I used to envy my graphic design co-workers. When we began a new project, they’d hop online to one of the hundreds of awesome design inspiration websites, like designspiration.net, and find hundreds of pretty pictures they could use a starting point for their concept.
Meanwhile, I had to go back to my desk and figure out the tone, style and words to use from scratch. That is, until I realized that no matter what creative hobby you pursue, you can always steal from other artists to push yourself and grow.
I distinctly remember one Ms. Somebody show, back when The Improv Shop was still located on the second floor of Pat’s Bar and Grill. I sat in the front row, riveted, as two of the players were just having a regular, kinda weird, conversation. The kind you could imagine them having in real life…except for the fact that Andy Sloey was a paramedic and Kevin McKernan was a woman.
If Andy and Kevin could have a normal conversation on stage, then I could steal that style of play and do it too. Whether my scene partners knew it or not, I started to try and do that in every show –reacting however I would normally react and engaging in pedestrian conversation. It felt like a huge leveling up moment.
I watched shows differently after that. I was looking for things my favorite improvisers were doing that I could steal.
I tried everything from Jake Seller’s suburban dad character to Ben Lyon’s quick and game-filled play style to Bryan Fornachon’s use of silence. And after all that, I discovered a new combination that now defines the way I like to play.
“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.” – Austin Kelon, Steal Like an Artist (go check out his book for a lot more on this topic)
Isn’t stealing wrong? Yes – if you’re stealing MP3 players, cars, or someone else’s creative work and passing it off as your own. But when you steal an idea – a character, a play style, the way to compose a photograph, an artistic style – you’ll never be able to perfectly reproduce what you’ve stolen. In recreating it, you’ll imbue it with your own personal style and taste. Imperfections will creep in, and at the end, you’ll come out with something completely new and all your own.