Be mean to me with your notes!

Josh Nicols from Spectacles Improv Engine posed an interesting question on Facebook: When students say things like "you can be mean to me" or "I want you to be harsh in your notes." Have any thoughts or tactics on it?

“I sort take it as, they want the truth. Which I am already giving,” wrote Josh. "I just always give a lot of value to maintaining the performers confidence, so I aim to be sweet about the truth.

I try to remove any subjectivity, set clear goals, talk about what was demonstrated and when it comes to teaching...nice is my nature.

That's not going anywhere.


He asked other teachers their thoughts on harsh notes.  

Brian James O’Connell teacher/producer at Pack Theater:

I usually laugh and say, "No. You dont."


Kristin Henn Youth Program Director, Conservatory Faculty at ColdTowne Theater:

Say something very direct and see how they handle it. Make sure you really mean what you say. If you don't have anything, you don't need to feel pressured to come up with something.

I think people just want answers, and they may think asking you to be harsh is a way to get them.


Rachel Ben Hamou Agile Improv:

I try to be candid and see how that goes with that person.


Jay Sukow Westside Comedy and Second City Hollywood:

I feel "I want you to be mean to me" is a thought that needs to be discussed in therapy, not on stage.


Jessie Kunnath:

I think there is a lot of differences between a coach and a director too.

The expectations should be set up front.


Kelly Buttermore Magnet Theater
In my experience (and yours, too, I bet!), students seem to feel that negative feedback or criticism holds more weight and validity than positive does.

I've heard students say about classes they felt like they weren't getting their money's worth if they didn't get these kinds of harsh notes, which, no matter how often I hear it, always just blows my mind.

To me, it's about flipping that script, or, at least, evening the positive/negative playing field.

Leaving aside the greater societal issue of negative emotions themselves being viewed as more valid, as I don't think I can solve that in an FB comment, I think anything you can do to show them that there's as much validity and constructive-ness (not a word) in a positive note as a negative one, do it! Their need for a harsh note might be satisfied that way, if, indeed, they're open to that.


Deborah Dopp: I'd rather not give the Truth a judgement label. And

'harsh' is not the vibe I want in improv.

I'd tell these students that I'll give them a constructive critique.


Drew Boudreau College Audition Professionals:

Directness when requested is always appreciated, but does not have to be harsh. I tell my students like this 'you did A, and then B happened' and they always say 'oh! Right right, can I get another crack at it?’


Jason Hader Imagine Improv Factory:

I personally think that it depends on what your class is about. If you are part of a strict school with metrics to hit (with student evolution on a strict deadline), then maybe I can see being harsher. There are those teachers that teach that part of the learning process is learning to take a note. These teachers presumably want to give the harsh notes (though I think even these teachers are careful to not be harsh in giving their harsh notes). If you are not inclined to give the harsh note, the first thing it says to me is that you value the safe atmosphere of your class more than you value one student's need to be better now. You may fear a different student will get nervous (or more anxious) if you issue harsh notes to the person that asked for them.

I think ultimately that you can give the note without being harsh.

I don't think that the note requires harshness. I think beginning students may not understand the degree to which their learning depends on just being in the room observing everything. Every note you give to any student, is a note for every student. They just want more nitpicky attention from you. You don't have to oblige.


Barbara Scott BATS Improv:

I don't think they really mean "mean." When I have experienced improvisers, I think what they mean is "direct and specific without introductory compliments."


Patrick McInnis The Third Thought

Yes, these same students rarely address the countless notes you've given them before and are really looking for new ways to take the note in a different scenario.

They also want the responsibility of change to lie in your hands and not their own.

That's why they're asking for it 'rough', they want you harder on them then they are on themselves.


Jill Eickmann Leela:

I think about the approval/disapproval syndrome Viola speaks about in her book. I feel improv is an amazing art form to help you build confidence in your own creative choices rather than seek the approval of an authority figure. I like to give notes like how Viola would write in her book- did the actor accomplish the exercise/goal? Also- what is the actor's goal? I attempt to give notes about the actor's goals for him/herself- as well as patterns I'm observing.

And yes- often actors tell me I'm not mean or harsh enough. Oh well! I like my style, I'm sticking to it.

Also- I think not every teacher is for every student. Do "you" and the right students will come to you when they are looking for your voice. I know I personally do so much better with an uber positive teacher. I'm sure there's more folks like me that want the same.

Lauren Morris Adlib Theatre:

A mix of expectations, clear goals and objectives, tools they can use and the Socratic method seem to have worked for me.

Why are we so miserable on ourselves?

This takes time, practice and reps. The world is harsh enough. Let's cut ourselves some slack! End rant.....


Christopher George Finest City Improv:

I think this comment is a coded way of the student pre- or post- apologizing for their work.

They want, in a roundabout way, some sort of excusal, aka "I already know this is terrible".


Laura Tennisco Artistic Director Obviously Improv:

I think it is just people's way of asking you to be direct. A lot of people have difficulty with being direct, and feel they need permission in order to be direct. So, they are probably giving you a sense of permission that they feel they would need in your position...


Live - Laugh - Love.

As Martin deMaat said, “You are pure potential.”

Thank you for reading.


Written 5 years, 5 months ago.
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