Freakonomics once discussed whether positive feedback or negative feedback was more valuable. The gist of it was:
- Positive feedback is best when you’re new and starting out, and you need some encouragement to keep up morale while you struggle through being new and bad;
- Negative feedback is best after you’ve been in it a while, and you actually want critical feedback so you can get better.
Today, at a drop-in class, I helped build what I believe might be the best-received (and therefore most successful?) scene I’ve ever done. Uproars. Wild applause. My scene partner and I received high fives from classmates as we made our way back to our seats.
THAT was a trip.
I’d read a chapter from Mick Napier’s Improvise in the morning:
I’ve seen soooo many instructors watch a bad scene and chalk it up to “too many questions” or “talking in the future.” I’ve seen as many, after a good scene, say (with a half-laugh), “Great, that’s how it’s done, two more.” (p. 13)
Thankfully, our drop-in instructor didn’t do that. We took a moment to analyze why the scene went so well… and my ego was stoked for that much longer.
Positive feedback. Go me, good job.
Overall, I like drop-in classes.
The thing is— the drop-ins draw a lot of people who are very new to improv. Not a bad thing, just a thing.
An upside is— I tend to be one of the more skilled improvisers in the class (whaaa? wasn’t I the worst improviser in NYC just a few months ago?), so it’s a good ego boost for me. Which sounds selfish and dumb, but it helps me play more fearlessly.
A downside is— I want some good juicy criticism*, not just positive ego-stoking, and it’s hard to make that happen at a drop-in class.
(* Not too juicy. But at least some variation of, “Good! [You did this thing very well.] [It would be even better if you worked on this other thing.] But good job!”)
Something I read a while back:
The most common complaint about a lot of teachers is that they don’t give enough personal notes…. But, I ask you this: were you really doing anything in class that warranted a note? …My guess is that if you’re not getting enough personal notes, you’re playing it safe.
(Christy L. Bonstell, 15 ways to be a better improv student, via Second City Network)
I don’t feel like I’m getting as many personal notes as I’d like, especially negative ones. I’m not 100% sure what I need to do to be riskier. More verbal initiations, perhaps?
Because fear has been such a massive hindrance to my improv for so long, merely jumping onstage and doing my best to be fearless still feels sort of crazy and risky.
Now that I’m addressing it, I’m a little lost what else I need to work on in the classroom*.
I know there are things that separate me from good improvisers, but I’m unclear exactly what those things are— or at least the biggest, most important things that I should tackle first.
I’m making a personal list— ‘try emoting slowly and quietly, like a normal person, instead of my usual spastic melodramatic self'; ‘initiate more'; ‘work on agreeing/matching more’ (I was picking fights again for a little while)— but I have no idea if those are the things that experts would have me focus on.
* “what else I need to work on in the classroom”: I still need to address fear onstage. That is my big pink elephant. I need to find stages and get on them, especially if the stages have higher stakes than a single-scene jam or a low-pressure class show.
So that’s it. I’m reaching the point where I’m craving some negative feedback. Cushioned in positivity, of course, because my ego is always going to be a delicate flower, but I want some more “hey, keep doing what you’re doing, but challenge yourself to also do this.” Boom. Improved improv.