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Actor's Other Career Book
by: Lisa Mulcahy
Published: 2006 Allworth Press
*David Suarez is also known by the stage name David Christopher, which is the name used in this book.
THE WIZARD OF IMPROV
When David Christopher couldn’t find the job he wanted, he defined and created it himself-and started an empire. Christopher founded Just The Funny, an interactive, improv-based corporate services company in Miami. JTF provides both performers and original performance pieces to help corporations market products, sell at trade shows, and promote their services. Additionally, Christopher and his team innovated a unique business training model called BizProv, which facilitates actual actor-improv training workshops to help corporate employees become more effective and creative in terms of generating and carrying out work projects. The company also specializes in teambuilding through improv technique. The pay-off: satisfied clients include Direct TV, Honeywell, Bell South, and Clear Channel.
Christopher is also deeply committed to providing great live improv entertainment to Miami audiences through JTF’s live performances and improv festival. He talks about the road he’s traveled with the company so far, and where he plans to go in the future.
“I was born and raised in Miami, and got a BFA in film from New York University. I lived in New York for quite a while, and did film and television for quite a long time. I cam back to Miami to shoot a film, funding fell through, and I found myself out of work. That’s when I started doing improv. I then went on to more film and TV-I produced the series Blind Date-and then I had my daughter, and just changed my priorities. I realized a lot of what I was doing wasn’t really good for family life, so I went back to school and got an MBA, and started doing corporate improv.
“I started Just The Funny back in 1999, with a number of other actors. We just wanted to go ahead and do improv the way we wanted to do it-long-form, short-form, and really, just to be able to branch out and eventually grow the business.”
“With Just The Funny, the biggest challenge IS just growing the business. We started out with nothing; we didn’t have a cent in the bank. We were like guerilla business people, running around handing out flyers; we were like a rock band on the LA strip, trying to get people to come to our performances! Now, we are definitely the leaders in our market here in Miami. We’ve done this through a lot of hard work, and by being open, listening to our people. We’ve really taken a sound look at how we were structured as an organization, because we really value our people. Our people are our product.”
On Doing the Job
“Our approach to corporate improv is definitely and analytical one. When you’re doing improvisation, you’re really trained to listen, pay attention to your surroundings, to pick up things that are going on. You have to pick up key pieces of information and be able to use them. You have to be an observer and a communicator. Those are two skill sets that are really transferable to anything in life, and definitely to the business world.
“How I explain (to clients) how improv can benefit in the business world is, basically, that in improv, we’re trying to recreate life. In improv, we have to be the writer and the actor at the same time, and you don’t get a second chance. That’s exactly how it is in life, everybody’s constantly improvising, whether it’s a business or personal situation. What I really push for is for clients to look at life through the same glasses as an improviser would. My job is to facilitate, get people to understand the rules, fundamentals and ideas of improv and be able to apply it to what they do.
“In most sessions, I do more role-playing than anything else; it’s very interactive. What I do is find out ahead of time, what challenges are facing the organization? Why are they hiring us in the first place, and what are they trying to achieve? Then I dissect what’s at the root of the problem by role-playing with all the key players in the organization. I generally try to keep the supervisors and decision-makers out of this process-we can do something separate with them, but I try to keep [supervised workers] open, comfortable, and feeling that it’s OK to fail. That’s something we learn in improv-that failure is OK, and that it’s going to happen in life. The stress, nervousness, and tension that comes from fear of failure, a lot of times, keeps people from succeeding. We work on situations more than once, using the group experience, because the group can really shed some light. So that’s why I really consider myself more of a facilitator. I’m there to help them play the game, to understand what improv’s all about, to force them up onstage.”
“Once they do a scene, it’s like magic. Everybody gets into it, and they realize, ‘We’re not being asked to act, or made to look like fools. We’re being asked to try different approaches to resolve conflicts, increasing our communication at work.’
“I led a session where people were asked to write down their challenges. One twenty-one-year-old woman wrote that she’d never interviewed for what she called a ‘real’ job, with a resume, and how would she present herself. She wanted to confront that. It just so happened that right there [in the session], we had a VP of marketing, who used to be in human resources. So we teamed them up onstage, and the professional interviewed her. I said, ‘Give her her worst-case scenario.’ She had a horrible interview; it was a complete failure. But then everybody gave her feedback, very supportively and constructively. The professional in the improv gave this young woman all the tips that she needed to nail that NEXT interview. They did the role-play again, and this time she nailed the interview. She was able to spread her wings, and just go for it!”
On the Big Picture
“I’m known as the one in the group with like, this uber-drive. I’m extremely focused and detail-oriented and a perfectionist, and I drive everybody crazy with that! My goal for the company is to open up our own venue; to offer a full training center.
“We’re members of the chamber of commerce; we’re very active in the community, and do a lot of charity work. I’m also extremely proud of our festival; the Miami Improv Festival is my personal baby. Without the festival, nobody would be doing long-form improvisation in Miami-nobody’d seen it, nobody understood it. That just exploded the scene down here. We’ve grown the audience to support it, and I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve kind of put Miami and South Florida on the map. I’m glad to help out other improv groups down here, too.
“It’s not about being the best in a small pond, it’s about, let’s grow the pond, and worry about the market share later.”
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