You have been doing improv a little while. You may have done a hand full of shows, or at least attended enough classes that you lost count. You may have been doing improv for years and years with a thousand shows under your belt. Have you checked in to see where your skills are lately? Self evaluation is a pretty hard thing to pull off. We usually look to instructors or directors to keep us on track and let us know where we are with our development. That or we are just so hard on ourselves that we don’t do anything except beat ourselves up which doesn’t get us further ahead at all. At some point you need to look inward and be able to truly check in with where your skills are using an unbiased opinion.
Let’s start by looking at a couple ways we should probably avoid using as an indicator of our skill level. Firstly, audience laughter shouldn’t be used as a gauge for success in improv. Many well known improvisers have written articles and blogs about this topic so I won’t go into it too much. Basically if you are basing your skills on laughter alone you will not push yourself as a well rounded performer. There are so many different elements to improv that it does not have to be all about the comedy. I like to think that an engaged audience leaning forward on their seats are more powerful than a laughing audience. Now that being said, if you are in it to make people laugh and it is working then all the power to you. You should try to get out of performing improv whatever you are looking for. I applaud people that find what they need and strive to do more of it.
Sometimes listening to family, friends and other improvisers right after a show can be dangerous. They usually all say the same thing, “Great show you’re great”. I’m guilty of patting someone on the back and saying good job when I didn’t mean it. I have tried to correct this by being more honest if time and appropriateness allows it. Another method to start an honest conversation is by asking the improviser how they thought the show went. (I try to sound neutral and happy when I ask). See where they are. I find the trend is that they will be either really negative or very naïve to how the show actually went. If it seems appropriate and I have a good relationship I may engage in a discussion about the show in general to talk about some of what I saw good and bad. I never give notes about a show or improviser unless I was asked or that improviser is a student of mine
I know for myself after a show is a tricky time for being focused. I am still buzzing from the excitement and when someone compliments me it is hard not to say something negative about how the show went. I am constantly picking a show apart as a director and performer. I need to remember that they may not know all the ins and outs of improv and have just come to be entertained. This can leave a sour taste in an audience member’s mouth when they truly enjoyed the show. We are all guilty of this. We sometimes need to just say thank you and give weight to the compliment. If they had a good time and enjoyed the show then they enjoyed the show.
So how do we gauge ourselves? Well this can be done in a few different ways. One thing I am now trying to do is look at a show as a whole. I start with asking myself, what went well. Then I attempt to be a little more constructive by asking myself what could have worked better. That wording is important. It is not what didn't work. You got through the show so it all worked in some capacity. So what could have worked better is how I word it. After a show when you have notes or on the drive home you could look at the show as a whole and then more specifically the individual scenes or games. There is always something that worked well and something you could use as a challenge for you to get better at.
That brings us to goal setting. If you set goals for yourself and really try to apply them, you will find it a great way to check in. I usually give myself a larger goal to keep in mind for a few months. Recently it has been to do my best to make my scene partner the protagonist in our scene together, rather than take the role on myself. I have a tendency to play the protagonist. I do it easily so it became a habit to fall into. I found a larger and longer ongoing goal like this usually works better than a different goal before each show. Most of the time when you set a goal and then walk out on stage it leaves your mind and it isn’t until you get into the back room again that you remember what you were supposed to be focused on.
I have a group of improvisers that I work with for a 3 month term. What we start the term with is doing a bunch of scenes. Then with the class each individual will figure out a goal for themselves and spend the 3 months aiming for it and tweaking it as we progress forward. We check in with workshops to keep the goal present and alter it if need be. This will help in goal setting for them. Goal setting is an invaluable skill to apply to everything you do in your life. Looking inward and being able to evaluate yourself is not easy but you can flex that muscle and help it grow with putting it into practice as much as possible.