The New Faces of The Improv Network

We couldn’t be more thrilled to announce that we have a new board and a new staff. These are some motivate people who will take The Improv Network into the future and make it even more of a resource to improvisors. The Improv Network has always been a place to bring the community together, whether it be shared information, festival assistance, financial assistance or even theater building we have had the backs of improvisors since 2012. We are proud and happy to announce that we have your back even more with our newest staff:

Our newest board members and CEO:

Kat Brown - CEO and Board Member


Kat Brown – Board Member and CEO

Kat is the director of the Training Center of Finest City Improv. With over 10 years experience in education and the arts, her dream is to help merge her love of postmodern, experimental, Artaud inspired theatre with improvisation. Catch her on the San Diego based team Killer Giraffe, or traveling with the musical improv duo The Hardy Boys. She has studied at Second City LA, Second City Chicago, Finest City Improv and Dosage weekend workshops.

Laurel Posakony - Board Member


Laurel Posakony – Board Member

Laurel is an improvisor and comedian living in Chicago, IL. They majored in Comedy Writing and Performance at Columbia College and are a graduate of iO, The Annoyance, and Second City’s conservatory. They can be found traveling the country in a big white van, performing with their duo Merit Badge. There are only two things they love in this world: everything and improv.

Jeff Thompson - Board Member


Jeffrey Thompson – Board Member

Jeff hasbeen an improvisor since 2002 and have studied at iO West, ComedySportz, Second City Hollywood, The Groundlings, and UCB LA. He is also one of the producers of the Hollywood Improv Festival.

When not on stage, he can be found teaching psychology, consulting for businesses, or playing videogames.

And our newest staff members:


Gretchen Wirges


Gretchen Wirges

Gretchen is an improvisor, actor, director and playwright who set up camp in the desert of Tucson, Arizona almost 20 years ago. She has had the honor and privilege of performing at festivals around the US with her improv duo Ex-Boyfriend and is currently directing her second season of full-length improvised plays with Live Theater Workshop in Tucson. Gretchen credits theater and improv with saving her life and her sanity…because on that stage, with those people, in that glorious Light….that’s where love is born.

Melanie Leon


Melanie Leon

Melanie is an improvisor, actor, and writer in Orlando, Florida. She has toured the country with a comedy show and improvises and teaches at festivals. Locally, she performs and hosts at SAK Comedy Lab, performs with her own indie teams, and is an associate producer of the Central Florida Improv Festival.  Mel also teaches, coaches, and uses improv at local hospitals to help better train medical professionals. She has studied with some amazing improvisers, including Laura Hall, Armando Diaz, Mike Descoteaux, David Razowsky, Michael Gellman, Susan Messing, Carla Cackowski, Nick Armstrong, and Kevin McDonald.  Her true passions in life are improv, animals, sugar, and travel.

Kelly Buttermore


Kelly Buttermore

Kelly has been improvising in New York City since 2003. She performs and teaches around the country with her comedy partner Justin Peters as the duo known as From Justin to Kelly; since 2014, they have given over 250 shows and workshops in 25 different states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. Together, they are the co-founders and co-producers of both Countdown Theater, a roaming, improv-focused pop-up arts space based in New York City, and the Countdown Improv Festival, the world’s only festival dedicated exclusively to trio, duo, and solo improv. With Glassworks, they also are the organizers of the annual Basement Improv Summit.

We are very excited to move forward with these amazing improvisors. They will bring great ideas, content and resources to the worldwide improv community. Currently serving on the board are Jeff Thompson, Bill Binder (Co-Founder) and Nick Armstrong (Co-Founder). Nick will step down as CEO in December, but will remain on the board and as a consultant to TIN.

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

When we started the National Improv Network in April of 2012 Bill Binder and I set out to connect the improv world like never before. Drawing inspiration from Kevin Mullaney’s Improv Resource Center, we created what is now The Improv Network, a non-profit worldwide site dedicated to the art of improvisation. Our mission has always been to give any theater, festival and improviser a chance to grow no matter what city they were in. That they didn’t have to go to Chicago, LA or New York to get great improv, that they could create it in there own backyard. I’m proud to say, I think our mission has been accomplished. We of course can’t take all the credit, thats the hard work of all the creators out there.

There’s a new generation of improviser coming up that can help see where improv needs to go next and what this site can do to help them get there. Improv faces many new challenges and some more serious issues today. I believe it’s my time to make space and let someone else come in. Someone who has the vision for what the Improv Network looks like in this new improv world. I’m very excited about the prospect of handing this over to the next generation of improviser. Bill and I always said, we should only be its guardians for a bit and let it go. So, for now I’m letting it go, passing the baton.

THE NITTY GRITTY

I will take my leave in December of this year as we try to locate a new person(s) to take my spot. Bill will remain on for now and I will remain on the board with myself, Bill Binder and Jeff Thompson. I will be on only as a consultant going forward. Not day to day operations.

I’M NOT GOING AWAY 

You’ll see me around. I’m going to focus on running Camp Improv Utopia, with a similar mission as The Improv Network, just in real life form, and continue to be M.I.’s Westside Comedy Theater’s Artistic Director, love the community here. I may even write a blog from time to time. Hope you read it. I plan to travel to festivals, theaters and continue to be inspired by the art I love and dedicated most of my adult life to. Time to free up the brain to create new ideas and new things. 🙂

THANK YOU

I want to thank my partner in crime Bill Binder, the Spock to my Capt. Kirk. Bill truly loves improv so much and has done so much for the worldwide community. If you saw the work he puts into the site, the free hours, you’d be shocked. How could someone put all this free time and energy into this? Because they love it. And Bill does. He is the man behind the curtain. If you see him, give him a big hug. He’s also an amazing improviser and teacher and you should never hesitate to have him out to your community. He is truly a visionary. In improv history books, you’ll hear about Viola Spolin, Del Close, but you should be hearing this mans name as well, he belongs in there.

Jeff Thompson – For keeping us on task and coming in and helping us when we needed it most. He’s TIN’s spirit animal. Jeff will continue on and help where needed and we couldn’t be happier with his help and guidance.

To all the Producers, improvisers, creators that have used the site. We made this for you, I hope you like it and keep using it. Thank you for making your festivals, your theaters, your teachers, your students all successful. Thank you for sharing your stories of successes and failures. Information is power and you have all been amazing in helping each other out. To that I say thank you.

GOODBYE, FAREWELL and AMEN…

So I say Goodbye, Farewell and Amen. It’s been a great honor and privilege to help create this resource. I firmly think that sometimes you have to move on in order for something to grow. For my part, I think I grew this as much as I could and am now looking forward to the next improv generation to take over and grow it to where it needs to be today. I’m proud of the work I’ve done and the communities I’ve helped. But it’s time to leave The Improv Network behind and hand the keys over. So whoever you are, please take care of it, have passion and love the art of improv first. Take this site and make it help people however they need to be helped. Let it live in the spirit of what our art form gives. The power of yes, the power of support, the power to change lives.

If you’re interested in taking my role in The Improv Network please e-mail me an essay on what makes you the best candidate and a resume to nick@theimprovnetwork.org and bill@theimprovnetwork.com

What we are looking for:

  1. Must have passion for the art and integrity of improvisation
  2. Must be an improviser (Duh)
  3. VISION: Have a vision, is there a hole in improv? Help fill it. What does improv need? Get it and throw it out to the masses. Find the resources and provide it.
  4. SUPPORT- Have a vision on how to support theaters and festivals in the modern improv era.
  5. Must be okay with working for free – This job does not pay. It’s been my honor to give back more to improv then it has given me.
  6. LEADER – Be someone that leads by example in your community. Someone who goes above and beyond.
  7. Technical stuff – Business Finances with Bill, Report to the Board in monthly meetings, blogging a few times a month or finding bloggers, coming up with new ideas to implement into the site. Answering e-mails to people with questions.

So that’s it. Is that you? Hit us up!

Signing off,

Nick Armstrong

Co-Founder

The Improv Network

 

What I’ve Learned, So Far, as an Artistic Director

October was my official one year anniversary as Artistic Director for M.I.’s Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica, CA. It’s been an amazing learning experience. You see, there are tons of books on how to do improv, maybe too many now, but there’s not a book about how to be an Artistic Director. It’s like only other AD’s can pass their stories down from generations past, much like the Native Americans did passing on their stories on and on to preserve their history. I know this blog might not interest a lot of you, I’m sure there are only a handful of AD’s in the world that specifically run comedy theaters. But I want improvisers to see the insides a little bit and show you what’s up in the business end of things. Here are some observations, advice I’ve learned over my year as AD:

  1. It’s rewarding! You get to see the growth of many of your performers. It’s an honor to help artists reach their full potential and seeing it is an amazing experience. You see novices turn into masters at playing the piano and actors shine brighter than the first first day they stepped onto the stage. I never get tired of it and it’s what keeps me going.
  2. It is a hard job. You have to cut troupes, players, your friends. This is a very hard thing to do, to e-mail or call a friend or performer to tell them you can not longer perform for now. This sometimes causes strains in friendships and with your performers.
  3. Professionalism – You find out, who is a professional and who is not, really fast. People who don’t show up for a show, are unorganized, flaky. You name it you’ll find them fast and have to deal with it.
  4. You’re the middle man! Yes, you’re the balance of the force. You are the liaison between the business itself and the artists that perform with you. You have to find compromise on a daily basis.
  5. You can’t please everyone – You’re dealing with a ton of personalities. Imagine you can’t even get your team of 8 to decide on a Monday rehearsal, imagine that with hundreds of people and having to get decisions made.
  6. Compromise – I’m not always right and some decisions I’ve made are not the best. But you have to make those mistakes so you can learn from them.
  7. You Should do this – You’ll hear this a lot. So what do you do? Listen, their could be a good idea in there. But know that most of the time the person saying “you should do this.” will not help you carry out that idea. Try to get them involved in helping with  the idea instead of just suggesting. I’ve actually found out when I was more forward about that and gave them tasks it worked.
  8. You hear more complaints then praise. Not that I’m looking for praise at all, but your job is to have a vision and direct a theater into that vision. Sometimes people have issues with that, again see 5 and 6 above. HA!
  9. Have a vision and communicate your vision – You can’t just be an admin. You have to have a vision on what you want done and how it fits with the theater. Communicate all your ideas and why you’re doing them with your community. To make sure the community is involved so they have a say.
  10. The Community – That’s what it’s all about. My community has surprised me on many levels and I’ve been doing this for years. At the end of the day you do it for them. They are awesome, deserving and most of the time do this for free. That’s one thing I will always remember when I go into the theater. My philosophy I’ve made with them, if you’re doing this for free you should be A. Be having fun and B. Learning something. If you’re not let’s talk and make sure you can accomplish those.
  11. Be Available – Don’t hide in an office, be available to talk to your community. I have an open door policy. I can be available for anyone in my community to give them notes, listen to what they have to say etc.
  12. Lead by example – Don’t ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do.

I’m sure their are a ton more little things I’ve learned along the way, but these are the pretty major ones I’ve learned and hopefully a little advice and an open door to see what your theaters owners or Artistic Directors go through. I’m pretty lucky to have a wonderful comedy community at The Westside Comedy Theater. They make my job worth it and they are a great group of people.

Detroit Creativity Project Needs Help

Detroit Creativity ProjectFor the past several years The Improv Network has made donations to the Detroit Creativity Project as part of their ongoing mission. This program, which places improv classes into the schools of Detroit is an amazing opportunity for children who might otherwise not have access to any arts education, but it is also much more than that. Any member of an improv community knows the power of the work we do on stage and the lessons we learn in class to change our lives for the better. Maybe we learned to be better listeners when we were part of a small college group in the Midwest or went to a big state school in the South. Perhaps we learned to support others as students in a bustling scene like those in Austin, Philadelphia, and North Carolina. If we’re lucky we might even be active in an entertainment capital like New York, Toronto, or London and make a living putting ourselves in the shoes of another character to see things from their point of view and writing or acting that out.

So today, I’m writing to ask members of The Improv Network to consider opening their wallets (or their iPhones depending on how high-tech you are) and consider making a personal donation to The Improv Project’s Generosity Campaign to ​Help Us Grow The Improv Project​ in 2017 by using the best IT experts help.

For the past several years I have served on the board of The Detroit Creativity Project, which is close to my heart because I grew up just outside Detroit and first learned to improvise from one of the DCP’s Founders, Marc Evan Jackson. The Improv Project has taught thousands of students since it began – and the power of improv could not be more clear than it is when you look at it’s impact on the kids this program has transformed. Recently, the University of Michigan studied the effect learning to improvise had on students in The Improv Project and the board were simultaneously thrilled and amazed by what they found. Although the research has not reached the point of publication, researchers found that participating in just ten weeks of The Improv Project led to statistically significant reductions in social phobia and depression – issues that more than half of the students in the program screened positive for at the outset of their participation.

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As we work to expand The Improv Project to reach more students in 2017 by raising $15,000 online we have been offered a generous challenge grant – an anonymous donor is willing to match any contributions made through Generosity until we hit our goal. As of the start of February, we’re just over halfway there and could not be more excited about the momentum we have.

If each member of The Improv Network would c​ontribute $20 today​ we’d easily blow past this goal (and each of your donations would actually turn into $40 thanks to our match).

I often meet students at PHIT Comedy here in Philadelphia who pull me aside to thank me for starting the theater and creating a place that has changed their lives. The stories almost inevitably end with them saying “I wish I had learned to improvise sooner. I wonder how much better my life would be now if I had!” or “I’m one of the older students in my class, and I’m telling you – there college students don’t know how good starting now is going to be for them.”

I understand where these people are coming from, and it always reminds me how lucky I was to learn to improvise in high school, I was able to assist to the Ontario secondary school literacy course, and I think this was one of the things that helped me out the most. When I was 16 and living just outside Detroit I was lucky enough to work with performers from the local Second City franchise as part of my school’s sketch & improv comedy troupe. Learning to improvise gave me a group of friends to goof off with, an outlet to write and perform material about my frustrations with high school, and a set of skills that made me more outgoing in adult life. As an added bonus it gave me something I loved and led me to eventually open the and run my own improv theater near Sacramento.

Who knows – maybe there’s a version of yourself somewhere in downtown Detroit right now just waiting to learn to improvise and have it change the course of their life. Wouldn’t you like to find out? Wouldn’t you like to help? ​Join The Improv Project today​ and let’s see what The Improv Network can do together! To donate please click HERE. Any bit helps the cause.

Check Out the New Globalization Tool

It’s been four months since we’ve updated the site to be more international friendly. Part of that effort has been updating personal, troupe, theatre and festival profiles to have the appropriate information for world travelers. Adding those pieces to the profiles was a good excuse to add a few other pieces of information that people have been asking about for a while.

That’s all well and good for people joining the network today, but for folks who have been with us for a while, their profiles are now a little out of date. I definitely encourage people to update all their profiles from time to time, but for anyone with lots of profiles, that could be time consuming to go through all your troupe and festivals to be up to date.

That’s why starting today, and running through the end of the year, you can use the Globalization Tool. It’s on the main menu to your left. The globalization tool asks four questions that will take about 30 seconds to fill out. Running the Globalization Tool once will update your personal profile, and any troupe, theatre or festival pages which you are the administrator for making them more user friendly for international readers.

That’s all you need to do. But if you want to really fine tune your profiles with all the new features, here’s a description of all the new tiny differences.

All Profiles:

All personal, troupe, theatre and festival profiles have the following new pieces of info

  • Country: Pretty self-explanatory. This is the country you live in.
  • Country Code: The International Telephone Code for your country. North Americans don’t use these often. The U.S. and Canada are ‘1’.
  • Admin Transfer: Not an international tool. Just a requested feature to allow people to transfer ownership of a profile.
  • Number Formatting: Based on your country, the numeric displays will match your local styling as much as possible (some countries use commas. Some don’t).
  • Better Facebook Scraping: Sharing on Facebook will start looking cleaner
  • Search and Sort: More options in searching and sorting

Personal Profliles

Some small changes are available in your personal profiles. This can be found on your profile page under “Edit” (It’s just below your picture).

  • Date Format: You can choose your preference for date formatting. “MM-DD-YYYY” or “DD-MM-YYYY” if there are countries with other formatting, please let me know.
  • Gender: Got rid of it. Why do we need to know? Why do we get to decide what the options are?
  • Teacher: This has actually been a feature for a while, but not everyone knows about it. Please check the “I am a teacher” box to unlock teaching tools.

Troupe Profiles

Now there is a bit more flexibility with troupe profiles.

  • Coaches: You can add a coach to your troupe now. Coaches may also create new profiles without being a member, and may submit to festivals.
  • New Toolbar: At the end of the Edit Wizard, there are direct links to add or remove performers, add or remove a coach, add your troupe to a theatre company, read tips on creating festival packets or go directly to the festival submissions listings.

Theatre Profiles

New options for opting in to some upcoming features ahead of time.

  • Venue: If your theatre company has a dedicated venue, you can now add venue information.
  • Traveling Tools: This lets you opt your theatre into the Traveling Performer Tools (coming 2017). These tools will allow you to receive notifications when traveling teachers or performers will be in your city so you can reach out to them for workshops or shows.
  • New Toolbar: New options in the tools setting for Adding or removing troupes performers or teachers, or update your training center.

Festival Profiles

Most of these options are to make submissions easier.

  • Improved Timezone Settings: International Time Zones have been added. Improved Daylight Savings settings are built in. Submission dates in review pages are now your local time.
  • Better Calendar Input: A hopefully more elegant input method for adding dates.
  • Teacher Submissions: Again, not a new feature. But one that hasn’t been around too long. You can accept teacher submissions
  • Faster Loading Teacher Page: The memory leak that made teacher reviews so slow has been fixed.
  • Submission URL on Profile: Fests not using the tool can have a link to their submissions page in the event profile now.
  • FAQ: You can now create a FAQ based on common troupe questions (travel logistics, cost info, etc)
  • Customized Submission URL: A customized URL is created for you to share to FB that will take TIN Members directly to your submissions, and new members to a registration page skinned for your festival.

Umm… I think that’s it. So if you have 30 seconds, go ahead and give the Globalization Tool a whirl. And if you want to spend some more time later, please go through the individual profile wizards to squeeze the new goodness out of it all. Oh, and now that these are in place, a couple of cool new things are coming in October.


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival.

Welcome to The Improv Network

SquareYou may have noticed some visual changes to The National Improv Network. We wanted to write and fill you in on exactly what’s going on.

Last year we spent a good portion of time traveling abroad learning how theatres and festivals worked; how they advertised, how they performed, how they coached. It was a great experience. When we returned we started working towards making the site more accessible and useful to improvisors around the world. As of today, we’re happy to announce that the site is now a place for performers from around the world to meet and exchange ideas.

As such, we thought the name “National Improv Network” no longer applied, so we’ve renamed the site “The Improv Network” to reflect a true global improv community.

So what does that mean for you and your experience? Very little actually. Visitors from around the world are going to be able to access the site with an interface they are familiar with; date formats, phone number formatting, time zones. It’s going to adapt to their viewing experience. If you’re used to visiting the page from the U.S. your interface will stay the same since the U.S. formatting has been the default for a long time. Festival submissions and troupe creation will be essentially the same (with the addition of one or two fields here and there).

In June, we’ll be putting out a conversion tool for existing users. It’s a totally optional tool that you can run once and it will update all of your troupe, theatre and festival pages (as well as your personal profile) to be more readable for readers outside North America. The conversion process will take about 30 seconds.

Other than that, the site will still provide a lot of the same tools we always have. Some of the changes will be trickling in over the next week or two, but we’re happy to be part of the International Community.

Festival Spotlight – West Coast Musical Festival

The West Coast has it’s first dedicated festival to the musical improv arts and it’s in San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I had a chance to interview the Executive Producer of the festival Gemma Bulos here is what she had to say:

Tell what inspired you to create The West Coast Musical Improv Festival

As far as the Bay Area community, in recent years, musical improv started to get more popular and we just hit that tipping point and all of a sudden it exploded! Where only a few improv troupes were doing musical improv, now every Bay Area improv dojo is offering their own unique voice to the genre.

As far as Un-Scripted Theater Company, musical improv has always been part of the fabric of Un-Scripted. Every year we would have at least 2 musical shows and they were often the most popular. We’ve even done an all-musical season, and have created many original styles of musical improv, focusing on full-length improvised musicals in a variety of genres. Some favorites included A Tale of Two Genres (improvised Dickens genre mashup), Shakespeare: The Musical, and The Great Puppet Bollywood Musical. We’d performed at musical festivals in NY with the Magnet, at the SF Improv Festival, and it felt like the time was ripe to start celebrating our rich musical improv community in the Bay Area and around the country!

What can improvisors who submit expect from the festival?

It’s our first year, so we’ll have lots of local talent, since this may be the first time we all come together as a Bay Area community to celebrate musical improv. And of course we’ll invite musical improv pioneers and welcome national talent so we can share the love!

Will there be any workshops?

Yes, all the workshops will be musical improv. We’ll have national and local talent! Stay tuned! Also, we’re accepting submissions for workshop leaders.

What are you looking for in a musical improv group that submits?

Again, this is our first year, it’s been exciting to start exploring what we want our festival to feel like. We’ve been getting great advice from other festival producers who have been so generous with their wisdom. We’re looking for variety, uniqueness, playfulness, innovation, and fun fun fun! (Not in that order and not all at the same time!)

Tell us about the venue you’re performing in.

The venue is the Un-Scripted Theater just blocks from Union Square! For out of towners, it’s just minutes from the BART, right on the trolley line, and easy access to all the wonderful things our City by the Bay has to offer.

San Francisco is such a wonderful city. What are some things you recommend improvisors do while they’re there?

They should absolutely check out the active improv scene in SF, like our sister theaters BATS, Leela, and Endgames. There are tons of fun touristy things to do, like taking a cable car (leaving from Market St. near the theater and heading to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39), riding a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, and learning about S.F. history via free walking tours all over the city! Some local websites that can help you find offbeat activities include Broke-Ass Stuart, FunCheap SF, 7×7, and The Bold Italic.

If you’re a musical improv troupe you can submit HERE.


Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California, Yosemite and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West and The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops at theaters and festivals around the world.

To My Partner in Crime, Bill Binder.

I’m sitting in a waiting room waiting to serve on a Jury when I look on Facebook and read from Bill Binder “Please Help. Need Urgent Care. Not a Joke.” I immediately panicked. I texted him right away and he told me what was going on. I desperately tried to find him an urgent care, but I’m in California and he’s in Arizona. Thank god, Bill has a wonderful group of friends in Arizona that took care of him and got him the help he needed. Don’t worry everyone, he’s doing okay and is resting at home. He’ll be collecting sodapdf documents about the trip and going to your festival soon. I promise you that!

But it got me thinking about the man I’ve called a friend for the last 15 years. Someone I share a deep friendship with that sometimes I forget about.

Bill and I met taking classes at iO West years ago. I lived near iO, but Bill would commute from Phoenix every week to take classes. That’s a seven hour drive. Who does that? Immediately I had to be friends with him. I mean, that’s dedication. He didn’t have to even say one word to me to prove he loved this art form. He took the knowledge he learned from such teachers as Craig Cackowski, Miles Stroth and Paul Vaillancourt and went back to Phoenix to help create an improv community there – The Torch Theater and The Phoenix Improv Festival. I attended most every Phoenix Improv Festival since and Bill and I became closer friends sharing a common improv philosophy. But our philosophy ran deeper and past the stage. We both had a huge sense of community. Four years ago we both had the same idea. Really! We literally thought up the same thing. To create a site that would connect the improv world like never before. Can you guess what the site is? WINK.

One of the many things we have in common is our love of Star Trek. We always use it as a metaphor for anything we do. NIN is The Enterprise and I’m Captain Kirk, emotional and leap before I think, where he’s Spock, logical, thinks it through and is just really fucking smart. It works! Just like Capt. Kirk and Spock work. We have a deep unconditional friendship for each other, but also respect each other as business associates.

Lately, Bill and I have been all business. It’s hard running a site that you’re volunteering your time to do. When we have a moment to talk it’s about the site because that’s the time we have to talk and it has to get done. This reminds me I have to do better. That this isn’t just a site but a culmination of a friendship that started 15 years ago. The young guys that were taking class for the first time and stepping into a bigger world. A world that would lead us down a path of a long and awesome friendship filled with love, respect and passion.

Bill is one of the most passionate people I have ever met in my life. He loves improv. He would die for it. He has come close, once he went blind for a day while overworking himself for The Phoenix Improv Festival. I’ve never seen anyone do so much for the community. He spends hours upon hours to make improv and the community better for you and for absolutely nothing. He doesn’t ask for anything back and he doesn’t want anything. He just wants to make the art form, that he fell in love with, better for future generations. Isn’t that the Star Trek philosophy?

As I write this and Bill rests and recovers I say to you this my friend, “I love you, buddy. You teach me everyday that I can do better, that I can reach farther, be a better artist and do even more for the improv community.”  I firmly believe that the universe puts people together for a reason. And thank you universe for giving me Bill Binder.

I’m sure this is more attention then Bill ever wanted. But he deserves all of it. Here’s to another 15 years my friend! I have a bottle of mead for us!

Nick Armstrong

Why Your Theater Should Have a Sexual Harassment Policy

Recently, in Los Angeles there was an increased awareness of sexual harassment. A few people in the community were accused of sexually harassing women to the point that they didn’t want to take classes at certain theaters because their instructor was harassing them and creating an unsafe experience for the students. It got crazy and the LA improv community was damaged by it. This harassment affected many major theaters in the LA market. The harassment had been going on for a few years but no one came forward until recently. Why did this happen? Partially, the victims didn’t feel that they had a safe place to come forward and talk about it. They didn’t know who to talk to. There was no policy or the policy wasn’t enforced and the victims felt they would be ridiculed and possibly shunned from the community. It sounds crazy, but it’s completely understandable. This happens in other industries all the time. So, how do we help solve this? How do we protect our improvisors from this horrible and gross thing? Your theater needs a Sexual Harassment Policy and procedures on how to report them.

There should be a NO TOLERANCE Sexual Harassment Policy that any member of the theater who teaches or performs there should have to read, agree and sign. It should also be made clear how someone, male or female, can seek help if something like this comes up. They need to know that they are safe and that they can report this stuff so it doesn’t spiral out of hand as it had in LA.

It’s beyond me that we aren’t thinking of this and it hurts that we even have to, but we do and we need to protect our improvisors from people who may want to hurt them. So if you don’t have one, get one quick and implement it immediately. Set up a system of reporting and let them know that they will be safe in reporting it. You may want to consult a legal entity if you have one and you may want that person to handle any reports that are being submitted. If you have the money to take it one step further, recently one of the theaters I belong to, iO West,  hired a Human Resources Manager to oversee all policies of the theater including  sexual misconduct. It’s a step in the right direction and great job iO for taking this seriously. I know some other major theaters have policies as well. For those larger theaters that can afford something like this, if you haven’t already…you should, there’s no excuse. For you smaller markets, it doesn’t matter how small you are you have to at least have a policy and implement it and make sure your company understands it. Your improvisors are your family and you should do anything to protect them and make them feel safe. Let’s have each others backs!

 

Bill Binder and Nick Armstrong

C0-Founders

National Improv Network

The New Teaching Tool is Here

teaching-tools[1]The Teaching Tool is live now and this is just the beginning of the tools which will be rolling out for teachers and people hoping to bring out teachers during the rest of 2015. So here is a brief guide on what exactly the tool is, what it will be, and how to use it.

Like the festival submission tool here on the site, part of the purpose of the teaching profiles is simple convenience; having all your information in one place and easy to send to others. But the other part is helping to put the right information there. There are plenty of people out there who have experience both as traveling teachers and as theatre owners. They know the needs and speak the language of both. But there are also many people who only know one of those. Many teachers don’t know the kinds of information that theatres or festivals need when looking to bring out instructors, and vice versa. This tool, and the tools to come will attempt to bridge that communications gap and make the process of bringing instructors to your city as simple as possible.

Some of those tools will be pretty high falootin’. I’ll talk about some of those plans at the end of the blog. But in order for those tools to work, teachers need to be able to set up a home base for those tools to run through. So let’s get those profiles going.

Theatres: Setting up the Teacher’s Lounge

If your theatre has a training program. You can set up a space for your teachers to call home. You can also have some basic information about your training program here for viewers to see. Eventually, there will be more tools for student tracking and curriculum building, but for now it’s just a place to showcase your teachers. Setting it up will only take about two minutes.

Enable the Training Page
The first thing you need to do is to enable the teaching page. To do this, edit your theatre info either from the theatre’s profile or your own home profile. Towards the bottom, you’ll see the following options.
Theatre 00

Make sure “Training Program” is checked “Yes” and save.

If you return to your theatre page, you’ll see the option to set up your info.

Theatre 10

Clicking here will take you to a brief wizard that will allow you to enter information on your training program, a link to your registration page and a course catalogue.

When you’re finished, you’ll be returned to your theatre profile and you’ll see a new tab called “Training” on your profile that will be visible to anyone who wants to know more.

Adding Instructors
Now that your training page is setup, you’ll see different options on the top of your screen when you visit it. One of the options will be to “Change Instructors”. Clicking this will let you add instructors to your training page the same way you would add performers to your theatre before. You may notice that some performers on the site aren’t on the list of people you can add as instructors. That’s because they haven’t indicated on their NIN profile that they are teachers. Drop them a line and let them know they can enable that on their profiles and then they can be added to your faculty.

Teachers may also indicate that they are teachers at your theatre on their own profiles, but their addition to your faculty on the page will only go live pending your approval. You’ll receive an email any time someone indicates they’d like to be listed on your training page.

Congrats, you’ve set up your training profile. Keep an eye open for future developments here.

Teachers: Enabling Teaching Tools
Not everyone is a teacher, so not everyone needs all the teaching tools popping up around the page. If your a teacher – either as part of your local training center or on the road, you can enable those features by editing your profile and checking the box below.
Teacher 00

Once you return to your profile page, you’ll see the invitation to get started.
Teacher 20

Click it and you’re on your way.

Basic Info
Depending on the options you select on the way, not everyone will fill out every part of the wizard, but the first page is the same for everyone. Most of the options on the first page are pretty self-explanatory, but here’s a quick rundown..

-Bio:
You have the option of displaying your current bio on your teaching page, or creating one more catered to your teaching experience. If you select “New Bio” you will have the opportunity to type a teacher-specific bio on your page. Don’t worry, your existing bio will still show up right where it always had on your performer profile.

A note on cut-and-paste Sometimes it’s easy to cut and paste info like that from other web pages. When you do, you take not only the text of that info, but all of the formatting rules and potentially all sort of other background information from the other page. Doing so is never “harmful” but it can have three unintended results: It can make your profile sluggish to load if there’s excessive amounts of background, it can try to apply the visual formatting from your old page, which could look quite incongruous, and in some rare cases it could just not save at all, and you’ll have to type it over again. If there’s a lot of text you want to copy from another website, a good idea is to copy it first into a basic text editor (Notepad for Windows, TextWrangler for Mac) to clear out any unneeded background noise, and then copy and paste it again into the page here.

-Type:
You have two options here. You can select if you are a teacher in a training program and you can select if you are a teacher who teaches your own workshops. You can absolutely check both. Each will give you access to different tools.

-Website:
This is a totally optional space to include a link to an external webpage about your teaching.

-Headshot:
This is a place to upload your headshot. Why? When people bring you into town it’s very helpful to have a good looking image of you to promote your workshop to potential students. This sometimes means the difference between a half-full workshop and a full one.

Hit next and you go deeper down the rabbit hole.

Home Theatre
If you selected “I teach classes as part of an improv training center’s faculty” on the previous page you’ll be presented with a list of theatres in your state. The wizard only lists the theatres in your home state to prevent having to search needlessly, but in the off chance you teach regularly out of your home state, just drop me a personal note and we can set that up manually for you.

You might see an empty list even though you know there are theatres in your state. If that’s the case, double check your own profile that you have your home state (Two letter abbreviation) filled in.

If you are already listed as a teacher for a theatre, it will say “Active Teacher”. For other theatres, it will say “[Join]” to add yourself to the faculty. This change won’t automatically put you own a theatres teacher list. The theatre admin will have to approve your request.

You might see a theatre that says “No Training Program”. This is because either they actually don’t have a training program or because they haven’t indicated that they do on their theatre profile. You can always reach out to whoever maintains the profile and ask them to enable this feature.

And that’s it. Moving along.

Accolades
If you selected “I teach workshops locally and/or while traveling” you will now have a chance to post a couple of quotes about your teaching prowess. Enter up to three quotes and who said them to appear on your main teaching page. In the future, theatres and festivals will have the option to add testimonials to your profile in its own section, but even then, you’ll be able to choose the three quotes you want to place right on your front page.

Quotation marks? If you’re anal like me, you’ll want to know if you should include “” or not. Don’t worry, the main profile has a little bit of formatting code that will make sure all quotes look uniform on your main page.

Booking
Here’s the part that’s going to actually take a bit of thinking. This is also the part that is going to make the biggest difference in getting invited to theatres and festivals.

Theatres and festivals, particularly ones that haven’t had a lot of experience bringing teachers out are frightened of calling you. It sounds silly, but it’s absolutely true.

That fear comes from the fact that they respect you – and all teachers – enough that they are afraid to open a dialog with you only to realize they aren’t able or willing to offer you what you need in exchange for your time and knowledge. Not just you, all teachers. Young theatres often simply don’t know what is expected of them in terms of taking care of you.

This is your chance to put that information out there. Put in writing what you are asking in exchange for a workshop.

SOAPBOX

Don’t be afraid to ask what you are worth. Don’t set your expectations so low that you will actually end up losing money to take a weekend to teach. There has been a false idea for a long time that theatres can’t afford to spend the money it would take to bring out a teacher. The truth is, theatres are going to make money from your visit, both in the long term via better shows and more ticket sales, but also in the immediate term during your visit with just a little bit of planning on their part.

Don’t be unreasonable. Don’t be a diva. But demand to be treated like a professional (and act like one in return). I’m speaking as a theatre owner myself and I promise you, the value of bringing you out is becoming more and more clear as 2015 moves into 2016.

Don’t be ashamed to ask for your skills to be respected. You will have to earn that respect at first, to be certain, but don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If theatres are going to grow, the relationships with teachers will have to continue to grow and evolve and that starts now with us all collectively working towards that.

END SOAPBOX

-Travel
Travel accommodations. If the workshop isn’t in your city, how are you going to get there? What do you need for that to happen.

-Lodging
Lodging. More than likely you’ll be there more than one day. You need to sleep. You need a shower. What do you need from theatres to make this happen?

-Transportation
This one gets forgotten pretty easily. Unless their theatre has a bedroom upstairs (I’ve actually experienced this, and it’s pretty great) you’re going to need to get to and from the venue. And you may need to get to a place to eat, or get around while visiting. Make sure to let the theatre know if you have any needs here.

-Payment
How much do you expect to be paid. Now this is of course the most variable figure. There can be a lot of factors that can affect this. Sometimes flight costs can change this. Sometimes the length of your stay or the number of activities you’re involved with can affect this. But put down a good baseline so theatres have at least an inkling of what they’re getting involved with. And also don’t be afraid to include as much info about the things that may cause some flexibility. The more info they have, the better.

-Other
Wildcard. There is often some piece of info that doesn’t fit into the other categories. Maybe you have a special skill that is worth mentioning. Maybe there are some conditions that can affect your travel plans (there’s at least one very good instructor on the network who gets free airfare around North America. That’s pretty useful info). This is really a place to put any extra info you think would be helpful.

-Extra Services
Even tough it’s at the bottom of the page, it’s the most important piece of info to some people. They’re going to calculate what it will cost to bring you in, and they’re going to have to figure out how to make that money back, and how to make the most of your visit. Are you available to do additional workshops? Are you willing to sit in on shows. Are you willing do to coaching sessions with groups while you’re in town? You’ve spent the top half of this page telling them what you expect. Now’s the chance to tell them what they can expect from you.

Teacher 30

-Travel
This info is just for you. You’ll be able to see it from your profile page, but no one else can. Booking your own flights and/or hotels can be a hassle. Booking someone else’s can be a nightmare. Lots of pieces of your personal information will be needed to book your flight.
-First Middle Last Name
-Gender
-Birthdate
-Other (depending on the type of flight or hotel)

In addition to personal info, you may have frequent flyer miles or perks reward memberships. Now if the theatre has them as well, by all means, let them reap the reward. They’re paying for this. But if they don’t, might as well earn some frequent flier miles.

This area is a place to store all your personal info as well as any membership info or other travel info all in one place. That way, when you’re ready to visit, you can copy and paste that info all at once rather than hunting it down from a half dozen webpages.

You’re done!
Congratulations. Your page is all set up. On the final landing page of the wizard you will be able to either visit your profile and look it over, or go right to setting up your workshops.

Teacher 40

Huzzah

Setting up Workshops

You can click through from the last page, or you can add workshops at any time from your teaching profile. Right smack in the middle of the page you’ll see [Add Workshop].

Let’s begin.

Setting up your info

There’s a lot less info here than for your teaching profile. Just fill out the fields.

-Instructors
Do you teach this workshop alone, or do you teach it with others. If you teach with partners, you’ll have a chance in a few minutes to add them to the workshop. For now, just select the appropriate box.

-Description
Pretty self-explanatory. Just fill out a description of your workshop.

-Cap
How many students can you have in your class before diminishing returns on what they can learn?

-Length
How long is your workshop (in hours)

-Difficulty
This is admittedly a very subjective term. But just think about if this class would be helpful to a level 1 student, an advanced student, or someone who has been performing for some time.

Submit!

Adding Instructors
If you’ve selected multiple instructors, you can add up to three additional instructors to your workshop from the workshops page. Adding instructors works very similar to adding performers to a theatre or a troupe in other parts of the page.

So what exactly does that mean in terms of maintenance? Since you created the workshop, you will be the primary contact person for the workshop. You will also be the only one who will be able to edit the description et al for the workshop. The workshop will show up on their respective pages however and their teaching profiles will be linked from the workshop page.

Congratulations. You’ve set up your profile and your workshops.

Now that you have a profile, you can start reaching out to theatres and they to you, but there’s not a lot to facilitate that outside of just reaching out to each other. New tools will start filtering in over the coming weeks and months of 2015. Why aren’t they up immediately? Well, we got as much feedback as we could building the profiles, but undoubtedly some of you will also have great ideas we hadn’t thought of. We want to give the teaching profiles a test run by themselves to get your feedback so we can incorporate those changes into any tools to come rather than launching those tools today and then reinventing them.

So what’s coming?

Teacher Listings
Nothing super-complex here. Just a searchable list of teachers accessible from the main menu.

Festival Submissions
Soon you’ll be able to submit not only your troupes to festivals, but also yourself as an instructor. And festival organizers won’t just be able to see you if you’ve submitted. If you’re in a troupe that submitted to a festival, the organizers (if they opt in to this part of the tool) will be able to see that you are instructor, which might help your chances and your troupe’s chances of being invited.

History and Reviews
When you start teaching at festivals and theatres on the network, you’ll start building a history, not only to show your experience, but to offer potential bookers to contact those you’ve worked with in the past for recommendations. Those theatres and festivals you visit will also have a chance to leave reviews on your page. (We’re working on ways to make this constructive and usable). You’ll still be able to choose your favorite three quotes for your profile.

Traveling Tool
I am so excited about this one. If you’re going to be in the same city as a theatre, it’s a great opportunity for them to take advantage of your knowledge withoug springing for a plane. If you’re going to be in another city for whatever reason (wedding, vacation, etc) You can add a travel notice that will alert any nearby theatres that opt in to your visit. Then they’ll be able to reach out to you and see if you’re game for teaching since you’ll already be there.

Training Center Tools
This first batch of tools is aimed a little bit towards the traveling teacher, but we haven’t forgotten the training centers. We’ll have some cool tools towards the end of the year to help both artistically and logistically. Most of the tools are still very much in the “Wouldn’t it be neat if…” phase, so I don’t want to comment to much on them until they’re a little more firm, but they are coming.

Are these tools coming this week? NO! I’m going to watch TRON (already completed), take a nap and remember what my girlfriend looks like. But they’re coming.

I’m excited by this. I hope you are too. Let’s get to teaching!


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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