Building An Authentic Career in Improv

In this short series, we hear from mid-career professionals, leaders, and founders on what it takes to build an authentic career, some of their challenges and proudest moments along the way, and their best piece of advice for navigating an intentional and authentic career. Get inspired below!

What's your name?

Rick Andrews

What's your title or function?

Improviser, Instructor, Trainer

What led you to this career path?

I didn't even know this was a job. I'm still not sure; it's going well, but sounds super fake. I started improvising in middle school and immediately fell in love with it, kept at it through all of school. When I moved out to NY to do grad school, I kept up with improv at the theaters in the city. People began asking me to run rehearsals and teach classes, and paying me to do that, and that seemed like a lot of fun. Quit grad school and have been a full time improviser since 2010. My income consisted mostly of coaching teams at the very beginning, then teaching classes when I was hired at The Magnet Theater. Eventually began teaching at Columbia as well. In the past 10 years or so, I began doing workshops with companies. A lot of this started with students who were taking my classes to work on some other work goal--being more creative, improving confidence or public speaking. People began asking me to come into orgs and I started to notice the crossover in the skillsets, what was resonating with professionals. Began codifying that a bit more and started training from there. Basically, I fell backwards into it. A lot of hard work, sure, but mostly doing a thing I love and lucking out in the best ways.

What would you say is your unique zone of genius?

I've had a ton of time as a teacher working with beginners. First time ever trying improv, I've probably had that experience with thousands and thousands of folks now. You notice what works and what doesn't. The reps help build confidence. Over time I've learned that the exercises are the teacher, and I'm there to show folks. I'm not there to teach people a thing they can't do. I'm there to be the person who knows they can do a thing they think they can't do. There's a river we're crossing and I can see where all the stones are. So I'm not carrying people across the river, I'm just saying, "Hey, try stepping there."

What's the best part and the hardest part of the work you do today?

I love improvising and I love sharing that with others as a teacher and trainer. I think it does genuine good for people, and being able to unlock that joy for folks is really wonderful. On top of that, I'm super grateful that I get to spend most of my time doing the thing I love most. I get to spend most of my work time in the classroom working with people, and that ratio feels like a big win. It can be a lot of energy, and when I was in the classroom 40+ hours a week for many years, it could be draining and uplifting at the same time. Getting to the point where things are going well enough that I have consistent days off and time to be social one-on-one instead of just in large groups has been very nice.

What's a challenge you've overcome in your career (that you're willing to share)?

It was challenging for me to not get down if I thought I had a bad class, or someone didn't have the perfect experience. Even when you're getting lots of good reviews, it's the few learning experiences that can stick out. Getting better at a thing means you're not perfect at it yet.

When you look back on your career what are you most proud of?

I'm generally just really proud of the work my students do, of the kind of thoughtfulness and playfulness improv challenges folks to both in the classroom and at companies. I think getting folks into a shared, focus and collaborative space allows us to see each other and ourselves more empathetically.

What's the job or passion project you've considered but never gone after?

Trying my hand at fiction writing, mostly short stories. Currently straddling the "doing this for fun" and "okay, no, let's try to get good" zone...

What is the best piece of career advice you'd like to share with others?

Most of the people I know who are excited about their job are not doing the thing they thought they would be doing. It's like headlights on a car; they don't shine to the final destination, just the next forty feet of road. And you've got to drive first to see the next forty feet...

What does an authentic life and career look like for you?

A genuine passion for something. Being open to change and things shifting as time goes on. Being honest about what works and doesn't work, and not being afraid to tinker.

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