One of the cool things about Countdown Theater is that it travels. The theater isn’t tied down to any one specific place; rather, it can pop up for a month at a time literally anywhere — anywhere with cheap rent, that is — and each edition of the theater can and will end up being influenced by its temporary location. That locational influence has certainly been true of this first edition of Countdown Theater. We’ve started to refer to it as Countdown Theater: Deep Bass Edition.

Let me explain. There’s a recording studio next door to our space. It specializes in bass-heavy hip-hop. Recording sessions can go all night long and into the morning, and from our space we can hear every bit of those sessions, because the noise bleeds through the walls. As far as we can tell the studio doesn’t have any soundproofing whatsoever. At times, the bass has been so loud that our chairs start shaking.

It’s very annoying, and distracting, and there have been times when Kelly and I have been sitting in the space, unable to concentrate because of the noise, and wondered how in the world we will actually host shows here. The noise isn’t constant, but it’s frequent enough to be problematic. We bought a bunch of moving blankets, heavy ones, to hang on the wall between our two spaces, in hopes that they will help muffle the sound, but this is sort of like cutting two circles out of notebook paper and calling them earplugs. There’s no good way to stop the noise. There’s no good way to ignore it. So, in the end, we’ve decided that we just have to own it.

“The way out is through,” we like to tell ourselves, meaning that the best way to overcome adversity is to fight through it. We say this a lot in reference to improv. Improvisers often want to bail on choices that don’t immediately pan out; they will choose to drop a character, or prematurely edit a scene, or ignore what has already been established in a scene in order to present new and unnecessary information. These moves are a product of insecurity; of not believing that what you have is enough, that you are inventive and resilient enough to make anything work.

Kelly and I do this sometimes. When we practice, we’ll sometimes end up cutting short scenes that don’t feel like they’re going anywhere. The result is that our practices often end up being, like, an hour’s worth of 90-second scenes interspersed with another hour’s worth of self-doubt and recrimination. The weird thing is that we know that bailing on ourselves is the wrong move. Our best shows are invariably those in which we’ve shown total commitment to our choices; when we’ve deliberately chosen to ignore that little voice that kicks in, saying “I don’t know what this is, I don’t know what we’re doing, I don’t think this can work.”

Deciding to listen to that voice is what makes choices not work. The choice is almost never the problem; the problem is invariably the attitude with which you play it. We have found that when we commit to what we’ve started to do at the top of a show, regardless of how uncertain we feel about it, we always find a way to make it work. By denying yourself the option to bail, you will find within yourself creative powers that you never knew were there.

Let me take this a step further. Improvisers like to bail on internal scene choices that aren’t working, but they also really like to blame their lackluster or bad shows on environmental factors. The audience wasn’t responsive, or was small. The show time was too late and we were tired. The room was too hot. The group we were paired with sucked and took the air out of the room. We ate some bad Mexican food before the show and had searing gas pains throughout. And so on and so forth.

Kelly and I used to do this all the time. (The “searing gas pains” thing actually happened to us, and, honestly, that’s probably a good excuse for why that particular show sucked.) Over the years, though, we’ve realized that this was just our way of disclaiming our own responsibility for our bad shows. Because we’ve had plenty of great shows where the crowds have been small, or the show has been late, or the room has been weird. It’s not the room’s fault when our show sucks. It’s our fault when our show sucks.

There’s a direct correlation between the “blame externalities” mindset and the temptation to elevate our current noise problem from solvable to unworkable, so that if Countdown Theater doesn’t work, we can point to the noise and not to ourselves. But that’s the wrong approach. We need to be able to do a good show anywhere, regardless of the circumstances. In doing this, we are owning our work and fully accepting – embracing, even – the space it occurs in.

And thus the Deep Bass Edition of Countdown Theater. The noise is really something. We’re trying our best to abate it. But it’s always going to be there, and we’re just going to have to make it work; to make it an asset rather than a liability. Maybe it’s sort of cool to have a theater next to an active recording studio. Maybe performers will end up working the noise into their shows. Either way, we’re going to make it work. Because it’d be the wrong decision to bail on hosting shows because of atmospheric conditions. It’s noisy in our theater. But we’re going to own it. Because the way out is through.

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January 26, 2017

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