoming. The other scene player had to rhyme with Wyoming and she made up some word. That was a total pimp out. Abbie knew exactly what she was doing. She was pimping Carrie out because she stumped her. She had to make up a word or it was the other way around.

Do you edit that scene? Does someone from the back line run through and edit that after she screws up?

That would be a Long Form. In game playing, we call scene, and that’s the end of that game.

Did you call scene after she screwed up the rhyme to Wyoming?

Yes, and as you probably know, screwing up is one of the audience’s favorite things ever. They love it when we screw up. We play an old game, ABC Backwards and Forwards. I am typically playing with Abbie. It’s hard for us, especially doing the ABCs backward and creating a scene. We always lose.

[bctt tweet=”When you’re game playing, it can be harder to move out of something that’s familiar.” username=””]

Do you practice the ABCs Backward?

You can’t. It’s not a thing. It’s not like a sketch or a play or things memorized. You can’t.

If you’ve never done improv, it’s hard to appreciate how difficult it is. Good improvisers make it look easy.

You know why that is.

What’s that?

We’re geniuses.

That’s not it.

I’m pretty sure. A study was done recently out of Johns Hopkins. The improvisers are in fact geniuses, whereas stand-up comedians are losers. I didn’t mean that.

There are some things that are happening. One is you have rules and the rules do help you to look smart. They allow two people to work together in a way that’s going to be successful. I don’t have any experience playing the games but doing some of the basics of Long Form. When you’re a novice, you’re trying to keep all the rules in your head. You’re trying like, “I’ve got to remember to do these things. If I follow someone out on stage, I’ve got to wait for them to say something.” I’m like, “I want to try to work on my gifting or let me try to embrace being a character.”

You have this metacognitive stuff that’s happening. That makes it harder. The whole time is you’re talking. Then when you’re not talking, you are listening as the best that you can listen in a way that’s even different than this setup with an interview. Where you can almost get with thinking about what you’re going to say next while the other person’s talking, but not in improv. There’s none of this. “I’m going to wait for you to finish so I can say the thing that I want to say. That’s the worst way to do improv.

You will kill a scene doing that. When teaching improv, that is a constant occurrence. You know when people have done that. They may be referencing something that had happened a while ago or whatever. One of the important things about rehearsal and team building is you get to a place where you trust your teammates to the point where you don’t have that meta thought process going on. The longer you do something, the more ingrained it is.

I interviewed a friend of mine, he’s not a comedian either, but I met him through UCB. His name’s Darwyn Metzger. He told me something while I was taking 201 that had a profound effect on me. As he advanced as an improviser, he started to try to do scenes with the person in the group that he didn’t want to do scenes with. What happens is you start to gravitate towards certain people. You have chemistry. It feels good. You trust them. In that course, there are a lot of actors. They’re already naturally theatrical and good. He was talking about how he would follow out someone you didn’t want to go out there with because they were not as good, they’re picking it up slowly or there’s something about it. Metaphorically, in the sense of its good for everyone when you quickly follow someone out on stage. It’s good for that person to have someone who is trying to be there with them.

That’s thoughtful of that friend, Darwyn. He’s a good human being. The fact of the matter is that there are people who rise to the top who had more of a natural comfort and ease on stage. Who are truly not thinking about, “Am I embarrassing myself? What do I look like up here?” There are those who are going to hang onto some of that. They don’t want to be seen as making a fool of themselves and are intellectualizing the process. You can’t do that. You have to have a blank brain. It’s scary to jump out in front of 100 folks and not have a clue what’s about to come out of your mouth.

As someone who studies comedy, the stand-up stuff feels old to me. The nice thing about improv is I can turn my mind off and enjoy for its performance.

For me, it’s like therapy. I’ve had other people say that because it’s a release. Maybe people get it other ways. When I was a skier I would have the same experience where I’m removed from my everyday life for a couple of hours and you come back somewhat refreshed. In improv, you truly do have to empty your brain. You can’t think about the budget deficit or what the President tweeted or what did your kids do?

INJ 22 | Improvising
Improvising: In improv, you truly do have to empty your brain. You can’t think about the budget deficit, what the president tweeted, or what your kids did.

 

A lot of guys my age play golf. For a long time, I couldn’t understand it. I don’t like golf. I especially didn’t understand it because they often do such a terrible job playing golf that it doesn’t seem like a good idea. I finally figured it out, which is what happens, is that you’re outside. You’re on your feet. You’re active, but not in a painful way. Same with improv. The other thing is when you’re standing over that ball and you’re looking at it, there’s nothing else in the world besides that ball. What you described is the same thing. When you are on stage, it is impossible to be thinking about next week or what you’re going to have for dinner. You are present at the moment that it becomes almost weirdly meditative in it in a way.

It’s been disrupted for me on occasions when my parents have come. They’re elderly, sorry if you hear that. I glanced out there because you’d look at the audience. You look them in the eye and it’s the best way to do it. Then you see your parents dozing off. That strikes me to the core. I could look at this as an opportunity to do something outlandish. They won’t remember anything I do anyway. They’re out there nodding off.

Now you’re fourteen years old again.

A number of years ago, I performed in a group in Denver at Bovine Metropolis Theater. I took a refresher course when I took a time off from performing when my kids were young. I was being serious for a while. I was in a great group. During that time of my life, I was dating a lot and breaking up. I was going on two, three dates and then no more. I was doing online dating and you have these experiences. Sometimes I would write about them. Other times that would be like, “That has to land on the stage,” because more people have to experience what I experienced. I was treating it like therapy to deal with the fact that this guy wants to talk about marriage in the first half hour of the first date. That was problematic. I came to a show or rehearsal being like, “I need to fit this storyline in something.”

You sound like a stand-up. That’s what a stand-up would do.

I do have that in me. I do a lot of thinking usually while I’m in bed about stand-up routines. I run a lot of that through my head.

You mentioned active listening. How do you teach that? What are the tips in terms of trying to develop that as a skill?

I don’t know that I have. It’s funny because it’s one of those things that’s super hard to call out and say, “You weren’t listening,” when you’re teaching it. If you harp on it enough, if people care, they will realize they’re not listening. How do you teach it? There must be some way to teach it that I’m not thinking of.

I don’t know either. What’s starting to happen is I’ve done enough of these podcasts that I’m starting to see themes that come across them. I talked to Wil Anderson. He’s this Australian comic. He’s the consummate professional. You meet him. You’ll see him perform and think he’s a stand-up like any other but behind the scenes, he’s working through a lot of stuff. He said something that struck me, which is, he doesn’t create a set list when he performs anymore. The reason is he feels he’s improvisational. This is my word, not his, in terms of how he approaches his stand-up comedy. As he says, he’s listening to the audience. He’s watching the audience. He’s paying attention to what are they laughing at. What do they like?

When I’m teaching improv, one of the things I’d like to get across is how important it is to look at your audience. Look into their eyes. Three of us regularly teach at CU. We will teach doctoral students who have to give presentations, whether for a grant or whatever they’re doing, also undergrads. I try and explain how important it is to observe your audience, react to your audience and see what they’re doing. I might see somebody put a credit card out on the table to pay for their drinks. I may find myself going in, taking that credit card and using it in the scene. We may have found out at some point during the evening that it’s somebody’s anniversary, we’ll work that in. It’s nice to engage your audience. There are a number of stand-ups who don’t work with setlists anymore because it’s about the give and takes between your audiences and I love doing that in improv. While I have a desire to do stand-up but I don’t have the guts to do it. I would like to think I would have that give and take.

[bctt tweet=”A punch line can kill a scene. There’s another way for going after a laugh than the punch line.” username=””]

That’s funny that you’re willing to step on stage without knowing what you’re going to say. Yet you’re reluctant to come with prepared jokes.

I have the comfort of my teammates to back me up if things aren’t going well. I used to be on a team and it was a lot of monologues. A big part of improv is a monologue. I was comfortable standing up there by myself. My teammates are way back there waiting to come in. They’re listening for the perfect opportunity to create a scene and I’m just doing my thing off the cuff. Yet, I still am not doing stand-up.

The thing about stand-up is it feels a lot judgier than improv.

We get judged.

You do, but it feels like the standards are often higher. They’re like, “Come on, make me laugh.”

That would be my children. They’re the judgy ones.

I want to find out about your four films and television projects in development and pre-production. What’s going on?

I have had stories living inside me for a long time. I reached the golden age of 50. The clock is ticking. My youngest son graduated from high school. That was an accomplishment of grand scale. He would agree. The consulting job I had been in ended. I’m a lawyer by training and I didn’t want to go that route again. I wanted to get out of the office setting. If I don’t tell these stories now, when? That’s where I decided to take the financial risk and try and get these stories turned into, one into a narrative film, one into a TV show, though it would be an extraordinary musical on Broadway. There was this documentary series that we did develop fully though never shot. My focus has been on the narrative film and the TV show.

When you say narrative film, what does that mean?

That means a film you would see at the AMC, a movie as opposed to a documentary.

You’ve written a screenplay.

There are three of us writing the screenplay. I would not recommend three people writing a screenplay ever again. That is a clue into how naïve I was. I rationalized it. My rationale behind it was sound. The problem is people have other things they’re doing and that interferes. Me, I had left the workday world and was focused on this. We’re coming around and we’re in edit on the second version of it. I brought on another producer to help me fundraise because I want to independently produce it. It’s based in Chicago. It’s about a real event that happened in ‘77 when I was a preteen. It’s an event that my mom was tangentially involved with. It’s an investigative journalism story. This is a story of a young female reporter who comes up with an idea to expose corruption throughout the departments of the city government.

At that time the mayor was Richard J. Daley, the first Mayor Daley, who was synonymous with the word corruption. He would always ask the reporters who were accusing him of this and that, “Show me the proof. You always accused me.” She had this idea to purchase a bar and let the corruption come to the bar. It’s a great story. It’s funny. It’s the richness of the ‘70s, the rich music, dress and the characters. The real characters are super wonderful and rich. It’s a positive story. She wins and exposes. Unfortunately, Daley died as the investigation gets funded and underway. The next mayor, Mayor Bilandic, had an interesting response. The upshot of it is it exposed millions and millions of dollars of waste, fraud and payoffs. The city, county, state and even the federal level, big changes were made. That’s the narrative.

Are four films and television projects in development and pre-production too many to be doing at once?

Not for me. Each one comes to the top in priority and another might drop. For a year the documentary series was priority number one because we were racing against the clock. It was a series in partnership with the previous White House. Some of us assumed Clinton would win but she did not. It became a little more challenging to make it. It’s shelved at the moment, though I’m looking at possibly turning that into a documentary film.

Being in Boulder, do you find that a disadvantage?

Yes. There is a strong documentary community here. It’s strong and relatively close-knit but maybe not really.

A lot of frenemies?

Yes, some of that going on. Everyone’s doing great work. I’m one of those people who’s in that realm but have yet to produce something tangible. I’m going to, I swear to God. For the TV show and the narrative film, it is challenging. For the film, I’m back in Chicago regularly. It’s great because I see my family and friends.

Do you miss Chicago?

Yes. That does not translate to I want to move back home, much to the dismay of my mom and dad. I would like to make everything work from here if I can. The TV show that’s hard doing that from here.

I’m going to do some things a little more rapid fire. Do you have an unpopular opinion?

I do believe curly-headed girls are hottest, no matter the age. I’m pretty sure straight-haired girls might disagree.

Have you changed your mind about something recently?

Do I support our President now or not?

There are people who, as a result of what we call in the behavioral sciences Affect Regulation, we’ll say, “I have changed my mind. I see this as in the long run a good thing.” I’ve heard comedians talk about this.

I’m bad at this off-the-cuff stuff.

I don’t prep anybody during these things.

Let me get back to you on that.

That’s not a problem. Some of the things I don’t expect people to be willing to tell a stranger. Where are you looking for inspiration these days? Anything in particular?

I do a lot of reading. I have a real interest in taking a real event, a deep-dive look into something historical, finding the story in that, and turning that into something tangible. Something palatable that people can take in and consume. That would be my TV show and the movie. I struggle with this concept of people only having surface level knowledge about things in our history. I would like people to know more about America and our history and know how it is that we came to be certain ways. From women and gender equality to gun ownership, gun laws to the whole Black Lives Matter movement and why there’s such a disparity. What does that go back to? Does it go back to things the federal government did around federal housing programs back in the first half of the last century? I’m interested in that stuff. That stuff piques my interest. How do you turn that into an interesting story that can then be consumed by the public? That’s hard to do.

I have a friend who works on this show called Adam Ruins Everything. It’s a fun show. It’s a comedic look at interesting, sometimes serious issues. They did a bit on redlining. The show’s producer wasn’t sure they could pull it off. It’s heavy and all these things. How do you do it in a way that’s visually interesting that tells the story, that’s a fair representation of all this. It worked out well in terms of how they did it. It was hard to take this distasteful part of American history and talk about it in a way that people will pay attention to it.

At least in TV, there is a real trend away from historical fiction or historically-based shows because they’re expensive.

You said you do a lot of reading. What are you reading, watching or listening to that stands out to you?

I love The Power. It’s a dystopian novel. It’s one of the first dystopian novels I’ve read in years. It’s apropos for now in the #MeToo Movement. It is about women having a unique, distinct, physical, mental power over men. She does an extraordinary job with the various stories that she tells and the weaving together. I’m watching Mozart In The Jungle, which I love. I love Homeland.

Why do you love Homeland? Make a case for why I would watch this show.

It’s also pertinent, apropos of the times. I love the characters. I feel for them. That’s one of the most important parts of all this. I care a lot about these characters from season to season, even when they change. I do have a history of watching shows for two seasons and then disappearing. I let them go. I don’t know if that’s me or the writing. As a writer, it’s hard to keep that character and storyline vibrant.

A lot of these shows they should be two seasons or three seasons, but the networks are greedy. You take something and spread it out.

They want a minimum of five seasons. They want to know you as a creator believe this can go for five seasons.

That’s one of the nice things about Netflix and the rise of these digital platforms. Something can be nine episodes.

You can have a limited series.

[bctt tweet=”Screwing up is one of the audience’s favorite things ever. They love it when we screw up.” username=””]

The length is appropriate for the story. I watched Six Feet Under and watched it in part because I was doing a research project about the funeral industry. I thought it would be interesting to see what it would be like a popular take on it. I thought the first season was fantastic. The second season, everybody was behaving crazily. I couldn’t hold it together anymore. There was no one that I could latch on to as the protagonist, as the person. If they had made Six Feet Under to be one and a half seasons, it would have been perfect.

They want it long enough, so it can go into re-runs and syndication.

Last question, what is the secret to success that everybody knows but they can’t seem to do?

I read something. Successful people, universally across the board, are lucky. It’s very much about luck. You don’t care about me.

I do. This is about the lives of funny people. You’re the funny person here.

I do think I’ve had tremendous success regarding my children. They’re extraordinary young men and I’m proud to be as attached to them. I don’t think that was luck.

Let me put forth an idea behind this. The argument is not that luck is sufficient. It’s just necessary. You’re lucky because you didn’t get into a car accident with them when they were young, the house didn’t burn down. The argument in that, whatever the article you read, is you need to have a tremendous amount of luck to be able to be successful. Then bad luck makes it a lot more difficult. That’s probably the case, but it’s not sufficient. You need the hard work. You’re a skilled parent, those kinds of things. What do I know? I’ve never raised kids.

You have to have a strong belief in yourself, in that you are offering something that should be received, that people need. I’m practical in that you have to have great connections. You have to work your networks hard. It can be super tiring, cumbersome, and uncomfortable. Sometimes you have to behave like a salesperson and you’re not at heart a salesperson. It’s a funny conundrum I feel myself in because when I’m on stage doing improv, I’m not prone to getting tongue-tied. When I am pitching my projects, I am prone to getting tongue-tied. I think of it as a conundrum. How do I deal with this? Is it more rehearsal? Is it more practice? I don’t know. A big part of it is these projects fill my heart and soul. I don’t want to screw up. Having that knowledge in my head means I’m more prone to screwing up for me.

I find myself over-talking things. I should say this and then I should shut my pie hole.

Listening skills are not just about listening to others. They’re about listening to you. While you’re speaking, and I do tend to teach this in improv, you have to be hearing the words coming out of your own pie hole so that you know when to shut up or when to pivot. That is a skill I learned from Second City and the school I went to in Chicago for fourteen years. For the most part, everyone comes out of there with an extraordinary ability to speak. Whether they intend to or not, they teach you how to listen to yourself and others simultaneously. Your thought process is one step ahead of what’s coming out of your mouth so you can, in theory, what you’re saying is good instead of wasted breath. That obviously, is just a theory.

INJ 22 | Improvising
Improvising: Part of communicating is watching, learning, and hearing what other people are doing.

 

This issue about communication, it’s certainly something that it’s not easy to teach. It’s often overlooked in the average curriculum. Yet, it’s the filter. It’s the thing that connects people, the ideas, the execution and all the things that they want to do.

It’s important to success. For a grad student who is either trying to get funding or making a presentation on their thesis, it is important to have that knowledge that you’ve studied, researched and written about. Know your audience and watch what they’re doing. Is someone nodding off? Do they need a little pick me up? That’s all part of communicating is watching, learning and hearing what the other people are doing. Listening to what you’re saying. Where your thought process is going before it comes out of your mouth. That is a big key to success.

Jane, this is fun. Thanks so much for doing this. I really appreciate it.

You’re welcome.

Resources mentioned:

About Jane Saltzman

INJ 22 | ImprovisingJane Saltzman studied at Chicago’s famed Second City and performs improv along Colorado’s front range. She created the Earth Vision Institute, which launched alongside the documentary, CHASING ICE, in 2012. Prior to launching EVI, Jane was the Executive Director of OpenArts, a cultural institution in Boulder. She currently has four film and television projects in development and pre-production.

 

 

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