Spotlight On: Eau Claire Improv Festival

ECIFThe Upper-Midwest doesn’t havea a great improv scene; it has several. Chicago, Minneapolis, Madison & Detroit are each growing communities with their own style. Smack in the middle of that, Eau Claire, Wisconsin has been looking to grow into a nationally recognized community of its own, and it seems to be off to a great start with the help of people like Amber Dernbach and Elliot Heinz. What tarted as a single high school team back around the time of Jurassic Park and Crystal Pepsi, has now grown to a vibrant improv town. Eau Claire now has an improv festival all it’s own. We’re excited to have a new festival as part of the network and I was able to reach out with some questions for Amber – the festival’s lead coordinator so travelling improvisors could learn a little bit about their festival and maybe try to add it to their next round of visits.

Eau Claire is pretty new to the national improv scene. What’s the improv like there? You’re in a pretty unique place to be quite near Chicago and Madison which are strong longform and shortform cities, respectively. How do those play out in Eau Claire?

The improv scene here has been fostered at our Eau Claire Memorial High School, where alumni have then gone out with the goal of improvising in the nation. Since the beginning of the high school program in 1993, Eau Claire has rapidly learned to love and support the local improv scene. The adult teams in the area share a unique blend of short and long form improv, where you can see both in one performance. The Memorial improv program begins its season with short form, but always works towards the final goal of a long form performance at the end of the school year. A university has also finally emerged in the last few years, focusing only on short form. High school alumni often come back to Eau Claire after years of experience in places like Chicago or Minneapolis with incredible long form performances. The Eau Claire audience is beginning to get the hang of long form improv as more teams emerge and continue to push the scene as far as it can go.

Rick Andrews

Rick Andrews

What can a visiting performer expect if they visit. In addition to a show, will there be any special workshops or other events? Will there be a chance for improvisers to meet each other outside of showtimes?

We will have workshops available from Rick Andrews (NYC, Magnet Theater), individuals from Minneapolis, Chicago, and Eau Claire. Most of the festival is close enough together where it will be impossible not to meet everyone. This year we are offering a “home base” of sorts at a local improv household. Here teams are free to crash on the floor or a cot. The basement of this house has a small theater and will be available for teams to practice, warm-up, or jam with one another. We will have other housing options if teams wish not to be a part of the “home base” household.

When the festival isn’t going on, what other things are there to do in Eau Claire? What’s the best place to grab food near the festival? Are there any historic sites or interesting places to visit nearby?

Accessible, affordable, park-like Eau Claire can be a winter wonderland in December. We have several parks that folks can walk through, antique shops for gazing, several eateries for grazing. The Leine’s Lodge is just a short drive away in Chippewa Falls, WI where adults can tour the brewery and have a few drinks as well. Grab a cup of coffee at Racy’s, breakfast at the Nucleus on Water St. or the Grand Ave Café on Grand St., lunch at the Acoustic Café, dinner at Tokyo Japanese Restaurant or Shanghai Cuisine. Eau Claire is full of cozy shops and café’s, all within 10 minutes of one another.

Lazy Monk

Lazy Monk

Other great things:

  • Rivers
  • Bike trails
  • Egg Roll Plus
  • Pad Thai (restaurant)
  • Lazy Monk Brewery
  • Banbury Place, independent artist studios in former tire plant.
  • Joynt, scooters
  • Galloway Grill
  • V1 Local Store
  • Public Library
  • Antique shop
  • UWEC Jazz
  • Vibrant downtown music scene
  • Strong local ethnic communities, primarily Hmong and Mexican.

This is your second year. What inspired you to put on a festival last year? What did you learn from that and hope to make even better this year? You’re surrounded by many improv cities, what are your hopes for making Eau Claire something special?

I decided to organize ECIF because there is an increasing improv scene in Eau Claire. What started as a near cult-level high school improv scene has spilled into a local adult scene. So many Memorial High Improv graduates have continued to be working improvisers around the region. Its important to celebrate this history and continue to develop local talent by offering accessibility to visiting national artists. What I learned from that first festival is that people in Eau Claire want more improv! Six hundred people attended a show or took a workshop last year. That level of support for a first year festival, run out of my kitchen between the hours of midnight and 2 a.m., spurred me to continue a second year. Eau Claire is special. We nurture our local artists and stay connected to those who started here.

I hope that we are able to offer shows to a wider audience this year and make improv a conversation topic for citizens everywhere. We want people to crave more improv in the community! We already have a thriving music scene, so we believe that improv can succeed just as well.

Anything else you’d like people to know about the festival?

Eau Claire is such a neat town and a place that you may not expect to find in Wisconsin. We experience every season here, Which allows us all to adapt to situations without hesitation. The scene here is young, but our community is very supportive with nightly crowds anywhere from 200-600 in the audience during the festival. Friends are made here and connections stay strong.

The festival is taking submissions right now. Feel free to submit or drop Elliot any questions on his profile or in the comments below.

Spotlight On: OC Improv Festival

2012 saw a huge freshman class of improv festivals in North America. Although not the largest, one of the more well known festivals from last year is the OC Improv Festival thanks in large part to the folks at Spectacles Improv Engine who spent the year traveling and getting engaged online with the larger improv community; looking to work together with other festivals and grow together.

I first met Josh Nicols at camp last year and was instantly impressed with his huge outgoing nature and willingness to talk about his deep love of improv. His enthusiasm is common among everyone I’ve met from OCIF and unquestionably responsible for its success. I had the opportunity to talk with Josh about the upcoming festival and what potential submitting troupes can expect.

OC is a quickly growing improv scene, but one that many folks don’t know about yet. What is the scene like? What kind of shows are really defining what OC Improv is all about?

Our community is mostly a collection of very popular short form teams with a handful of successful long form teams coming together in the last couple years.

It’s a pivotal time in our growth as we search for an identity as a community. Last year’s festival was a huge step in introducing us to the depth and variety of improv. Both players and audiences alike were blown away by the quality of improv we brought in. It’s a great time to come to Orange County and make a long term impression on a group of players and fans who are madly in love with improv.

What kind of events – outside of performances – can visitors expect at the OC Festival? Will there be any workshops or other events during the weekend?

We will be having a party every night at the theatre. Last year we had amazing workshops, which greatly impacted the quality of our scenes. We have the same goals this year. We plan on bringing in high quality training with focused and effective workshops at affordable prices. Also so Friday day excursions are in the works.

Dinner with the boys

Dinner with the boys

Where can people go during the festival’s off hours? What things are there to do and see in Fullerton?

There is plenty to do around the north Orange County area. Disneyland is just minutes away, we’re close to beaches and we’re well within walking distance of a thriving nightlife of bars and restaurants well stocked with party animals. If Disneyland isn’t your thing, we have Knott’s Berry Farm, Medieval Times and Pirate’s Dinner Adventure all just two towns over in Buena Park. Orange County is packed with good times. We are both an improv festival and a vacation destination.

Many of the organizers of the OCIF are very active in visiting other festivals and ImprovUtopia. You’ve spoken to many festival organizers and also visiting performers. What have you learned? What are you bringing back to the festival to make it a great experience? What have you seen in other festivals that you think can be improved?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from other festivals is the confidence in knowing we can have a great festival. That it’s not impossible to get great teams and workshops. Nick Armstrong was a great mentor in making sure we didn’t make a ton of rookie mistakes. We’ve also seen that it is attainable to take a non-traditional improv market and, with hard work and time, give it a national reputation. It’s clear to us as well, that it’s not built in a day. It’s a commitment to getting better each year, building a quality reputation, and maintaining the relationships a festival affords you.

Anything else you’d like to share about the festival?

Our first year as a fest was a huge success, it really set the bar high for future OC festivals. Visiting teams consistently remarked how surprised they were that this was our first year because everything ran so smoothly and the quality of teams we brought in was so good. Our focus remains the same this year, celebrating the art of improv by bringing in great shows to full houses, all while elevating our own community through inspiration and education.

Submissions for The OC Festival are open now, but they’re closing soon. You can submit your troupe right now on the submission page. If you’d like more information on The Festival, you can visit the website or drop a message to Josh directly here on the site.

The Orange County Improv Festival started in 2013. It is a product of the growing and diverse improv community of Orange County, California. The festival is committed to the celebration and elevation of improv behind the orange curtain.

Spotlight On: Alaska State Improv Festival

ASIFOne of my great regrets from last year’s festival circuit was that I was unable to make the trip up to The Alaska State Improv Festival. The prospect of visiting a beautiful new place was enticing enough, but I’d spent enough festivals talking with Eric Caldwell from the Alaska scene to know that it was a city where people cared about improv in a big way.

I had the chance to talk with Eric about ASIF as it enters its second year and talk about what performers can expect.

Alaska is a pretty big trip for many performers and the airfare is going to be higher than many other festivals. Lots of groups will do fundraisers to fund their trip. Outside of airfare, what kind of budget do you think performers will need to prepare for?

Airfare is a consideration, but we time our submissions to coincide with Alaska Airlines‘ annual sale. There are also some really good perks with the Alaska Airlines card that can get people to Juneau for less than they think. The festival is during “shoulder season” so hotels are relatively cheap. Festival staff and volunteers did a great job last year taking the performers around for personal tours and we’ve even provided for some of the meals, so there aren’t really many other expenses beyond discretionary spending.

Juneau is a very beautiful city. When not performing what things can people do and see near the festival? Aside from some extra layers, are there any other things that people should pack for a day out in the city?

Juneau’s generally not all that cold in late April, more like Seattle on a cool day than “Nanook of the North.” The area near the venue has some great cafes and restaurants, museums, and art galleries. Outside of the main downtown area, some of the sites that were popular with our guests included the Alaskan Brewing Company, the Mendenhall Glacier, the Treadwell Mine ruins, and a Catholic shrine where we saw whales, sea lions, and eagles from a scenic lookout.

What’s the improv scene in Juneau like? What kind of shows define the Alaskan improv style.

The improv scene in Juneau has developed its own attitude. As people come in and out, we look at where their strengths and interests lie and aren’t afraid to create shows that cater to those areas. Mike and I tour with a show that is Dada-influenced. One of our shows features a couple of local slam poets doing improvised poetry and scenes. At one point, we had a couple of playwrights in the group and started performing improvised one-acts based on locally-written works. It’s led to more people taking chances in both their shortform and longform work, and to people combining their personal interests into their improv formats.

SusanMessing_web[1]Outside of performances, what other treats will be in store for visitors? Do you have any activities planned for visitors? Will there be any workshops or panels? After parties?

Alaskan Brewing Company was one of our sponsors last year, and our after parties were a highlight. Susan Messing will be coming in from iO – Chicago to lead a couple workshops. Amber Nash, of Archer fame, is coming up from Dad’s Garage in Atlanta. So, yeah, we’ll put the quality of our workshops against any festival in the country. In addition to that, we took our guests to not only the tourist spots but to some of our local favorites. We wanted people to feel like they’d experienced Alaska, and the performers let us know that we’d succeeded.

I know you have traveled to many festivals and been involved with many other festival organizers over the years. What are some other festivals that have inspired the shape of ASIF? What are some things that you feel are lacking in the festival community and ASIF is trying to make better?

The Seattle Festival of Improvisational Theater has had a huge influence on what we do. They’ve done a great job of offering great shows and workshops, providing a real sense of community, and keeping it all within a realistic budget. I’ve focused on what I see as “best practices” and look at how we can use our local resources to produce the kind of festival I would like to attend as a guest.

One thing that traveling performers look forward to at festivals is seeing other shows and having time afterwards to share with each other. How much opportunity will visitors have to just hang out with each other and learn from each other?

That’s a primary focus. Performers were provided with festival passes and encouraged to attend each others’ shows, mostly stayed in the same lodgings, toured around the community together, had joint radio interviews, and after parties with free food. Our venue, McPhetres Hall has a commercial kitchen available, and we’ll be continuing our tradition of stocking the kitchen for group breakfasts. The main regret the performers expressed last year was that there weren’t opportunities to perform with the performers from other communities. We’ve fixed that this year by adding a fourth day and the opportunity for mash-up shows.

McPhetres Hall

McPhetres Hall

What’ the venue like?

The venue’s gorgeous. The original McPhetres Hall was a multi-purpose room inside a church. The church was destroyed by arson in 2006, and the church made a point to rebuild McPhetres Hall as a theater-first venue with flexible seating. The facility re-opened in 2011, built with local cedar, a solid light grid, and a nice stage. You could see the performers light up when they walked into the building.

You’re still early in planning your 2014 festival. What’s the one thing that you’re most focused on? What are your hopes for this year’s festival?

We focused on our master artists first. Susan Messing and Amber Nash. Check! Now we’re working on getting the word out to the performers. We had a solid roster last year, and we’re hoping to build on that. Andy Eninger gave us a great compliment, saying that he was amazed that a first year festival was so well organized. If we can maintain what we established in year one while presenting more high quality ensembles and continuing to expand our audience, we’ll be on the right path.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

The 2013 festival featured performers from all around the country. If you’re considering coming to AS IF, you probably either know someone who performed at the festival or know someone who knows one of the performers. They’ll be glad to tell you about their experiences at AS IF.

Submissions for The Alaska State Improv Festival are open now, but they’re closing soon. You can submit your troupe right now on the submission page. If you’d like more information on The Festival, you can visit the festival website or drop a message to Eric directly here on the site.

Improv Etiquette 101:H2NO!

no water botleIn this series of Blogs I will take you through why I believe Improv Etiquette is important and what it should be. I’ll try not to sound too much like an old man on a porch yelling at kids. I’m a reasonable guy, but do have some pet peeves that performers do. I think it’s important to take our art form seriously so hopefully this helps guide you. You can agree with me or not that’s okay these are just some guidelines that are pretty agreed upon by major improv theatres and veteran improvisers alike.

I was recently at an improv festival and I couldn’t believe how many performers brought water onstage.  They would do a scene and when the edit happened take a  swig of water, which then made an awful plastic crinkle noise, put it down onstage and started the next scene. Are you kidding? Now I’m staring at the water bottle! I can understand why stand-ups do it, it’s them up there shilling jokes. Improv is a theatrical experience and improvisors are the magicians. People come to watch improv to see something unique and funny and when you take a huge swig of water they remember you aren’t that magician you’re just another person shilling jokes. You can have water on the sidelines or backstage that’s cool, but don’t leave it onstage or drink it there you’re cheating yourself and the audience of theatrical experience.

Nick Armstorng

Nick is the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community hit us up!

Opening a Venue the Smart Way: Part I

Make this dream a reality

Make this dream a reality

There are many great improv companies across the country (and the world). Many of you are lucky enough to be part of those families. There is however, so much room for new theatres and growth. Many of us dream of one day opening a theatre space of our very own where people from our own cities can come and see improv, not in a bar, not in the library, but in a venue of its own. It’s a fantastic dream, but a long road.

There are many long hard questions and discussions that will have to happen before opening a space of your own; choices about performances, class, delegation of responsibility, etc. These are all important processes, but one thing that often gets overlooks or drastically underestimated is the process of actually getting your venue approved by the city to legally open your doors. I’ve seen a great deal of heartache when people get six months or a year into the process only to run into a roadblock that absolutely prevents them from opening. So much time, money and love poured into a space that had to be abandoned.

I don’t want that to happen to your theatre. Every situation and every venue is different and will require some different things, but this is the first of several posts covering as much common ground as possible to make you familiar with the process so that you’ll enter the process informed and are on a quicker track to opening those door.

A couple of warnings.

  • As mentioned, each venue and city is different. I’ll cover the most common issues, but do your own due diligence. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what you need to do. Seek that information out. Not only will it keep you prepared, it will help getting your final permits. Many small businesses try to cut corners. If you are willing to work with the city, they’ll be much more willing to work with you and help you find solutions when things look bleak.
  • Doing it right takes time and money. Lots of both. No matter how much time and money you think opening a venue properly is, it’s more. There will be a temptation right from the start to just throw caution to the wind and just open your doors – fly under the radar. You’ll be open much faster, and you’ll be closed much faster too. Opening illegally means you’re going to be constantly working with paranoia. If you’re successful, you’ll get on the radar soon enough and you can be shut down and lose everything. And who wants to live under that kind of stress? It will be a frustrating road to opening, but it’s worth it. I promise.

Step 0 – Find a Place

I’m not going to spend too much time discussing this as much of it is outside of the context of this post. You know well enough what you’re looking for, but the interior looking “perfect” for your stage sometimes leads to overlooking some other environmental situations that should be considered. Does it have access for bikes and public transportation? What’s the crime rate for the area? Is there a local small business council to communicate with city/state government? What’s the Zillow score for homes in your area? (aka how much foot traffic can you expect)? Which businesses in your immediate area will be open the same time you are? Which ones won’t? Which ones will be sharing your parking? Which ones have windows to display advertisements for your shows? What local bars and restaurants can your patrons visit before/after shows? Is there a church within a few hundred feet (this leads to different permits, including alcohol licenses)? How well lit is it a night? Think about these and other factors before even beginning to go down the path. If you’ve done this and you found a place you love. It’s time to start down the road of making it a theatre.

Step 1 – Adaptive Reuse

You’ve found a place you love. It seems perfect. It may be. But don’t sign a lease quite yet. Just because the space had previous owners who could legally operate out of that space, it doesn’t mean you can. A theatre is what’s generally referred to as a Class-A Assembly type business (different areas may have slightly different names). Class-A businesses have much tougher requirements to be granted a license than some other business types. You will most likely have to apply for a Change of Use for your building. This is essentially requesting to have that address recognized as a different business type with different codes and requirements. If you can’t get a change of use, you can’t open as a theatre. If you can get a change of use, but you can’t meet the new requirements, you can’t open a theatre. So it’s tremendously important to do a little research on the new requirements of a space.

How do I know if I need a Change of Use filing? 

I mentioned that theatres are Class-A. The A in the name stands for assembly. This is because it’s a business that, by its nature will have many people being served at once. By contrast, most small businesses serve only a small number of clients ate a time. Examples of non-assembly businesses would be flower shops, bakerys, barber shops, ice cream parlors, repair shops, etc. They are businesses with probably a front counter and a small service area for one or two customers at a time. Assembly businesses would include restaurants, dance clubs or art galleries, places that would have many people inside at once. Ask what kind of business used to be in here to get a better idea of whether a change of use would be required.

What are the differences for Class-A businesses?

There are many small differences, but three that could make or break you.


You know what this is. You’ve seen the signs on businesses that say “Maximum Occupancy 62”. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation on exactly what this is and how it works. The common belief is that for each business, someone comes in, does some math, and comes up with a maximum number of people that can safely be inside. This isn’t entirely inaccurate. That does happen. But there’s another piece of information that’s also calculated. If these two numbers can’t agree with each other. You can’t open. Period.

The first number is based on how many people can safely be in a building. This is calculated primarily on how many exits you have, and how readily people can get access to these exits. If you have a front and a back exit and a clear path to both of them you’re in pretty good shape provided you have sprinklers.


This will make or break you.

This will make or break you.

Sprinklers. Possibly the number one cause of theatres not opening is sprinklers. If you don’t have sprinklers in your building there is a hard limit on the number of people that can be in your space. In most areas, this number is 49. So no matter how many exits or other safety conditions you have, without sprinklers your max occupancy cannot go above 49. Period. Ever.

That doesn’t sound so terrible. A lot of small theatres seat less that 49, but we still have to calculate the second number. This is important. If you want to open a theatre, this is the part you absolutely must understand.

The total square footage of your building is broken up into categories. Each category has a number attached to it that represents a number of persons per square feet that would likely be in that category. All of these numbers are added up to give the number of people that can be in the square footage of your space. Not how many people can be safely in there. Not how many people you anticipate being in there. Not how many people should be in there, but the number of people that can be in that space. If this number is higher than the first number. You cannot open.

This is confusing, so I’ll give a simplified example. Let’s imagine a space with a lobby, a theatre space, a box office, a restroom, a hallway and a closet.

Each state has slightly different numbers. But these numbers are common for many states.
Hallways and offices: 1 person per 100 square feet
Restrooms: 1 person per 70 square feet
Closet: Free Space
Lobby and Theatre Space: 1 person per 3 square feet

Our closet is free space. No occupancy needed
Let’s start with our hypothetical restroom. Let’s say it’s 35 square feet. That works out to 0.5 people, which gets rounded up to 1 person
Our hallways and box office are next. Let’s say they total out to 200 square feet. At one person per 100 square feet, we’re at 2 people.

So far we’re doing great! We’ve covered our hallways, box office, closet and restroom and we’ve only tallied up to 3 people. But now we have our lobby and our theatre space.
Let’s say our lobby is 13ft x 13ft (a reasonable lobby size). Our seating area is 20ft x 40 ft. We’re at 969 square feet. At one person per 3 square feet, we’ve just added 321 people to our occupancy! Now there’s no way you’re ever going to have 321 people in your lobby and seating area, but that’s what the calculations add up to.

The one person per 3 square feet is the rule for assembly areas in most states. It’s 30 times the number of persons added to your total of other zones. If you don’t have sprinklers and your cap is 49 people, the total square footage for lobby and seating are will be limited to 147 square feet. That’s about the size of a typical walk-in freezer.

This is what kill so many theatres before they even start. If you have a large space, and you want to use a large portion of it for the theatre space, your possible occupancy will be incredibly high. If the fire marshal doesn’t approve a number higher than that calculated number. You’re finished. The larger your performance area, the more difficult it will be to get approved for occupancy. Since the business that was in your space before you didn’t need assemble space, they might not be equipped to handle your needs.


This is pretty similar to the occupancy issue, but much easier to deal with. With a higher internal occupancy, you will have much higher parking requirements. You need to make sure your building will have enough parking to handle that 321 people. Parking has it’s own calculations, but a simple rule of thumb is about 1 required parking space per four people.  There are tough restrictions here as well, but unlike the occupancy, there are some things you can do proactively to reduce this issue.

  • Check for overlay regions. Public transportation and other issues can result in certain blocks of town which qualify as overlay regions. These areas can have reduced parking restructions.
  • Bike rack. Not all cities accept this, but some do as a way to reduce parking requirements. You can install a bike rack pretty cheaply
  • Shared parking. You’re lucky in that your neighboring businesses are probably open in the day and you’re open in the night. You can obtain the proper paperwork to agree to share these parking spots if your hours are different.
  • Variances. If the above don’t work, you can apply for a parking variance that will allow you to open without the minimum parking. This will cost money. There will also be a long waiting period for this variance because they need to make the request for a variance publically known for a period of time so that anyone who wishes to oppose the variance will have an opportunity to present their case.

Electical Load Balance

This isn’t strictly a Class-A problem, but it’s something that theatres will have to be aware of. Before a Certificate of Occupancy can be granted, you will have to have an electrical audit to limit the maximum amount of electricity that your unit can pull at any given time. the electrical load allowed for most buildings is more than adequate, but you’re going to be likely running stage lights and a mixer board. These draw a larger amount of electricity than the average business. Most modern buildings are approved for the electrical load you’ll be pulling, but look into getting some basic info on this before pulling the trigger on a space.

Why is this section called Adaptive Reuse?

The three issues I listed above are the biggest obstacles to getting a change of use to go through, but there are many smaller ones that are inconvenient. If you decide to go forward, you should check with your city to see if they have an adaptive reuse program. Many cities do. These are programs that will work with small businesses to help with the process. There are often local laws that will allow you to skip or reduce certain requirements for change of use in certain parts of town. It’s worth asking.

Change of use. It’s a simple enough concept, but you need to know for sure that you’ll be able to do this before signing a lease. Do your homework on the issues above. Make sure your electrical load, occupancy and parking for the space can meet the requirements of a theatre space. If they can’t, say goodbye to this space. It’s a hard thing to do, but you can’t proceed. Find another space.

Step 2 – Make a Friend at City Hall

Say hello to your new home.

Say hello to your new home.

Congratulations. If you made it to this step, you’re already ahead of almost every theatre company looking to open a space. You’ve made sure that legally opening a space is at least possible. But the steps from here get murky quickly. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a single checklist of things that need to be done. Your city hall may have a very simplified sheet of steps, but each of those steps is going to require different things for every business. It can feel overwhelming to know that there’s a lot of work to be done and no one to tell you what the first step is. The good news is that I can tell you the last step. You’ll need a Certificate of Occupancy. That’s the final golden ticket. Every city has slightly different versions of these, and some cities additionally require a few other documents. But the CoO is your goal.

Here’s the downfall of living in 2013. We’ve collectively been through some rough years fincancially and the number of government employees has been down. There are a lot of positive results to this, but the downside to you, in this moment, is that there are fewer people working at City Hall who truly know what the path to a Certificate of Occupancy. If you walk in, take a number, and ask the person at the desk, they likely won’t help you. You’ve wasted an hour. Instead of going down to City Hall that first time. Make a phone call. Make several phone calls. Start with City Hall and explain that you’re looking to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy for a theatre. Be prepared to offer the following information.

  • It’s a theatre and will be an assembly business.
  • The address, landlord and the most recent business type to be in there
  • The area of town its in
  • Whether or not there is signage in front
  • Very basic parking information.
  • Square Footage of the space.

They will refer you to someone else. That will happen many times. You’ll talk to many people on the phone. Be persistent, but not rude. It may take several days, but you’ll find the person who can help you build a site plan, secure parcel information, file for ADA compliance, all those other things you’ll need to do. Tell them you’re creating a theatre.  They’re used to Auto-loan places and paper supply stores. It’s been my experience from talking to other theatre owners, that you’re something just interesting and exciting enough that they’ll take an interest. If ever you or someone you know that wants to apply for loans online, let them have a peek at this web-site.

Set up a meeting. Come down. Bring all the information you have. Don’t be embarrassed if it’s incomplete. That’s their job. They’ll help you get organized and put together a plan of action. Call them any time you have a question. Make sure to stop by and say hello every time you’re in city hall. Make friends now, you’ll be seeing a lot of this person for the next several months.

Fun tip:
If you’re a Foursquare user, start checking in with each visit. You may become Mayor of City Hall.

You’re on the way. There will be more things to do, but if you do your homework at the beginning. You’ll reduce the chances of heartache down the road.

Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America. During 2011, he spent more time in City Hall than his own home.

Improv Etiquette 101: You Don’t Have to Wear a 3 Piece Suit!

imagesIn this series of Blogs I will take you through why I believe Improv Etiquette is important and what it should be. I’ll try not to sound too much like an old man on a porch yelling at kids. I’m a reasonable guy, but do have some pet peeves that performers do. After all if you don’t care why should the audience. I think it’s important to take our art form seriously so hopefully this helps guide you. You can agree with me or not that’s okay these are just some guidelines that are pretty agreed upon by major improv theatres and veteran improvisers alike.

Are You Kidding?

Recently in an improv audition and more recently onstage I’ve seen more than one person wear shorts onstage…CARGO SHORTS TOO! Who needs that many pockets? We are doing theatre and people are paying to come see our shows, and even if they aren’t paying to see them, we still should have some respect for what we are doing. We need to take it seriously. Don’t wear shorts onstage. I’m not saying wear a 3 piece suit with a pocket watch, but I am saying at least wear nice pants and a button up shirt with no logos or your favorite band on them. Sure, I’m only covering guys on this but men are the biggest offenders of this rule in my experience.

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

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

Detroit Rising


This sticker speaks truth

Of the dozens of festivals I’ve visited in the last few years, The Detroit Improv Festival was a special treat this year. Partially, because it was a return to my own native soil (Auburn Hills, MI represent). Partially because it was amazing to talk to the people of Detroit who – popular to what the news might tell you – are incredibly hopeful and united in very rough times. But mostly, it was special because DIF was the first festival to build their lineup from submissions here on the NIN page. As a result I not only got to check in with old friends, but was able to meet so many new friends in person who I’d first met here. I got to talk to many new faces I recognized from avatars here and see new shows from groups who hadn’t really made the festival circuit before.

Of course none of that would have been possible without the incredible work of all the people behind the festival. Chris, Keith, PJ and Michelle were hustling non-stop. James was keeping the fort down at Go and the volunteers were always around to help the visiting performers. DIF has undergone a huge growth in the last year, bringing in more troupes and more venues and certainly more headliners. Susan Messing, Jill Bernard, Craig Cackowski, Rich Talarico, TJ Jagadowski, Dave Pasquesi, Rob Belushi & Dave Razowsky at the same festival certainly exposed the people of Ferndale to some of the best improv in the country. A free family friendly show on Saturday afternoon also delighted crowds. I’m sure a lot of newcomers to improv this weekend had some preconceived notions shattered and hopefully they’ll continue to visit shows at Go Comedy and Planet Ant in the year to come.


The Rust Belt on Nine Mile

The Rust Belt on Nine Mile

The festival did a great job of showcasing improv to the people of Detroit, but it also did a great job of showcasing the city of Detroit to improvisors. They designed many parts of their festival with the performer in mind. Not all of the venues were traditional theatre spaces, but all were within walking distance of Nine Mile and Woodward Avenue. It was easy to get from venue to venue to see the shows and friends you wanted to see. A tour of Detroit and a weekend barbecue were also available in addition to donated food throughout the week from local restaurants.

A fairly unique addition to this year’s festival was Pam Victor’s Geeking Out Interview. Many festivals have featured live podcasts, but Pam offered a very in depth interview with experienced improvisors for an audience. This year she interviewed Razowsky and Clifford about their long and successful history and memories of their training. As a special treat, the show also featured our own Nick Armstrong talking about NIN and also a special announcement of Improv Utopia East coming to Pennsylvania. Pam is one of the most dedicated people out there on preserving some sort of heritage for our craft.

It was in many ways one of the first large opportunities we’ve had to sit and meet people from the network and learn what kind of things you’d like to see in the future. Some great ideas came from discussions – some that may show up down the road – and some that are great and simple ideas that might start showing up on the site in the next few weeks.

High applause for The 2013 Detroit Improv Festival. It’s in a beautiful city and the people do their best to showcase improv to the people there as a beautiful art form from people across the continent (big hello to all our Toronto friends). I look forward to seeing the festival grow for years to come.

Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America. He ate more coney dogs in Detroit that what would typically be considered “healthy”


Finest City is Growing


The San Diego Reader

All eyes were on San Diego last weekend for Comic Con International, the annual event in the Gaslamp Quarter that sells out every hotel within 100 miles and sends every local store owner scrambling to find something Star Wars related to put in their front window. It’s one of the biggest – if not the biggest event in the city each year, so naturally one would assume it would grace the cover of the weekly San Diego Reader. But this year when thousands of visitors hit the streets of visitors walked the streets, it wasn’t The Avengers on the cover of the magazine seen at every street corner, it was Swim Team, a harold team out of Finest City Improv.

It’s not entirely surprising. In the last year Amy Lisewski and Chris George and a handful of very dedicated performers have been working tirelessly not just to launch an improv theatre, but to take the time at each step of the way to do it the right way. While many younger theatres rush to get shows up hastily without thinking of the long term, but the finest city folks are thoughtful. They book shows that will expose new audiences to quality improv in a comfortable environment. They promote their shows actively, but also accurately. They reach out to their community. This is why Finest City is going to explode in the next few years and should be a model for other young theatres.

One thing that kills a lot of new theatres is doing anything they can to get people in the doors, even if that means promising things that they are not. Those first shows are filled, but people don’t come back. And they leave with a bad taste in their mouth about missed expectations. A theatre has to respect the culture it’s in and Finest City did that exceptionally last weekend. The article certainly was a great boost, but a magazine article alone isn’t enough to lay all your promotion on, especially with a well intentioned, but slightly flawed article. The media in many cities still doesn’t fully understand improv and it will take time and care to properly build a strong healthy relationship with them.


Get the word out

Finest City didn’t try to work against Comic Con, they worked with it. They promoted their show in places where it would be visible to visitors and also to locals. The question of course was, in the midst of everything Comic Con, what would motivate people to come to an improv show a few miles walk away? They reached out to that audience with respect. Which is not the same as pandering. These people came from across the country to celebrate genre. They loved comic books, Star Trek, Star Wars & He-Man (OK, maybe that was just my reason for coming). A genre-based show to promote would seem obvious on first glance, but we all know that a large percentage of genre improv in North America is more genre mocking that genre respecting (Start Trekkin NYC, On the Spot, Kind Strangers and a few others being wonderful exceptions) These people take their fandoms very seriously and some don’t take to kindly to seeing it poked fun at or mocked. So that’s not what they did. Instead they invited Drunkard and Dragons from Los Angeles to come on down. It’s a show with a touch of genre work without coming off as condescending. Did it work? You bet. It was the strangest improv audience assembled in a while. Han Solo came. So did Carmen Sandiego and Hello Kitty and… dragon..lady.. something. Comic Con came because they were promoted to well. And before D&D they got to see to fine local shows; Stage Monkeys and Red Squared. Assuring people saw good improv and hopefully left with a better appreciation for the art.

This was the final performance in the temporary space. Finest City Improv is moving to a permanent home and they’re making sure they do it right. Best of luck to them in their new space in the years to come.

Correction: The photo on the cover was of Swim Team performing at Sidestage Improv managed by Mike McFarland and Charles Webber who have been working hard to promote the San Diego scene for the last few years. They are great folks and certainly no disrespect was intended. – Bill

Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America. During Comic Con he picked up Stonedar for his impressive He-Man collection.

DUOFEST Delivers!

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

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

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

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

Nick Armstrong

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

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

Bottle Us Up…You Could Make a Fortune!

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Armstrong

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

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

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