My approach to teaching workshops at improv festivals
Teaching and improv. Teaching improv. Both passions of mine, both prevalent and important to my life.
Any time I enter a classroom, I am grateful for the opportunity and take the gift of sharing improv with others seriously.
That translates to me have taken time to show you I'm passionate and have worked at my craft. That I have learned what it means to teach adult learners, that I am well-prepared. I'm not in the classroom for glory, I'm here in service of you the student.
It's easy to get an inflated ego that you are a really good teacher when you only teach within your own community. To check myself, grow, and expand my own skill set, I try to teach outside of my community at least twice a year. Typically this happens at festivals.
Teaching at festivals is a unique and different experience.
Many of you might be thinking you want to do just that and as I move to year 5 of teaching outside of my own home theater, I thought I'd share my approach, experience, and lessons I've learned with you.
I'm a guest
Someone took the time to learn about me. To hear from others whether I'd be a good fit for their festival. I have been invited.
That's a big fucking deal and I don't take that lightly.
It's an honor every time it happens. There are so many good teachers out there so getting asked or invited, well, that's just humbling and an honor.
I take that invite seriously. I behave appropriately in public. I know that sounds lame but I'm a teacher at a festival in a community that isn't my own, I better act like a damn professional. Yes I have fun but just like the classroom, I keep boundaries clear. I understand there's a power dynamic.
I show up early and stay late
Staying late is getting harder these days but I make the effort. I want to connect with fellow improvisers and be accessible to those who have taken or will take my workshop.
Being on both sides, I know as a participant and student sometimes we want to talk to the teachers a bit more. I make it known that I'm there to talk shop. Let's break it down. Let's share ideas.
I don't roll in right on time for my workshop. I try to get there early enough so that I can greet each student walking in the door. I can set up the container of safety and ensure this experience they paid for is going to be worth it.
In theater, 15 minutes early is on time, on time is late, late is inexcusable. I live this at festivals.
Yes, there are a few workshops that I have taught so often that I can recite it to you sight unseen. However, I like to create new ones and always can tweak the oldies but goodies.
There is always something that I'm going to walk away with that can make next time even better.
If I'm creating a new workshop then I do my homework. I think about the entire goal and objective of what I've been hired to teach and work from there. You can learn more about goals and objectives in this Improv Teachers: Quick Take video. Just click HERE.
While I might use exercises over, I approach them differently based on my goals. I also try to bring in new exercises, and I keep myself open to creating exercises on the fly.
How else do I prepare? I listen to podcasts on the topics, I read peer-reviewed literature, I create a syllabus, and I review it over and over. I never want students to watch me and think I am just winging it.
That just means I don't care and people who don't care shouldn't teach.
I am clear about expectations and boundaries
Festival workshops means a mix of abilities, experience, and people may or may not know each other. It's my job to get everyone on the same page quickly and up on their feet. I thank them for joining me, ask them to put aside their preconceived notions or even approach and for the next several hours just go with me on a journey. I also am clear about the boundaries and I use the FairPlay guidelines put in place.
I keep it moving
This isn't a weekly class or part of a larger curriculum. This is a one shot deal. Me pontificating or talking isn't the point. Getting students up on their feet and doing is what I've been hired to do. I make sure to do just that. I'll check myself on how much I'm talking. I make sure to meet people where they are at and I want everyone to get equal stage time and my time. It's a lot but I try to do my best.
I follow up
Once you have taken my class, you are my student for life. I remember once I took a workshop and after I approached the teacher to ask if they had an email or anyway to contact them. They were like oh, you can just go to my website. The person was so flippant and it was apparent that they were just teaching this workshop as a way to make some extra cash on their vacation. It was disappointing. This person was a well known improviser from a large institution and it left such a bad taste in my mouth that it was 3 full years before I even took another workshop from that institution. Don't be that guy was my takeaway. So yes, it might take me a bit to respond, but you can always reach out.
I also follow up with the people who hired me. Is there anything I can do better? I want to thank them for the opportunity. It's important. Producers of festivals work very hard. They need to hear that too!
I remain grateful
There's no guarantee that I will continue to be invited to teach at festivals or invited to theaters. I remain grateful for everyone of those experiences.
To teach improv is to love improv.
It's a big commitment. It carries prestige and people look to you. So whether you are about to teach at a festival, thinking about it, or just exploring, remember, be grateful, be professional, love what you do!