Post show notes

From Impro Inspirations Newsletter – April 29, 2019

I write to you from France after finishing the Subito Festival. An amazing week with the Subito cast and the RFT 5! Five Artistic Directors of Rapid Fire Theatre, myself, Jacob Banigan, Kevin Gillese, Amy Shostack and Matt Shurman. My heart is so full to see and play with my RFT family.

We did a Theatresports™ show and I mentioned to the cast that at RFT, like Loose Moose Theatre and Impro Melbourne, we always do notes or feedback after the show. The students excitedly requested we do the same for them - and we did. They received notes from 5 Artistic Directors.

For me, notes are the most important part of the show and the greatest value in my growth and evolution as an improvisor.
Notes are one of the four points in my learning compass.

  • Work / play in class

  • Show exploration and experience

  • Notes / feedback

  • Evaluation / self-reflection

I know many groups have had horrible experiences giving notes.  I’ve heard horror stories about the screaming matches and aggression some have gone through.
It shouldn't be like that. So here are some thoughts and pointers which I hope will help in giving notes and feedback.
First it must be clear that;

  • Notes are one person’s opinion.

  • An opinion provides information.

  • Information isn’t negative or positive. 

There is a lot of discussion about negative vs. positive notes. Which I think is misleading. For example some companies use the sandwich approach. Compliment, criticism, compliment. Or in my words validation, information, validation. It is done so people don’t offend each other or hurt each other’s feelings. It is very admirable to look after each other, of course, but we shouldn’t be afraid of having difference of opinions. As long as we treat each other with respect, debate and discussion is good. Even if you don’t agree with the note you can ask yourself why? There is always something to learn.
I don’t believe notes are negative vs. positive.
I believe notes are information vs. validation (emotion and ego).
For example: Someone gives the note “The toy box scene didn’t work.”
This is neither, negative or positive it is just an opinion. Our emotional response to the note makes it negative or positive. If you are seeking validation and praise in notes then any note that doesn’t reward you, will be perceived as negative because it will rub your ego the wrong way. However, if you are listening to notes for information you will hear this note as that and be curious to learn more.

An experienced note taker might also offer some insight as to why or options on how to improve the scene.
For example: “The toy box scene didn’t work. The scene started with the promise of the magical world in the toy box and became two kids fighting over a toy. Lets remember the platform and deliver on the promise.”
It is all opinion. It is all information. You may agree or disagree, which is fine, just listen.
However, if the note giver makes it all about them and their own status, then you are in trouble.  We’ve shifted away from giving information and now it is about getting validation.
For example: “I thought that toy box scene really sucked. If it were me, I would of got right into the toy box.”
This type of note isn’t useful. It is filled with judgement, self praise and there is no information for the listener to work with.
These kinds of notes will quickly build a negative atmosphere.  People feel attacked because they don’t feel included or respected in the conversation.  You listen to notes to learn how to improve not to validate someone else’s ego and be their audience as they display their impro peacock feathers. 
The worst note giver is the person who goes on attack and believes that yelling at the cast will inspire the cast to take the work more seriously.  It doesn’t work. I’ve seen groups where this has happened and the players become timid, fearful and blindly obedient.  You loose their voice, playfulness and trust.
For example: “What the hell was going on in the toy box scene?  Do you think that was a good impro scene? Well it wasn’t. It was crap.  When are you going to learn how to do a good scene?"
Again, this has no information it is all emotion in its delivery and in the desired response. The purpose of these notes is control.  The only thing a player will learn from this is to please the director and not to step out of line.  What a horrible mindset to put your impro players in.
Notes should be a cast coming together, with shared respect and in a shared atmosphere of learning, growing and improving their work.  People should be open to and curious about notes.
A few tips on doing notes:

  • Notes are one person’s opinion

  • An opinion provides information

  • Information isn’t negative or positive

  • Players need to trust each other and be interested in improving their work

  • The note giver offers their opinion, with the intention of improving the show and the skills of the players

  • You understand the note is one person’s opinion; it isn’t right, wrong or law. It is an opinion.

  • Listen to the note, take what is useful.

  • If you get the same note multiple times, pay attention to the note, even if you don’t agree.

  • Try to focus notes on technique, skill, technical, and audience response

  • Try to offer solutions, insights and options, when possible or justified with the note

  • During notes everyone listens, there is no debate, no justifying or explaining why, just take the note

  • If you want more clarification or information about a note, you talk to the note giver after notes

  • Everyone is treated with respect

  • Put a time limit on note sessions

  • Thank the note taker, it isn’t an easy job

I’ll admit, when I was new to improvisation sometimes notes didn’t leave me feeling the greatest.  I now realise it wasn’t the note; it was my need for validation. I know my skills as an improvisor, teacher and director all improved because of notes.
There are improvisors who don’t want notes to interrupt their post show ‘buzz’ or they say ‘notes are a downer after a show and they want to go out feeling great.’
Sure, you can reward the ego or invest 15 minutes to a half an hour in learning and improving your performance. Your choice.

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