One thing I have learned along the way is if you want to keep what you have learned, you need to give it away on a regular basis. That’s why teaching others how to do improv is such a privilege.
I am grateful to have gotten to study, work and perform with some of the greatest improv teachers of all time. They were both generous and patient with me and with their time. And I am humble enough that most of the time I continue to learn from my students as well.
So, today, I wanted to give you some more improv teaching tips in the hope you can become the best improv teacher ever. (Okay, maybe I might have overreached on that, but it’s just because I am so excited to share this stuff with you. Teaching improv and sharing my experience still makes me very excited about this crazy art form.)
- Let Go of the Results and Your Students Will Have Better Results
As improv teachers, we think we are in the results business. We think it’s our responsibility for our students to “get it,” and if they don’t, we think we have failed as teachers. This is a hard one for me, because I often think my self-worth as a teacher is tied to my students’ progress, which I can tell you is losing proposition for all those involved. The reality is my job is to just share with them what I can, and whether or not they “get it” is not up to me.I wish that every student in my improv class “got it” and thought I was the greatest teacher they ever had, but that’s not realistic. The truth is, some students will put it all together in your class and some will hopefully find it later in another person’s class, but when I can let go of the results and take the pressure off myself to be the perfect teacher, the student somehow start to improve.
- The Importance of Warm Up Games
This is something I learned from one of my improv teachers, Martin DeMaat: Warm-up games are essential. Some improv teachers don’t see the importance of them. They want to cut right too scene work or throw the students right into doing a Harold. Yes, warm up games take time. Yes, they seem silly and not as important as going right into working on scenes or a long form. I can assure you, however, that by playing warm-up games, students can go deeper and be more grounded in their scenes, not to mention take more risks, if they have warmed up.But another important aspect of warm-up games that people don’t seem to talk about is that this is where you can assess the class’s energy for that day. Each day your students will come into class with a totally different energy, and it’s important to adjust your teaching to how they are feeling.
I remember one time my students came into class all tired and with low energy. Maybe it was the weather or the traffic for some or that they had just had a shitty day at work, but when they began to warm up, they looked like they were zombies. They had brought their day into class, which gave me an opportunity to make an adjustment. I had them walk around the room and talk about their shitty day and how they were feeling. This helped me know where they were at so I didn’t need to take it personally and so I could keep adjusting to the energy. And once they had a chance to speak about how they were feeling, their negative energy seemed to lift.
- Keep Good Time Boundaries
Students want to feel that they are being taken care of, and by starting and ending class on time, you are creating a safe and nurturing environment where people feel protected by boundaries.This is something I’m still working on. I am great at starting the class on time. I used to wait until everyone had arrived to start, and then I realized, why should the people who show up on time be penalized? So now I always start on time, no matter what. Unfortunately, I still run over at the end of class, which I know is not good, but I cannot stop myself. But I know the more I stick to the time boundaries, the more respect and trust the students will have in me.