Coach: “You were talking a lot in that scene and could have done less work by listening to your scene partner and building on that information.”
Improviser: “Yeah, I just didn’t really know where we were, so I thought it was best to build a platform so that we were both on the same page. I don't normally do that.”
I’ve been guilty of not taking a note, but defending myself. I often see fellow players do it when we’re in a class, being coached or directed and I see it in my students too. The coach (let’s use that as a catchall for teacher/coach/director) tells you something that you did and you – however subtly - argue with them.
Our art form is built on ‘listening’, ‘yes, and’ and ‘commitment’, use those tools in your process as well as your art.
Take the note.
When I was studying at iO Chicago in 2008 I had a class with Jet Eveleth where we were playing scenes in which our emotions started at 1 and went up to 10 throughout the scene. We chose an emotion beforehand. I remember choosing fear and Jet misread it as anger. She was coaching me hard on the side to get more angry when I was confused because my choice was fear. I was torn; do I do what she says or what is true to the scene? I hated my scene. I felt awful and I was annoyed at her for not listening to me. I wasn’t taking the note. The note –intended or not - was that the portrayal of my emotional choice was not clear early on. It didn’t matter whether she chose the wrong emotion or not, I was at fault. Instead of learning, my ego was bruised and I probably wasted some class time talking about it.
I heard a nice acting note that I sadly can’t remember the origin of and it’s also true for improv. If you find yourself saying ‘my character wouldn’t do that’ FIND a reason why they would. If you normally wouldn’t play an improv scene like this, find a reason why you should.
If you really don’t agree with the coach, that is fine. However, rehearsal is not the time for that. Take the note on right now and use it hard at least until the end of your rehearsal. Try it out in shows even and if it’s not useful or not a fit for you, you can discard it later.
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Katy Schutte is a London-based improviser who teaches improv classes in London, Europe and the States. Katy performs with Project2, The Maydays and Destination. See her live show dates for upcoming shows.
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