Side Coaching

Nick Armstrong visited Endgames a few weeks ago to teach courses, including one about teaching. Before his visit, I’d had some ambivalence about using side coaching as a tool. It felt like back-seat driving a scene, and that back-seat driving could make the scene worse.

Nick’s workshop made me rethink it entirely. “Set improvisers up for success,” he said, and he offered up models of side coaching that were more direct than what I’d previously considered: “You’re a nurse, you’re a doctor, and you’re in love.” He pointed out that in the process of describing exercises, we could demonstrate what a successful version of that exercise might look like, and we should have the confidence that our experience would enable us to do this. At the same time, he warned us against over-coaching: “Don’t teach them how to be you as an improviser by saying things like, ‘I would have made this move…'”

I’ve been trying to incorporate Nick’s advice back into Harold team practices, and while I’m still figuring out the balance, rehearsals have felt way more dynamic since I started. It feels so gratifying to say something as simple as, “This thing you’re doing right now is what’s important,” or by merely asking, “How would you feel if someone kept asking you to do something you didn’t want to do?” can push a scene forward once the improvisers focus in on it.

That’s not to say all my efforts with side coaching have been an unqualified success, but I’m more confident now that with practice, this will go from being one of my least-preferred teaching tools into a tool of choice.

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