Carl and the Passions

Giving Improv Notes: How to Self-Coach Your Team

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Last week, I talked about how to give good improv notes if you are an improv coach or director. This week, I’m going to give some tips on how to give improv notes to your own teammates — a much trickier proposition.

First, let me say, if you are part of an improv group and you aren’t using an improv coach because you don’t want to spend the money or you think you are “beyond” having a coach, stop reading right now and go get one. You’ll thank me later.

However, if you are part of a group of improvisers who can’t get an improv coach – maybe because your group is made up of the most experienced people in your community – then you are in the unfortunate situation of having to coach yourselves. This can be really tricky, because you don’t want to be too critical of your own teammates, but it can be done.

In fact, I have been on many self-coached teams and groups over the years. Here’s what has worked for me.

1. Use “I” statements
The number one thing you want to avoid when you’re coaching yourselves is blame, whether you’re blaming the group or an individual. Sometimes it’s ok to blame the audience, but do it sparingly. Instead, get in the habit of commenting on what you did or did not do well in the show. You can say things like, “I was totally lost in the opening,” or “I really liked the scene I did with Jenny, it was so much fun.” It seems small, but it’s important because you are sharing your experience, which is all you ever have to share, rather than telling someone else what they did wrong. You may think its a small thing, but it will set you up for the next step.

2. Own Your Part
My experience with working with people who have been improvising a long time is they don’t want to call out other people’s behavior or give other performers notes. That means it’s up to each individual to be honest, vulnerable and take responsibility for their moves. This will give other people in the group permission to do the same. For example, you might say something like, “When you came into the scene, I was confused about whether you were doing a call back or not from the beginning.” By you admitting that you were confused, you may get them to admit that they were confused, too.

3. Ask the Group Questions
Remember, the goal is to learn from each other, not tell each other what to do. That is how you get better. One thing I do to learn from other members is to ask them questions. For example, you might say, “What could I have done to make it clearer that I was doing a call back?” Or you could say, “I thought the opening seemed flat. What did you guys feel?” If you get a lot of heads nodding, you could say, “How could we have done differently for the next time?” I have always found this helpful.

4. Don’t Dominate the Discussion
Just like you don’t want to be in every scene in an long form improv show, you also don’t want to be dominating the notes session. If you realize you are dominating, then maybe you’d secretly like to direct. Be aware that if you hijack the notes session, others may be less inclined to be involved in the discussion. If you find that happening, stop and ask them what they thought, or just take a break and let some else lead. Not everyone is going to want to participate and that is fine. Your job is provide some room every now and then so other people can.

5. Bring in your sense of humor
Just like the improv show, make the notes session fun. When I played with Carl and The Passions at iO Chicago, with TJ Jagodowski, Noah Gregoropoulos, Bill Boehler, Shad Kunkle, Jordan Klepper, Katie Rich, and Paul Grondy, I sometimes had a better time in the notes session than I did during the show because weren’t taking what we did on stage or ourselves too seriously. I cannot express how crucial this is, because sometimes improvisers want to make their improv life and death, and it’s not.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Sign up for his next Art of Slow Comedy: Advanced Ensemble Class, starting April 15! The class runs on Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. and includes a performance on the last day. Register today!

4 replies
  1. Nelson Velazquez
    Nelson Velazquez says:

    OMG. Why are you speaking directly to me?!! I’ve been struggling with some of these issues in my own group. I’m totally using this next rehearsal to get more involvement from the crew. The crew I roll with is doing three different disciplines (improv, music, musical improv) at the same time so getting someone form the outside is incredibly difficult that can do three is difficult. I tend to be the dominating one so that note I will take to heart!

    Reply
  2. Martin Junna
    Martin Junna says:

    Love your post Jimmy. Our group also doesn’t have a coach. After a show we start saying things we liked about show and what everyone did, that was great. We also address problems we have as a whole ex We didn’t play enough emotion (never personal). And probably next rehearsal we make some exercises about that problem. We also go into the confusing part of the show by discussing what everyone was thinking during that move. Usually that gives a great understanding and we all go “Aaah, that’s why you did it. I thought you were doing this so a did this”. No blaming, that is a real killer 🙂

    Keep up the good work Jimmy. You have fans in Estonia 🙂

    Reply
  3. Amey Goerlich
    Amey Goerlich says:

    If you do not have a coach and are looking for one I find that Skype or Google hangout coaching works pretty well for some groups. I’ve coached teams all over the world using this method. It’s a great way to get some hardcore coaches from all over the place to see your improv group and give them great new insights. Improvcoaches.com has a huge selection of NYC improv coaches to choose from.

    Reply

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