Preventing Harassment and Discrimination in Your Improv Theater

In case you didn’t already know, The Improv Network is made possible by a handful of passionate improvisers who I’m honored to work with. We each have our own lives around the country, and we do our best to set aside some time every month to maintain and grow our little site.

Occasionally, we hear about harassment claims in theaters around the country, many that are home to members of our site. Our team at the Network has spent a lot of time thinking about what our role is in preventing discrimination and harassment in the improv community. Most of the time, we hear about these claims from friends who are reaching out to us in the hopes that we can provide a plan of action, support for the parties who were affected, or lend an ear.

Ultimately, we’re less effective in this role than we’d like to be because this kind of work isn’t what we’re built for. We’re not an investigative body and we can’t provide legal advice. All we can do it make a judgment for ourselves about whether or not that person should be allowed to continue to use our site.

We’ve realized that we can’t progress as an organization without giving theaters and improvisers the resources to prevent and handle harassment and discrimination in their own community. After all, that’s what we do – provide resources. We have neither the jurisdiction nor the resources to properly investigate harassment claims outside of our organization, but we will always be here to help individuals and communities navigate those tough situations. Those are the boundaries of our role in the community.

So, with the help of improvisers around the country, I’ve written a guide. In this post, you’ll find a blueprint for preventing harassment and discrimination in your theater. I believe that we can prevent misconduct by clearly stating our rules and expectations early and often. That way, if someone violates our policies, we can take immediate action with the knowledge that we’ve defined our boundaries and consequences from the beginning. The primary audience for this piece is theater owners, directors, teachers, and staff. However, it’s a good idea for performers to ask themselves if the theaters they frequent are taking active steps towards creating a safe environment.

Create a Harassment & Discrimination Policy

If you don’t have a harassment and discrimination policy already, you needed one yesterday. To me, this is the very first step in cultivating a safe environment. Set clear expectations for conduct. It’s never too early to create one and you’re going to be happy you did when you need to refer to it in a difficult moment.

Here’s a list of elements that should be outlined in a harassment and discrimination policy:

  • A list of prohibited conduct:
    • “Hostile Environment” Harassment –
    • “Quid Pro Quo” Harassment” – Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Protocol for handling unruly audience members, heckling, and drunkenness.
  • Responsibilities of staff to refuse inappropriate requests, report misconduct they’ve witnessed, and call out harassment on and offstage
  • Contact information for reporting, including an anonymous option
  • Investigative procedures
  • Consequences for violating the boundaries previously outlined
  • A “no retaliation” policy to protect reporters

 

If you’re struggling with handling student and performer boundaries, I think it’s worth pointing out that students are customers. If a customer at a bar or restaurant was behaving inappropriately, the staff would take action. The social element of an improv community can’t be denied, but it’s important to remember that you have the right to refuse service to people who are breaking your company’s policies. Handling these situations can be emotional, so clearly outlining boundaries in advance takes some of the gray area out of removing harmful people.

Look for examples in your community!

I think it’s a great idea to model your policy after another theater’s. There are lots of groups finding great success with creating a safe space.

HUGE Theater in Minneapolis has a great harassment and discrimination policy. It’s written in a way that’s accessible to staff and students, not just lawyer jargon. The document does a nice job of acknowledging the specific needs of an improv theater and accounting for the fact that “blue” or “dark” topics will arise onstage. It acknowledges that, because this a nontraditional workplace, some issues require a nuanced discussion of what the boundaries might be. Also, it’s made easily available by being linked on their website. Check it out here.

I asked Jill Bernard about the process they used to create their policy. She said they borrowed an existing policy from Arcade Theater as a blueprint. I love the idea of looking to other theaters in our global community for help. They tweaked the policy to fit the specific needs of HUGE, then had a lawyer look over it for confirmation that everything in the document was legally sound.

Untold Improv in San Francisco is a non-profit that aims to create a safe and affirming space for people of color to improvise. They were founded by my kickass friend Brian, who saw discrimination in his improv community and decided to create the space he wanted. He was kind enough to share their Expectations and Agreements document with me.

Their policy isn’t linked on their site, so I’ll share some of the highlights. It’s based around the idea of empowerment and self-advocacy, calling for self-care and awareness of privilege. It does a nice job of balancing responsibility when it comes to physical boundaries. The document states that you need to respect the boundaries your classmates have set, but goes on to say that players have the right to say “no” or “stop” at any time. It also calls for awareness of the nonverbal signals people give off about their level of comfort, even when they aren’t verbally asking to pause.

I’m a big fan of their mission and policy because it’s written by women and LGBTQ+ people of color for a space that’s entire aim is to uplift those voices. I’ve read a few different harssment and discrimination policies that forget about the discrimination part. It’s essential to address racism in these policies, not just sexual harassment. If you’re in the area, check them out. They’re removing financial barriers by allowing for sliding scale payments and scholarships for self-identified PoC.

Make your policy known.

Everyone associated with your theater should sign the document. Teachers should sign when they’re hired; students should sign before their first class begins. If you host a festival at your theater, out of town teams should also sign. If everyone is made aware of the policy in your theater, there’s a better chance that we’ll hold each other accountable.

In my opinion, it’s a good idea to post a copy of this policy in a backstage part of your theater, so students and staff can review it easily. Anytime your policy is updated, you can repost a physical copy and send and updated version to performers and staff for signatures.

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your theater’s policy:

  • Have we clearly outlined the boundaries of our policy?
  • Have we created a protocol for investigating reports?
  • Have we clearly outlined the consequences for violating our policy?
  • Does our policy account for the improvisational nature of the work we do?
  • Does this policy allow from anonymity?
  • Does this policy protect those reporting harassment and discrimination?
  • Is this policy easily accessible to our staff, students, and performers?
  • Could any person involved with this theater, from students to directors, use our reporting protocol?

 

Discuss boundaries during rehearsal

In my experience, this is the easiest way to ensure that improvisers are safe onstage, even if the theater you perform at isn’t doing much to facilitate those discussions. Coaches and performers can initiate a boundaries conversation with their team, and should regularly reintroduce the topic to see if anyone’s boundaries have changed. This includes things like touch, subject matter – anything.

For example, when I had this conversation with my team, Buttermilk, I advocated for myself by telling my team that I don’t like being grabbed from behind or doing scenes about sexual violence. A performer might have different boundaries with different groups. I feel more comfortable exploring touch with my duo than I do with a larger team. It can be helpful to check in with yourself about what you need with different groups. Each time you add a new member or hire a different coach, check in!

Different members of your team might have drastically different needs and expectations. On my larger team, we’ve got people who don’t want to be touched and people who’ve said, “you can grab any part of me.” Neither of those boundaries are difficult, just different.

Fair Play is a collective of women, trans, femme, and non-binary improvisers that is working towards making improv an inclusive and equitable art form. They take reports of misconduct directly through their site, so they’d be a great place to look for help if you’re an improviser currently experiencing harassment or discrimination. Their site also hosts a variety of resources to legal help and mental health counseling.

For guided boundaries discussions, Fair Play has a great guide on their site about different levels of physical intimacy. They’ve created posters you can keep backstage so that, before each show or rehearsal, improsivers can pick which level of intimacy they’re comfortable with that day. Our boundaries certainly change based on how we’re feeling, so these posters are a creative way to acknowledge those shifts while bringing you closer to your teammates. You can find those posters here.

Hire a Human Resources department

I know this step is harder for small improv theaters that don’t have the budget to take on another employee. I spoke to Josh Nicols at Voodoo Theater in Denver about his experience hiring an HR representative. Josh told me that they searched for candidates with HR experience in the Denver area. Rather than hiring a full time employee, their representative works on an as needed basis and is paid hourly. Anyone can report misconduct to their representative in person, over the phone, or via email.

In most cases, HR departments exist to protect companies legally. This isn’t necessarily ideal for an improv community, so it’s important to have a conversation with a prospective representative about your theater’s goals. Your representative will know to place a greater emphasis on community safety, so you can develop a trusting relationship with your improvisers.

Create a Lighthouse hotline

Lighthouse is a company that provides reporting hotlines for businesses. They take all kinds of reports, from financial misconduct to harassment. All reports made through Lighthouse can be anonymous. I think Lighthouse works well for improv theaters because their prices vary based on the size of the company. The Improv Network is currently considering a Lighthouse hotline, and we found their fee to be affordable.

I asked Nick Armstrong about his experience using Lighthouse hotlines for Voodoo Comedy Theater. Nick said they receive anonymous reports through Lighthouse that go directly to their HR department. After that, their staff will have a discussion about investigating the claim, a process spearheaded by their HR representative. You can find out more about Lighthouse here.

The Improv Network is here. At the core of our mission is our belief that all things can be solved through community. I’m eager to continue this discussion, hear your input, and learn more about the best methods for preventing harassment and discrimination in improv. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts and experiences in the comments on this post, or through our Facebook community page.

Big thank you to Jill Bernard, Brian Teng, Nick Armstrong, and Josh Nicols for helping me put together this guide! Your input was invaluable.

The Minutes of Salt Lake City Duofest

7:46 AM
You know that one feeling you get when you first wake up? The one where you can’t remember who or where you are? Yeah. I woke up to my roommate pounding on my bedroom door. He yelled “Chris is looking for you” and everything came rushing back. I’m Laurel Posakony and I’m at home in my bed, not Salt Lake City bound on Southwest flight 4056 for Duofest like I’m supposed to be.

7:55 AM
Several frantic phone calls and incorrect login attempts later, I’d booked myself a new flight to Utah where I’d meet my duo partner Christopher George, who was already in Salt Lake City like the good little scout he is.

8:30 PM
Chris picked me up in a sexy, new rental car. He was the third person ever to rent it and it made for a nice vacation from the beat up van I drive at home. I’m the one who beat it up, so the experience is really on me. We headed straight to the theater, since I’d already missed about a half a day of festival activities by sleeping through my alarm.

Salt Lake City Duofest was held in an arts warehouse called Sugar Space. It sits tucked in the back corner of a pretty residential area. So residential, in fact, that local teenagers on scooters greeted us as we pulled into the parking lot. The whole thing really added to the ambiance.

The space is awesome. Seriously. The festival’s creator Danielle Susi-Dittmore really nailed it. It’s a massive warehouse style building, but inside it’s got everything from a stage, to a kitchen and loft. The loft was sectioned off to act as a green room for performers, so I rushed up there first thing to get ahold of one of these goodie bags I’d been hearing about.

We saw a handful of awesome shows. Born and raised in San Diego, I might be a little biased when I say Sad Boys was my favorite set of the night. Their improvised pop punk songs really capture that iconic I-wanna-fight-my-dad sound.

11:00 PM
I know we’re there to do improv, but my favorite part of festivals is always exploring a new city with improvisers. Armed with our festival badges and niche pop culture reference t-shirts, we headed to Beer Bar in downtown SLC to celebrate the first night of shows. Utah has some weird drinking laws, but that didn’t stop any of us from doing what improvisers do best: hang out in bars.

12:00 PM
Chris promised me we’d only stay there for one drink; we had a long day of exploring and improvising ahead of us. We headed home to our Airbnb near the theater and made myself at home in the basement bedroom we shared . I still managed to forget my toothbrush in Chicago despite having an extra six hours to pack.

10:00 AM
Chris and I woke up and headed immediately to find me a toothbrush. Next on the list: Sweet Lake Biscuits and Limeade for breakfast. Only about half of the SLC residents I spoke to had been there before, but it blew our socks off. I got an avocado toast situation and Chris ordered biscuits and jalapeño limeade.

12:00 PM
This was pretty much the Merit Badge Mormon tour of the Salt Lake City area. We hit up everything from the Gilgal sculpture garden to Temple Square. We watched people get married, listened to the 1,776-pipe organ play, and I accidentally sat in the lap of a giant Joseph Smith meets sphinx statue where I should not have. I am deeply sorry.

4:00 PM
We finished off our Mormon adventure with a trip to Beerhive Bar. I’m not totally certain what Salt Lake City’s connection to bees is, but I expect a lively discussion in the comments. I had a campfire whiskey that ruined my esophagus, but tasted pretty great.

7:15 PM
Chris and I had our Merit Badge set in front of a massive audience. I’m not sure what all Danielle did to advertise this festival, but it worked. A ton of SLC natives watched me wrestle my scene partner and lose. Understandably, I will be needing a rematch next year.

10:20 PM
Bruce Campbell Soup made me laugh so hard I spilled Diet Coke in my lap.

11:00 PM
The show ended with a very sweet speech made by Danielle, who organized this entire kickass festival. She got the standing ovation she deserved before we pushed into the lobby for cocktails and bits.

12:30 AM
Chris and I passed out in our Air BnB beds before another day of transportation chaos.

Thank you for Danielle, Calvin, and anyone who had a hand in making this great festival possible. I loved every minute.

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

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