Continuing the series of articles inspired by or based on words from the famed improviser and teacher David Razowsky from USA, once the artistic director of Second City, on SCTV, and a prevalent voice in the improv community all around. I spent some immense moments with the man that has led to a lot of wonderful results. I perform based on his teachings, I teach through some of his thoughts and proclaim the tellings that he once told in conversations to many improvisers. Nonetheless, not all of what I heard from the wonderful man I agree with, and this is what the series shall be about. I get to write these with consent to the concept of the series too. The topic at hand is going to be how Razowsky removes the term try. Razowsky, and many others, believe that we do not try in improvisation, we just do. I preach just do, except I also like the term try.
The history of what happens when Razowsky hears the term try goes back to how he was taught too. In 'Second to None,' 2009, in an interview with Scott Adsit, the answer that is provided is how Second City has taught them how improvisers do not try when they get onstage. Instead of trying to do something, they just do it. In Razowksky's podcast, 'A.D.D. Comedy' (2014), it is a frequent occurrence that the guest is stopped on their phrasing and questioned about if they really try, or another word that is not thought possible by Razowksky. Most times the guest gives into the idea that no one ever tries, you either do or don't. The term try also has its history.
try (v.) c.1300, "examine judiciously, sit in judgment of," from Anglo-French trier (late 13c.), from Old French trier "to pick out, cull" (12c.), from Gallo-Romance *triare, of unknown origin. The ground sense is "separate out (the good) by examination." Meaning "to test" is first recorded mid-14c.; that of "attempt to do" is from early 14c. Sense of "to subject to some strain" (of patience, endurance, etc.) is recorded from 1530s. Trying "distressing" is first attested 1718. To try (something) on for size in the figurative sense is recorded from 1956. (Etymonline, 2014)
Trying has been around for quite some time. The ability to test something out, like the common educational lesson that happens for the young in their schooling careers of trial and error, is an important aspect of life. Everybody in their everyday lives has to attempt to do some task or a method. It is plausible for someone to try to get to work today, as they will only know if they do or don't when they have completed the task with some result. In the UK, we are hindered considerably by the weather to an ever increasing eventuality that poor conditions stops most people doing anything. In the past few years, the snow has closed bridges, stopped workers traveling, reduced the days of school in a given winter term and so on and so forth. In the UK, for unknown reasons, the preparation for such affairs is non-existent. Therefore, in the days of snow or more recent, floods, we cannot be certain. Hence the use and existence of the term try.
Try is not a word that depicts success or failure, it is not a term to associate with a black or white point of view. Try is a process and to attempt to do an activity requires an open mind about its prospects. The Centre for Clinical Intervention (2007) state, “One of the things we have noticed is that people use unhelpful thinking styles as an automatic habit...One of these thinking styles is called 'black & white thinking'.” (p. 1) Furthermore, the idea that without trying, you are left with this way of only having the one extreme or the other. Anxiety BC in 'Thinking Traps' (2013) also progress this by explaining the need to a more real and moderate response. In life we encounter a lot, and most of these are never just one thing; it is often the case that whatever is found is a mix and a merge of complexity. A human can feel a whole web of emotions that cannot be put down to one word. Likewise, a human can experience more than just the success of what they want or the failure.
People seek a simpler life. It is a complex world that we live in; from the growing contradiction, melding of the bourgeoisie and the ruling classes historically to the present day not much has changed (Harman, 2008). People are complicated; it can be overheard frequently that it is desired to have a simpler life, or that he or she doesn't understand me. So much that surround us is complicated, from the development of new words that have been popularised and then accredited into a dictionary, ruining the old game of Scrabble for many (or making it easier for others), to the unchanged and complex needs of the individuals in the human race. In the action to seek a simple existence, we try; this is an indefinite journey.
Trying, in comparison to success or failure, is like aiming for perfection. No one is perfect, it does not exist. One person may deem something perfect, but it is perspecitvely so only. In Hewitt and Flett et al (2003), the problem that this causes can be the psychological distress of regulating self-esteem. Aiming high and setting expectations at a 'challenge' rate (Petty, 2011) for that perfection is a positive and opening sensation that the target holds. It allows us to try to be the best we can. We cannot be perfect or imperfect, as the journey to it remains.
Try is improvisation like people are on a journey through life. The correlation has plenty of connections to what and where try comes into fruition. As people, we do or we don't do, when we do something and instigate the process of the task, we try it out. In any given moment of an attempt, we may be doing well or not. This is not the end of the task, the person that decides the end is the one who started it, based on that person doing or not doing. (An obstacle that is a person of more hierarchical value may attempt to hinder the trial of the unspecified endeavour, but only one person may complete it always.) Everyone improvises their life, life is a journey, so clearly improvisation is one too. Not many improvisers would disagree with that, I think. Mary Scruggs and Michael J. Gellman wrote a whole book on it, 'Process: an improviser's journey' (2008). So every time we enter the stage, we try out or attempt something new: We improvise. The short-term journey we go on together is a live experience of trial and error. With every error we make it great, allowing the process to be hugely positive.
Now it comes to the whether or not removing the word try is truly inline with the positive and open environment that the art form is. A removal of a term is not positive. Negating anyone the opportunity to say a word, like in the podcast aforementioned, is restrictive. So many beautiful languages have died out and become extinct; this is not to do with improv or people enforcing the opinion that the word has little purpose, but it does point out that we lose a lot when we rid ourselves of words. We do not rid ourselves of an offer an improv partner gives onstage. Many do have words they don't like, for example, in improv there is no should have or supposed to; there is in the rest of life. By restricting these, we open up the opportunity of, like Razowsky says, 'getting to' do. By not having to or supposed to, and getting to, we have a positive interaction whereby obligation does not hinder us. In comparison to the removal of trying where we either succeed or fail, with the removal of obligation and offering opportunity, we get a massive contrast.
All references adhere to the relevant copyright laws, whereby given reference to the original source complies with the laws, such as Copyright Act 1968 (Cth).
Etymonline.com. (2014) Online Etymology Dictionary. [online] Available at: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=try&allowed_in_frame=0 [Accessed: 17 Feb 2014].
Harman, C. (2008) A people's history of the world. London: Verso.
Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., Sherry, S. B., Habke, M., Parkin, M., Lam, R. W., Mcmurtry, B., Ediger, E., Fairlie, P. and Stein, M. B. (2003) The interpersonal expression of perfection: perfectionistic self-presentation and psychological distress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84 (6), p. 1303.
Petty, G. (2011) Have we got Equality and Diversity right?. [e-book] Institute for Learning. pp. 1 - 22. Available through: Have we got Equality and Diversity right? http://www.ifl.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/24552/Have-we-got-Equality-and-Diversity-right_-download.pdf [Accessed: 17 Feb 2014].
Razowsky, D. (2014) A.D.D Comedy. [online] Available at: http://www.addcomedy.com [Accessed: 17 Feb 2014].
Scruggs, M. and Gellman, M. J. (2008) Process. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press.
Second to None: 10th Anniversary edition. (2009) [DVD] Chicago: HMS Media.
Thinking Traps (2013) [e-book] New Westminster, Canada: AnxietyBC. pp. 1-2. Available through: Anxiety BC http://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/ThinkingTraps.pdf [Accessed: 24 Dec 2013].