National Improv Network Launches Free Teaching Tool

In honor of the National Improv Network’s “Year of the Teacher,” we are happy to announce The Teaching Tool, for both traveling teachers and for those who teach as part of their home theatre’s training program.

Like NIN’s submission tool, where improv troupes can curate an online resume to instantly submit to festivals, individual teachers will be able to maintain a professional resume with all the information theatres or festivals need. Not only will you be able to list all of your improv workshops, you’ll also be able to list your travel preferences, pricing and details about your workshops length, student cap and level of difficulty, giving a festival all the information they need to hire you. And for improv theatres you’ll be able to promote your training center to the masses listing how many levels you have, your curriculum and more!

Our promise to you, the improv community, is to create more opportunities for improvisors and The Teaching Tool delivers on that promise. We want to give every improv teacher, veteran or new, the chance to submit their self to a festival with just the click of a button for free.  And we want to make sure it’s easy for a festival and theater organizer to have all their information without having to hunt it down.

When NIN started promoting the idea of theatres bringing out more instructors, one thing we heard repeatedly is that people who hadn’t brought out teachers in the past really didn’t know how to reach out or what was expected of them in the process. It can be an awkward conversation. We really wanted to put as much information about an instructor’s needs out to the theatres before that conversation even begins so that theatres can approach that talk in a more informed way.

The teaching tool is available to improvisors today. Here’s how you set it up:

1. Edit your profile and make sure the option “I am a teacher” is selected to unlock the various teaching tools.
2. Click the link that says “Set up your teaching profile now” on your main profile page to go through the setup wizard.
3. Add Workshops from the teaching profile that will be added to your main profile.

If you’re a theatre with a training program you can now add training information to your theatre. Right now it’s just an information page about your training program that instructors can be listed under. But more tools for training programs will start showing up if you set up your training program today. Here’s how you do it:

1. Edit your theatre profile and select the option saying that you have a training program.
2. Visit your theatre’s profile and click the link to set it up.
3. Fill out the info and hit Submit
4. (optional) hit the “Change Instructors” to add or remove instructors.

These tools are only available for members of NIN. If you’re not a member of NIN you can sign up for FREE at nationalimprovnetwork.com. Sign up today to take advantage of the free resources for improvisors that NIN provides.

About National Improv Network

National Improv Network is an online community and non-profit endeavor that brings improvisors together from all over the world and offers Theatre Owners, Festival Organizers, Improvisors and Instructors a wide array of services and resources.  Currently NIN has over 2,000 members, 1200 improv troupes, over 100 festivals and over 90 theaters listed on the site.

Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder – Co-Founders of the National Improv Network

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as an alum of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

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

 

 

Do’s and Don’ts Part 2: Festival Submission Packets

Looking to make a great submission packet? Ever since co-creating NIN over two years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to see some really good troupe submissions and some really bad ones. I’ve heard and interviewed many festival producers over the last two years and have chatted with them at festivals and here are some Do’s and Don’ts regarding your festival submission packet.

DO

1. Have a full un-edited improv show. This is a no brainer you’d think. Not just 5 or 10 minutes of a show but a full show. Most festivals book you a 25 to 30 minute slot so they need to see your whole show so they know what they’re buying. If you don’t have a video you won’t be accepted. Unless you’ve made special arraignments with the festival organizer then you may get in, but if they don’t know you you’ll be passed up.

2. Make sure your video is clear and you can hear it. You won’t believe how many videos we see that are grainy or you can’t hear it or it’s really bad audio. Also make sure you tape at an angle you can see the whole stage. You’d be surprised at how the Bermuda triangle gets improvisors and you can’t see them perform. Imagine you have to watch 100 videos. What do you think you’re going to do when this one comes up…NEXT! It doesn’t have to be produced with multiple camera angles, we don’t want that, but it should be clear and easy to listen, see and hear.

3. Fill out the application completely! If you’re on NIN we guide you through that process, but if your a non-member going through a google form fill it out. Festival producers don’t want to chase you down for information and they will most likely pass you up. If they are asking for it, they want the information for a reason.

4. Submit early. A lot of times it’s cheaper and festivals don’t usually get a ton of submissions at the beginning so that may benefit you and give you a little more attention.

DON’T

1. Be vague – When filling out your troupe synopsis or your bio don’t just put “We are hilarious” or something weird that doesn’t make sense like “We are funnier then a unicorn,” yes this is for real! We understand you’re being witty, but I can’t sell that to an audience and I still don’t know what you do. Are you trying to outwit a Unicorn? Pretend you’re writing a bio to someone who has never seen your show or an improv show ever. Here is an example of a great troupe Bio from The Bearded Men out of Minnesota:

The Bearded Men began performing together in 2006. They’ve been fortunate to have trained with some of the most talented names in improv, including Jill Bernard, Matt Donnelly, Kevin Mullaney, Joe Bill, 3 for All, and more. They travel as often as possible to national festivals and anywhere else that will have them. In 2014 they formed a second group based in Los Angeles, Bearded Men West. 

The Beards perform short and long form improv. However, they primarily focus on narrative based long form improv they call, Epic Adventures, many times layering on a theme.

Since 2011, Bearded Men Improv has had a weekly show at HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis and in 2014 Bearded Men West began performing weekly, currently at the Impro Lab. They are grateful to have such awesome and supportive places to perform regularly.

Simple, to the point and an outside audience can get it. Remember you’re not just promoting yourself to a festival producer and committee you’re promoting yourself to a potential audience. Make it easy for a festival producer to know who you are.

2. Be lazy – Take it seriously put time and thought into your submission as team. How are you going to sell yourself? If you’re a troupe have a logo, have a troupe photo. Nowadays this is easier then ever so there is really no excuse. You don’t want to make a bad impression. Your submission is your first look into your troupe. A festival organizer will see this and take you more seriously and if they’re on the fence about you, this may put you over the top. Here’s an example of a great submission packet from our friends at Switch Committee out of Chicago. If you put some love into it you may just get some love back. These guys book festivals!

3. Let your Show Bio and Show Description be the same thing. Don’t just copy and past your bio and your show description have them be different. A bio is the history of your troupe, when you were formed, what theater you come from, maybe a little info on what you do improv-wise and maybe even what festivals you have done. A show description is just that a detailed description of your show. “A montage that is different” is too vague. Also, 1,000 other teams to that too. How are you different? Explain it. Here is an example of a good show description:

Hot Codlins out of NYC

One troupe, 5 ladies, dozens of characters — Hot Codlins came together over a shared love of telling stories.  You want femme fatales? Greasy gangsters?  Weird aliens and wacky rom-com sidekicks?  We got ’em all.  We do long-form, character-based improv that plays in, out, and around genres and styles of film, tv, and theater.

4. Don’t submit as show that you’re not going to bring. If you’re video is of a Harold and you decide to do a montage at the festival you could potentially risk losing the relationship you have with that festival. When they’re booking shows and putting you in their schedule they are being very strategic about how they’re doing that. And if they wanted a Harold in that spot and you are them and you don’t deliver. Yikes. That’s very unprofessional. So do the form you’ve promised. Also, make sure you don’t submit your team and then come with completely different cast. The people in the video submission are the ones the festival organizers expect to come. If for some reason your accepted and your troupe members back out notify the festival organizer immediately and go from there. But this again, depending on when you contact them could risk you’re troupe giving them a huge headache and not coming. If you do it within the first week or so of being accepted you are probably still okay.

So there you go. This should help guide you of what to do and what not to do when it comes to a festival packet. I hope this has helped and if you’re not a member already become one for free at nationalimprovnetwork.com. We can help you make a great submission.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting In and Attending Improv Festivals

So, it’s festival season, there are a lot to submit to now so I thought I’d write some do’s and don’ts about trying to get into a festival and what to do when you get into one.

Do –

1. Have a great unedited video! A lot of festivals want to see what they’re getting and they want to see your show. Tape a bunch of your shows and take one that you think represents your show the best. It’s better to have a few to choose from. Taping just one rarely works out. Also, if you do a festival and they tape your show get it from them.

2. Fill out all the information. Whether your a member on NIN or a Non-Member filling out their application. Fill it all in! They are asking for all the information for a reason. Don’t make them work harder to find it, because they have 100 other teams submitting that have it all filled out and you will get passed up.

3. Put some effort into your submission – Have a professional group photo, a team logo, make it look sexy. You want to make it easy for a festival to promote you. Remember they have to fill your seats so anything you can do to make that easier is amazing to a festival producer. Do you have press clippings? Give that to them too. This shows you care and that you mean business and a festival producer will see that.

4. Network – Have fun, go to the parties at a festival, thank the volunteers, the producers, the bartender. Go support other improvisors shows. It’s a great way to meet people and I can guarantee you, you will find someone there that does another festival or has been to one and can help you get into more.

5. Take Workshops – What a great way to get teachers you would not necessarily have in your community. Most of the time the festival is putting up good money to bring some master teachers out and not making a profit off of it. They do it more for you. So take them up on it and trust me you’ll come out a better improvisor. Plus you get to play with people from all over the country and it’s also a great way to network. I’ve met some great people taking workshops in the past

6. Send a thank you e-mail to the producers after the festival. And if they send out a survey, do it. It helps them tremendously to hear your input.

7. Wear appropriate clothing – Sometimes you should ask what the attire is at a festival, but really what it comes down to is professionalism. Probably not the best ideas to wear shorts and a t-shirt.

8. Ask for feedback – Did you not get accepted. It’s okay to e-mail and ask for advice on your submission. Also, reach out to us at NIN and we can always help give you advice on it.

Don’t –

1. Back out of a festival once you’ve said yes. Recently, there has been a string of this and I’ve heard gripings. If you say yes then you’re in. You have committed and the festival has already put you on the bill, promoting, made posters, programs etc. By quitting you have cost them money and now time to fill your spot. I can guarantee you will not be invited back and the community is a small one it gets around.

2. Submit your team of 7 people and show up with 3 or 4 or different improvisors. When you submit your team and they watch the video with those improvisors that’s who they are saying yes to. If you bring a different team of less then what you’ve promised that becomes a huge issue. Festival Producers go through a lot to try and promote a festival, pick teams and fill seats. Your job is to give them what was promised.

3. Be unprofessional – You’re representing your team and your theater. Show a little pride and make sure you show up to your calltime on time, do the show you promised and respect everyone that worked to get the festival going, don’t be drunk during your show. I know this sounds like common sense but I’ve seen it all.

So if you want to get into a festival, be invited back or go to more festivals these do’s and don’ts should help guide you on your way through the festival circuit. Just keep in mind, once you’re in a festival you are representing that festival to their audience and community. Happy traveling and submit away!

To submit to a festival instantly become a member at www.nationalimprovnetwork.com it’s free to join!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

 

Spotlight on Improv Fest Ireland

NIN has welcomed our first ever international festival to use our instant submission service, that festival is the Improv Fest Ireland. We were able to interview Neil Curran, who runs the festival in Dublin. Here is what he had to say:

What is the biggest difference you see between the US an Ireland when it comes to improv.

The improv scene in Ireland has been growing rapidly in recent years and long form is becoming more and more popular.  While the long form scene is still in its infancy, there are wonderfully talented performers and troupes emerging around the country.  I’m quite passionate about community in improv and its a joy to see other troupes embrace this notion as we witness more and more jam nights and shared stage events.  We don’t have a dedicated improv theatre in Dublin yet but more and more venues are opening their doors and embracing the art form.  While our excellent stand up scene dominates the comedy circuit, the improv community is working hard to forge our own personality in the arts and comedy community.  And this makes it a great time to be part of the improv scene here.  Improvisers are learning their art from many improv instructors, locally and also through visiting international instructors.  This is empowering performers to create their own style of improv, taking elements of what works for them from each instructor rather than abiding the style of one instructor or theatre.  For example, troupes are creating their own formats or personalising established formats and also blend game work with narrative.

For folks coming out of the country will you have hotel room blocks or how will you help them with housing?

We will have an accommodation partner for the festival where discounted hostel rooms will be available for performers.  There is no short supply of accommodation options in Dublin.

What workshops can improvisors look forward to?

We haven’t confirmed the instructors yet for the festival as the application window is still open, but we have been overwhelmed by the call for instructor applications.  As with previous years, we will be offering a diverse range of workshops catering for improvisers at all levels.  There will also be coaching opportunities where troupes can work with an instructor.  For example, last year we had instructors from Second City teaching character workshops through real people, an instructor from Sicily teaching about being physical in improv, to name but a few.

What venue is the festival at?

Since the festival’s inception, the festival’s home has been Dublin’s iconic Theatre @ 36 in the heart of the city.  However with the growth of the festival last year we are also in discussion with additional spaces that can cater for the prime time shows and the audience sizes they attract.  I can’t say the venue names yet but needless to say its another iconic space in the heart of the city.  Dublin is a small city by international standards with a population of less than 2 million, but what we don’t have in size we make up for in our rich culture and history

What are some fun things to do in Dublin?

There is no shortage of things to do in Dublin and the best part is everything can be either walked to or travelled to on a short bus/Luas (tram) journey.  Famous for Guinness, Dublin is home to many great pubs and bars.
The Guinness Storehouse tour is a fun way to find out the magic behind how they make a pint of the ‘black stuff’.Trinity College is our most famous college and is home to the Book of Kells which was found in an Irish monastery in the 6th century.  The book is housed in the “Old Library’ which is a sight to behold in itself.
The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl is very popular, and has storytelling guides take you on a tour of some of Dublin’s best pubs where you can stop off for a pint in each one while they recite famous stories and tales, some written by Ireland’s finest writers.The Leprechaun Museum might sound like something for the kids but at night, her interactive story telling tours bring us to the dark side of Irish folklore.We’re only scratching the surface here but its just a small insight into all the great things the city has to offer.

If a troupe gets into your fest? What can they expect?

A troupe can expect to be part of a festival in one of World’s most friendliest and fun cities.  The festival runs for a week and we will have shows and jams from all over the world.  There will be learning opportunities from world class instructor,  jams and mixer shows with talented performers from other troupes.  Last year we had performers from 13 different countries!  Troupes also receive a strong box office split for their professional performances.  But probably most important of all, is the highly coveting Improv Fest Ireland goodie bag.

What do you look for in a submission?

Programming the festival line up is a very difficult process and we really want all troupes to submit the best application they can.  Things for troupes to think about:
* What separates your application from the rest?
* What makes your show special?
* Do you have a unique genre show?
* Does your troupe have a particular strength?
* Is your show unusual or unique in format and setting?
* Does your application give a good sense of your troupe’s personality?
* Have you video footage you can share?

As someone who has been to Dublin, I can say Neil is right, it’s one of the friendliest and fun cities to go to. If you get a chance go! To instantly submit to the Improv Fest Ireland click HERE.


Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv camp for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

Spotlight on The Omaha Improv Festival

The Omaha Improv Festival celebrates its third year. I love watching a small town improv community attract great teams and great instructors. Omaha has done that very successfully. It just goes to show that improv can be anywhere and can be successful anywhere. I was able to interview Dylan Rohde who is the Executive Producer of the festival and Backline Improv.

You’ve created quite a scene in a somewhat small community. What’s your secret? What are the challenges?

There have been many challenges. Whether it was people wanting short-form more at first, to people rejecting Game, to dealing with people who feel like outcasts within our community. Moving downtown was also a struggle as we were almost kicked out of our first location by the health inspector and had to move with no money, at the same time that improv and standup had split ways in the community (lately we have mostly gotten back together though.)

My top 3 secrets are, it’s 1. Community- I try really hard to create a scene that people want to be a part of, and I encourage everyone to hang out as often as I can. For most of the people at our theatre, we are all our best friends. I’ve always believed you can get higher by helping others up rather than stepping on them. 2. I try and be a great teacher. That sounds too broad, but I’ve always felt the best teachers are able to make their material easy to understand to their students. I also think it’s important to work with each student on their strengths and weaknesses. While I was the only teacher for a while, I didn’t want everyone to have the same sense of humor and style. I also believe anyone can be good at improv and refuse to give up on anyone. 3. 3-Line Openers. I don’t know why more schools don’t do these, but they are done every single week in class through our 6 levels except for a few weeks in one level. I also have a different thing to focus on each week, which allows me to cover more ground and link all exercises together on one focus. One week, each line has to be 1 word, then the next week, the first line has to be a vague statement, then the 2nd line gives the specific. This has helped immensely, everyone should do these. I did less 3-line openers in 4 years at 2 schools in LA than my students do by Level 3 here in Omaha.

What’s new to the festival this year?

We have 2 new great venues, and got rid of the worst venue from last year. They are all still very close and within walking distance. We also have the best lineup of shows that we’ve ever had. This is the first year that we have a lineup at Backline that is just straight up solid. It’s the first year that I went out of my way to specifically invite teams I wanted, and got them from the 3 surrounding large improv communities (KC, Denver, and Minneapolis.) Plus, our theatre is cooler, and our part of downtown has improved quite a bit.

What do you look for in a team that’s submitted?

My two biggest values in improv are Trust & Listening. I look for teams that are able to do these well if they want to play the main stage. If I hear over-talking, or someone not taking in information from their partner, then I know they won’t be a good fit. However, we do accept most teams and I try and give everyone the slot accordingly. This year has a much higher rate of quality teams submitting, though, so you should not be butt-hurt if you do not make the main stage. Especially specialty shows and one or two-person teams.

What can improvisors expect at your festival?

They should expect great workshops and shows, as well as a fun time hanging out and getting to know improvisers from all over the nation, especially our neighboring communities. This festival is for improvisers far more than it is for the general public. We want you to land from the airport and start having fun immediately, then not stop having fun till you board to leave again.

What’s some fun stuff to do in town?

Besides the Henry Doorly Zoo (possibly the best in the nation,) and the Old Market (which is right next to most of our events and is basically a large outdoor vintage mall,) we also have Taste of Omaha going on just 9 blocks away. It’s a Food & Music Festival that cost nothing to get in and listen to music, and the food is pretty cheap. This takes place right next to the Missouri River. This is also typically the best week in Nebraska, so the weather should be great for it.

Submissions are due by Sunday the 22nd. To submit instantly to this festival click HERE.


Nick Armstrong

Nick  is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also teaches improv throughout the country.

How to Hire an Improv Instructor: Standard of Practice

During my travels and throughout all the improv summits I hold at Camp Improv Utopia I always get the question: How much and how do we hire an instructor? Is there a standard?

Our improv industry doesn’t have a standard yet. But most every industry has a pretty good standard of practice when it comes to hiring outside help. Bill and I created NIN for a lot of reasons, but one of them is to help guide improvisors, theaters and festivals. In this blog I am going to try and breakdown for you a standard of practice for hiring an improv instructor.

Transportation:

The  standard is to purchase the instructors airfare (Coach) or if they are closer and don’t need airfare pay for their gas money. The current Govt. rate is $.58 per mile click HERE for the official govt. resource. Also, transportation from the airport. You can easily have someone pick them up or pay for a car to get them.

Lodging: 

The standard is to get the instructor a hotel room for the time they are there. Unless they offer something else assume this is what you should do. The accommodations should be nice. Think of it as a place you’d stay too. I have heard nightmare stories from instructors about being put in bad neighborhoods and bad hotels so do your research.

How much do I pay them: 

This can vary…But I’ll try to break it down:

1. It really depends on your budget and the instructors experience – But remember this, they are not only training your students, they are usually training your instructors or future instructors. So think about this when hiring them.

a.) For one standard workshop and show a good average rate ranges from $300 – $800 again depending on the instructor. For Master instructors, think about $1500-$3200. But usually when you have one of these type of instructors out you are getting more than just one workshop and a show. This is all negotiable just want to give you some ball park figures.

b.) If you have them doing a couple workshops and a show that can range from $800-$1,700 for a typical instructor. Again, this is negotiable and depending on the instructor. It may be more for your top instructors this could be double as mentioned above it could range from $2,000 – $4,000. But again for most instructors the average should be around $800 – $1,700.

c.) Usually if you’re going to spend the money, bring an instructor out for shows and workshops. They will charge you a flat fee for their services.

d.) The 60/40, 70/30, 50/50 split scenarios. I get it, some theaters have to pay rent for their space and some instructors will do this, but you won’t get quality instructors from this scenerio. Why? You haven’t guaranteed them money to come out. Can you guarantee them the workshop will be sold out? Are you only charging $20 a head? Now if you’re charging like $80 or more a head a scenario like this may work out. But again, an instructor is leaving their community, job and family to come help your community out. They have put years of work, teaching, stagetime and money into their education.

You have to realize you are booking them out of potential other work so it has to be worth it for them to come out to you and you have to put a value on your community. If your community gets the best training from these instructors, you all get better. Creating better shows bringing in more students and more audience and potentially more revenue for you. That’s your return on investment.

Per Diem: 

Now this can get tricky. Are you feeding them? Taking them out? If so you might not have to give a per diem. But if they’re on their own it’s usually $40- $75 a day in per diem. It varies from place to place….San Francisco is more expensive than Omaha for example. You don’t have to pay per diem on their travel days but just the days they are working for you. This is a standard practice in most industries. They have to feed themselves about three times a day. Now can you build this into their base fee? Yes! Just ask them about it. Can you waive it because you’ll be feeding them…Yes. Again, depends on the instructor but always ask.

Contracts:
I know it’s improv, but you should have them. It’s really ridiculous not to. Doesn’t have to have tons of legal speech but at least outline what you are each responsible for. It protects your theater and festival and it protects your instructor. It also protects you from that awkward moment after the workshop of “How much did we say?” You can find templates of them online. Here is a sample template.Of course you can change the wording to fit your needs and always run by a lawyer if you have access to one.

Fundraising for this money:

Now you’re probably screaming, “Nick, how can we afford this?” “We are just a small festival.” This is my answer: Ask yourself why are you throwing a festival and why are you bringing these teachers in. It’s most likely to bring a name or experience to help your community grow and your audience grow. To bring your community more attention. Remember they represent your theater or festival that week or weekend so you get all the press, the growth as teachers and performers the whole shabang! Yes it’s an investment and you might lose some money, but in the long run your return on investment will be seen in the quality of work you’ll be elevated to and hopefully with better shows and improvisors comes more audience.

Fundraising has so many more outlets then ever before with social media and things like Kickstarter. Do some events during the year, get other theaters or groups involved. Have a budget so you know what your goal is. Here is a list you can consider doing to fundraise during the year:

1. Kickstarter, Indigogo or something similar. I’ve seen these have much success.

2. Do fundraising shows that the money goes directly to the festival. (Phoenix Improv Festival and The Torch Theater run a 48 hour marathon called GhostFest every halloween to raise money for their festival.

3. Festival Submission fees – The average submission fee is around $25-30. Merch sales at your festival – T-shirts, buttons, stickers etc.

5. Sponsorship Packets – Does your improv fest or theater have a Sponsorship Packet? Why not? Get local businesses, improv companies and more to put money into your programs, list their logo on your site. I’ve seen some great ones. Here is one from The Pittsburgh Comedy Festival as a great example.

6. Auctions and Raffles: Auction off classes, get prizes from other companies that can donate to you some goods or services.

Ultimately, you might not have the finances to do this and that’s okay. Keep working at it. Some teachers have wiggle room so just talk to them. Value them for who they are and their experience. If we are to become a greater community we have to have standards like other industries and I hope this helps guide you. Sure there are scenarios that aren’t listed here and things can change. And you can get creative…I’ve heard of a company that instead of paying the instructor they made it a vacation for them…tickets to disneyland, a vacation destination etc…So you never know. Best of luck and we are always here to help you! If you have any comments, experiences or suggestions please do!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

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.

Meet the New Submission Tool

The very first submission on the site was nineteen months ago, almost to the day. Since then we’ve heard a lot of feedback from both troupes and festivals on how to improve the tool. I don’t intend for that communication to end, but I’m very excited to announce the new submission tool which went live this week based on the feedback from folks. So grab a tasty beverage and I’ll give you a tour.

For Troupes

One of the things festival organizers have asked for is more customized information. More information is always great, but if we start making troupes fill out complete forms for each festival, the whole point of the instant submission tool is kind of lost. So the submission side isn’t too terribly different. You can still submit with one click, but if you need to include a little extra information, there’s now a way to do it.

Let’s look at the main submission page for any festival. It looks pretty similar to the old tool, except for some minor visual tweaks. You still have all of your troupes listed with a checkbox on which groups to submit.
submit 1
When you check the box, you’re ready to submit, but you’ll notice a new sidebar shows your troupes availability and has a small area for any notes to the festival producers.
submit 2
If you’re unable to make a certain day of the festival, that’s really helpful information to send to the festival producers, so you can uncheck any days you won’t be available to travel.
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After that you’re good to go. That’s it. Hopefully still a very simple process.

Just a reminder though. One thing that hasn’t changed is that while we can program changes to our own website, we can’t reprogram PayPal’s website. Sometimes PayPal takes up to 15 seconds to complete your transaction and send confirmation back to the submission tool. If you don’t wait it out for those few seconds, your submission might not be recorded properly.

For Festival Organizers

The rest of this blog post is mostly for festival producers, but for everyone else; if you’re curious about what the submission process looks like or you want some extra tips on how to let your best side be seen, then read on.

One thing that has been added for anyone that is reviewing a festival is a quick link on their main profile page. Just below their troupe and theatre information will be a link to take them directly to the festival page. This saves some clicks of going to find it int the list. This link is only visible to the reviewers (meaning other people won’t see the festival link on your profile page) and will disappear once the festival starts.

myfests

Once on the festival submission list, you’ll be presented with a lot more information right away.

review1

Immediately visible will be the name and avatar for the troupe, their city and state, their availability, any notes left by the troupe, their home theatre, time of submission and status.

Not all troupes connect their troupe with a home theatre, and they certainly aren’t required to, but it is often helpful to help festivals have a bit of background on your troupe. If you want to connect your troupe to your home theatre, you can contact your home theatre’s admin and request to be added.

troupes

The Status pull down is only visible to the event’s administrator (other festival reviewers will see text in its place). This is so multiple people aren’t undoing each other’s work. The check box area can be set to “SELECTED”, “WAITLIST” or “REJECTED”. Once one of those options are selected, a second drop down appears to let you track if a group has been contacted and whether they’ve confirmed or declined an invitation.

review3

That last part was important to me personally. I know it can be heartbreaking to not get into a festival, and even moreso when you find out about it from some other group’s Facebook post. Contacting “all” groups, both accepted and rejected is really a best practice for festivals and this status box will hopefully help producers better facilitate communicating with groups.

The last thing you may have noticed is the (Not Paid) tag next to certain troupes. You won’t see that often, but it will happen. Earlier in this post, I mentioned waiting for PayPal to send confirmation back to the website. 95% of the time, people do that. But once in a while, a group will leave the PayPal page before letting everything finish up. We certainly don’t want to penalize groups who have troubles with PayPal, so on those occasions where a group didn’t quite finish the PayPal portion of their submission properly, it will still show up in the submission list with a not to try to get in touch with those groups and finish the submission properly.

And of course, since there are more options on the submission review list, there’s also an “Update” button to save your changes. Actually, for festivals with very long submission lists, there are a few “Update” buttons, spaced out along the page to prevent a lot of scrolling, but there’s no need to stress over which one to use. They are all identical.

Whew!

So that’s the new submission tool. Big thanks to the folks at the OC Improv Festival, Alaska State Improv Festival, Twin Cities Improv Festival, Phoenix Improv Festival, Detroit Improv Festival and Houston Improv Festival who offered a lot of suggesstions and helped with occasional beta testing on these new tools.

So what’s next? There are some more tools coming soon, but none of them will require a complete replacement of the tool. Those features will just start popping up in the next little bit. Curious? Here’s a sneak peek at some of the features coming in the 2.1 version of the submission tool:

  • Who’s Reviewed This? Soon each reviewer for a festival can mark individual troupe submissions as viewed. This will allows the submission committee to track who has seen which shows. (Hint: everyone should see every show)
  • Mark Complete Nothing huge technologically here. Just an option to set your review process as complete. This will remove the link from reviewers profile pages.
  • International Options More flexibility for festivals overseas (currency, timezones, etc).
  • Contact Now An option to directly email groups from the submission list. This will automatically set the group’s status to “Contacted”

I hope the new tool makes people’s lives a little easier and give festivals and troupes the opportunities to put on the best shows for audiences. As always, suggestions for the future of the tool are always welcome.


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

Crime Time

That’s right everybody. It’s CRIME TIME! Queue the 1990s-esque intro with kids striking poses with their arms crossed and hands on their hips looking “tough” with sideways hats on while Pearl Jam’s guitar intro from “Even Flow” plays and the word ‘CRIME’ flashes across the screen in neon lettering. It’s time to talk about something we sort of look past or don’t really discuss when it comes to festivals and traveling. While festivals do amazing jobs promoting the local landmarks of the town, they sometimes don’t mention the ‘shadier’ not so good areas. Let it be known that this article is not to be discriminatory of any race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or any of the sort. It is merely to meant highlight a topic that not many festivals or performers think about when they travel to a new town and to bring awareness to the fact that crime is everywhere and you should keep that in mind when going somewhere you’ve never been before. Everyone gets so caught up in the excitement of what’s to come that they aren’t thinking about what could go wrong right now.

This has never been something that I have heard a festival come out and say outright. Mainly because talking about the bad things isn’t really something you want to highlight. It’ll make people not want to come to your festival, right? Yes and No. The sad truth is that the ‘bad’ happens everywhere. Crime exists everywhere you go. It’s next door, down the street, on the train or bus and everywhere you look. However, half the battle is being AWARE of it and knowing where it’s most prevalent. I’m not saying put up street advertisements or marketing in your festival promotions that there are certain places you shouldn’t go, but just by word of mouth you could be keeping a lot of people safe.

If you’re a performer and you’re reading this, just be aware of your surroundings and keep in mind that you are in a new town and you might not know the specifics of what goes on in that area. That means you should ASK where the best places to go are and where the best places to avoid are. There is no harm in asking. We’re talking about safety here. There are certain parts of Chicago that I will never go to or travel to on the train at night. Why? Because the crime statistics and the everyday news indicate there’s a damn good chance I’ll get robbed, beaten up, or worse. That’s not a dig at anyone who lives in those areas, but a fact reinforced by the local news and crime reports.

Furthermore, I learned this first hand at a festival recently. I remember we decided to walk around and see the sights and sounds of the city. We practically screamed “WE’RE TOURISTS” as we waltzed around pointing at things uttering “ohhs” and “ahhhs.” It was the middle of the day and we were excited to wander so we weren’t really on alert for anything. Note: Anything can happen at any time; especially when you least expect it. Unfortunately, we went down the wrong block, which resulted in us being followed for the next two blocks by two guys who were sending off the tell-tale signs that they were going to jump us. Luckily, we spotted them, stopped walking, and were in an open area looking right at them so their element of surprise sort of went right out the window. Once we made eye contact with them they slowed their walking down and crossed the street. The one guy who was trailing behind ran up to his friend and put his hands in the air while mouthing, “What happened?” Now, I could be completely wrong. They could have been coming up to say “hey welcome to our city let us take your picture”, but given the mean looks on their faces, the clinched fists in their hands, and everything I’ve ever heard about muggings I would have to argue otherwise. Later I would discuss this with local performers who said, “oh yeah you shouldn’t walk around there.”

Another way to fully grasp the issue is to look at it from the criminal’s perspective. If I was a criminal (I’m not but if I was), I would rather rob or steal from someone who doesn’t live around the area rather than somebody who does. Why? Because the people traveling are unsuspecting and they aren’t going to tell the police, “Hey I saw him last week walking down State Street!” Distancing yourself from the crime is bad guy 101. This is why criminals travel across the city, steal someone’s iPhone on the train, and then go back to where they live which is 10-15 miles away. By you being the one who is traveling, you’ve just made their job a lot easier. In short, for the criminal, you’re a better target because you’re not from around there and you’re not suspecting it.

In conclusion, if you’re traveling to a festival and you’re going to go walking around the city please make sure to ask the local performers where the best places to go are as well as the not so good places. If you’re a festival producer or local performer, pass any and all information you may have about troublesome areas around town so as to keep everyone safe. As stated before, the sad reality is that crime is everywhere, but we can most certainly combat that with awareness. Being knowledgeable and aware is going to be all the difference. It’s better to know than to not and wish you had later. Keeping everyone safe and knowledgeable about what is happening in your town should be at the top of the list of the many wonderful things you’re offering to your performers.


  • Ryan is a graduate of iO, The Second City Conservatory, and the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago. Ryan performs improv comedy with his independent team Switch Committee as well as on the Playground team Desperado. In addition, he is an Associate Producer for Big Little Comedy, which is responsible for the Big Little Comedy Festival each year. In 2013, he completed an entire month of comedy by performing 31 days in a row for the month of January. He’s a frequent blogger (here, The Second City Network, and the iO Water Cooler) Instagramer, Pinterester, and Tweeter in his spare time. You can follow the madness @TheRyanNallen.

Over the Rhine

A review of the IF CINCY Improv Festival of Cincinnati

A few weeks ago, I was very fortunate to perform with Switch Committee at the first ever improv festival in Cincinnati. The festival, produced by OTRimprov, went off without a hitch. They were very well organized months in advance in terms of preparation, marketing, and hospitality. This festival was run very smoothly and it looked like they have been doing it (running festivals) for a while even though it was only their first year. They were more than prepared in terms of providing performers with hotel deals and all the essential information visitors to their city would need (local restaurants, coffee shops, bars, uber/lyft info) for the festival. Everyone involved was so nice and hospitable. So, rather than being vague and saying “it was great” over and over, I’ll give some specifics on the things I loved. Here goes:

  1. CINCINNATTI! It is a very hip and stylish city with buildings designed with beautiful murals and street art. Before our workshop, we went to a coffee shop down the street from the theater called the Coffee Emporium. I got something called a Milk Way. Write that down. Milk Way in Cincy. There are a few areas of town that could be considered a little shady, but doesn’t every city have that? If you’re visiting to perform I would just ask the organizers or other local performers where the best places to go are instead of meandering around town on your own. It’s also really close to Kentucky, which we did not know. We thought our phones were messed up numerous times throughout the weekend while we were driving around.
  • Swag Bags We got bags which contained t-shirts, lanyards, chips, water, and other knick-knacks. I’m a big fan of the swag bag and most importantly the lanyard because I collect them trading cards. For some festivals, you have to purchase a t-shirt, but they were kind enough to include them in the bags. Free t-shirts may be expensive, but if you have the budget it’s definitely something I suggest the festival do. Keep in mind, you want performers to wear those t-shirts and represent your festival when they get back home. “Oh that’s a cool shirt, how was that festival, I think we’ll submit next year” is something that could come out of providing your performers with shirts.
  • Team Dinner They offered dinner to all the performers at the local hotel everyone was staying at. There was bread, croissants, cookies, pop, green beans, and mac n’ cheese, potatoes, and roast beef. It was a very nice gesture and I know all of the teams appreciated it. They didn’t have to do that, but they did and that speaks volumes about how they welcomed the performers to the festival.
  • House Dad We were assigned a house dad who was available to answer any questions we may have had while on our visit to Cincinnati. I love this because it gives visitors the ability to interact with a local performer and find out more about the place they are visiting. Phoenix does this too and it is extremely helpful for the performers in getting accommodated and feeling welcome.
  • The Know Theatre The theatre is beautiful and perfect for an improv show. There are two performance spaces within this theater. The ‘underground’ Cabaret stage right when you walk into the theater, which is a small and quaint stage perfect for a 2-man show and the ‘Mainstage’ upstairs, which is fully equipped theatrical venue with an enormous amount of space and a turquoise carpet perfect for a 10+ person ensemble. We got to play upstairs and very much enjoyed the amount of space provided.
  • Workshops They offered workshops to the performers. We were fortunate enough to be able to teach a workshop and it went extremely well. I know Susan Messing also taught a workshop and if she’s teaching a workshop that’s just another reason you should be at this festival.

All in all, OTRi did an incredibly fantastic and amazing job producing their first ever improv festival. I mean, hell, they got Susan Messing to headline their first year! That’s big time baby! The bar has been set and it’s pretty high. At the end of the weekend, the whole festival was a major success and I’m very excited to see how it grows and develops in the years to come. Teams looking for a new improv festival to go to should put this one on their radar.

Congratulations IF CINCY! Great Job!


  • is a graduate of iO, The Second City Conservatory, and the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago. Ryan performs improv comedy with his independent team Switch Committee as well as on the Playground team Desperado. In addition, he is an Associate Producer for Big Little Comedy, which is responsible for the Big Little Comedy Festival each year. In 2013, he completed an entire month of comedy by performing 31 days in a row for the month of January. He’s a frequent blogger (here, The Second City Network, and the iO Water Cooler) Instagramer, Pinterester, and Tweeter in his spare time. You can follow the madness @TheRyanNallen.

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