Q:I am a coach of college improv team. I am also a member of the team which has had it's difficulties. Since I am also a peer and friend, the players don't give me respect as the coach and every practice we have the main issue seems to be that the group loves to talk and joke and laugh instead of focus on the exercises. Are there any tips on how to get the group to be more focused and have less outside conversations?
I’m terribly sorry about the delay in responding! I’ll gladly give a crack at your question.
I’ve been in that situation before in college. You have friends who do improv with you. You’re all friends on equal ground outside of improv. However, once practice starts, things change instantly.
They still see the practice as a time to hang out. In a way, it is. But there’s work to be done. You’re there for a reason, and it’s more than hanging out. Here are a few things that might work for you:
• “If you’re on time, you’re late.” If you say practice starts at 7:30pm, then start it at 7:30pm. Do. Not. Stray. From. This. Stand your ground. They won’t respect you or your time if you waffle about before or during practice. Take initiative. Grab practice by the balls. Announce on time, “Okay, let’s begin!” with a tone that shows authority, but that’s not demanding. You’re not a drill sergeant, but at 7:30pm, you’re not really their friend either. You’re their coach. Their captain. A ship can function without a captain, but it doesn’t go anywhere and is disorganized. Take the wheel and steer it on-course, for goodness sakes!
• Be On-point. A sharpened pencil writes easier and clearer than a dull one. Show them that you’re in charge, and that you take this time seriously. Have a regular routine to begin each practice. I find it helps to first ask if anyone has any improv-related questions from last practice, and then explain what they’ll be working on that day, even going into specifics about exercises or games they’ll be doing (if necessary).
• Why Wait For The Fun To Start? Ask them what they like about practice in general; a specific game, a warm-up they all enjoy or an exercise they all excel at. Much like giving a dog a treat for doing something you wanted them to do, the positive experience in the last practice will make them much more enthusiastic about coming in and starting it next time.
• Sharing Is Caring. You should be an outlet for them to share their frustrations, excitement or questions outside of practice. This is where you can blend the “friend” into the “coach.” You know them outside of improv, so you can customize your feedback based on what type of personality they have. In an email, through text or in-person, letting them be able to trust you when not in practice makes them feel more at ease and a part of the team.
• Make It Fun. Find new and creative ways to do exercises. Read books, go online to forums or make some up yourself. Try new things with the group. Variety is the spice of life! If you give a kid a toy, they love it for a while, then get bored with it, become apathetic to it and the novelty wears off. Changing up the practices will keep them on their toes and hopefully make them more interested in doing the work.
I hope this all helps. Check back with me later on when you’ve tried some or all of these. I’d love to see how the group takes to it, and I promise to answer your next question much sooner!
If you are on the back line and you feel confused, start a scene where you are confused.If you feel scared, start the scene being scared. When I did Armando when it first started, I was intimated by all the players, and I was genuinely scared. I must have done 40 scenes playing someone who was scared since that was what I actually was. I was so terrified that I could not use the theme, until I was less afraid.
Q:I was at a jam recently and it was the first time I did a great scene! three great scenes!! and i think it was due to my scene partner-he was really fun to work with. well after it was over, this might seem cocky but here goes-i got this feeling that i was the best one there-or the one who has no boundaries and there was this great energy with everyone there too-"lets change the world" type of energy- my q is-is it ok to feel that good about your work? thx
First off, congratulations on your success. The sweet is even sweeter if you’ve had a run of sour. That’s the beautifully painful part about improv: it keeps pulling us back in just so we can feel those amazing moments on stage.
Secondly, I think it’s fine to feel good about your work. It builds confidence and propels you to discovering more, doing more and interacting more with the improv community.
But be warned: you have more work to do. Every improviser can improve. Feel good about what you accomplished, but like a professional athlete, no matter the outcome (good or bad), you have to forget about it and work towards the next performance.
This all leads me to a broader point. Be a productive member of the theatre. What I mean is:
• Praise good work.
• Assume everything you say about a team/player/show will be the headline printed in tomorrow’s newspaper.
• When someone says “Good show,” for the love of God, just say “Thank you.”
• Meet people and make connections. You can’t get on a team if they don’t know who you are.
• Be visible. See a lot of shows and sign up for anything/everything.
• Above all - stay humble.
Again, feel good about your work, but don’t let it poison you into thinking you can’t go up from there. Everyone who is a master at something was once a beginner. Best of luck in your future shows!