Do You Have Any Notes for Me?

by Chris Petersen

“Do you have any notes for me?”. It’s perfectly understandable that improv students ask this all the time. The performing arts are difficult for self-assessment. As reasonable a request as it is, it can be an effort for a coach or teacher to fulfill it.

So perhaps a performer could do a little homework before reaching out for feedback and ask some questions of themselves:

  • What’s the problem you’re trying to address? Is it a few bad sets in a row? Not getting cast in a troupe when you thought you should be? Is it a general sense of improv malaise? There are always things to work on with improv, but you need to address specific issues to make any progress.

  • Have you gotten notes before related to this problem? If so, you’ve already gotten feedback on this. Ask yourself honestly (and I do mean honestly)  if you’re just asking around to prove yourself right, or if you just didn’t understand the feedback you got.

  • If you didn’t understand the notes you received before, get to the heart of that. Is it confusion about a concept (like ‘game’, for example)? Is it confusion about when this problem comes up for you?

  • What do YOU think you need to do? The ability to effectively self-assess is crucial for growth as an artist (and yes, improvisors are artists). This is what people do once they’ve taken all available classes and workshops. Of course it’s legitimate to pull in a coach or director for help, but the first analysis should come from you.

  • What show/class/audition do you want to get feedback on? It’s never very helpful to ask for ‘general’ feedback on your work as a whole. The person you’re asking probably hasn’t seen it all, and certainly hasn’t been watching it with an eye towards critiquing. Yes, it’s true: sometimes that person you’re asking for feedback wants to watch improv without being a teacher or coach.

This is not meant to dissuade anyone asking for notes. Do! Growth and development comes from observation, analysis, and then taking action. But useful observation and analysis (and a clear plan of action) comes from planning and answering questions like the ones listed above. And once you have that feedback, take action. And buy your observer a drink.

Posted on May 8, 2019 .

Seems to Me it's Chemistry

by Chris Petersen

A question that always comes up from students is: “How do I form a troupe?” (answer: find the people you like and like playing with and eventually come up with a name. Congratulations: you’re a troupe. The incomparable Jess K. has written on this very subject). It seems like an easy question, but consider what’s inspiring them to do it: the best troupes make the difficult and improbable look effortless and inevitable. Surely there’s a great deal of black magic required for assembling a group capable of this?

The chemistry between people who like each other and have fun together is extremely difficult to contrive. By comparison, skill at improv is much easier to develop.  After all, that’s what classes and practice are for.

Practicing/rehearsing with your troupe (and ideally a coach) is important for improving as a group, but let’s say you can’t manage a rehearsal one week. Someone can’t make the full practice time, or your coach is in a show, or there’s no space to play, or what have you. What to do? Get everyone together and go to the bar (or coffeeshop, or get dinner, or whatever. Just as long as it’s something where you can talk and hear each other. So not an improv show.). Hanging out and shooting the shit (on anything, not just improv) is invaluable for building that chemistry. If you don’t enjoy talking at the bar with someone, odds are good you’ll struggle onstage with them.

In honor of Go Comedy co-founder Gerald Knight, I give you this example of group bonding off the stage. You can’t fight that chemistry:

Posted on April 15, 2019 .

Go Back, Enhance

by Chris Petersen

Q: How do you make an improviser cringe?
A: Ask them to watch a video of their last show.*

As uncomfortable as it can be, watching videos of your performances is one of the best ways to assess your strengths and weaknesses as an improviser. That objective camera-eye view shows you how you present yourself to an audience. Do you do object work? Can you be heard? Are things happening too fast or too slow? Are you making use of the environment? Are you doing anything at all?

Lest it all sound negative, watching your performances is equally good at providing a realistic assessment of what goes right in your improv. There have been a number of shows that I felt terrible about where watching the video after gave me a better perspective: sure, the show had problems, but it wasn’t nearly the disaster I imagined.

The lovely and talented Mr. Bob Wieck has been regularly filming improv sets, sketch shows, and class shows at Go Comedy for many years. His YouTube channel is an overflowing library. And he does it for free, so perhaps following his page is a good idea? Also, buy him a drink when you see him.

* Runner-up punchline: “Ask them to tell you a joke.”

Posted on April 2, 2019 .