I provide this offering as more of a ritual or exercise than an improvisational game as Best and Worst allows everyone in the ensemble a brief opportunity to reflect on their efforts (generally) at the conclusion of a more facilitated Postmorterm.
Players sit in a circle and one at a time (either in sequence or a random “pop corn” style) share a best and a worst moment from their performance.
Player A volunteers to share first.
Player A: “My best tonight was that I hit the stage with energy and attack even though I was coming from a stressful work day. I’m particularly proud of my well-timed entrance in the high school cafeteria scene. My worst was I let my excitement get the better of me a little in that last scene and I know I talked over a couple of my teammates.”
As improvisers grow in their craft it becomes increasingly important to be able to self diagnose habits and tendencies that are either opening up joyful play or that might be hampering personal or ensemble growth. I’ve found that some players bristle at the “best” and “worst” nomenclature (preferring something less pointed) but I’ve found that this language also reminds everyone that improv is process and that there is always room for celebration and improvement.
Traps and Tips
1.) Best practices as the speaker. Seek specificity in your shares. Saying “I had a good show” or “I didn’t do anything right tonight” is far less helpful than narrowing the scope of your observation to particular choices and moments. Make sure personal bests and worsts are also reflecting on the choices of the current speaker and are not used as opportunities to correct or critique others: “My worst was when no-one let me speak as the janitor in the second scene.” Contributions should also be provided in earnest. Yes, there are some performances when we might feel that we were the lead balloon at the party, but upon close reflection there is always something worthy of celebration. It’s not really in the spirit of the exercise to give a throw away comment just to get it over and done with. For larger groups I’ve had some success with also doing best and worst in ten where players have a gentle cap of ten words for each observation. Those that need more than this limit happily take the time they need, but this approach also encourages and trains brevity which is a great gift during note sessions.
2.) Best practices as the listeners. Above all else, really listen. Don’t feel tempted to chime in and respond to everyone else’s reflections. There are a handful of exceptions to this rule. If someone is being terribly hard on themselves it’s in the spirit of the ritual to send them some love or support. Also, if you’re leading the company it can prove appropriate to sometimes carefully use these shared thoughts as broader teaching moments: perhaps someone has articulately expressed a challenge that others have encountered as well, or a player might inadvertently pitch a “best” without seeing that there may have been unintended consequences. (Tread lightly in this second scenario.) Astute players can also use this exercise as an opportunity to support their fellow improvisers down the road by helping them overcome prior barriers or lean into professed strengths. If someone’s worst, for example, is that they didn’t step up and start a scene again, a mindful teammate could facilitate such an opportunity in the next performance.
3.) Best practices as the non-performers. In my campus troupes and productions we’ll often have players rotate into offstage roles such as house management, lighting or sound improvisers. If they have participated in a creative role they may well have a best and worst from this perspective. In other situations this may be less likely or just less insightful. In these cases we’ve developed the custom of letting players who were primarily observing the performance offer up a company best and worst such as “Everyone did a nice job tonight cheating out and being seen. I think we still need to think about stage pictures in general though as we had a lot of standing and talking scenes.” Unlike personal best and worsts which should focus on the individual, these play better when they are broader strokes and don’t single out players for critique. (If someone had a rough night, though, a little extra praise here is often a nice touch.)
4.) Worst practices to avoid. If you’re working in a larger ensemble hearing from everyone can take a little while. Make sure players aren’t sending unintentional (or intentional for that matter) signals of impatience or disinterest. Phones and technology should be stowed away, for example, and body language should remain open and engaged. It is vulnerable to share a worst in particular, and fellow company members should avoid dogpiling onto the speaker in agreement or judgment. Every now and again a player might also try to fly under the radar and not participate. This can be tricky to address as you don’t want the exercise to become coercive and there may be a more weighty issue at play that might invite a private discussion. But, whenever possible, encourage players to add their voice. If they’re in a post show funk, committing to sharing a moment of success can help ameliorate the situation at least a little.
Sometimes long nights or performance logistics might make an in-person Best and Worst unfeasible. In such cases I’ve utilized an online approximation – although I will openly confess that I like this much less. It’s helpful to clearly articulate the expectations and ground rules if you find yourself deploying this approach: the written word doesn’t always convey nuance well and so participants should be extra careful that their observations focus squarely on their own efforts and not the choices of others. The last thing you want is a long thread of comments that feel like everyone is throwing shade at their fellow players. We’ll often deploy more experienced players as “boosters” who respond with shout-outs and encouragement as needed. It’s also crucial to set and hold to a firm participation deadline as the efficacy of the ritual degrades exponentially as the performance starts to fade into your rear view mirror. Of late I’ve also explored with my campus troupe an “ick” check as part of the in-person process too which is a more deliberate moment to just make sure choices or material hasn’t brushed anyone in a negative way that warrants attention and address. We strive to do this before our Best and Worst just so it’s given the time it needs and, if it’s a complex discussion, doesn’t become the last taste of the evening.
Connected Concept: Postmortem