What’s the Best Way to Give and Take Notes?

Recently, I wrote a blog about what you can do if you get a note in improv class that you don’t agree with. I got some great comments from both improv teachers and improvisers, and I thought that it would be helpful to share some of the comments with you.

If you’re an improv teacher, how do you approach giving notes? And if you’re an improviser, do you think that it’s important to try to incorporate the notes that your teacher gives you, or is it better to take what you like and leave the rest?

Here are a few perspectives. I’d love to hear yours as well.

From Improv Teachers:

  • “I’m sure that if you’re a teacher like me, when you’re thinking about a class later that night, there are notes that you gave that resonate in your head, leaving you wondering how you could have given a note in a better way. I know that I have.As teachers, we’re supposed to have all of the answers. But at best, we’re the baseball coach telling the player that they probably shouldn’t have swung at the outside ball. And the way that we tell the player can come out wrong. “Did you seeeee that pitch?”I’ve tried to be aware of how I give notes in class. I was surprised to hear someone tell me that they were intimidated in my class, because I don’t view anything about me as being intimidating.For the record, I start every level that I teach by telling my performers that if I ever say something that hits them in the wrong way, please approach me about it. Because my goal is to help them, not to turn them off of improv.
    — John Abbott
  • Some people accept notes more easily than others, and as a teacher, one needs to know that to teach the best they can. When I give notes, I always try to follow up with a positive if the critique has a negative in it, but without the negatives how can one strive to get better, and that’s part of the joyous addiction to the art, ultimately, right?
    — Heidi Drew

From Improvisers and Actors

  • I would say, if you get a note from a person designated to give notes (teacher, director, etc.), it sf your job and responsibility to attempt to take the note and apply the note to the best or your ability. If, after an honest attempt, you have a problem or issue, then, and only then, bring up your issues, or hesitancy or problems.The one thing that would be the exception is if you do not understand the note. Asking for clarification is always ok. But if you get a note and it does not sit well with you, get over it and apply the note to the best of your ability and save the talk for later.I have learned, for me, that most (not all) of the time when I am resistant to a note, at its base, that resistance is rooted in some fear on my part. I had a crusty old teacher in the ’90s who used to say, “Follow your fear.” Can’t remember his name. Mel? Anyhow, not important. I find it great advice in improv, in theater, in writing, and in other forms of artistic expression. If you do your best and it does not work, by all means give voice to your thoughts.
    — Brian Amidei
  • I used to have the opposite problem of always feeling the need to explain, justify, argue, or dispute any note I disagreed with. I didn’t even really realize I was doing it that often until one of my favorite teachers and directors called me out on it. Then I started approaching it more like notes in scripted work, where I’d see if there was anything in the note I could use to incorporate or adjust in my performance so that even if I disagreed with the note, I could try to address the problem in my own way. And if I still didn’t agree or understand the note, I’d approach the director one-on-one afterwards to discuss it to avoid disrupting or derailing the class, workshop, rehearsal, etc.
    — Jordan T. Maxwell

Want to get notes from one of the most respected improv teachers in the country? Don’t miss Jimmy’s next Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 classes, starting on Feb. 17 and Feb. 19!

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