Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

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Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby JediImprov » July 6th, 2013, 8:27 pm

My improv craft sails many highs and lows, moments where I cant navigate a scene for my life to navigating complex and layered stories for thirty minutes- no problem. And only now, three years in, am I just beginning to be more chill during auditions. Over the last few months, there have been two periods (like over a two to three day period), wherein a few improvisors have been critical of my prov or a given show, some I agreed with and some not and/or I was being hypercritical of myself, only to have a wide variety of other people, new improvisors, people that came to shows that I did not know as friends of friends, who went on and on about how good the shows were, citing with great specificity, the things they greatly enjoyed. Ive noticed this phenomenon in general over the last few years, shows that may not land with peers but really lands well with audiences. Its an odd experience, who do you believe? Im curious if others have also noticed and what the various points of view might be.
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby mpbrockman » July 7th, 2013, 12:34 pm

The musician is going to dive in first b/c I have some rather strong feelings about this.

Self-approval comes first. Did you play within yourself and still push some boundaries? Did you do your best to make your castmates/bandmates/partners look good? Did you walk away feeling good about your performance? Only you can give yourself honest answers to these questions. If you can say yes on a a regular basis, you (or at least I) don't worry too much about the other two - they take care of themselves.

Now that I've successfully ducked the question, let's see...

Peer approval is next. Having people who know the craft appreciate my work means more to me than any laugh or round of applause. I can also learn more from them than from the average observer.

Audience approval is last on my list. In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit to a certain amount of audience contempt disease. Before everybody piles on me about this, let me explain. I spent years in a dueling piano environment. My audience was bombed and overly fond of blue humor - you know, the kind of audience that thinks that constant d*ck and drug references and saying "f*ck" in every other sentence are the highest form of humor. One of the more disillusioning experiences of my professional life was reaching the point where I realized I could get the same response from dueling piano audiences whether I was totally "on" and working my ass off or whether I got drunk and phoned it in.

That said, improv audiences tend to be a different breed entirely (smarter, more sober, able to catch some pretty subtle stuff). Consequently I appreciate them much more and their approval means much more to me. However, it's still last on the list. Perhaps this seems counter-intuitive to some. After all, we're there to entertain audiences - right?

I refer to the above again. Take care of your end of the show, and the audience will follow. Even if they don't - you'll be able to walk away with your head up and remember there's another show next week/month/whatever.

'Nuff said. Except to reiterate that when I do my job as defined in paragraph two above. Everything else falls into place.
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby Spots » July 7th, 2013, 2:34 pm

mpbrockman wrote:Self-approval comes first.


I second everything Brockman says here. All of it. Nobody knows your improv story as well as you do.


Genuine feedback is helpful, especially from others who can see your moves. Their genuine feedback can easily confirm that what inspires you is also inspiring to others.

As far as the audience- they will be dazzled & in awe if they are new to improv. They're still getting their heads around it. They'll compliment scenes that made them feel good or made them laugh-- but they missed the moves where you made your scene partner work extra hard and exhaust himself.

The audience could easily lead you towards a path of steam rolling or throwing your partner under the bus. And honestly, there are an infinite number of moves you can make without resorting to that.


I second Brockman: 1. Self, 2. Peers, 3. Audience


But even then the word "approval" bothers me. It's an illusion.
Last edited by Spots on July 7th, 2013, 3:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby Spots » July 7th, 2013, 2:56 pm

Keep it genuine. Which means I support avoiding negative feedback until the improviser has shown passion to commit to the art form.

You can ALWAYS find a genuine positive note to give. "hey I saw you struggling in that scene. That was a tough situation but you grounded your partner well and really worked your butt off. I saw how rough it was for you and I don't know what I'd do in that situation. Way to go."

If you come from a real place you are helping them grow even during a TERRIBLE SET.

If the student isn't getting stage time and they're still on the fence, please LAY OFF with your ego smashing notes. Especially if they have a month to ruminate on what you tell them. The bigger picture is that the person find something to pat themselves on the back for and to always TRY so they can grow.

Once they've proven they are committed to the art form, then you can hit them with your genuine negative feedback. Otherwise you're probably failing to acknowledge how long it took YOU to get your head around this art, and the fact that there are many obstacles-- real and imagined-- on the road to success. Being a peer means that you acknowledge the journey and not just a snapshot.


Negative feedback is ONLY for those who have shown a commitment to the craft. If I see you veterans dragging a new guy through the mud, I will personally get into a time machine and visit you when you were hunched in a corner terrified about your first improv performance. And I will tell you "hey man toughen up " or such nonsense but then I'll hand you a piece of paper with this forum post written on it.


If you prefer to give negative notes think of it this way:
Once the person commits you will have a lifetime of nit-picking you can offer.
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby happywaffle » July 8th, 2013, 10:35 am

I love the thoughts so far. I would add that there's not really a "right answer." Some people liked your show, others didn't. That's perfectly normal. And as Brockman pointed out, it's not really an indicator of how "good" you were, so you've got to start with whether you're happy with your own work.

As to negative feedback: drink that shit up, man. I know it stings and tastes awful. Keep drinking it!

Rich Ross put it perfectly: your best friend in the world will come to a show, watch you do the worst improv of your life, and then lie to your face about how funny you were. Meanwhile a fellow improviser might respect you enough to tell you how you could have played the show better. "Respect" is a key word there—I'm way way way more likely to give negative criticism to an improviser who I think is talented and has the potential for future growth, vs. an imp who doesn't show much promise. (Yes I know there's a judgey tang to that last sentence, but anyway.)

Even after 10+ years, I still cringe when I get negative feedback, but then I take a deep breath and realize "Holy crap, this person might have just given me the key to become a much better improviser." It's a gift.
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby jillybee72 » July 8th, 2013, 4:08 pm

Improvisors forget what makes real people happy. It's always funny to see groups perform for regular people at an improv festival when they perform for a roomful of exclusively improvisors and improv students back home. Improvisors appreciate moves, regular people appreciate well I don't know, I haven't been a regular person in a long time.
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby JediImprov » July 8th, 2013, 5:14 pm

This is all really good stuff. Im still very new on many levels, three years in. Oddly and to be clear, in one format I play in, the Two Guys duo, we often get the greatest compliments from people that dont know us at all and that are not improvisors. Im not sure I agree, personally, that type of feedback is somehow of less value because said audience is not educated in how improv works. I just dont buy that. There are LOTS of tyrannical film directors out there that can put out good movies, so should we not think them good movies because the directors drove his or her creative team nuts? Even though you're really enjoying this show, you're only a Level 1 student - just wait, when you know more, you wont like this! LOL My view only, that just makes no sense to me.

I resonate very closely with this idea of connecting with how I feel about a performance, thats important and thus far, I find Im the worst critic of them all- both in terms of being able to judge my work or see it clearly. But I do very much cherish those moments when I do have a better sense for where Im at. Paul's wife Vicki has video taped a lot of shows, which can be very useful once the emotions calm down.

I agree wholeheartedly with what Kevin said about taking in as much feedback as possible, buts its all very hard to sort out, because there are so many views of what works and doesn't. I guess Im more prone to be open to the feedback if its someone I feel safe with and its from someone whose opinions I really trust. Not to be mean, but some people just like to hear themselves talk wherein others genuinely are trying to help. Its just hard to sort out what works for me and what doesnt, how to take those next steps in my journey when the feedback from audiences and players is all over the place.

A lot to think about and process. Good stuff, though, many thanks. :D
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby Chuy! » July 8th, 2013, 8:21 pm

If the audience isn't first on your mind, then why bother? They pay to see you perform. Dance, monkey! If there is no audience, there is no theatre. ergo, no where for us to practice our "art". If you can't handle selling out a little bit, quit. There is nothing better than training an audience slowly to like something on stage out of their comfort zone. Once you've achieved that, then start going for self-approval, then peer. -drops mic-
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby Alex B » July 8th, 2013, 11:31 pm

There are some exceptions, but I think a relatively sober, reasonably intelligent and literate audience is in the best position to judge the quality of the show... The mob rules.
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby kaci_beeler » July 8th, 2013, 11:56 pm

Alex B wrote:There are some exceptions, but I think a relatively sober, reasonably intelligent and literate audience is in the best position to judge the quality of the show... The mob rules.


I agree. Overtime I've found it is most satisfying and successful for me personally to be highly attuned to the audience and their reaction. If they're drunk or rude, well, then I disregard that specific feedback (and that feels very different than the audience that Alex is talking about).
The improviser's brain is split in so many directions in an improv show, and I think that's okay. There is a lot to think about, even when you're "not thinking". Their reactions can be a compass for fine-tuning your work - did something light them up? Genuinely, as a group? Do it more. Did they coldly regard some of your blue humor (and yeah, you should be able to feel it when they do) - perhaps back off, buddy. Their compass is part of why I truly and genuinely love improv. I don't feel like I ever do a complete 180 away from my natural response because of an audience, but I tweak things, and I find it very enthralling and exhilarating to be on that ride with the audience.

A big, full, warm audience isn't essential to making a good improv show happen - but it sure as fuck helps.
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby kbadr » July 9th, 2013, 8:12 am

There's also a distinction between an audience and The Audience, I think. You shouldn't pander to your audience, but we're obviously doing this (at least in part) for the audience, or we wouldn't bother doing public shows and charging admission. As you perform more, you get a feel for what The Audience is into, or what you need to do to ease The Audience into your style of thing, whatever it is. Sometimes it means just registering the fact that your audiences are confused by what you're doing, so you say an extra sentence or two up top before your show starts.

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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby valetoile » July 9th, 2013, 10:31 am

Listen to everyone. They're all right. You've got three relationships you're maintaining on stage: You with yourself, you with your scene partners, and you with your audience. Strengthening your relationship with one doesn't have to come at the expense of the other.
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » July 9th, 2013, 9:52 pm

yeah, I stand with Brockman. if I'M not happy with the show I did, then no amount of praise or congrats from peers or the audience will matter. If I AM happy with the show, then critiques are welcome but it really doesn't matter much to me if anyone else liked it or not. beyond that, notes and praise from peers I respect are dearly valued...whereas I get a charge from a positive response from an audience (it's a rush like no other and it's one of the reasons I do it), but I also know that I've gotten such positive responses doing some hacky shit in the past, mailing it in, coasting, etc. so while I APPRECIATE it, I don't know how much I can TRUST it as a gauge of the quality of my performance or as a means of growing and improving as an artist.

to put it another way...the audience gives me all the feedback I need from them when i'm ON stage (which is the bit they paid for). after the show, my own feelings about the performance and peer response take priority. ;)
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby JediImprov » July 10th, 2013, 12:48 am

kbadr wrote: As you perform more, you get a feel for what The Audience is into, or what you need to do to ease The Audience into your style of thing, whatever it is.


This really resonates with me. This has been a very helpful back and forth for me. Kevin's feedback really forced me to think, like slow down and bring into my heart the purpose of slowing down enough to be fully present with my craft, to see it, perhaps, more honestly. Although I love Jordan to pieces, I truly do, my improv self esteem is nowhere high enough to trust my own judgements. If I did that, I will be giving you all hugs and then leaving to live in isolation from improv. But I really zeroed in on Kevin's feedback and so this is what I did. I looked at A LOT of duo tape and then Ive watched all of the Two Guys shows with a far more open heart and, to my credit, I rarely give myself any, a far more open spirit. A few notes that rung as true for me, in watching a ton of our shows:

*Audiences really enjoy my super animated facial expressions, even recently in Fancy Pants, my FACE needs to be in the show more!
*Slow THE FUCK DOWN Bob, slow slow down, less beats to the narratives and more depth with less beats (hello compelling character)
*When slowing down, notice notice notice when I tend to drive or dominate. I need to be more in the more moment and FAR LESS behind the steering wheel
*Connect, find ways to truly connect. Paul and I, no matter our highs and lows, have ALWAYS had each others backs on stage and the audiences really endear to our chemistry. Sinking into that versus racing off to the next thing, mining that gift that we have as a duo, so key.
*Learn to give myself credit for things, cause I suck at that.

Like I said, this thread really has helped.
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Re: Peer Approval and/or Audience Approval? Who to believe?

Postby Spots » July 10th, 2013, 6:07 pm

The thing about letting the audience decide is that there is no tangible entity to familiarize yourself with. Not any further than the superficial. So this is an abstraction that doesn't work for me.

The audience is filled with individuals of all tastes and values. Individuals in assembly.

So laughs from the majority is an exhilarating experience BUT like the beeps of a metal detector they only let you know when you are close to a feeling of joy, inner conflict, or euphoria in a single person in the assembly.

In other words the end game isn't laughter. It's individual feelings.

It will never be a single 100% shared experience for "the mob" because the individuals who make up the mob come from different lifetimes of different backgrounds. I've been a member of "an audience" where afterwards performers were discussing my experience on my behalf. "Did you see the audience? They so and so!" And these reflections did not reflect my experience during the show. Not even remotely.

Each person is sharing a personal conduit with you, the performer.

Quantity over quality? With laughter? I'll never agree with this mindset. A room full of laughs is sometimes the empty acknowledgement that everyone gets a pop culture reference. A nod to the intellect. "I'm only laughing louder so that Sally will know that I know." I'm laughing but the performer hasn't scratched the surface of my emotions. Can you relate to this?

Laughter is primal brain. Not intellect brain.

Intellect is more of an "Aha!" experience than anything else. Listen to the people's voices after the show. How deep were they touched? How far did you get them to emotionally invest? How inspired and excited were they? These are the voices you listen to. The individual conduits who speak on behalf of the unknowable mob.


But we are each on our own journey so answers will indeed vary. I agree that audiences will behave differently night to night but this is usually due to crowd dynamics, for instance there may be no alphas in the audience to really "break the seal" and let everyone know it's safe to go ahead and laugh. The deeper past social laughter (superficial) and into personal inner laughter I argue the "better quality" emotional experiences you can create. (The stronger the conduit). Same with the top stand-up routines I've seen in recent years.

It's what makes a Louis CK set stand out from all the open mics you watch and laugh all throughout. You can laugh nonstop at stuff that doesn't access you. For the performer onstage, does this make you a reliable gauge for how he can personally grow?
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