Present: Jennifer Jordan (leading), Josh Darcy, Dan O Connor, Jules Munns, Holly Mandel, Caitlin Godwin, Elin Norrish, Alison Goldie, Alex Murdoch

NOTE: When I called this session, I was intending it to be a sharing of best practices, specific approaches which people have tried and have proven to work / have a positive effect. What slowly happened through the discussion, however, was a zooming out to the macro and a discussion around the fact that ultimately the safety of students is down to the competency of the teacher, and right now there is no formal process or way of knowing if a teacher has said experience as you don't need anything to become an improv teacher.

Apologies for the potentially fragmented nature of the notes, there was a lot happening - also I may have lost track of who said what so some comments are unassigned.

For just the highlights, skip to the bottom.


JJ So does anyone have anything they already do at the start of a session to help create a genuinely safe space etc?

MF Everyone writing values at the start, what is most important to them as individuals & why, then sharing them in the group and creating a set of group values

JJ That's a good start, I feel like a lot of schools have a Code Of Conduct which they mention at the start of session 1 and direct students to but then it's like 'ok now let's get on with the real stuff', where actually it should be a continued conversation throughout each class.

HM Schools can be legally covered, reading from a sheet but not necessarily happening in the classroom. Teachers need to police and encourage in equal measure.
Teaching improv should be certified, it's a lot of responsibility. Skill of teachers needs to be invested in more.

There are literalist teachers in terms of 'Yes, and', and that can be very damaging.

Before people are given the power of dialogue (doing actual scenes), they should get to know each other so they can trust each other

A lot of injuries in beginers improv comes from nervousness, the anxiety is manifest in unhelpful/unkind ways. We need to get people to truly see each other and be mindful of each other. Being genuinely present. We are at war with literalism, people are too obsessed with rules and think about themselves not the other actor.

Lots of people come to improv who aren't actors and don't come in with that understanding of give & take.

Safe space / brave space / respectful space. How we phrase this and what it truly means makes a big difference. What IS the difference between these things?

JM: There's the cause of unhelpful behaviour and there's the symptoms. We need to be dealing with cause and effect in parallel - you can't just deal with one on it's own. eg Can't just say 'don't pick someone up, don't kiss people, ok done let's go' without also dealing with why people might be behaving in that way.

DoC: 31 years old school - have a COC, which is interacted with several times, in several ways (not just once). It shouldn't be a one time deal. Also have specific rules for specific projects / classes / shows Eg RomCom course - rule of no kissing for the first 5 weeks. Don't want to rush people into being present.

AG: Currently working with people with mental health issues, people who booked it (organisers not participants) didn't really understand what improv is. I now have a very vulnerable group (eg rehab/prison etc). People who organised the session have no policy on sharing that info so facilitator came in without the knowledge.

Students come to a session to play, to do - after a certain amount of talking (eg about safe spaces etc) you can see students switching off. Organisers want a little showcase at the end of the course. Some people shouldn't be on stage - should just be a small thing with a couple of people so it's low pressure etc. Freelance teachers - how do you create a similar equivalent to a code of conduct when you don't have an institution behind you?

Have decided not to do a performance, will just share some of the exercises which have taken place in the sessions. Process is so much more important than performance. Books to write down how they're feeling in the class - how they felt at the start / at the end. Break with homemade cakes, there's something lovely and powerful about sharing food.

JM: on the above (snacks) - it's a creation of community. gives a reason for people to gather round a table together as opposed to being on their phones / drifting off etc.

JD: Teaches Musical Theatre course. All singers, not actors. Had a showcase at the end 30 hours over the year, often students don't turn up. Tore up the whole plan after the second session - what they really needed was to connect with each other. Managed to cancel the showcase. Freeing up their physicality, getting them to be happy with their own physicality and each other's. 30mins of mindfulness at the start of each session. Tiny steps, they aren't used to that at all. It's a case by case thing with each group you teach. Did some Meisner stuff, taking it very slow. You need to be safe in yourself as a facilitator. So many students said they appreciate the opportunity to just be themselves.

HM: Improv is such a responsive art-form, especially the teaching (more so than we think)- you have to see what you're dealing with in a room and be prepared to adjust. It's intuitive - you need a huge bag of tricks and experience to draw on.

EN: Any moments (with or without food) which includes sharing is really helpful. Personal example: Each participant brings in a bit of music at the start of the session and can say a little bit about it then everyone listens to it for the full duration without saying anything. Bring a bit of your identity / history / piece of joy. Each week it's a different person's choice. Don't discuss it afterwards but enjoy it together.

JD: Day one, safety and openness can be fine but it can be as things progress and a sense of competition / comparing comes in that's when those safety practices can be pushed out the door. It needs to be a continued conversation / practice / awareness.

DoC: The success is the doing. Lower the bar - it's not about winning or getting it right, it's about doing it, experiencing it. When someone feels like they need to be 'good' or 'funny', they go to their lizard improv brain which is a dark and often scary place.

AM: We need to get back into the mind of what a beginner thinks of improv from the outside when they start. Remember what that's like. There is a perception of danger 'it's so scary'. Remember why someone is grabbing someone else and pushing / pulling people on/off stage.

DoC: Lee Simpson said yesterday that the most amazing thing when he started was 'the feeling in my body'. Many people starting out feel abject terror in their body. What are best practices for helping people get in their body and feel comfortable there?

JD: Thought angles has been a great exercise to get a sense of being comfortable on stage. Memories are in one direction, particular emotions in others, people/places etc. Students don't have to say anything, just explore those different emotions/thought angles on stage for themselves.

DoC: Don't know Ken Cambell much - any good books?

JD: Yes many. He kicked UK improv in the nuts.(wanted danger and closedness, probably not the best example for this session) JD would think what would he do? Then do the opposite. (He was a taskmaster / 'torturer')

JM: Expectations of arts teachers in the past were break people down to then build them up, but things are changing now.

DoC: Non guru behaviour seems to be becoming easier. Johnstone talks about sitting on the floor, lowering his status with students. Giving students permission to be calm in a class rather than trying to be a good student.

AG: You need a good balance between 'salty and friendly'. Matey but not too matey.

JM: There must be a way of pushing people / asking for the best and not letting people off the hook without making them feel damaged/pushed too far.

HM: Improv is so popular that people have dedicated their lives to becoming good at it. It's gotten wider who's taking the class, and so many people use it in so many ways that the very idea of what it is is so wide.

Certification in improv as a teacher. It's a heavy responsibility. There was some kickback from people as the idea after many years of teaching improv of suddenly having to get a certification feels insulting / difficult.

JM: If we think it's a necessary thing then we have to hold ourselves to those same high standards. We tend to say 'what everyone needs to do it is this, but we are fine'. We need to be willing to look at our own shortfallings and change too.

DoC: AIN has a certification. ITI has a list of evaluated people. Need a check & balance on people - you don't need anything to be an improv teacher. Just a discerning student body that looks at your cv and goes 'yes they can teach'. In the festival teaching circuit, you pay to apply to teach a session. People coming up will do it because they need to get street cred / experience etc. This means it's getting watered down and people are going around learning from different people and then starting their own schools when they have no idea what they are doing.

EN: Certification - do we want to marginalise further? It's already not a very diverse group and certifications could exclude even further. We need to make improv & theatre a viable career for (all). We need to push for higher standards and find ways to include & support more diverse teachers.

DoC: Been building a curriculum for 25-30 years. Not a diverse faculty. Students can stay for as long as they wish (not levels system). To find people teaching their ethic takes a lot of work. Some great people are not always interested in staying around . How do we bring people in to help effect change? All the teachers have been doing it for a long long time. They have an understanding of what's needed. It's a challenge to address diversity but keep up the experience.

JJ: on certification. Is there a parallel with BSL? If you want to be an interpreter, you have to shadow for a year and everyone know's that's what you're doing. Can the instincts really be learned in the class? We need to teach the intuition and connectedness with students. Could this work?

HM: Some students have less experience, but they have the teaching thing. How do you teach a newer teacher? You can invest the time & support in them

EN: Double tick for shadowing. There is an importance of pay and not exploiting the people who are shadowing. It is important that the shadowing opportunities are not voluntary. People should be paid for their work as they feel valued.

Bumblebbe JD: There is another session going on about mentoring with Remy Bertrand.



We ran out of time here, hence the abrupt stop.

The main things which came up are:

- The ideas of safety/bravery/respect should be ongoing throughout any class or course rather than mentioned once at the start. We as facilitators need to remain aware of these at all times and not be afraid to address potentially harmful behaviour as it arises.

- Both the cause and the symptom of inappropriate behaviour should be addressed. At the time. With understanding.

- You cannot teach experience as a facilitator, you can only build it. The intuitiveness and awareness needed in an improv teacher can only be learned by doing. It makes sense to share this through experienced teachers via a shadowing/mentoring system. New improv teachers need support and training, with regular check-ins.

- A list of 'trusted/experienced' teachers may be useful. Right now anyone can teach and there's no way as a beginner student of knowing who to trust.

I would like to investigate this idea of a 'recommended list' or similar, as I think it is important we cultivate a generation of teachers with best practise, learned from those who have the experience and wisdom of having taught extensively.

I would also love to hear of any practices you already use in class to help protect students from potentially harmful behaviour. Feel free to post in the comments.