Make My Job Easier! – A Wish List from Marketing

amazyn-wish-list3We are posting this with permission from Trish Berrong who runs the marketing for the Kansas City Improv Festival. We thought it was pretty helpful. Enjoy and thanks Trish!

From Trish Berrong:

I’m not on the selection committee for the Kansas City Improv Festival, but I do the marketing. Here’s the wish-list I sent to the committee last year in selfish hopes of making my job easier: 

HEADLINERS
—GOOD: generally recognizable (in the civilian population) names and credentials (SNL, 30 Rock, Daily Show)
—OK: kinda recognizable names and credentials (UCB, Second City, Groundlings)
—MEH: obscure names and credentials (anywhere else)

SHOWS WITH APPEALING, EASY-TO-EXPLAIN HOOKS
—GOOD: two guys fishing, improvised rap musical
—OK: improvised [insert genre here]
—MEH: longform or shortform with no POV

SETS YOU CAN MAKE SOUND COMPELLING IN ONE SENTENCE OR LESS WITH LITTLE OR NO IMPROV JARGON
—GOOD: Every show, a new play will be improvised in the style of such great works as ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ ‘Speed-the-Plow’ and    ‘House of Games,’ with all the rat-a-tat and grift of its actual predecessors. 
—MEH: [Troupe name] is a [descriptor] monoscene with [differentiating factor] by [cast description].
—YAWN: We generally perform Harolds, but recently have been expanding out to new and innovative forms.

Other things that would make selling a festival easier:
—Websites vs. Facebook pages
—Clear, interesting photos that show peoples’ faces and have something going on
—Submission videos we can easily pull a 1-3 minute, high-quality clip out of for promotion on the website

And a few other considerations: 
—Form/style/approach gives us something different from what we have in our city
—Cast members are also in-demand workshop teachers
—Set is easy to plug in anywhere in a show (things that make it hard: too dark or low energy, dramatically different vibe, complicated props/tech/set, etc.)
—Cast seems fun, professional and low-maintenance

DUOFEST Delivers!

DuofestLogoTwitterThree Years ago I met Amie Roe and Kristen Schier of The Amie and Kristen Show at the Seattle Improv Festival and they told me about DuoFest. Yeah it took me a while to get  to Philadelphia but I finally did and I was impressed! For those of you who have never heard of DuoFest it’s an improv festival with the sole purpose of showing two-person long-form improv shows.

DuoFest was an amazing and intimate experience. The headliners this year were Scott Adsit (30 Rock) and Jet Eveleth and they delivered! But DuoFest is more than just headliners. Two of the stand-out groups were Dwight D. Eisenhower with Russ Armstrong, not related, and Rick Andrews both out of the Magnet Theatre in New York who had a playful improv spirit, played fast and furious and wrapped the show up in a nice bow.

The most physical show you’ll ever see was the amazing 2-MAN-NO-SHOW out of Canada. I was lucky enough to meet this spirited duo at The Detroit Improv Festival last year and they did not disappoint this year. Were these guys ever onstage? They were on the walls, the audience and everywhere! They’re Improv Spidermen!

So what am I trying to say here? Go to DuoFest or at least submit to it if you have a two person show it’s definitely a fun time and in such a great city!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Improvisor and Writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick is currently on AMC’s Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Parks and Recreation. Recently, Nick received a development deal for a TV Show he created for A&E. 

Onstage Nick has trained at The Groundlings and iO West. You can catch him performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA’s Longest and Critically Acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network.

Bottle Us Up…You Could Make a Fortune!

HappinessinabottleI’m blown away! That’s right blown the freak away! The third year of Camp Improv Utopia happened over Memorial Weekend and I still have a smile on my face that seems to be tattooed there forever. Why? Because of the campers and the community that has been built.

I mostly perform at iO West in Los Angeles which has one of the best improv communities and still does. But what camp does is it brings people from all over the country, sometimes even other countries, and brings them all together for one weekend to share the same passion, philosophies and yes and attitude. Chef Rick, who makes amazing food there said it best, “If I could bottle up the joy and happiness you guys bring to this place I’d be rich.” He will be selling these bottles on Amazon.

When Del and the Committee brought long-form into reality back in the 60’s I’m sure they never thought how big it would grow and how it would build such a huge and awesome group of positive people. A group of people that say yes. What a concept. A group of people who accept you with open arms even if they’ve never met you and will support you, what other industry does this happen in? Certainly not at my old corporate job.

One of the campers who came from Florida said, “I flew to California on Friday morning knowing one person that would be at this camp and left Monday feeling as if I’d just had a reunion with 100 good friends.”

I wish this event could be televised on every channel in the world, so people could watch people getting along, being positive and supporting each other. I think the world could learn a thing or two from Improvisors.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Improvisor and Writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick is currently on AMC’s Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Parks and Recreation. Recently, Nick received a development deal for a TV Show he created for A&E.

Onstage Nick has trained at The Groundlings and iO West. You can catch him performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA’s Longest and Critically Acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community

We Didn’t Get Into Improv to Play It Safe!

bunny_slope_hidI’ve been coaching for around 10 years now. iO teams, indie teams and workshops across the country and I find one of the hardest things to try and teach improvisers is the importance of taking a risk. Jumping and hoping someone will catch you.

 

This, I feel, is one of the most important things in improv. Why we get into improv. When I first started skiing, way back when, my instructor told me, “Hey if you don’t fall down you’re not trying.” It seemed silly. I didn’t want to get all wet and nasty. I’ll just take it easy and hit the bunny slopes so I don’t get messy. Well that was no fun and I eventually stopped skiing because that’s all I ever did. I never tried to fall and get messy and therefore lost interest and never got better at it and always stuck to the bunny slopes. I feel this is the same in improv. The biggest thing students and some performers have a fear of is being afraid to fail, to fall flat on their faces in front of an audience or an instructor. Why? What will happen? You won’t land that huge sitcom? You won’t get that agent? That girl or guy you’ve been eyeing will get up and leave? You’ll embarrass yourself? We didn’t get into improv to play it safe. Live dangerously onstage and great things will come to you!

You should be doing improv to make yourself a better performer, a better artist and better ensemble member. Stretching, evolving and pushing the boundaries of everything you’ve been taught and then breaking through that. The wonderful and awesome teachers and coaches have given you a great foundation now it’s time to put your stamp on it. What do you think about the world? Tell us in your characters.

I can guarantee you that your favorite improvisers have fallen on their faces a thousand times over. I bet the reason those improvisers are your favorite is probably, not just because they’re funny, but the fact that they are doing something extraordinary and taking a huge risk and a huge leap off of a cliff knowing that their fellow ensemble will catch them. And even if they don’t get caught they know how to land on their feet.

Do yourself a favor don’t just stay on the bunny slopes, every time you go to rehearsal or do a show make sure you hit the black diamonds! You’ll have more fun and surprise yourself.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Improvisor and Writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick is currently on AMC’s Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Parks and Recreation. Recently, Nick received a development deal for a TV Show he created for A&E.

Onstage Nick has trained at The Groundlings and iO West. You can catch him performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA’s Longest and Critically Acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community.

Choosing your dental insurance

Choosing a dental insurance plan is almost as big of a decision as choosing a dentist. And in some ways, picking a plan is more challenging. One or two visits to the Cavitations The Silent Killer for a checkup and cleaning will likely be enough for you to figure out whether you and the practice are a good fit over the long term. But you may not discover problems with your dental insurance until you really need the coverage

 

Understanding Dental Insurance
Unlike health insurance, which people rely on to pick up the costs when they are faced with big healthcare bills, dental insurance primarily focuses on covering low-cost, preventive treatments. Most plans will cover 100% of the cost of preventative care such as cleanings, checkups and x-rays, 80% of basic treatments such as fillings, and 50% of more complex and costly procedures such as root canals and crowns. And typically, you will need to be a member of a dental insurance plan for at least a year before coverage for the costlier procedures kicks in, and up to six months for some basic restorative services.

The typical cost of an individual dental insurance policy is around $350 a year. For a family, the cost is around $550, annually. If you pay out of pocket for two checkups and cleanings and a set of X-rays, your cost, on average, will be around $375-$400, according to the American Dental Association. So, with a dental policy, you’re basically pre-paying for your essential preventive care, with a little assurance built in that if you need a couple of fillings, or chip a tooth, you’re also covered.

You can buy dental insurance from an independent insurance agent, from an online marketplace such as dentalplans.com, or from the Obamacare health exchanges.

Dental Insurance Caps, Limits and Deductibles
Most dental insurance policies cap coverage at $1000 -$1,500 a year. When you reach your annual cap, you will have to pay for your dental care for the rest of the year. Given that the average cost for a crown is $750-1200, and the cost of a single implant starts at $1500, you can exhaust your annual dental allowance fairly quickly.

Most dental insurance plans are also likely to have a “deducible,” an amount that you will have to pay out of pocket for dental services before your insurance will begin to cover their portion of the costs – typically $50 for an individual annually, and $150 for a family. But if you buy an insurance “bundle” that includes health and dental coverage, make sure that your dental plan deductible is separate from your health insurance deductible. It is not unusual for health insurance plans to have multi-thousand dollar deductibles before coverage begins. Unless you’re likely to rack up thousands in medical bills annually before you need dental care, you’ll ideally want your dental plan to have a separate deductible.

What Kind Of Dental Insurance Is Best?
If you have a dentist and really want to keep working with him or her, ask your dentist what insurance plans the office accepts and recommends. If you don’t have a dentist, or you don’t mind going to a new dentist, check the Rejuvenation Dentistry NYC one of the hugest rated professionals now a days.

Websites such as Consumer Advocate can help make it much easier to find the right dental insurance coverage. Consumer Advocate ranks both dental insurance and dental savings plans, based on the following criteria: the number of dentists in the plan’s network, the savings that you can expect from a plan, the cost of coverage (your premium), the annual maximum cap, and the dental treatments that a plan covers.

If you know what insurer you prefer, but need help in selecting a plan from among that insurer’s offerings, a web page dedicated solely to detailing the different benefits of an insurer’s plans, such as CignaDentalPlans.com, is a great way to compare plans and choose the one that best suits your needs.

Dental Insurance That Covers Everything
If braces, dentures or bridges are something you or a loved one does or will need, make sure the insurance plan that you choose covers them. And check to make sure that the amount of coverage offered makes sense to you – $1000 coverage specifically for braces may be just what you’re looking for in a dental insurance plan, or may not meet your health and/or financial needs at all.

Dental insurance typically doesn’t offer extensive coverage for major restorative processes such as a full set of quality dentures, and processes deemed cosmetic such as veneers or dental implants aren’t covered by many traditional insurance policies. If you need a significant amount of restorative work, are ready to address long-term dental problems, or (as noted above) don’t want to wait a year before you can get that missing tooth replaced under your insurance plan, you may wish to look at a dental savings plan.

Dental savings plans offer discounts of 10%-60% on average dental care rates, for members who pay an annual fee. Dental savings plans are an affordable alternative to insurance, have no annual caps, no waiting period is applied for accessing care, and no restrictions on obtaining care for preexisting conditions. The best and most comprehensive website for comparing dozens of dental savings plans is dentalplans.com.

Websites can help to narrow the options, but only you can choose the plan that’s right for you and your loved ones. Carefully consider your options – dental insurance, a dental savings plan or self-insurance, and choose the dental plan that’s right for you.
 

So what’s my point? While on the road I still see this struggle. We want to do better but are afraid to go out of our circle sometimes to get that help or we think it’s cheaper if we just take care of it ourselves. We have too much pride in what we’ve created sometimes. Or we just don’t want to spend the money. It’s okay to ask for help. And it’s okay to spend money. If you do spend that money you’ll get more in return and it will save you time to do the things you need to do with your theatre like focus on your shows, scheduling and being an Artistic Director.

 

Remember we are improvisers and we need support even if it’s outside support. If your dream is to run a successful theatre then do it. But you’re going to need a helping hand. Let professionals handle all the hard stuff so you can focus on the stuff you’re a professional at.

Written by: Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Writer, Improviser and Director living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office, Parks and Recreation and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made regular appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Onstage you can catch Nick performing and teaching regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA with LA’s Best Harold Team King Ten and The touring Genre-Improvised Show Kind Strangers. Nick has also trained at the famed Groundlings Theater. He is the Founder and Camp Director of Improv Utopia an annual camp for improvisers. For more information visit www.nickarmstrong.com orwww.improvutopia.com 

Creating Good Submissions, Part III: Who Are You?

Photo by Robert Swier

Photo by Robert Swier

So you’ve created a killer video. You’ve picked a video that represents your troupe’s talent and show well. That’s great. But you still need to make an impression on the festival organizers. If you don’t know them, and particularly if you haven’t built a name for your group, you only have your submission to introduce yourself.

If the submission is done here in the NIN page, it only takes a click. Otherwise, you’ll have to fill out your information again. Either way, far too often, that information is filled out hastily to get a submission in. Taking a little time and thought to filling out the information will be a large step in standing out from the crowd.

First and foremost, read the instructions. If you’re filling out a submission form off of the NIN site, pay attention to what’s being asked for in each field. Nothing will get your submission lowered on a priority list faster than not following directions.

When you want to fill out a profile for your troupe, schedule time to do it. Talk to your troupe about it. Take the time to do it right. Here are some tips on how to fill out a troupe profile that will be read and considered.

Many of the fields will require very little thought; phone number, email address, etc. These are no-brainers, but make sure they’re accurate and formatted properly.

About our show vs. About our troupe

These are two very different things. A description of your show is purely for the sake of the festival planners to know what kind of variety you’ll bring to the festival. A little detail is welcome here, but it’s nothing to lose too much sleep over. “Harold” is a valid answer to this question. If you do have a someone unique or interesting form, please describe it – briefly. There are places for passion and flowery language in your resume; this is not one of them,

On the other hand, a description of your troupe is something to take very seriously. This is your elevator pitch — a chance to be noticed. This is a chance to let the organizers know who you are and what you’re about. Your bio will be read amongst many others that can easily blend together. There are however ways to stand apart from the crowd

Speak of yourself, not the audience — Avoid phrases like, “Audiences will be wowed by our awesomeness.” We all like to think audiences will enjoy us, but that’s an assumption and certainly not unique to your troupe. Speak instead of what is important to your troupe, why you play together, what your play is like. One group in my theatre is almost entirely composed of school teachers. Their show is not specifically academia themed, but their shows are much more likely to be filled with allusions to math, science or American history. Those details can be useful. Share an anecdote from your troupe’s history or a shared passion outside of your shows that brings you further group mind. The people you meet who you want to talk to are people who have interesting and unique things to say, not those who boast about their awesomeness. The same is true here.

Coaching

Please share information about your coach and your coaching history. If you’re currently being coached by someone with a known style or talent, that helps festival organizers know more about you. And don’t underestimate your coach. Even if they aren’t famous, you might be surprised how well known they are. Even before NIN we existed in a small community. If you’re reading this, there’s a 75% chance I’ve grabbed lunch with your coach. But more importantly, it’s important to see that you are being coached at all and are looking for focus and growth. One group once submitted to a festival I ran that boasted “never been coached, never took a class”. Well, “never performed at my festival” could be added to their list.

Please be honest about your coaching. When you say “We’ve been coached by Mick Napier, Joe Bill, Craig Cackowski, David Razowsky, Jill Bernard, Miles Stroth, Dick Chudnow, Matt Besser, Keith Johnstone and Viola Spolin.”, we say “No you haven’t.” You weren’t coached by those people. Part of your team attended a two hour workshop with them… at a festival… while hungover. and you can say that, but that’s not the same. If you really did spend some time coaching with one of them, then by all means say so. But don’t say you were coached by everyone you ever met.

And you weren’t coached by Viola.

Quotes

Quotes are great. They’re not only helpful for review, but if you’re accepted they can help festival organizers promote your show to their local press outlets. Press quotes are great when you get them, but never be afraid to ask for quotes of theatre owners or festival organizers.

History

If you’re just starting to etch out a name for yourself in the national scene, you won’t have much history. That’s fine. It won’t put you out of consideration. If you do have some history as a festival troupe, write it down. It’s a good resource to see your history and what kind of festivals you’ve done well at in the past. This is your “References” section. And if you think we’ll call other festival organizers and ask about you… you’re right. We will. Listing your history is a great chance to get someone we respect to speak on your behalf.

Photos and Logos

As mentioned in Part I of this posting. not every troupe has access to professional photographers or equipment. Professional cast photos are great when they’re available. They can help with promoting the festival. But if you don’t have the means, please include something. Please take the time to take an actual cast photo, not a picture you found on your hard drive when filling out your form of last year’s Halloween party.  I don’t care how awesome your TRON outfit was. (OK I do, but not in your submission).

impr

This is not the best first impression

Some troupes have logos. Some don’t. That’s fine. Logos are helpful to producers if you have one. Keep in mind that if your logo is used, it will be most audience’s first exposure to you. If your logo is something you put together in Microsoft Paint, it might be a good idea to go without.

Create some e-Harmony

You want to travel. You want to play. I get you. I’m a festival producer, but I love to travel and perform as well. It’s the best thing in the world. That doesn’t mean every festival is the best match for you troupe. If you aren’t selected to visit a festival, that doesn’t necessarily mean your quality is not up to snuff. Sometimes your show simply doesn’t fit a certain festival. In the future, this site will have producers from many festivals talking about their festival’s and the types of shows they are looking for. But never be afraid to reach out to festival producers and talk to them a little about what they’re hoping for. Sometimes you’ll realize that your show wouldn’t compliment the festival. That’s OK. Keep looking. You’ll find the right festival for your show.

These are all useful tweaks to your presentation, but the larger overall message is this. Be honest about who you are. Everyone is vying for attention by saying how awesome they are. And no one cares. Be honest about who you are and what you enjoy. Ultimately, it’s the quality of your show that will be the final call for producers if they invite you or not, but an honest presentation will go a long time in getting their attention.

Final Note

Even if you do everything in these last three posts. Sometimes you won’t get invited to festivals. There’s a lot of competition out there. It feels bad to be told no. And believe me, it is the crummiest feeling in the world to say no. But dust yourself off and try again. Don’t be afraid to reach out and thank the festival producers for their consideration and ask for feedback. They’re a fantastic resource on how to continue to grow as a troupe and how to fine tune your submission. They’re almost always happy to have that dialog with you.

Submission for the Phoenix Improv Festival open this fall. I hope to see your amazing submission packet then.

Read Part 1, Read Part 2

Vision and Soul Before Paperwork

It’s exciting to be an improvisor right now. With more information on how to start a business available to us than ever before — and pioneers we can learn from in front of us — it’s like the future of improv is in our hands!

Often, the first question folks ask when they want to start a business is, “Should we be for-profit or not-for-profit?” Let me lay some serious truth down right now:

The FIRST thing any budding theatre company, festival or theatre venue needs to figure out is not what piece of paper to file. The first thing you need to do is agree with your leadership team on your theatre’s vision and soul.

Your vision and soul are the reason why you are in business. They are your ‘This is why we are here.” Are you here because you want to make the best improv? The most supportive ensembles ever created? The best place to get shitfaced and laugh? The place for families to spend time with their children in a safe environment for them?

Answering these questions, and even just bringing up the discussion, will give you and your team of amazing improvisors-slash-theatre owners an opportunity to get on the same page for what you are creating. Once you are on the same page, it is easier to make business decisions, determine what shows to put on, and create a great experience for your students, performers AND customers.

Here is a proposed way to get there:

Develop your company vision and soul: Why are you doing this and what do you want to do?

A way to answer this question is to go around the room at your next leadership meeting and ask everyone:

If money and time and resources were no object, what would our theatre/festival look like to you?

Allow everyone to speak fully, and do not criticize anyone’s dreams. After everyone has spoken, pull out the common threads and look for agreement. Perhaps you would get something like this:

Team member A: “I believe improv is a team sport. It’s important to me that our theatre is very supportive.”

Team member B: “I would build ‘nights out’ with our neighboring businesses so that everyone is benefiting in our small business community.”

Team member C: “I would pay everyone in our theatre enough money to live from doing improv full time.”

From these different threads, you could draw that your vision and soul might be:

“We are a community and student focused theatre that is committed to bettering our community’s ‘night out’ experience and creating an environment that supports art as life. Experimentation is encouraged.”

If your leadership team agrees on your goal, you’ve created a guidepost everyone can check in with and maintain true to your vision. Now that you know where you want to go, survey the business options in front of you to see which best fits your needs. For-profit companies can put money back into their communities, and be just as benevolent as non-for-profit companies — the important thing is that the legal/financial structure supports YOUR goals, not the other way around.

Take action! If you are developing your company and haven’t filed paperwork yet, do this exercise with your leadership team and let us know what your “why” and “how” is! If you’re a theatre who’s been doing this for a while, when was the last time you checked in on your vision and made sure you were tracking to it?

Kate is an innovator working in business, product and customer development by day and an improvisor by night living in Chicago, IL. She blogs at unicornwranglerinc.com on creating companies that value innovation, employees and their customers. Having recently moved from Phoenix, she is looking forward to getting back to the improv stage in Chicago with a group of new friends. When she is back in Phoenix, she plays in Purple Monkey Dishwasher at the Torch Theatre. Tweet at her! She likes that. @xoticdonkeymeat

 

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