2015 is The Year of the Teacher

logo-2015When the site launched back in 2013, a big goal of the site was to start bridging the gap between improv festivals and traveling troupes. We knew it was important to get great shows to festivals to help raise public awareness of how beautiful this thing we do can be. We spent a lot of time talking to both festivals and troupes about their difficulties communicating with each other. We’ve put in a lot of time and consumed a lot of Mt. Dew building tools that we hope are bridging that gap. We’re very proud of the small contribution we’ve made towards facilitating those conversations.

As we worked, it’s become more and more clear that there’s another gulf in the improv world, and that’s getting some great improv teachers in touch with growing theatres.

Improv companies – those that are starting out and those that have been growing for years – all of them thrive and grow only when they are pushing their performers to learn and grow. Theatres excel when they expose their performers to the best education. Access to quality education used to mean flying to Chicago or Los Angeles or New York, and the cities left behind stagnated. That’s not the world we live in anymore. Improv can flourish everywhere. It’s absolutely in our reach to have amazing education and amazing performances everywhere. It’s absolutely in our reach to have improvisors pursing their craft as a full time career. It’s all right within our reach if we come together.

So after a lot of work, and a lot of work to come, we’re very excited to announce that 2015 will be The Year of the Teacher.

Theatre owners – You have a part in this

Running a venue can be expensive. You have to pay professionals every day; A/C repair techs, web designers, marketing people, landlords. I hear too often that there just isn’t a budget to fly or drive in quality instructors. That’s like building the world’s classiest steak house and not having the budget to get good steak. Bringing out instructors to challenge your performers is the best investment you can make in your theatre. If you plan well, you will see a huge leap in both the quality of shows and tickets sales. It will absolutely spur your growth.

There are dozens of great instructors you can get to come to you with decades of experience. They want nothing more than to help you. They’ll bend over backwards to help you. But you have to treat them like the professionals they are.

Local teachers – You have a part in this

For every famous master teacher, there are countless unsung heroes. You are often the first person a new improvisor will be exposed to improv through. You will be the ones to spark that first ember of passion in them. Don’t ever take that for granted. You are a teacher. That’s the most noble thing there is. Take it seriously. Work with your fellow teachers to build a lesson plan. Throw away a one-size-fits-all curriculum and replace it with a set of teaching standards. Make sure you impart the real wisdom of the ideas of improv. It really doesn’t matter if they learn it through clams are great or hot spot. Be available to your students. Be available to other teacher’s students. Really read and respect your teacher evaluations. (You do have teacher evaluations, right?). Most importantly, always be learning yourself, both as a performer and a teacher. Talk to teachers you admire. Ask them for advise. Be a better teacher. Inspire the next generation.

Traveling teachers – You have a part in this

You have something specific you want to say. That’s awesome. Don’t wait for the phone to ring. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, act like one. Build a portfolio. Get feedback. Ask for referrals. Don’t be pushy. Don’t be a jerk. But if this workshop is something you believe in. Keep that fire burning under you. Don’t rest until it’s out there. And hey, if you don’t have something to say, wait until you do.

NIN – You have a part in this

Hey, that’s us. The truth is, nothing that’s been said above is groundbreaking or controversial. Most people would agree they’re nice ideas in theory. But in practice, it’s still very difficult. We all understand the festival submission process, but setting up a workshop with a teacher is uncharted territory. We get many questions here about “How do I approach a teacher?” “What should I charge for workshops?” “How do I ask a theatre if they’d like to have me.” We’re still very much at that seventh grade party awkwardness of asking each other to dance. We don’t need to be anymore. We don’t need to be confused to not know how to start the conversation. We don’t need to be embarrassed to talk about money.

So we’re going to spend the next year trying to facilitate those conversations. We’ve talked to a lot of you; at festivals, in bars, over email. We hope to keep talking to you in the year to come to make teaching improv something everywhere.

So where to be begin

We’re ready to start dedicating all our efforts into channeling these ideas together. We’ll have a lot of blog posts this year dedicated to the subject. A lot of venues honestly don’t know what a teacher expects when they visit. We hope to do a lot of writing to help you prepare for their visit without surprises or confusion. We’ll talk about how to make the finances work for your budget. We’ll talk about how to work together with other theatres to share workshops. We’ll talk about how local teachers can improve their skills and create great student teams. We’ll talk about the differences between a teacher, a coach and a director.

The page itself will start having more tools available for teachers and for theatres. Very soon, any NIN member who is a teacher will be able to have an extended profile in which they can list their workshops with all the contact and logistics. Teacher’s will also be able to include testimonials on their teaching profile and also include a history of the theatres and festivals they’ve visited so people can reach out to past students and learn about the workshop from those who have taken it. There will even be a trip planner for teachers hitting the road to help get them in touch with the right theatres looking for workshops. Oh, and teacher’s will be able to submit workshops directly to festivals as well. Teaching standard builders, schedulers and other tools will be available for people trying to build a training program.

And in the non cyber-world, we’ll be traveling to festivals and theatres hosting conversations and Q&As with teachers and theatre owners in hopes of raising the national dialog on how we can share information and tools with each other, on how to build a better index of teachers than any Facebook page can hold, on how we can start the process of helping theatres know which instructors are the best bang for the buck.

There is no club for improv teachers, no guild, no union, no secret handshakes. There is only word of mouth and a thousand blind emails. That’s not enough. But it’s as start. We can start working together, theatres, festivals, students and teachers to build a stronger network of instruction across the continent and beyond.

And wouldn’t that be lovely?


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.

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