I attribute a lot of the progress I’ve made as an improviser to coaches, so I was excited when Max coached me on my improv coaching a few months ago. The session was part of Endgames’s training for new coaches and teachers, with the goal of instilling best practices to make them more effective in their roles. Since coaches have been integral to my development in areas outside of improv, I figured I could also apply any insights gleaned to other areas in which I serve a similar role.
Max observed me while I coached a three-hour practice with Patchwork. I had coached Patchwork once before this, and the feedback Max had relayed from that session was that the team wanted more notes from me, which was interesting because Patchwork includes many of my improv peers, where there can be some awkwardness in giving notes. I tried to rise to the occasion, but I felt that I’d gone overboard in the amount of notes I’d provided.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to second-guess myself because after the session, Max and I debriefed at a local bar near the Endgames Training Center. The discussion was a great opportunity to understand what ingredients go into successful coaching. If the goal is to get a team to enjoy the outcome of their sets more, then the skills required are twofold: to be able to analyze what would move them in that direction, and then to guide them in that direction in a manner that they are able to retain and apply that guidance. A significant portion of this is to be able to observe a scene and diagnose it, but Max’s notes have given me other factors to consider:
- structure a session around a key point or theme – provides focus to the session and provides a filter through which to consider what is happening during it
- focus the notes around the key point or theme – avoids inundating a team with too much information and reduces the likelihood that the notes exceed the length of the scene or set from which they originate
- phrase notes constructively – indicate what the improviser does well, point out what might be missing, and highlight what they can do to strengthen and build upon those things that they already do well
- energy, isolation, and simulation – concepts borrowed from Bill Arnett about how a practice should flow, starting with a warmup that brings up the energy, exercises that isolate the specific skill(s) based on the key point or theme, and simulation exercises (e.g. a set) that allow the skills to be practiced in a form that’s more conducive to the stage
- where possible, deliver notes to an entire group as opposed to an individual – sidesteps noting peers and avoids singling folks out
In the months since my session with Max, I’ve been practicing these skills as a coach and substitute teacher for Endgames. It’s bittersweet that I’ve gotten to coach Patchwork through its final run of shows as an Endgames house team, but I’m excited to coach Endgames’s next Harold team, which will be formed after auditions this Sunday, January 24. Sign up for them!