Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mainly, I Teach...

Mondays tend to be long days for me.

Every week day, I get up at six am, feed the cats (Houdini and Oona), check e-mail, read, see my girlfriend off as she leaves for work, write and prepare for the day. On Mondays, I teach two classes in the afternoon at Columbia and then teach a class in the evening at Second City. I have been teaching at Second City since 1997 and at Columbia since 2004. This is my main source of income. I love teaching, but it has its frustrations as a life support system. I only get paid when I teach. When we're on break or vacation, I'm not getting paid. There's no salary, no health benefits. And if a class gets cancelled because there wasn't enough students enrolled, tough cookies. Doesn't matter that I cleared my schedule or planned for that money. It's gone. Columbia does give you a $100 consolation prize. I think that's to cover the cost of the booze or low-grade drugs you'll need to forget that you're now out a few thousand bucks.

When school's in session at Columbia, I usually teach two classes that meet twice a week. At Second City, I'm usually scheduled for two classes. I would love to teach more at both institutions. For the money? Yep. But also because, I LOVE teaching and have compiled enough experience to be able to handle the workload.

At Columbia, I'm part-time faculty. Most everyone there is part-time faculty. It's how they keep tuition costs low. That means they can't really throw more classes my way without having to answer to someone somewhere about making me full-time. At Second City, I'm considered a Guest Artist, which is beyond me. It's the lowest rung on the faculty ladder there. I used to be a Core Faculty Member, which I enjoyed. Unfortunately, during my time as the Artistic Director of ComedySportz, I wasn't able to maintain my Core Faculty duties, so I was, justifiably and with my agreement, bumped down. Then, of course, about two months later I left CSz. It's going on a year, now, since I left and I still haven't been able to get bumped back up at Second City. The advantages to being Core Faculty is that you are guaranteed three classes a term and are first up for workshops and intensives.

So, why do I put up with such a shaky income stream?

I love to teach.

In the spring of 1997, I was hired into The Second City National Touring Company. About a day later, I got a call from Martin DeMaat asking if I would like to teach improv classes.

"Um, why me?"

"Gut feeling. I think you'd be good at it."

"When would I start?"

"Tomorrow night."

"What do I do? What do I say?"

"It's the first class. Just run them through some basic 2-3 person scenes. You'll know what to say."

And he was right. I was surprised to discover that once I got in the room and started to work with them, I did know what to say. It was like every teacher I ever admired was whispering in my ear. I saw my words have a positive impact on how improvisers performed in scenes. I saw people light up.

I haven't found anything better. I direct, I write, I act, but mainly, I teach.

Wow - that last sentence made me gag. I love the other stuff, too. Probably as much. Sometimes more. Out of all the possible sources of income for me as an artist, teaching has been the most consistent. Teaching pays most of the bills. And I'm happy to be doing what I love.