I had someone once tell me that Improv shows are sacred and that we should not give notes on them. When I first heard “the show is a sacred entity,” I thought that thought maybe my friend had gone into the deep end of “believing” and I would never be able to recover them. Then I realized I was already in the deep end with them. I fully subscribe to the mysticism and magic of our artform. Later I heard a similar, parallel thought, by Tara Defrancisco of HERE the Musical and The Nest Theater in Columbus, OH. She said, that “the show we perform is our reward” for all the work that we put into rehearsing and practice. (loosely paraphrased) and I bought in even harder.
Yesterday I was sitting in a rehearsal and we were talking about how to break down our shows to discuss whether or not we were accomplishing what we wanted from our sets. The question was: How does a team productively discuss whether or not their performances are satisfactory to the team and also as individual members of said team? Wanting to assess goals and forward movement feels like a totally valid desire for a team to have and the consensus was that we could get together and break down our shows like a sports team breaks down recordings of their games. I agreed and went along, but I am really not of the belief that members of a team are the right people to give the notes on that subject. If I believe that our shows are sacred, and the ultimate reward for our practice, then from the inside how can we objectively comment on our creations?
To be fair, I already come from the mindset that ensemble-members should NOT EVER, NEVER, NOT IN A MILLION YEARS give each other notes. I have heard people say, “well I can handle the criticism” as a rebuttal for my opinion. I hear you. For me it less about the content of the criticism (I actually welcome feedback), rather it is WHO is giving the criticism. Giving notes on a set that one participated in feels:
1. Biased, because we are human and inherently self-focused.
2. Puts the note-giving member in judgment of the other (even if not negative).
3. Crates a dynamic that if one person loved a show and the other didn’t, the lover of the show is dampened and it creates a real rainy-parade-situation.
4. Above all else, HOW can anyone ever objectively gives notes on a show that they are in and not seeing from the outside?
To wax poetic/philosophical on the 4thbullet point, our creation as artists is the show and the tools we use our ourselves and each other, with the stage acting as our canvas. If a painter were to BE the brush, the paint, and the canvas could they possibly step away to objectively asses the picture being forged? I don’t think so. Paint slathered on a canvas cannot detach itself to evaluate its own worthiness. So how can we detach ourselves from our own set to see the show with clarity and objectivity?
It is for these reasons that I think the only person giving notes on your show should be your director, and even then I think notes should all be productive and constructive. The time to break down the mechanics and effectiveness of the performers is during rehearsal. Remember, if the show is the reward, then don’t punish the reward for not satisfying you.
One last clarification, and then I would love to hear all of your thoughts on the subject. I am open to my mind being changed, or at a minimum, stretched. I DO appreciate a self-aware run down after a show during the next rehearsal where individuals get to share their personal perception of the show as it relates to their own performances: Examples: “I felt _____ during ____ scene” or “I made X choice when I wished I had made Y” or “I was satisfied because I accomplished my pre-show goals.” I think this kind of self-reflection and self-awareness leads to more invested performers.
I value, so very intensely, the magic of improv and believe that if we really give ourselves over the universe before we step on stage to create this art of out thin air, then I don’t think our creation should be tampered with and degraded by the artists who created it. The judgments should be left to our audience, which includes our coach/director, because they are the ones who consume our art.