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.

National Improv Network Launches Free Teaching Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About National Improv Network

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

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

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

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

 

 

Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book

So it’s happened. Tj and Dave have written a book: “Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book, with the help of  Pam Victor, you might know her from her wonderful blogs “My Nephew is an Improv Poodle.” This is a huge step forward for the improv community. TJ and Dave’s work has influenced modern day improv and now we get to take a look inside to see how they do it.

There are a lot of books about improv out there but this one promises to be about the experiences and thoughts about improv from the masters themselves.  The National Improv Network was lucky enough to get an interview with TJ, Dave and Pam here is what they had to say:

What prompted you guys to write the book after all these years?

TJ: We found that the books that were out there about improvisation were all well written and helpful so we decided to do something about that.

Is the book biographical, instructional a little of both?

TJ: Closer to a little bit of neither. I would say it’s primarily a collection of thoughts about improvisation. What has worked for us and how we think about it.

With the improv world expanding more than ever, there’s practically a theater and festival in every state now. What do you see happening to improv in the next 10 years?

TJ: I really don’t know. I’m guessing it will keep getting bigger. It seems that more people from every walk of life are finding it somehow. It seems to be a word that more people understand now. It’s so damn good I don’t know why it would ever get any less known than it it now.

Dave: I imagine it will follow the trajectory of the proliferation of stand-up in the 80’s and the housing market in the early 2000’s: boom and bust. Though with more economic impact than the latter.

What do you hope improvisors get out of your book?

TJ: Any little thing that helps or clarifies or excites.

Dave: Maybe a different way to think about this stuff that they have not yet been exposed to. and hopefully it will be helpful for those improvisers…and not merely be confounding.

Pam: Speaking as an evolving improviser, the book has been all of the above for me.

Is this book for improvisors of all levels of experiences?

TJ: I think so. I think at its heart it goes to the basic basic center of how you can improvise and in that, I think anybody might find some benefit from it.

Dave: I think it’s for folks who are interested in improvisation.

Pam: Personally, I tend to think of the book as a PhD in improvisation. Although improvisers of all levels will hopefully find interesting and helpful stuff in there, I am excited that this book could really be useful for experienced improvisers who have been around the block a few times. I have been performing for over a decade and I learned a tremendous amount from getting TJ and David’s approach to the page – more and more each time I went over the material. So I hope it will be useful for people to refer back to as they progress through their improv lives. I know that’s how it’s been for me.

Are you guys different players outside of your duo? Or do you commit to the same philosophies?

TJ: The same philosophies are at heart but different shows are made to do different things. An Armando is not a Harold is not our show, so the player is still the same but the job of the player may be different.

Dave: I think improvisation is improvisation, so for me, the principles stay the same regardless of the specifics.

You have your own theater space The Mission Theater. How has that been going and what has been your biggest challenges having your own space?

TJ: The biggest challenges are getting people to come and figuring out how to run a business. Outside of that, artistically it’s going well. We are really proud of the shows that go on in there. We are working on our second sketch revue, Undressed, and they’re awesome. The house ensemble is incredibly strong and good. We really like the people doing shows in there right now.

Is there going to be any book signings or events we can catch you at?

Pam: On April 1st at The Mission all three of us will be signing books and doing a Q & A moderated by Kim “Howard” Johnson. Tickets are free and can be reserved through the iO box office. More info at missiontheaterchicago.com. Howard, by the way, is the editor of Truth in Comedy and the author of The Funniest One in the Room, among other terrific books. He also was on one of the first Harold teams ever at Improv Olympic, Baron’s Barracudas, with Dave. Oh, and he helped edit our book too. Good guy.

Where can we purchase the book?

Pam: Our book release party is on April 1st at 6pm at The Mission Theater in Chicago, where the book will be on sale from that date on to forevermore. It’s currently available for order online (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.).

We here at NIN are excited to get a chance to read this. We will be posting our review of it soon and would love to hear from our community and see what you think so please drop us a line when you read it.

To purchase the Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The Tj and Dave Book visit HERE and get it today!

___________________________________________________________________________

Nick Armstrong

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

 

National Improv Network Partners with E-MPROV

The National Improv Network (NIN), a free online resource by improvisors for improvisors is partnering with E-MPROV, a website that puts on live improv shows with participants from all over the world via Google Hangout. The two online resources for improvisors are getting together to help promote and support the improv community even more.

The partnership will have NIN put E-MPROV’s live shows on their front page where there is currently older improv shows, NIN will still keep taped shows as a resource, but will be featured below the live E-MPROV shows. E-MPROV has daily shows from teams and performers from all around the world. In addition, Co-Founders Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder will be doing a live show “NIN’S Talkin’ Shop” every month. The show will have guests from improv leaders to business leaders and have a range of topics covering festivals, coaching, business and more. The community will have a chance to get their questions answered.

“Our mission has always been to bring our community together from day one,” said Nick Armstrong Co-Founder of National Improv Network. “E-MPROV has similar goals so we saw it as a natural fit.”

“We are very excited To Be Joining Forces With NIN To Promote Cross Pollination Between Improv Communities Worldwide,” said Amey Goerlich Artistic Director of E-MPROV. ” Since one of the purposes of NIN is to offer the opportunity to network with other improvisers and the primary purpose of E-MPROV is to have people improvise together over great distances, the collaboration seems obvious and we are thrilled.”

NIN continues to grow, and with the success of the instant submission service, which allows troupes to submit to improv festivals with the click of a button, they are going even further by sharing with improvisors even more resources like E-MPROV and also allowing teachers of improv the ability to submit their workshops to festivals all over the country.

About National Improv Network

National Improv Network is an online community and non-profit endeavor that brings improvisors together from all over the country and offers Theatre Owners, Festival Organizers, Improvisors and Instructors a wide array of services and resources.  Currently NIN has over 1600 members, over 80 festivals and over 70 theaters listed on the site.

About E-MPROV

E-MPROV is dedicated to embody and celebrate the principals of long form improv as an equal opportunity performance option to all. We are devoted to the widespread promotion of long form improv nationally and internationally. Combining electricity and improv to create a new way to universally connect to others through the power of Improvisation.

 

 

 

2015 is The Year of the Teacher

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

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

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

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

Theatre owners – You have a part in this

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

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

Local teachers – You have a part in this

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

Traveling teachers – You have a part in this

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

NIN – You have a part in this

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

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

So where to be begin

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

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

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

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

And wouldn’t that be lovely?


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

5 Ways an Improv Troupe Can Communicate Better

I get asked this a lot…How do we deal with someone in the troupe that is hard to work with? How do we kick someone off the team? Should we add new people? Should we get a coach? How do we make these decisions? Improv is such a positive force we sometimes forget to set some ground rules because we assume everything will work itself out because we are all easy-going people. Well this is not the case all the time. We are also artists that have strong passionate feelings about things. Sure, improvisors are awesome we all know that, but a troupe needs to communicate and be on the same page or else it will quickly fall apart.

A troupe needs to set up expectations up front so when you come across a situation it’s easier to figure them out in a diplomatic way. Below I have listed some things that will help guide you and your troupe into communication bliss.

1. Get Organized From the Start:

I’ve mentioned this in a blog post before. Your troupe should start an improv bible. Now the bible in the blog mentioned is focused more on the improv aspects of your troupe, which you should have, but in addition to that bible, start a bible on the rules of your team outside of performance. Here’s an example of what you’d have in there:

A. How do we pay for a things – rehearsal space, coach, etc… – Dues Based? Monthly Dues? When we show up for rehearsal? I would personally recommend a monthly dues based system. Why? It’s easy and holds every member accountable. So if they miss a rehearsal you don’t get screwed out of money to pay for the space or the coach. This saves you a lot of tracking people down.

B. Troupe Positions – Sure you’re all improvisors in an ensemble but get organized – Like a Boy Scout or Girl Scout Troupe they have Senior Patrol Leaders, Patrol Leaders, Scribe etc. What are you in your troupe? Positions I think you need to have – 1. Booker – Books the rehearsal spot, coach and submits to festivals etc. 2. Treasurer – Handles all money to pay for space, coach and handles dues. 3. Marketing – Handles all social media posts, invites and team events. And switch roles every few months so you’re not always doing the same job, unless you guys are happy with your jobs then you can keep them as long as you want. But figure out how you’ll handle that.

2.  Set the Rules of Your Troupe:

If you miss rehearsal are you allowed in the next show? How many rehearsals can you miss before you are unable to be a member of the team? How does the team vote ? Meaning how will people deal with who is on or off the team or what new rules will be added or taken away? Does the coach/director vote? Does the coach/director make those decisions? Or is it a team matter only? Have this written in stone so there is no confusion and have everyone understand it and have it be accepted unanimously. If all else fails ask your coach for advice.

3. Get Serious! Get a coach!

PLEASE!!! Get a coach or a director. If you are serious about improv and growing as an artist you need an outside eye. Do not have another teammate give notes or step out and coach you. You need to grow as a team and you can’t do that with one member hopping out and coaching too. It’s a weird dynamic that doesn’t work. If you don’t have enough coaches in your community then someone has to decide not to be on the team and just take the role as a coach. But the best thing about a coach, is as a veteran, they can give you advice on what to do if you’re having issues with an ensemble member. They can be a great mediator. Trust me they’ve been through it all before.

4. Troupe Boundaries 

You have to talk about what is okay and not okay to do. Is it okay if we have physical contact? How far can that go? What are we as a group comfortable with? Some people don’t like to be touched and that’s okay. Know that now so you can figure it out and move ahead as a troupe. You don’t want to find out a month down the road when you kiss someone onstage that they were uncomfortable with that now and are quitting the team.

5. Team Vision

What kind of team do you want to be? Again, set expectations – Do you want to be a traveling troupe that goes to festivals or just a local troupe. If most of you want to travel but there are a few that don’t then you really need to figure out if this troupe goes forward. Agree on what you want out of the troupe. How many shows or rehearsals do you want a month? Where? I know it sounds like a lot but figure it out.

PHEW! That’s a lot. Hey guys and gals, remember improv is fun! YAY! Sure  this looks all serious but  it’s necessary. You will save yourself a lot of time and heartbreak by putting these things in place. It holds you all accountable and there is no questioning what is right or wrong if rules are in place from the get go. Hopefully with these 5 items in place communication will be a breeze.

If you have any questions or you think I’ve left something out please feel free to comment. Go Improv!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network as well as performer in The Sunday Company at The Groundlings and a member of the critically acclaimed Harold Team King Ten at iO West. Feel free to follow me @nickarmstrong on Twitter or on Facebook. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what’s up. 

To e-mail nick e-mail at nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com and for workshop information visit www.nickarmstrong.com.

 

Your Chance to Spread Our Artform to Those Who Need it Most

National Improv Network is proud to partner with The Detroit Creativity Project. Their mission is simple: To empower and inspire young people through improvisation, an art form that helps students build confidence and develop a creative and collaborative approach to their lives. 

As improvisors we have a chance to do something special here. Sure we’ve donated to help theaters, to help festivals, but now it’s time to give the ultimate gift. The gift of improv to kids who don’t have access to it.  Help DCP expand their program. Any little bit helps. And please share this with your communities.

FROM DCP:

Mission Throttle: Help us take the lead in the RiseDetroit Challenge!

The RiseDetroit Challenge is being sponsored by the Marjorie S. Fisher Fund on Crowdrise. The fund is giving away $100,000 to Detroit charities like us: The Detroit Creativity Project.

The Detroit Creativity Project offers a free 10-week class in improvisational theater to Detroit middle and high school students. Our mission is to empower and inspire young people through improvisation — an art form that helps students build confidence and develop a creative and collaborative approach to their lives. Our flagship program The Improv Project has trained over 600 students to improvise since 2012. Your support will allow us to expand the program next year. Our goal: to teach over 500 students to improvise in 2015.

Here’s how you can help: The charity with the greatest number of donations (not dollars) between October 21 and October 28 wins a bonus of $2500! That would allow us to add one new school to the program and pay for half of the program in another school.

And your donations will help us compete for the grand prize of $30,000, going to the charity that raises the most dollars by October 30.

Like you, we believe that learning to improvise can be life changing. We are seeing how The Improv Project is changing our students’ lives in large and small ways. Please join us by supporting our campaign in the Rise Detroit Challenge. https://www.crowdrise.com/TDCP-RiseDetroit.

Nick Armstrong

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

The Improv Movement is Upon Us!

On my way back to California from Camp Improv Utopia East over Labor Day weekend it all finally came together for me: The improv movement is here and is not going to stop. Recently, the bigger improv theaters, iO, Second City, The Annoyance and UCB have all embarked on getting bigger and better spaces. That tells you something about the state of improv when the big theaters are looking to grow. There are tons more improvisors than ever before. But guess what? It’s not just in the big cities.

Mostly overlooked is the improv movement that’s happening in our country and beyond. Pretty much every state has an improv theater or festival now. On our site alone we have 74 theaters listed, 80 festivals, over 700 improv troupes and over 1,300 members. Sure we have tons more work ahead of us, but we accept the challenge.

During camp I met, for the first time, many theaters and festivals I’ve never come in contact with like The Baltimore Improv Group, The Providence Improv Festival, District Improv Festival, Arcade Comedy Theater, Figment Theater, Philly Improv Theater (PHIT) and so many more. What makes me smile the most is that these improvisors, who work their 9 to 5 jobs accounting, administrating and waiting tables, have this inner passion that is screaming inside of them to go forth and make improv. Getting a space, in a pizza parlor, a bar, on the street…Wherever they can! They don’t see this as a financial endeavor but an improv endeavor. You see it radiating in their eyes when they talk to you about what they’re doing in their towns and how important it is, not to them, but to their cities and communities. They’ve discovered this great thing that makes them happy and they want to give it back.

That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the National Improv Network was founded on. That’s why we do all this. It isn’t for fame or money. It’s for us as a community. We want to be heard, we want everyone to know about this art-form and we will scream it to anyone that will listen. NIN is happy to do our small part in all of this, but we are here and improv is here throughout the country because of you! YES YOU! reading this right now! It’s for real now and it can’t be denied. And we want to get better at it, we want to do more with it and we want to connect like never before. The pieces of the improv puzzle are coming together. We still have work to do, there are still some bumps in the road but we have the passion, the numbers and the strength!

I’ll leave you with this. And this is what I say to my campers at the end of camp. Take what you’ve learned and go back to your communities. Help them grow. Share with everyone you can, help anyone you can and work together.

Nick Armstrong

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

Pioneer of the Chicago Improv and Theater Scene Sheldon Patinkin Leaves Us.

Legendary teacher, writer and performer Sheldon Patinkin passed away yesterday at the age of 79. Among is accolades, he inspired the creation of The Second City where he was involved for over 50 years as an artistic consultant, while also being involved with theaters in Chicago such as the Steppenwolf Theater Company and original member of the Playwrights Theater Club. He also was the chair of the Theater Department of Columbia College.

He influenced many lives of many actors and improvisors over his career. Thank you Sheldon for your commitment and contribution to theater and improv. You will be missed.

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