How To Teach Improv

Teaching improv is a strange beast—after all, how do you prepare someone for making stuff up? Well, if we think of it like a sport, we can practice the craft at play in improv. One will never play the same baseball game they did at practice, but they will use the skills they have worked on and refined.

Which means notes on the work have to be approached in a very particular way. We can’t say “Oh, it would have been funnier if…” or “You should have done…” We have to make sure students are ready for future scenes. These are the techniques and values I hold to when giving notes.

• Keep it short.
• I can't read minds. It's difficult to note off of one’s perception of someone's internal state. Keep it focused on observable behavior and what the affect was.
• Telling a student what you what I would have done in a scene is useless. They are not me, and will never have my thoughts. We have to encourage, validate, and refine their thought processes.
• Give actionable items that are as specific as you can make them.
• There is no “should have” in improv. There is “could have,” but we didn’t, so instead we have to work with what we do have.
• Criticism involves praise too. After a good scene, we can’t simply say "Well, that was good! Two more!" A teacher must offer an idea of why they thought it was good.
• I cannot note all of improv nor solve all of one player's improv problems after any single scene. Keep notes focused on whatever it is we want to talk about that day.
• There is no one note for everybody. Some players need to slow down. Some players need to speed up. Some players need to be more organic. Some players need to be more premise-driven. I must find the note that the student needs.

And perhaps, most importantly:

• Accept that we can't change the previous scene, and we will never improvise that scene again. Keep notes focused on patterns of behavior that can apply to the next scene.

Our first improv class starts in mid-September! Hope to see you there.