How Do You Treat Your Tools?

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 8.04.18 AM.pngI just finished directing an improvised puppet show which was not only a blast, but also extremely educational.  I thought I might share some of the puppet lessons I learned over the next few weeks.

One of the things I noticed was the different ways the actors treated the puppets. Some of them treated the puppets as if they were real, living creatures. They got special backpacks and bags where they stored the puppets whenever they weren’t in use. They even felt uncomfortable if someone else used their puppet. In fact, words like “creepy” and “wrong” were used when that happened.

The other actors treated the puppets like you might treat a t-shirt. As soon as they were done using their puppet,they slipped it off and they didn’t think about it again until it was time to put it back on. They didn’t care who used it.

I’ve talked to other people about this interesting difference and discovered that the two attitudes extend over every creative art. Some people thought that the actors who were sensitive about their puppets were being overly precious and shouldn’t get that attached. They argued that puppets were only objects.

An equal number of people went in the opposite direction. They said it was only natural to develop that kind of connection.

I don’t think either attitude resulted in a better performance, but I did notice that people were irritated when they were forced to treat the puppets like the other group of people. If someone who treasured their puppet was forced to set it down somewhere unsafe, their eyes would constantly dart to it until they could pick it back up. If someone who treated their puppet like an object was forced to treat it like a person, they felt uncomfortable.

People treat all the supplies they use to create in one of those two ways. They either make their tools into magical implements that must be chosen and treated with the greatest care or they consider only the practical aspects of their tools.

In most books on creativity, they try and push you into treating tools as magical things. They want you to set up a special creative space and a special notebook. This works for some people. Other people work much better just scribbling their notes on napkins and in the margins of books.

Take a moment to figure out how you treat your tools. Recognize the kind of person you are and use that to help you create. My advice is not to tie your ability to your materials. Use the best tools available, but don’t make the lack of a specific tool an excuse to not create.

Treat your tools in the way that is best for you.

2 responses

  1. This is a little off topic from improv, but I always notice the same divide with the way people treat their cars. And in both cases, the objects in question have the potential to become “us” for short amounts of time. When most of us drive, we extend our sense of self to the car around us, so that we consider parts of the car to be parts of our bodies. You can even hear it in the way we talk about our cars. “Get off my bumper”, “He hit me in the rear”, “I think I can fit in that parking space”.
    I always find it fascinating how far we can go in extending other things into our sense of self, and I wonder how much our willingness to foster this affects how we treat those other things.


  2. That’s a good question.
    I was just thinking about it in terms of, is someone who considers a car a part of themselves a better driver? Does your attitude toward the car affect your ability to drive?
    I know people who treat their notebooks that way. Or their typewriter. Or they have a particular brush or type of paper they have to use.
    I went to your site and really liked your stuff. Very cool!


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