Unsung heroes: Time to stop humming and sing!

Running an improv company and a coaching practice at the same time may at first glance seem odd, but the fit is actually a great one.  Good improv is sometimes described in a nutshell as the art of taking whatever offer is at hand and saying “yes, and…”  The coaching? Pretty much the same thing.  As a coach I receive offers from my clients,  and say “yes, and…” usually with a curious intent.  And regularly, my clients blow me away with the creativity and power of their answers  in response to my “yes, and” questions.In 2006 a few of the members of the Mop & Bucket Co. got a meeting with Philip Morris, the CEO of Proctors in Schenectady NY.  We were a small troupe of creative people with a dream or ten, and that was about it.  We had no real home for our company, no regular performance space, no rehearsal space, and very little community recognition. But dreams? We had ’em!

So, we told this very busy, very high power arts administrator about our dreams. To regularly perform in a venue where we could build a faithful audience. To have a rehearsal/development space. To run classes—a school, actually, where people of all ages could study improv, become part of our company, and improve their lives in many ways as a result of their creative growth. We waxed eloquent.

Philip listened gravely, then in his ponderous, thoughtful way, asked one great question— a coaching question if ever there was one: “What’s stopping you?”

I had answers for that. Lack of funding. High rents. Difficulty in getting good PR. Blah blah blah.   Fortunately, I didn’t get a chance to speak.

My partner, Kat Koppett, jumped in and answered with the perfect answer. “Absolutely nothing…we’re doing all that, and it is happening. We  just wanted to see if you wanted to join us.”  The answer, it won’t surprise you, was yes. Philip wanted to help. And help he did, (and does)  in ways large and small. (Mostly, actually, large.) And…in that moment, my view of the path ahead changed. I realized I was focused on the roadblocks instead of the journey. It was a huge realization.

That was seven years ago.  Today, my company regularly performs in the”Underground,” a little basement theatre at Proctors. We have a faithful and growing audience. We just moved into a spacious new rehearsal/office space, where we are exploding with new creative projects. We offer a slate of classes for all ages, and we are developing a community of creative people, actors, non-actors, adults, kids…Everything we dreamed is real.  It has been and continues to be a lot of work. And we wouldn’t be doing it, I think, if it hadn’t been for one great question and one great answer.

My small improv company is one of dozens of groups that have received support and assistance from Philip. But many don’t know the extent of Philip’s role as arts mentor and champion in the community. In fact, perhaps because it is human nature to complain, I often read letters to the editor criticizing Philip, often for things that he has little or nothing to do with.  Proctors is a central part of a huge and successful push to revitalize Schenectady, and because of its size and stature, it has no shortage of critics. I sometimes get tweaked when I read criticisms of Philip that actually don’t make sense. But I know this guy: he’s got broad shoulders, and I am fairly sure he can shrug off those criticisms that are unjust, and learn from the ones with some merit.

In my coaching practice, clients often mention other people who inspire, assist, nudge, guide, mentor, and lift various people and organizations in various ways.  Often the folks I hear mentioned are familiar to me.  There are, in most communities, those people who devote themselves to developing others.

Another such person in my own life is Ms. Janet Tanguay. Janet is the Entrepreneurial Assistance Coordinator for the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce, and she owns her own business: Art n Soul, Inc., where she is a creativity coach and artist representative.  If you know anyone in a startup, or any artists in NY’s Capital Region, you’ve probably heard of Janet in one or another conversation, usually in the context of “Hey, you should get in touch  with…” When I decided to expand my coaching practice, Janet was one of my first calls. And of course, she was instantly helpful. Yet I imagine that a lot of people, the majority of folks around here, have never heard of her.  Personally, I think she should be famous.

Bill Ziskin, at Schenectady High School, is another of these amazing, mostly anonymous people. Dy in and day out, Bill provides excellent theatre education, a space where it is safe to grow, and a dry wit that doesn’t quite mask his real love for his students.  I know there are so many adults out there who, if asked, would credit Bill with kickstarting their success in life. But most people have never heard of him. Bill should be on a stamp, at the very least, if not regularly profiled in People Magazine.

There are so many mentors, and I have little space…so for today I will stop with these three. But I have determined that it is important that from here on in, I publicly acknowledge all of the champions I know.  Why? Because People ain’t gonna write about them, but it’s the right thing to do.  And because it feels good. And because: who knows what connections between people, people with great potential, might happen if I do? What great enrichments to our community might happen? What might take flight? And let me say it again: because it feels good.

So I make you an offer: want to feel great? Think about the unsung heroes in your life, and sing out about them.  Who knows what great thing might happen if you do?

I offer free sample coaching sessions. If you are curious about coaching, I hope you’ll contact me at coaching@mopco.org .