What do I like to teach?

A tweet storm about teaching improv:

You Become What You Do

In my twenties, I was a performer. In my thirties, I was a teacher. I became what I spent my time doing. When I lived in Chicago, I did a lot of things, but the thing I did the most was rehearse and perform improv. For about five years, I performed at least a couple times a week and usually rehearsed once or twice too. I got good at improvising, very good, but I don’t think I mastered it. I think I still needed a lot more experience to accumulate in order to master it.

And then I began to teach. I liked teaching, a lot. I learned much about how to improvise when I started to coach it and then later when I taught it. There is something powerful about having to think deeply enough about something that you have to explain it to someone else. Still, during these first couple of years in Chicago as a teacher, I performed as much or more than I taught. I had some balance and I continued to grow as a performer.

When I moved to New York, this began to change. Continue reading “You Become What You Do”

Embrace the Mistakes Your Students Make

Negative notes serve a purpose. If a scene is bad, and if the note giver understands why the scene is bad, he or she should give that note. But why does it have to make everyone feel so bad? Perhaps there is a better way to give a note.

“And scene!” the teacher says as she finishes scribbling a note.

The two students stop their scene and stare at the floor in front of them, waiting for their notes. They know that their scene wasn’t good. It was a frustrating scene to perform. They know they made lots of mistakes, although they wouldn’t be able to name them if asked.

“Well, there were a lot of problems in that scene,” the teacher begins. “You two weren’t on the same page. Steve, you kept trying to make the scene about your ESP powers. It’s ironic since you weren’t listening. And Carol, you kept talking about your problems at the office. Those people aren’t in the scene, why are you talking about them?”

The notes continue for some time as the teacher lists several more mistakes. You can hear the disappointment and frustration in her voice. These are all notes she has given before. The two students feel awful, almost ashamed, and the rest of the class shifts awkwardly in their seats. The only happy thought among them is that it’s not them who are getting dressed down.

Continue reading “Embrace the Mistakes Your Students Make”

Checklists, podcasting, blogging and an app

I have recently began using checklists for things like podcasting, blogging, working out and rehearsing. I think checklists really begin to shine when you use them to walk you through a process you do over and over again. A checklist helps me eliminate mistakes, keeps me focused on only the task I’m currently doing, and raises the quality of my work overall. It also provides me with a method to review my work and improve every time I do a podcast, by translating what I learn into new steps.

I’ve never been the most organized person. I can be passionate, dedicated and sometimes obsessive about the things I love doing, but organization doesn’t come naturally to me. One thing I’ve tried before is little “To Do” lists, but it’s not something I’ve done often or methodically. Recently that has changed.

I first started thinking about this because of Checklist Manifesto, a book by Atul Gawande. I have not read the book yet, but I’ve heard several interviews of him. The book is about how checklists for complicated procedures help minimize mistakes and save lives. He is a surgeon and he has seen how a simple checklist for a surgical procedure can dramatically reduce the number of complications. I don’t do anything as grave as surgery, but there are a lot of things I want to accomplish each day. I thought checklists might help and started using them.

My first checklist was a weekly one. Continue reading “Checklists, podcasting, blogging and an app”

How to excel at scenework and influence improvisors – part 1

I recently read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie for the first time. It’s the kind of book that I’ve avoided most of my life. Self help books, especially ones with a strong slant towards the business world, usually don’t excite me. However, it had been recommended to me by a couple of people, and I realized that it might be of some use for me.

As I read the book, I wondered about how it might apply to the life of improvisation. On one level, it’s pretty straight forward. The way you build relationships in the worlds of theater and comedy are not that different from the business world. The advice translates pretty directly to how you should treat your fellow improvisors off stage. The advice seems especially well suited for sales, and while many of us in the theatre world loath selling ourselves, it is something that definitely helps us be successful.

Continue reading “How to excel at scenework and influence improvisors – part 1”