Entertainers need to try, but not too hard
We know that experimenting is the way to create something great, but who has the time and money to run a million experiments on developing entertainment? You do. It’s the only way. This is especially true if you find yourself working on something that will never pay the bills.
Experiments don’t fail
If you complete an experiment, you learn something. Either it matches your hypothesis or it doesn’t. This is really helpful because as long as you’re experimenting and keeping track of what you’re doing, it’s never a waste of time.
Open Mics are very inefficient
It’s easy to feel like experiments are slow and not productive. If you’ve never done standup, imagine what great standups go thru to get good. After work, you immediately head to a bar to signup early for the open mic. You wait around for it to start. When you’re a beginner, often they won’t give you a good spot in the night, so you wait for up to 3 hours to go on stage for 4 minutes. You probably drink to be a good sport. You probably watch the other comics to be a good sport. You leave depleted for that short stage time. If you’re in a big city, you might try to hit a second one that night.
This system works. This system ends up turning out most of the great standups you’ve seen. It’s a grueling experiment process that’s somehow worth it.
There are Edisons and Deadisons
I have run into people too often in showbiz who are at the extremes. Some people don’t experiment at all and those who experiment endlessly. Experimenting endlessly is the way to go.
The experiments have got to get smaller as you go
If you start with a clear goal, your experiments will have purpose and as you continue to poke around, you’ll be taking smaller risks and refining instead of staying in this eternal not-goodness that some folks get hooked on. Don’t try ventriloquism, then a week later try writing a screen play, then try being a fountain pen. Try making a video game about purple zombies, then try making it a video game about green ghosts ghosts, then it becomes about yellow ghosts, then it’s about golden ghosts.
It can be hard to not get hooked on the freedom of experimenting and the excitement of luck.
People are the guinea pigs
It’s a big ask in just about every genre of entertainment to ask an audience to consume something… even something great. Hopefully the great thing is worth it.
Remember that the people you’re testing on gave you a chance. You will most likely not burn a bridge. This isn’t about that, it’s just about respecting people and their time.
It may be helpful to note also, while you’re not burning bridges, you’re also not building them. You’re not building your fanbase while experimenting most likely, so we gotta get thru the experimentation process sooner.
Make the experiments count
Having a solid goal is def going to help. For a standup, this goal is developing a tight 5 minute comedy chunk. And how do we make each experiment more valuable? I’ll stick with the comedy thing for the examples.
- clarify the metrics: some standups count the laughs per minute
- keep logs: standups often record their sets so they can dispassionately review the audience response
- make it more clinical: take out things that can taint the experiments by not riffing in the middle of an open mic, or just constantly changing every part of what you do
- work in pieces: start with jokes that work, then add in some experimental ones to see how they measure up
- accept that it’s not clinical: I’m not saying blame the room, but it’s okay if data (audience response) is not consistent with previous findings
- work in between experiments: some comedians don’t write or evaluate recordings between open mics. This is a pretty big waste.
Get to a working state as soon as possible
Get something that functions right away. In the standup comedy example, get to a place where you have 5 minutes that works okay. This isn’t the killer set yet, but it’s something that’s cohesive and can be predictably repeated. This means you’re ready to get on stage with it now and do something that’s not an experiment in case there’s an audience you don’t want to burn, or you want to get feedback from a role model, or you just want to know that you’re part of the way there. Having a prototype will have a lot of great aspects and uses. Most importantly, it might help you determine if it’s worth doing more experiments or changing your goal.