Last week, I spent a lot of time with "newbies" at Second City. In addition to teaching my current Intro and Writing 1 class, I subbed a Writing 1 and two beginning level improv classes - an A and a C.
Here's some advice that I think is applicable to both groups and a good refresher for the more experienced.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS -
It's a class. It's a learning experience. Give your classmates a break. Give yourself an even bigger break. You're going to suck. Hard. If you don't, there's nothing for you to learn and you should go to your assigned mountain for others to climb and seek your advice. So, enjoy the ride. There's no need to roll your eyes about anything. There's no need to apologize - ever - for your work. As Martin DeMaat used to say, "Suffering is not an option."
SPECIFICALLY FOR WRITERS -
It's a writing class. You'll need to write. You'll need to write in class and share your work. You'll need to write outside of class and bring your work in to share. You will not like what you wrote most of the time. Still bring it in. It's never as bad as you think it is. It's also never as good as you think it is. But it definitely won't get any better - and neither will you as a writer - if you don't take the risk of sharing it.
SPECIFICALLY FOR IMPROVISERS -
What really works best at this stage is just getting up there and playing. Be open and ready for anything. You won't get any better at this thing called improv if you don't improvise. Raise the flag "engagement." Jump in. Participate. Play. Make an ass out of yourself!
FOR BOTH -
Stop trying to be funny. I get it. You're funny. Everybody tells you so. That's why you are here. Now, give it a rest. I'm here to teach you the tools you need to create interesting characters with strong emotional wants and needs and, yes, I know - that sure as hell doesn't sound very funny. But the more honest you are, the more you put your heart and soul into it, the more likely it is to be rewarded with laughter. The more you "joke" - in class, on stage, on paper, in the hallway - the harder it is for me, and everyone, to get who YOU are.
KEEP THE AUDIENCE IN MIND -
They are the essential ingredient. Otherwise, we're just a bunch of trees falling over each other in the forest not making any sounds. Don't play to them. No need to pander. Be true to yourself and be mindful of them. - Speak up and share your voice. Turn out so they can see you. Don't block other people on stage from their view. Show them what you are doing, don't tell them what you are doing.
- Write with them in mind. Keep it simple and clear. Don't leave them hanging by leaving characters hang. Don't have a character leave another character on stage in silence to go do something offstage, like prepare dinner for five minutes.
I love teaching classes with people new to improv or writing. They are usually very enthusiastic and willing to swing for the fences. They also tend to get snagged in the "trying to look good" department.
Be messy. Be sloppy. Have fun. Learn from your mistakes. Take your time. Grow as an artist.
Suffering is not an option.