For years I thought to get good at improv you, had to get piled on by constructive criticism — what some people call “negative notes.” I was that student who would go up to the teacher after class and beg them to “be tough on me.”
I was tortured that way.
I even took this philosophy into my teaching, sometimes jamming my poor students’ brains with all of the things they were doing wrong. Eighty percent of the time I could see their eyes rolling in the back of their heads. They didn’t respond. They were overloaded by having too many things that they needed to work on.
The other 20% of the time, they would send me long what’s-up-with-the-notes-you-gave-me-last-night emails.
Lately, however, my approach to giving notes has changed. I am not saying I don’t ever give hard notes, especially when I see potential in someone or when I have worked with a student for a long period of time, but overall, I’ve become much more positive in my approach to giving feedback.
My feedback has become more positive because, I am sorry to say, I have become more positive.
Recently, a student that I had in class 20 years ago said that when they had me at Second City I was really hard on their class.
That kind of comment used to be a thing of pride for me. Now when I hear it, I am embarrassed because it’s true, and I regret it.
I think one of reasons for my softer, gentler approach is that I am finally ready for more affirmation in my own life.
I’ve noticed this in my relationship with my crazy therapist. For the last 14 years, I wanted him to constantly point out how I was fucking up (which, by the way, he is great at), because I thought that was the only way I was going to get better. But lately I’ve realized this approach isn’t working for me anymore. Now, I can no longer hide from myself that I want more. More affirmations. More encouragement.
I was out of whack for all these years, thinking I only needed to hear what I was doing wrong so I could change.
Today, I need both.
As an artist, it’s always been easy for me to go the dark side. But life is not just dark. It also has an underrated light side. Life is a balance. Improv is too. I am just glad that even at my age, I have the willingness to adjust, and it’s actually a lot more fun to teach this way.