Sunday, June 1, 2008

If you're off stage, you know more than I do

So here's a thing that came up after workshops today. 

We were chatting about participants' craving for feedback, and Keith made a couple of interesting points: 
  • Experienced performers tend to know what they need to work on. 
  • It can be difficult/feel weird to give feedback to experienced performers. 
I know when I first started teaching, my thought was "What the hell do I have to say?" Over the years, I've run rehearsals and taught classes for folks with more experience...and performers I look up to. It's easy to teach newbies—there's just so much to talk about—but can be intimidating to teach when you know and respect the players. 

Here's the thing, though: If you're a strong improviser and in the audience when a player is on stage, you're seeing the work objectively, as the audience does. And there's a dang good chance you're going to notice something the player is unaware of. 

As a student, I'm looking for a few things* (besides this stuff): 
  • Sidecoaching in the moment to get me unstuck or put me back on track
  • Observations about patterns that I fall in to or fall back on
  • Feedback on the scene to let me know how we performed the assignment
  • Tips and tricks to help me improve
For sidecoaching, watch for basics—and call out the opportunities to fix things. A couple of times John (a very experienced teacher, but you get the point) course-corrected us by saying, "Show us who the characters are to each other," and it turned a scene around. 

Then watch the players, and tell them what patterns you notice. Do all their characters move the same way? Lead with the same body parts? Use the same vocabularies and diction? Play the same status? Always wait for the other player to initiate? Keith told me after a few scenes that I was playing small, and it gave me something to play with for the rest of the class. 

Evaluating the exercise is the easiest. Because improv is experiential, players learn by doing. So letting them talk—and poking them towards important points when needed, then summing up at the end—will get them to the point. 

The tips and tricks? You learn them over time. The more you teach, the bigger your own toolbox gets—and you get more and more comfortable adding exercises (or even making them up) on the fly. 

Kansas City improv needs more teachers. (Also, producers and directors. But that's for later.) If the only thing stopping you is the feeling you don't have enough to offer, screw it. Teach. 

Maybe don't charge much—or anything—for your first few classes. But teach. Please, please, please teach.


*Yes. I know I could use a comma to separate them. But bullet points make it easier to scan.

1 comment:

  1. Something I learned in my theater directing classes is that if an actor asks you a question, they already know the answer. If they say, "Should I have been angrier in that scene?" then you just have to redirect it back at them. "Well, how did it feel? What did your reaction do to the rest of the scene?" You can draw the answer out of them.

    I never think of teaching or coaching as having all the answers. I'm just out in front. I may be Sacajawea, but I've never been here before either.

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