The Improv Life Ep.9 with David Escobedo – Fernando’s Improv Podcast

Lots of insights and revelations in this episode. It’s a good one! Check it out!

The Improv Life Ep.9 with David Escobedo

Welcome to Episode 9 of the Improv Life Podcast 

Man, today I had a very special guest. Literally, one of my favorite people in the whole world – David Escobedo, global improviser. Also, this was my first international podcast as David is in England!

Me and David go a ways back since we were both producers for Spectacles Improv Engine, a now defunct theater in Orange County, CA, USA. David and I produced a show called Ladies and Gentlemen, and ever since then I’ve been in awe of the guy. 

David is simply amazing. David is on the front lines of the global improv movement. He’s connecting with improvisers from all over the world, connecting with them and collaborating with them, discovering new ways to play and work with another. 

His Facebook page, The Improv Boost, is one of the most active and visited Facebook pages for improvisers across the world. David is a community builder, and The Improv Boost is proof of that. 

In this podcast, we talk about his improv journey, his recent experiences in the UK Improv Scene, his most recent insights and revelations, and much more.

Listen on SoundCloud

Here’s What We Talked About

  • Why it’s nice to have your name pronounced correctly 
  • The Mexican Food in England and where the good spots are
  • David’s experience as a Mexican-American man from San Diego in England
  • How there is a lack of awareness of Mexican culture in England, and how this ignorance causes people in the UK to celebrate Mexican culture with the things they know about it, which unfortunately are stereotypes, and how David has to educate people about his culture
  • David’s journey to becoming a global improviser
  • How David walking away from a theater that did not give him back the love he was pouring into it may have been one of the best things he’s ever done
  • Why he started The Improv Boost, and that by starting The Improv Boost he has transcended whatever box or finite boundaries a singular improv theater may have wanted to confine him to
  • Powerful quote: “When they mean family, they mean kingdom.” – Me, reflecting on David’s idea of theaters weaponizing the idea of family to keep students in line. 
  • David’s experience in arriving to the England Improv Scene and how it was five years behind the American Scene in terms of some of the community standards of holding people accountable and dealing with toxic leaders and their “petty empires.” 
  • Powerful quote: “It’s so important for people to realize that their journey in improv is not as someone’s student, but as their own journey in improv.” – David talking about why it’s important for people to study with a lot of people and focus on their development as an improviser, not as a disciple of a specific teacher or identifying with a certain community 
  • David’s encounter with tribalism in the UK Improv Scene and how he combatted it 
  • How the sense of classicism is different in England and how that affects how improv teams and communities develop
  • David leading by example in England and showing other groups how they can work together to elevate each other
  • How the British Improv Scene is developing independent of influence from the American Scene
  • How the Keith Johnstone school of improv is more prevalent in England and how that’s influenced the style over there 
  • How David’s experience in England has opened up his eyes to new ways to doing improv 
  • Individuality vs. Dividuality = Western culture vs Eastern culture 
  • Dividuality – your actions affect a larger community 
  • “Status is expressed how we treat other people” – David Escobedo 
  • You can’t learn to be more creative; you’re just as creative as you are. But you can unlearn to be uncreative – David echoing Keith Johnstone 
  • How people seek gurus but how they should be their own leader 
  • Some of the turnoffs David experienced while studying at some of the big LA improv schools 
  • How David to learn improv on his own, and reflecting on how he could create space for others 
  • The pitfalls of teaching, coaching, and directing 
  • The kind of teachers you should avoid at all costs 
  • The relationship between skills and community, and how Gurus sell one more than the other but how you have to have both 
  • How the UK improv scene is beginning to have conversations about boundaries as being inspired by the Me Too movement that happened in the US and forced improv theaters to have conversations about sexual harassment and create policies to combat it and create safe and inclusive spaces
  • Key quote – “You can have vulnerability without having boundaries” – Brené Brown 
  • How England’s long history and tradition creates a conservative environment that makes it hard to have open and direct conversations about difficult topics like sexism and racism 
  • Key quote – “Allow yourself to suck at something new…in the risk is where the genius happens” – David Escobedo
  • How Americans have to have more humility about our improv and how we relate to the global improv scene 
  • David’s overall experience in the UK, how it is being an American in the UK and having to explain America’s politics to UK folk, and the next parts of his journey 

It was awesome having David on the show, and I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him. Thank you for being on the show, brother! 

Resources 

Here are some of the different Facebook pages David mentioned at the end of the show. Check them out! 

The Art of Yes – [From the Facebook Page] “Welcome to The Art of Yes! Our goal is to inspire others, share knowledge, and provide a forum for asking questions about improvisational theater (otherwise known as improv). All posts will be moderated, and we kindly ask you to refrain from advertising any shows or local events. We encourage you to invite friends, family, coworkers, basically anyone who is or may be interested in improv, to join the community. Hope you enjoy reading the Art of Yes as much as we enjoy creating it!” 

Today Improv – [From the Facebook Page] “Today Improv is a Los Angeles based company teaching improv for actors, improv for business and improv for everyone else. Change your life”

Improv MKE [From their website] – “What if you opened an improv theater and school that brought teachers from all over the country and the world who can teach others some of the things you’ve learned over the years and continue to learn yourself? That’s what Improv MKE LLC is all about! The organization is designed to create access, both in-person and online, for people to have fun, learn, grow, and play together in ways they never thought possible! Thanks for coming by. We hope you stay to play with us. YES AND, we also do corporate stuff! Entertainment, workshops, and custom-created programs and training are available! We do it ALL!! Mainly because Michelle is no longer a baby, and has a team.”

The Black Improv Alliance – [From the Facebook Page] “The Black Improv Alliance provides a space for improvisers of African descent to build worlds and tell their authentic stories unapologetically! We are committed to dismantling white supremacy in improv, one scene at a time.”

Thank You for Listening

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How To Give Notes – A Reflection on My TBD Comedy Days

Written some time Spring 2013.

TBD Cit

The glory days of coaching/directing TBD Comedy. College Improv Tournament 2013. Photo courtesy of TBD Comedy.

Giving notes is an art form. It is an art form in itself separate from the act that it is critiquing. The word critique has been bogged by down by the negative connotations it is associated with.  A note is a critique, but to relieve the act, giving notes, of any negative energy it is called “notes” instead of a “critique.” Notes are good.

However, a bad coach who does not know how to give notes can sour an improviser’s attitudes toward notes, especially if the improviser is just starting off. Nonetheless, every improviser, coach or player, can benefit from notes: the coach learns to articulate improv concepts and how they function within a scene; a player can use a note as a starting point for improvement.

When you give notes, your participating in an exchange of knowledge – you, the coach, are sharing your improv wisdom to make the player a better improver. The great thing about improv is that you learn so many skills that translate into the mundane world; giving notes is not all that different from giving an employee feedback or a performance review: you learn to separate an employees behaviors into strengths and weaknesses, highlighting areas where they can improve or have potential for phenomenal growth.

TBD Instagram

Fun times. Screwing around during rehearsal. (Photo courtesy of TBD Comedy Instagram).

When giving notes, always make sure to highlight the positive of the scene. Even if a scene had very little positive in it, always isolate that positive thing and share it right away. You want to do this for multiple reasons. As a coach, it is your responsibility to build up the confidence of your players, but you could only do that one scene at a time, and you can’t give too much praise at once because people might think your full of shit.

Keep in mind that some people may not be used to hearing praise, so for some people at might be a little weird at first, or like stated earlier, your sincerity might come into question. So always be sincere when giving notes. People will able to smell bull shit if you do not genuinely believe in what your saying.

Another reason you might want to start off with positive notes first is to provide a cushion for your more constructive and challenging notes, which might be a little difficult for some improvisers to swallow, depending on their maturity and openness to receiving notes. Age is not an indicator of maturity or openness, so it is possible to have an eighteen-year old improver be totally open to your notes and you can also have a 45 year old novice not enjoy notes at all. By priming your recipient with praise, they’ll be more open to notes.

TBD Tonight

Me directing my last show as a TBD Comedy member. Fall 2013. (Photo courtesy of TBD Comedy).

I don’t know where I read this, but it went something along the lines of “Praise publicly, criticize privately.” Because improv is such a communal activity, we learn as much from watching scenes as we do from being in scenes. When you give notes, it is always good to take notes from the scene and generalize the notes for the entire group to understand.

Here is what I mean by generalizing: abstract the core improv principles from the scene and share those with the rest of the group. The beauty of improv is that it provides us with an infinite amount of case studies to see if improv theories hold.

Back to “criticize privately,” if you have a particular note you feel maybe jarring to the recipient, better not risk potential public awkwardness/tension/I-botched-the-delivery-of-this-note, so share the note with the person privately. Keep in mind, giving notes is a public event, and some may interpret notes as an attack, and no one wants to be attacked publicly. Get to know your players and see which ones would be fine with it and which ones would not.

TBD prac1

More TBD Comedy hijinks during practice.

Summary

• Start off with something you liked from the scene
• Be sincere and truthful; people will not tolerate being lied to
• Never say that scene “sucked” or “God damnit, that was shit.”
• Say, “that scene had some good things in it, but there are also some areas for improvement.”
• Generalize notes for the entire team to benefit from
• Notes are your chance to slowly build the confidence of your players
• Notes provide the fuel for improvement
• And always stay positive. If your going to get good at this, stay positive because its going to take a long ass time to get great

Well friends, hope this helps now, then, and forever.

Hugs and cookies,

Fernando.

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