After shows and classes, some people want honest and direct feedback.

Some people want the “COMPLIMENT SANDWICH” to soften the truth with two fluffy white slices of praise, and the meat of the matter in the middle. “THAT WAS FUN, not vulnerable but, WE ALL SUPPORTED EACH OTHER!

Some improvisers believe that critical feedback has no place in the improvisation world where “there are no mistakes,” and “we all agree to accept every moment of the performance as a sacred offer from the improvisation gods. PERFECT and untouchable!

(Please excuse my sarcasm.)

When it comes to critical or discerning feedback, egos are hurt and leaders get weak in the knees, scared to say anything ‘difficult’. Why is that? 

In traditional theatre, the actor is told what to do and what should be changed when the performance is weak. The student actor pays a lot of money to hear constructive feedback to improve their skills.

In the improvisation community on the other hand, many people practice Improvisation recreationally. They enjoy the play time to get away from the stress in their lives. Understandably, they would shy away from anything more than gentle nudges of feedback. 

Some improvisers come to the craft with no experience of feedback. They go from workshop to hearing praise and support. That’s not always a bad thing but it’s no preparation to hear that not all of the work is up to the standards of the group they are in.

In other situations, leadership is sometimes more ‘democratic’ or questioned with similar skill levels between members of the company. When everyone has an “equal” opinion about improvisation, company members may fight against directions that they disagree with. This makes feedback more difficult unless the leader can facilitate those differing values.

Where egos in a group clash, individuals often mistakenly aim criticism at another person instead of addressing scenes and shows. This defeats teh development of an effective environment for feedback

When people try to raise their status at another’s expense there’s not likely to be a reasonable culture of critical growth.

Leaders may fail to lead in this area because they don’t want to hurt feelings.  Because of this, the shows suffer and the group cohesiveness develops cracks. “Protecting feelings” like this comes at a dangerous price.

Note sessions shouldn’t feel like torture. Constructive feedback is one of the most important aspects of development (individuals, shows, companies).  There are practical ways to develop a healthy culture of feedback without stepping on the landmines along the way.

Compliment Sandwhich
What you say can have shades of what you want to say
feedback, customer, opinion


I developed much of my improvisation background at the Loose Moose while Keith Johnstone was the artistic director. I was immensely lucky to have this genius as a day to day influence in my development.

I was also blinded that there could be any other way.

Note sessions at the end of shows COULD have drama. They COULD have hurt feelings. They COULD have misunderstanding. But… they rarely did. My first indication that notes after shows were unique in any way was when international improvisation guests would talk over drinks after the show notes and say things like:

  • Is that normal?
  • How can you talk to each other like that?
  • We could never do that where I’m from. I wish we could!

I realised OUR CULTURE (at Loose Moose) formed in a way that we could speak our opinions AND LISTEN to each other’s observations. 

Generation after generation of improvisers reinforced Keith’s sentiments that,  “The notes are about the work. They aren’t about you. We have to keep that separate.”  

We forgot that the rest of the world took feedback personally. We agreed that some of our scenes were “shit and could not be saved“, and we knew we were just average, playful monkeys let out of our cages for the show and we’d be back next week to try again. It was important while we were in it but ultimately disposable.

It was more than OK to fail. It was accepted as normal and didn’t need artificial hype or unfair reprimands. It was practice, not theory. But we had to be in a good state to hear the notes when failure occurred.

Great ideas die in cultures that suppress them or aren’t ready for them to live. Theory must become practice or all of the grand ideas about improvisation are as hollow as any hypocrisy that we should be working to eliminate.


 It took me some time to realise not everyone saw notes as an easy, exciting part of the process.  After note sessions, some performers would let me know that my notes were more direct then what they were used to. (And for me, I was being kinder than some scenes deserved.) Some appreciated it. Some didn’t.

I came up with an approach that made most people comfortable, or at least less defensive.

There are three steps:

  1. The first time you hear a note – Ignore it.

  2. The next time you hear THE SAME NOTE, FROM A DIFFERENT PERSON – pay closer attention to what’s being said.

  3. The third time you hear the SAME NOTE, FROM A DIFFERENT PERSON – you should have paid closer attention the second time you heard it. CHANGE.

 To clarify, 1 – Ignoring a note recognizes that notes can be wrong, notes can come from misguided perceptions, notes might be addressing a situation that was a one-time-incident, not a tendency of behaviour or any other reason that makes the note irrelevant.  AND HERE’S THE THING… few people are capable of truly IGNORING another person’s opinion. That comment will remain alive somewhere inside of you.

To clarify, 2 – The SAME NOT from A DIFFERENT person points to the idea that this problem has happened before and that a variety of people are in agreement that this issue is a problem. The feedback appears more than reasonable.

To Clarify, 3 – Your ego is probably in denial. I’m not saying there’s 100% certainty there’s a problem going on… but it sure seems like there’s something you should be looking at in your work

To be clear. If there is a reluctance to be honest and forthcoming with observations you aren’t likely to hear or learn the things you should be hearing and learning. If this is the case. Encourage a more honest and giving impro community.




At the beginning of a note session, set out your expectations and feelings of how you would like the note session to run. (ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE TRYING TO REVITALISE HOW YOUR GROUP DEALS WITH NOTES)

Address some problems before they can occur. 

If there have been complaints about note sessions being too long for example, start the note session be saying you will bring the conversation to a close in 15 minutes. NOTE SESSIONS SHOULD NOT TAKE THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME THAT THE SHOW TOOK!!! A ten – fifteen minute chat is more than enough.

Remind participants that you will facilitate the process. So that they don’t question your authority. Set an understanding that you might move the note session forward if things get bogged down and people should feel free to continue their discussions over drinks in the bar after. 

 As a leader you are developing the culture of how things are expressed and how things are heard. Remind yourself that destructive listening can destroy feedback culture. Have tools to deal with this. 

The tendency for defensive improvisers is to hear a note about their work and do one of these:

  • Dismiss – Leaders should be the one who voice clarification or disagreement with another person’s observations. In note sessions if you are the participant who disagrees with a note, thank the person and suggest you talk about it later. 
  • Discuss – Participants get into discussions about the possibility of scenes and tactics. These must be kept to a minimum. We all know that a scene has multiple possible directions. Leaders must know when to end the conversation and move on.
  • Defend -(Justify/Rationalize) Defensive reaction comes out as angry responses, justifications of why things were done and arguments. Encourage participants to listen to the feedback and consider it and then follow up later if they still feel the need to defend their position. The LEADER of the group MUST state the groups value and choice otherwise you risk creating a divisive culture where no understanding exists on various issues.

An important tool – Encourage people to delay discussions until after the meeting.

Discussion is useful for the geeky minds of some improvisation if the discussions are two sided. Discussion is time consuming and frustrating for those who are missing their bus to get home after the show or for the parents who want to see their children, or social people who just want to get out of the theatre and grab a bite to eat and chat with friends.  BE MINDFUL OF PEOPLE’S TIME.



Mood regulation after the show or class is a fragile thing. 

Recently I got a message from an improviser that mirrored what so many have said before. The class or the show may have been fine. The problem happens that the notes can destroy the good feelings of a group and leaves everyone in a bad mood. 

Possible fixes:

Mine the comments for the good things that happened in the show or class. Praise is as effective for growth when you point out behaviour in one person that others sometimes lack. “Janelle’s use of details allowed that scene to develop a great ending.” “When Caleb’s scene with Daniella was crashing, he kept a great spirit that others would benefit from in their own moments of difficulty.” (Basically, you can criticize an entire company by complication one person)

Keep feedback short. It’s easier to keep a good attitude when little time has passed after a decent show or class.

It’s almost tragic when the class or show has been good but the workshop leader or artistic director has had a bad time. If they are running note sessions, they can make everyone feel down and frustrated by their pettiness or unfair judgement. Be careful that you don’t bring your self judgement into the tone of the note session. Look at the actual work.

For everyone, including yourself, keep perspective that this is one show/class in perspective of thousands that you will be involved in.

Sometimes a trainwreck happens on stage. Do you really want to put a magnifying glass on it?

Possible fixes:

I remember Keith Johnstone laughing at a particularly bad scene when it came up in the note session. He waggled his head back and forth and said, “What more can be said? Next!” We moved on with a laugh and we all knew what the issue was. There was a lesson then that it is disposable. It will go wrong. Let’s not beat ourselves up more than we need to.

On a particularly difficult night you might suggest that the notes be saved until you meet next (especially helpful if you have a mid week class to address concerns). Postponing notes also gives people a chance to put the show and their feelings in perspective. I know a lot of groups who practice delaying notes as their main practice. The negative side of this is that the scene work is no longer fresh or memorable.

Some groups send feedback by email or post thoughts on a group chat. This can be an issue because those words stay there and are open to misinterpretation. They also take time from busy schedules to create and aren’t read by everyone.

An efficient facilitator with an outside eye can be a good choice to lead the note session. They might have watched from the audience point of view and can address the work with a greater sense of impartiality.


Some group members want to be heard… over and over and over. They talk about every scene and they repeat the things that have already been stated.

Possible fixes:

 Limit time and lead that meeting. If the session is going long, announce that you will be limiting discussion so that people can get out of the theatre. Express that the points have been raised and unless there’s anything new, “we are moving on”. Much better to mention this before notes. Please don’t speak just to be heard. If a point has been raised, please don’t chime in with repetition.



Ending your workshops can be tricky. You are at the end of the work together and you decide to ask the group for final questions, comments or feedback.

 Talkative participants might highjack the enthusiasm of the last few moments which can drain the spirit of others.

Some people will feel they didn’t understand EVERYTHING that was being taught, and they want to go further into an intellectual discussion. That’s probably not ideal if you want everyone to leave with an emotional high. Driving them up into their heads is probably not ideal. Invite them to send you a note or chat with you after class.

 I often end workshops by asking people if anyone is interested they could read a note that sticks with them from their notebook. These often have reflections of inspiration (Why would they write them in their notebooks unless they were important enough to remember?) Those notes are also great feedback for you teachers to hear. It tells you where you are impacting the class the most. It’s great for the other students to hear the perspective of other students as well. It clarifies things from another point of view.

You might even consider an experiment. Try not doing that little note session at the end of your class. Do it a little earlier and then end the session with a final connecting game in a circle that make everyone feel good.

You could also try the “show style” of notes where you go quickly go through the class exercises by title and if anyone has anything they would like to say about what they learned or questions, they can bring it up as you pass through the exercise or the section of the day that you are mentioning. It’s like evaluating a scene list that you go through and sometimes you don’t talk about every scene. Sometimes you just move forward. 

This is by no means an exhaustive exploration on feedback. There’s so much more. If you have other thoughts… give us some feedback and we’ll pass that on to the others!


I was going through some old notes and discovered that I had made a list of suggested responses to an improviser who has one difficult performer who turn 15-minute note sessions after class into hour-long arguments. If you are interested those responses are here:

  • 1 – “I hear what you are saying. Just so that we don’t monopolize everyone’s time, touch base with me after the class and we can continue discussing this.”

  • 2 – “Let’s just do the exercise again a few times and see what comes out of it.

  • 3 – Sometimes don’t discuss at all. Most of the “decompressing”, “unpacking”, “dissecting” and “discussion” is actually harmful to education.


    Doing the exercise 1000 times will embody the lesson. Talking for a 1000 minutes will intellectualize it and disconnect the experience from the body. Many great Asian philosophies cauthion against this intellectualizing. The concept of WU-WEI is a state of flow that we improvisers generally aspire to but teachers help defeat this by moving students into the head. I’m not saying remove ALL of the feedback but be very clear from the beginning that you will allow only so much and then for the rest of it, they can discuss it over drinks after the class. (same with show notes)

  •  4 – Be blatant…. “There is a danger that you might be arguing for a belief that is challenged by a new possibility. I want you to experience this some more and consider where your thoughts and the strengths of this lesson are colliding

  • 5 – Benevolently say “Good point, there may be something to what you are saying. Let’s keep working and see what we can discover.” Who knows, maybe there is a point to what they are saying and they aren’t just protecting their ego.

  • 6 – Open it briefly to the rest of the students: “OK let’s give the rest of the students a chance for feedback – For 30 seconds before we move on, What are your thoughts“. (you throw up a limitation to the discussion and you engage the students)

  • 7 – take this experience on as a lesson for you. The student is your teacher (not in content but in how you will explore this situation in the future.) You won’t always be right but by exploring different tactics you might come up with something useful.