A Note on Notes

If Denver improv is going to grow, teams need to get notes.

Being on stage is a privilege, not a right. If a team member can’t take a note, they shouldn’t be on a team.

People in my shows tell me that they’re not used to getting notes, which I think is too bad. I mainly give notes to players for things they need to improve on. Improvisers know when they do something good, they can feel it, so I think it’s important to focus on things to improve their playing. Often times I don’t need to give notes, I just say, “Great show everyone, that was fun.” Notes shouldn’t be created just so that notes can be given. In fact, if notes are invented just because there has to be “note giving time”, it takes away from the power of notes and leads to confusion and frustration in your players.

In Denver, there isn’t a whole lot of note giving going on. I encourage teams to ask someone whose opinion they respect to give them notes after the show, in case your coach isn’t there. If that’s not possible, the leader of the team should give notes.

Here’s the thing about notes, you have to take the note. If you get your butt hurt over a note, you’re not interested in improving. I respect Susan Messing so much because she is always looking for ways to improve, she is open to suggestion on improvement. I was once on a team where one player would sit out each show and give notes afterwards. I gave a note to a player about him denying his object work at the end of the scene. He snapped at me, saying he, “Couldn’t wait until it was my turn to give notes so he could tell me to find an object.” He told me afterwards that I gave notes “Chicago style” and that I should give notes in a nice-mean-nice sandwich. I explained that I give notes for things people need to work on, and that improvisers know when they are clicking. I don’t see any point in spending time coddling players so they don’t get bent out of shape when I give them a note for something that needs to be improved on. I didn’t give that person notes any more and I kept seeing the same object work problems continue with him, but at least he didn’t get his feelings hurt by my big fat meanie notes anymore. I had another player who gave a disgusted audible sigh as soon as I started a particular group scene I was in the habit of doing for a while, which he, obviously, was sick of doing. After the show, I asked him why he did it, and he denied that he had.  If you get so defensive that you can’t even admit to your choices on stage, you should be on a team that doesn’t hold anybody accountable for anything, and I only hope that I’m not on the team that plays after you because I don’t want the audience to walk out of the theater because your show sucks. Denver improv has a lot of NIDS (Nice Improviser Disease Syndrome), on, and off the stage, and that is one of the reasons why some teams are stagnant and keep making the same choices that lead to bad shows.

Note giving can be a tedious process, and there’s nothing more frustrating for a team director than to give someone detailed notes, only to discover that the person didn’t read or comprehend them, or chose not to give them any validity, and the same choices are made on stage the next show, and the next show, and the next show.

Here’s how you take a note:
COACH: “You need to bla bla bla.”
YOU: “Okay, thank you for the note.*”
(*Note the period. There’s nothing after it)

The person giving you the note is trying to help you. He/she is not interested in hearing your long diatribe about how what you were going for was missed. If something didn’t work on stage, it didn’t work, and you need to know how to remedy it with the notes given to you. Notes are to make you better. If you don’t agree with the note, or it makes you defensive, say, “Okay, thank you for the note”, then go cuss out the coach in a private place, without the coach present, then process the note and use it to improve your playing.

I’ve been guilty of giving unsolicited notes to people. A bad habit. You should never give notes to anyone unless you’re the coach or someone asked you for notes.

The only way to improve as a player is to have an outside point of view on how you’re playing. I respect experienced improvisers who have seen a show I was in and can discuss it with me, pointing out what didn’t work. Good improvisers are always looking to improve. We owe it to ourselves and to the audience to continually grow and be better performers.

(There are also new chapters on my “Improv Tao Te Ching” blog below)