7,000 Miles, 15 States, 20 Shows

The Story of Glassworks Improv out of Eau Claire, WI

In the past two months we have driven roughly 7,000 miles through 15 states, performed in Canada, and been a part of over twenty shows in the Western half of North America.

Why we did it

When we started Glassworks Improv we had no intention of touring. We were three guys who had played on a team in high school together and loved it. So why not just keep doing that? We decided to build a theatre in our basement for shows, and play around our hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. As we played more and more shows in Eau Claire, we started to feel how special this experience could be. If we were going to be on a team, why not take that idea, that partnership, as far as it could go? If we truly wanted to take ourselves seriously we knew we had to play more shows. As playing every night in a mid-size city isn’t exactly practical, we hit the road. The idea of playing to a completely different group of people every show was very appealing to us. Audiences wouldn’t have history with us to fall back on if we weren’t living up to our full potential on stage. They would have to take us for exactly what we were in that moment. We wanted to be put in situations where we had to follow the fear. Comfort is a great thing, and something that all improvisers strive for. But to get to that place of being comfortable in our team skin, we had to make the shows less comfortable, so we would be forced to break new ground every night and find our team’s identity. Now that that has happened, we can show the audience a better show the next time we are in their city.

Why it worked

Travelling usually costs a lot, and getting off of work without quitting can be nearly impossible. Well, none of us are in school (which means no debt, more time for improv) and we all took a leave of absence from our random day jobs at home. During the summer we had several shows and saved that cash in a group account. We calculated how much the trip would cost and at first it seemed that we would all have to scrape together every last dollar we could find, but then we checked our team account and discovered that our only personal expense would be food! That made the entire trip feasible financially.

Gas was covered by our summer shows, food was at our own expense, but what about lodging? Well, we were able to crash in a home (not a hotel) in just about every city we went to. When you combine friends, extended family, and improvisers that you meet along the way, we can guarantee that you’ll be able to sleep for free. Seriously, you should try contacting your grandparents’ siblings’ friends and see where they live; we did. We slept in the car a few nights, but it was manageable and expected.

Here’s another key item that made the trip effortless: technology. Most of us nowadays have a smartphone, and every smartphone has a map that can be accessed anywhere (except Canada). It makes travelling ridiculously easy! It seems like only a few years ago that we had to go online and print out every map with directions, but now we have a map of the world in our hands.

What this can do for the improv community

Now we know how easy it is to connect with improvisers literally ACROSS the nation and boy does it warm our hearts. Our team connected with several incredible improvisers and met people from NIN in reality like Nick Armstrong all the way in Los Angeles. We don’t think that a trip like this would have been possible a few years ago, but now it’s as simple as choosing a location and setting up a show. There’s an improv theater (if not several) in every big city so contact them and then find a way to get there. Just imagine what it would be like if every team travelled. Theaters could have more shows each week with fresh talent from around the country. Also, our couch surfing network would be huge! Every team should travel and every team deserves to perform in front of a fresh audience.

The entire community has grown substantially in the last few years and it’s not going to stop here. With this next generation of improvisers we can expect the entire scene to grow leaps and bounds, excelling the art and evolving improvisation in ways we can only imagine. Del has said that, “One day Charna and I will wake up and see that the old way we used to teach is archaic and outdated. It’s advancing and developing so rapidly that the only way to allow it to survive and thrive is for Charna and I to step aside and let the new guard lead it past the next threshold.” Well, that new guard is all of us and together we can grow improvisation into something truly beautiful.

Find your free time, save up money from shows, and GO! Hey, if you want to do a show in Eau Claire, WI then please contact us! Stay at our house and we can help you set up a show. Feel free to ask about our travels or inquire about getting your own team started with travelling the country. If you want to read about our travels, check out http://www.glassworksimprov.com/blog. We look forward to hearing from some of you!

With Love,
Glassworks Improv (Mack Hastings, Elliot Heinz, Alex Raney)

When A Stoppable Force Meets A Movable Object

I didn’t go to sleep last night. This happens quite regularly…but that’s not today’s story. Around six o’clock in the morning I received an email from a friend of mine in Amsterdam:


Oh yeah. I forgot I had responded to a friends FB posting about doing a thing on Belgian television. Two weeks earlier, I sent him a headshot and a few links of videos showcasing other commercials, improv shows, and sketches I have been in to pass on to the producers of this show.

I started freaking out. I’m going to be on Belgian television! This is crazy! This is awesome! This is crazy awesome! Like super crazy awesome! But wait a second….I didn’t have the shoot dates off from work. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! Ok. This can be fixed. *starts hyperventilating into a brown paper bag*

Here’s the issue: as a flight attendant, if I call off sick from work then I am immediately prohibited from traveling again until I return to work. Not unreasonable. It just makes it difficult to plan sometimes.

I tapped my way over (on my phone) to the company’s employee website to see how I could finagle this. I opened up Reserve Day Off Trading, tapped on Advertisements, and searched for the month of January. This is almost like a forum page (not really) that shows you what days off other flight attendants are vying for, and what current days off they are willing to trade in order to get what they want.

I tapped and tapped and tapped. Nothing. But then….I went to bed. It was eight o’clock in the morning and I had to be at work later that night. It’s difficult in moments like this to shut my brain off when I need to sleep. It sucks!

3:15pm my alarm goes off. Time to get up, shower, and leave for the airport by 4:15. Ugh.
First thoughts: Facebook. Email. Oh look, 4 missed calls. 2 from mom. 2 from Kevin. WAIT! KEVIN!! I forgot I had messaged him earlier that morning about trading days off with me.
*text text text*

So now,I can happily announce that I  got the necessary days off and am free and clear to travel to Brussels to be a principle character on Belgian television!
Now, how do taxes work again when you’re working in a foreign country and getting paid in Euros? *heavy sigh* *hangs head*

Mike Brown

Mike was born in Franklin, PA, raised in Oil City, PA, and now resides in Harlem, NYC with fellow improviser, Josh Hurley, and his cat, Minerva. He works as an international flight attendant for United Airlines and performs Solo Improv around North America and Europe. Mike teaches and coaches improv via 10,000 Hours, The University of Oxford, John Jay College, and Skype & FaceTime. For more info, visit soloimprov.com

* Mike Brown is a contributing blogger for the National Improv Network.

Advice on Public Relations for Improv

I put it out there a few weeks back about what kind of blogs people wanted to see. Well I got a few answers back and public relations won out this time so here goes! I used to work a 9 to 5 job working marketing, advertising and public relations in Los Angeles so I’m going to give you a little bit of advice on  things you can do to improve your PR. Now PR is one of those things that changes from town to town Los Angeles is going to be much different than Cedar City, Utah. But some of the PR principles still remain the same.

If You Don’t Have Anything to Say Don’t Say it at All:

Magazines, newspaper, online media they like interesting, sexy and bold. Be careful of putting too much PR out there, meaning writing a press release every week announcing just your weekly shows because you will become a nuisance to the editor and you will begin to get ignored. If you’re going to do a press release it has to be a news worthy story or something special. Always look at it from the point of view of the media you’re pitching to, they have subscribers that pay often times or advertisers they have to sell to so they have to have great stories that keep people coming back and they have to offer things to their readers. They’re not going to just print “Random Team has Another Weekly Improv Show.” Think about it, if you want to get attention from the media make an event  out of it. Do you have local celebrities playing? Is it an improv festival your throwing? Are you throwing a benefit for the community? It has to be press worthy.

The Unfortunate Real Deal in Press:

So, the real deal. The reason why some companies get stories all the time to media outlets is usually because they buy advertising in that certain magazine or online outlet. I know it’s shitty, but it’s true. When I worked in PR we would buy ad space in every trade magazine, newspaper, online media etc. What did that mean? They would offer us interviews, stories and even cover stories as part of the package deal for advertising in them for a year. Now does that mean you can’t still get press no but it makes it way easier. I always say buy advertising if you can, you don’t have to spend $10,000 but get yourself listed or buy a small add with your local paper or community magazine. Then you have a relationship with them and then you can start getting some leverage. If you’re a theater, improv troupe or festival I’d highly recommend you put aside some of your budget to do this. Just make sure you track your results, which is a whole other blog I need to write, so you know what your spending is working. Meaning did you get audience or maybe you got some PR out of it, maybe even a relationship out of it?

Like a Moth to the Flame – Have Them Come to You:

Have an event! Start an improv festival or some sort of festival. Invite a local celebrity to play with your theater and see what happens. Do something extraordinary. Throw a fundraiser for your local charity. The press love these things. These are interesting, sexy and bold and will more than likely get you press.  Some communities have a bunch of improv theaters and festivals. Work together to garner press, this mostly happens when a town or city runs a festival. Improv is a community that thrives on support so support each other and get together for the good of everyone and work together to throw and event or get the press to come to you. Together you are better. It only benefits you to work together for the awareness of improv.

Social Media: Your Best Friend or Your Worst Enemy

This is most improv theater or troupes way of doing PR. Why? It’s easy and free. But remember you still have readers and those readers can easily be annoyed and turn you off. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you should abuse it. This is really the gateway to your show or theater so use it wisely. Don’t always just promote your shows. This is an opportunity to show people your brand and voice. This is a great way to show them who you are. Make your troupe or theater have a personality, give advice, give your audience something for reading. Isn’t improv all about support anyway? Know your readers and give them what they want. You want to make your reader keep you on their radar not take you out of their newsfeed. Share! That’s right share others stories and shows if you share theirs they’ll share yours! Work together.  I guarantee you readers will erase you if all you do is promote shows. Offer them things like discounts and free tickets. Engage them. Don’t scare them away.

You Better Have a Good Product!

I can’t express this enough. Have a good product. Have a great show or a great night to promote. If you’re a theater you have to give the press the best night to come to or the best show you have. Don’t invite press or put out a release about some show if it’s not ready for prime time. This may be your one shot so you want to put your best foot forward.

Writing a Press Release:

When you’re writing a press release follow the advice above before you write.  Now when you write this it better have no mistakes and be written as if it will be copied and pasted into the media outlets you’re throwing them out to. That’s usually what happens, they either take the whole thing or parts of it and slap their name on it. But that’s what you want! If there are mistakes it will look amateur and tossed away. If you have someone with experience in your theater or group have them do it. Your press release is not the only one they’re getting that day so make it stand out.

How Can I Learn More About This? – NIN Improv Summit at Camp Improv Utopia:

The National Improv Network will be hosting the Improv Summits at Camp Improv Utopia in Pennsylvania and California in 2014. Camp gets theaters and improvisors together from all over the US and even outside the US. Improvisors come from all walks of life and it brings together experts in the legal world, marketing, PR, improv directing and more! If you want to learn more about this and learn how to better your theater, your improv, work on press releases and more check it out and come we’d love to have your input, ideas and help you out.

In The End:

Don’t rely on PR. Don’t rely on the press. This is just one plan of attack to bring awareness to your team or theater. Public Relations is always tricky and experimental. Sometimes you just have to put things out there and see what sticks. Just be careful what you’re putting out there. Every place is different and you have to really learn and research how your press works. See what stories they do, research and see who their editors are and most importantly know your audience and give them a show they won’t forget because your best PR is the people sitting in the audience watching your show. Best of luck and please comment if you have anymore suggestions or questions.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania, a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit company that gives back to the improv community. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

Spotlight On: Twin Cities Improv Festival

A little under two years ago, I was sitting in a hotel room at an improv conference with festival organizers and theatre owners from across the country. It was the end of the day and ideas were being spitballed back and forth about the possibility of a webpage for performers, directors, owners, festival organizers, etc. It was the meeting that lead to the website you’re reading right now.

One of the people at that meeting was Butch Roy from HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis. I had made a point to listen to Butch’s presentation earlier in the day, because of all the various types of improvisors; traveling performers, theater owners, festival organizers, Butch represents the best of each of them. He’s a smart guy with amazing insight and passion for watching improv grow. It was a great presentation and a great meeting afterwards.

Butch is a smart guy who knows how to take charge and get things done. And he’s blessed to be in a city filled with similarly talented people. It’s no wonder that the Twin Cities Improv Festival is one of the destinations for performers across the country.

But many people have never been to Minneapolis and don’t know about the incredible energy in that city. I got to talk with Butch a bit about the upcoming 8th Improv Festival in the Twin Cities.

The Twin Cities Improv Festival has been around for eight years now, but many changes have probably happened since HUGE opened its doors. How has HUGE’s presence in Minneapolis changed the festival in the last few years?

When we started out, the Festival was often the only time of year a lot of our audience would come see improv, we knew that many of them were coming because we had special guests from other cities coming in. We have always tried really hard to reinforce the message to them that “you live in a city full of amazing improv all year long” and even though HUGE has changed the landscape we still see a lot of people at TCIF that need to hear that message.

We set up the Festival to pair visiting groups with locals – both to create a really complementary pairing that is a great show to see, but also to trick people that don’t otherwise come out to shows all year into seeing the local groups that they will probably love.

I was worried that HUGE’s constant presence would hurt the Festival in a way – by giving people their great improv fix all the time – but that has not been the case at all. We still treat the shows all year in a very serious way and try to showcase the very best of what we can do on stage, and then treat the Festival as the showcase of the very best of the best.

A quick look at the festival board and most people will see that one of you have been to just about every major festival in North America. As travelling performers, what are some of the trends you see that you try to bring back to Minnesota? What are some things you try to do differently in terms of the travelling performer’s experience?

Butch Roy

Butch Roy

That’s hard to list since it’s kind of the core of how we approach the Festival.

When we were starting the Festival I certainly paid more attention to things I saw in other cities that, as a performer, I really liked or really disliked. It’s one thing to put on a festival and showcase the best performers for a few days, keeping in mind the little things that will be important to those performers over the course of the Festival is a very different mindset.

So it was less about trends and more about approaching the Festival from the performers’ standpoint at all times – if we’re doing our jobs when we make selections, we don’t need to worry about the quality of the shows we’re putting up. They will take care of the audience – so we should be spending our energy making sure the performers have a great experience and have a great audience to perform for.

I’ve been to festivals that were poorly marketed but really focused on the art, some that were well marketed but poorly planned, some where the producers didn’t even know we were there. Any time I ran into something that made me question if I should have come to a festival, we made note of in the “Never do this” column and we try our best to keep those things at the forefront of our process.

The biggest change we’ve made this year is to separate the submissions from visiting groups from the local submissions – to give traveling groups enough time to properly plan for their trip but also make sure we’re getting the most current snapshot of what’s going on in the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis has a somewhat rare city that has very strong longform and shortform theatres – and many shared performers. How does that landscape affect the festival?

I think it makes us more welcoming – both in terms of what we’re looking for when we make selections and being able to see really great shows in both long and short form – but also in terms of how Minnesotan improvisers know that there’s a lot to be learned from both.

It promotes an environment in which quality is the most important criteria instead of artificial divisions.

Because of that balance, your audiences have a very good vocabulary for improv. What kinds of shows do you hope to attract to Minneapolis to introduce them to something new and challenging?

Our audience not only has an unbelievable improv vocabulary – they see and appreciate really great work, not just the moves that get laughs. They’re savvy. They appreciate a really smart callback or some of the more subtle moves you see in a really great ensemble – which can be so rewarding as a performer.

One of the things I’m most excited about every year is introducing new performers to our audience!

I almost don’t feel like we look at shows as challenging our audience, since they see such a wide variety and have a pretty nuanced understanding of what we do – but when we find something really new, really eye-opening in terms of “I’ve never seen an improv show that feels like this before!” I get really excited as a producer. Waiting months for the audience to see what I’ve been anxiously waiting for them to see is one of the hardest parts of being the producer.

The pairings of groups is one of the more exciting parts of producing the Festival every year for that reason – knowing what the audience is in for and how it’s going to play together – like getting to put a duo that uses movement and dance (the Raving Jaynes) with a duo that features an engineer and dance instructor (Foxtrot) and an ensemble that uses no spoken words at all and just uses music played from audience iPods as the backbone of the scenes (The Score) is really fun.

Any one of those shows alone would be great and engaging and fun – but when you can put them together you get this really amazing trip across the whole spectrum of what you can do in an improv show.

June is probably a smart time for a festival in The Twin Cities. What kind of weather can visitors expect? What should they pack?

HUGE Improv Theater

HUGE Improv Theater

June is the ONLY good time to visit Minnesota, in terms of weather.

I hear from people all the time that say “I visited once, never went back” and I always ask when they came – if they say “January” I just apologize and tell them to come back in June.

Typically we will see high 80’s and sun all day, high 60’s or 70’s at night.

Only once did we have a rainy Festival but the temps are generally always very nice – bring an umbrella, shorts and t-shirts during the day but you aren’t going to be too hot if you’re wearing long sleeves and pants in the evening.

There are many top shelf instructors in Minneapolis, and even more in the cities nearby. That’s something many travelers don’t have access to year round. What kind of workshops or panels will be available this year?

We are still putting this year’s workshops together right now – we will announce those along with the selections. We always have workshops for the experienced performers, we’ve never had great response to the entry level workshops – so everything is focused on serving the performers rather than intro work.

What, outside of the festival, will improvisors be able to do and see while visiting?

There is so much going on in June in MN – the city goes a little crazy when everything thaws out and we know we only have a dozen or so really nice days to have fun – so you can see food truck festivals, film festivals, baseball games, awesome outdoor mini golf – you name it.

If anyone has a request of something they’ve heard of and want to try to see while in town, let us know and the Festival will reach out and see what we can arrange!

Eight years means a lot of time to grow. What have you learned from past festivals that will be part of TCIF 8? What are your goals for the 2014 festival?

I mentioned the change in submissions before – that’s probably the biggest shift in terms of the Festival mechanics – in past years we’d have a group that was really active in Minneapolis and had a great submission in January so they were invited to do the Festival…only to disband a couple months later because of scheduling or real-life conflicts or something – so you end up getting a “reunion show” instead of a catching them in their prime.

The biggest thing we’ve learned is to relax and let the improvisers take some ownership of the experience – we run the shows and workshops but the community here is so warm and welcoming that they throw BBQ’s for the performers and have the after-parties at their houses and really make it their own.

There are always things we’re learning in terms of mechanics of holding so many shows in such a short time – long lines, temp control in the theater, you name it – but the biggest thing we try to keep in mind is that we’re always learning and trying to improve.

For real. If you haven’t been to the Twin Cities Improv Festival, you’re missing out on something special. Submissions are still open for out of town performers, but closing soon.

Happy Holidays from NIN!

Hey everyone, Nick and Bill here wishing you all a wonderful Holiday! When we launched in May we didn’t know what to expect, we created a resource for improvisors based on our passion and love for the art. Today, we have 800 members, 400 troupes, 62 Improv theaters listed and 66 festivals listed with 20 running submissions through us and more on the way. We want to thank everyone who has supported this great experiment especially our members. We are grateful for our wonderful improv community!

As 2013 comes to a close we look forward to bringing you even more resources for 2014. We look forward to showing you what we have planned!

We’ll be monitoring the site but we will not be releasing any new content till the New Year. If you have any questions you can PM us on NIN or e-mail at bill@nationalimprovnetwork.com and nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com.

Nick and Bill

Festivus Traditions


ComedySportz Richmond

I might not be a traveled as our guest blogger Mike this year, but I’ve done a fair amount of traveling and performing this year. I count myself blessed for the amount of stages I’ve been allowed to play in 2013. I thought DSI in North Carolina would be the last stop of the year, but a last minute invite to Richmond was something I couldn’t resist. I’d never played in Virginia for one thing and I admit that with a few exceptions, the east coast one area I don’t know as many people.

ComedySportz Richmond has been producing Festivus for three years now, and it’s run as smoothly as much longer running and larger events. The volunteers, staff and performers did a great job of making everyone feel welcome and the audiences have a great time.

ComedySportz Richmond is the kind of inviting theatre more should strive for. ComedySportz shows go down often, but several other shows happen as well. The Coalition Theater is the other improv theater in town, and from what I can see they work together to learn and grow.

The Festival was largely a regional one, (yours truly being the exception). Lots of great shows from North Carolina, D.C., New York and Virginia. Many old friends coming together. So many great shows happened and I noticed that shows were of a much faster pace than I’m used to seeing. Scenes were almost universally fast and hard, but not hasty or sloppy. There was genuine excitement pushing the scenes forward. Of course – Tara DiFrancisco’s headline performance was well earned. Her performance with a member of local group “No String Attached” was patient, and beautiful throughout.

Improv Kung Fu

Improv Kung Fu

Workshops happened on Saturday and, with the exception of the master class, were free for registered performers. I didn’t get to take any morning classes, although I heard great things about the workshop from the Nashville Improv Company and I’m certain the others went well. I got to teach “Starting Out Strong” above a Kung Fu dojo to a very cool mixture of performers from various backgrounds. It lead to some really good discussions on finding the meat of a scene and having confidence when starting a show. I hope I brough a fresh perspective to openings.

Between the shows, the volunteers and the workshops, I think it was a great experience for all performers. I’m pretty sure Dave Gau wouldn’t like to be singed out, because everyone from Virginia was willing to put in the sweat to make the festival great, but his leadership was very clear. He inspired those around him on and off stage. Big thanks to him, Zach Arnold, Susan Scoville, Kelly Scruggs,Kim Thurston, Dominic Wall and to the girl who went out of her way to get me my swag bag (which included a DVD of “The Long Kiss Goodnight” with Geena Davis and is thus the greatest festival swag bag ever). If you’re ever in Richmond, drop by and see some great shows.

Oh, and I ripped the arm off a tuxedo.

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

When A Stoppable Force Meets A Movable Object – How Many Festivals?

Today I submitted to the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival; which got me to thinking. How many festivals HAVE I submitted to this year? By my count, this year alone I’ve submitted to 12 festivals, attended 8, performed in 7, and taught workshops (either during or as a result of attending) at 3. Wow! When you see the numbers before you it’s quite daunting.

So here’s how I make it work with the flight attendant gig: improv is (and always will be) my #1 love. If you truly love something, you’ll find time for it. That’s what I do with comedy. I submit, I book, I rearrange. I always make improv my priority. Now having said that, I also have to know my limits.

There was a time when I was flying over 100 hours a month (which doesn’t sound like a lot because that number only reflects my pay. Not the amount of hours I actually work. It’s messed up, I know), running my own improv team (Trapper John), taking classes (at The Magnet), figuring out how to do Solo Improv (with personal coach Alan Fessenden), and also dating a girl long-distance who lived outside of Detroit. Doing all of this just about killed me, so I had to learn the art of Time Management.
Long story long, I’m still learning how to effectively manage my time, but suffice it to say, I’ve learned how to mix classes, shows, and festivals into my time table. Here’s how:

1) I make a very general map in my head as to how I want the upcoming year to go down. Let’s take 2013 for example. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish levels 4 AND 5 at The PIT before 2012 was over, thus not making me eligible to audition for house teams come January 2013. I had also applied and was accepted to perform in the first ever Alaska State Improv Festival (ASIf!) in April as well as the LA Improv Festival in June.
2) My next step was to figure out my goals and then fit them around what I already had planned. I knew that I wanted to finish classes before the year was out. I had also recently become an intern at The PIT with a regular Tuesday night Box Office shift. The real trick for me was figuring out what days of the week I would be free to fill my schedule with non flight attendant stuff.
3) Now that I had a few specifics in mind, I could start the process of filling my schedule. As a flight attendant, I’m usually on-call 20 days out of the month. I know in advance when these days are going to be, as well as my days off, so that I can plan my schedule. Working in the international base, I know that all of my trips are going to be either 3 or 6-day trips. (ie. day 1, fly to London. Day 2, stay the day in London. Day 3, fly back from London. Days 4-6, repeat). So, I always knew that on days 3 and 6 that I’d always be back in New York. This way I can plan to take classes, work a shift as an intern, teach classes, or do a show. Plus, I had my days off to plan things.
4) Rearranging the schedule. I would always plan my improv stuff first and then rearrange my schedule to accommodate. Generally, it hasn’t been too difficult a task. I just know better than to plan things on the weekend. And if I do, I can only plan to do something one weekend a month, as weekends have proven murderous to try and get off.

Anyway, technical mumbo jumbo aside, I’ve been playing this game of planning and rearranging my schedule to accommodate the love of my life for seven years now, and has become so commonplace for me that I forget what it’s like to have a typical 9-5 where I know that every evening and every weekend is going to be free.
And as for the girlfriend outside of Detroit… Yeah, that didn’t last long.

So…this is my life. It gets daunting. A lot. Which is why I try to take the advice of Peter Gwinn in his book “Group Improvisation” and take some time to live and experience life (and in my case, sleep!)


Improv Warrior: Jill Bernard

Improv Warrior (n.) Someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty. An improvisor, who is not just a performer, but lives and breaths improv, heightens the art, cares for the art and brings it to new levels.

Today’s Improv Warrior is Jill Bernard. I have had the pleasure of performing with Jill and bumping into her at practically every festival in the country. She is an amazing teacher and an amazing talent. But beyond that she is just a wonderful human being. Jill recently celebrated 20 Years as an improvisor and celebrated it in a major way! –Nick Armstrong

Here is what she had to say:

From Jill Bernard:

On Sunday December 1, 2013 I did a show called “JILLVITATIONAL: 20 duos in 12 hours to celebrate 20 years” – the length of time since I began improvising.

My favorite part was the sensation of each new partner. Jeff Wirth has taught me many things, but one little interesting tidbit is to read how an audience volunteer wants to play when brought up onstage. Are they a clinical person or an emotional person? I thought of that concept a lot during my twenty duos, because each pairing was an opportunity to be the scene partner my friend was asking for. When someone steps onstage, they’re proposing a game. If your opening line is, “I don’t know, Edgar, perhaps this climb was too ambitious, the temperature’s dropping faster than we could’ve predicted,” you’re basically saying, “Hello, would you like to play doomed mountain expedition with me, in a slightly old-fashioned and serious style?” and my answer will be yes yes a million times yes thank you, let’s let’s.

I was charmed by the opportunity to do so twenty times in a row, especially since I am rather infamous for being an ungenerous player who will drag your corpse behind the sled of my agenda. It felt like a lovely challenge to play the Venn Diagram of just the two of us to the nth degree, in the Viola Spolin sense of ‘following the follower.’

I picked twenty friends but I could’ve picked a million friends. The feeling I was left with after it was all over was “Oh, what’s wrong with the limits of my body and my brain that I can’t just keep doing this hour after hour and get to share the stage with everyone ever?” Being alone with just another person is the full dose of them. It’s the extra virgin million parts per million version of their aesthetic, and you get to take a bath in it. I could get used to that. Trish Berrong and I neared the final moments of the final duo and my eyes filled with tears for all the gratitude I felt in that moment – gratitude that Trish Berrong and Bailey Williams would come up from Kansas City, Lindsay Gonzales would come from Chicago; Samantha Pereira , Katy Kessler, Kelvin Hatle, Eric Heiberg, Doug Neithercott , Lauren Anderson and Josh Kuehn would come do improv before noon; Butch Roy would play and let me use our theater for this silly project all day long; Mary Strutzel, Eric Knobel and James Moore who were alongside me when I started would still be alongside me now; Clay Macartney, Bernard Armada would just hop into the unknown; Nate Morse would bring me a cat piano; Meghan Wolff, Jason Bindas and Carolyn Blomberg would be those kinds of friends who will play with you just because; and for everyone who came to watch and cheer and bartend and tech and box office. That’s a lot to be emotionally touched by, especially after a long day fueled by mostly Topperstix and runner’s Goo.

It was good, it was fun, but I won’t make an annual event of it as it’s exceedingly odd? arrogant? pathetic? to make up an event named after yourself. I did it because, as I told a reporter, “Improvisational comedy is the kind of an unsustainable ridiculous career where you ask yourself what you’re doing with your life every 12 months or so. I used this idea to kind of cheer myself up. It’s also an uncelebrated art form. Improvised theater is not even eligible for an Ivey award, none of the newspapers or online calendars have an ‘improv comedy’ section. As a result, improvisers can’t sit around waiting for recognition, we have to celebrate ourselves.” I feel so celebrated now. What a wonderful boost to spur me on for twenty more years.

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. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com


Spotlight On: San Diego Improv Festival

San Diego is growing fast as an improv city. Different theatres, different styles, but plenty of people who are working towards making improv accessible to the people of San Diego.

Part of that growth means a new improv festival and a new chance for improvisors to visit a new place and share the love (on Valentine’s Day no less).

I’ve had the pleasure to know Chris George for a while now and I was excited to get to talk to him about the upcoming first San Diego Improv Festival and the growth of the city’s active improv scene.

Finest City just opened in December. And you’re putting up a festival in February; that’s a lot going on. Why did you decide to have a festival so close to the launch of the theatre? What kind of shared energy do you think will go into launching this first festival?

San Diego is in a real boom-time as far as improv goes. In the last three years, there has been a huge explosion in the number of theaters, groups, venues, showcases, classes, workshops, and people. In addition to Finest City opening, groups like Sidestage have seen enormous crowds and popular workshop series, and Lifeplay (which focues on using improv skills to help children and teens with bullying, but also does a lot of great traditional programming) has seen a large increase in demand and activity. Basically – San Diego is at a critical point for improv and we feel that it is time to both tie us in to the larger national community, and also celebrate just how wonderful improv is in San Diego right now. We hope to really capture the unbridled enthusiasm our community has right now, and also expand some horizons of some of our players that may have been a little isolated up to this point.

San Diego has a rich collection of improv, both longform and shortform. What are you hoping for visitors to learn and take away from being exposed to San Diego’s improv scene?

The improv community here is very vibrant and growing, but we’re still largely unknown to the greater San Diego community. We’re hoping that our festival can a celebration of just how much we’ve been able to accomplish in the last few years, and introduce the best of San Diego and beyond to our largely untapped audience. We do have some very talented and motivated local players, and getting the word out is still a high priority.

Outside of performances, what other events will be available for performers? Workshops? Parties?

We will have workshops; we have already confirmed iO’s Bill Arnett (3033, People of Earth) as a teacher at the festival and we plan on having on even more great teachers from our local and visiting teams. We are fortunate to have the venue at the same location as our host hotel, which means that we should have a large concentration of improvisers on site, and no one has to drive anywhere. The hotel has a pool and two bars, which I suspect may mean that the party may never stop. We are also planning some afternoon excursions to some of the local flavor.

San Diego is an amazing city. When the festival isn’t happening, what sights would you recommend for visitors? Where are some of the best places to eat around the festival?

The San Diego Zoo is probably the most well known landmark, and is a terrific exhibit, but the surrounding park (Balboa) has science and history museums, walking trails, and shops. The USS Midway exhibit is a decommissioned aircraft carrier that is a popular tourist destination, and is surrounded by the Embarcadero, which is a wonderful waterfront shopping area. The Gaslamp area downtown is a well known party area, packed with bars and restaurants, and the intersection of 30th & University was rated by several national publications as one of the best places to drink beer in the country, due to its high concentration of bars, nearly all of which have dozens of varieties of beer. Speaking of that, San Diego county is home to 40+ microbreweries, most of which have samplings and tours, making us one of the best places for a beer connoisseur. Our theater is located in the middle of the North Park neighborhood, home to hundreds of bars and restaurants, all within an easy walk or cab ride. There are amusement parks just an hour north in Carlsbad, CA, sunny beaches, surfing, sailing, and of course, improv.

What’s the venue like?

A nice place to chill before shows

A nice place to chill before shows

We’re very fortunate to be partnered with the Lafayette Hotel, which is a kitschy, newly remodeled hotel that used to be a favorite haunt of celebrities and actors in the 30’s-50’s. Our theater is brand new, with full lighting and sound equipment, projectors, and has a hand built stage, which is probably one of the best stages that could be built for improv.

To the best of my knowledge, this will be one of the first times San Diego audiences will be exposed to a large number of out-of-town performances. What are your hopes in exposing them to new kinds of improv?

We have had a few out of town guests in the past – Two Beer Queer, King Ten, The 313, Ice Tits to name a few, but this will be the first largest gathering of visiting teams. I think for a long time, San Diegans have only seen shortform improv, and audiences probably only associate improv with silly, gimmicky, or relatively unprofessional groups. We really want to show the wide variety of high quality teams we have available both in town and out. We would love our audiences to walk away that weekend with an appreciate of traditional longform, deconstructive forms (e.g. Armando), musical, narrative, genre, shortform, and maybe even some new, challenging, and unique improv. We hope that the audiences that come see our stuff will continue to check out new and different improv groups, and hopefully join us in exploring and performing.

What kind of shows are you looking for in your submissions this year?

We want about a 50/50 split between home and visiting teams, and we really want to showcase a large variety of shows. We want great teams, of course, but we also would love to get some shows that no one has really ever seen before.

California has seen an explosion of improv festivals in the last two years. What are some things you’ve learned from them and other festivals around the country? What are some things you’re hoping to emulate or change?

Finest City has been very lucky to have had the opportunity to talk to a lot of festival organizers and get some ideas for how to make the festival the kind of one you would want to come back to next year. We want to focus on making our guests feel welcome – we’re hoping to organize some airport and train station pickups to make the trip easier, and giving each team a local contact they can call if they have questions, or even just want to know a good place to get noodles at 2am (for the record, Jimmy Wong’s Golden Dragon Asian Bistro over in Hillcrest). We are aware that a trip to San Diego is a bit of trip for almost everyone, and we want to make that trip worthwhile.

Submissions are open right now. It’s a great chance to come out and be among the first to share improv from your home with the people of San Diego and to meet people like Chris.

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

When A Stoppable Force Meets A Movable Object

We have been reaching out to many of the people we’ve been meeting on the site and at festivals around the country. I met Mike through NIN first, then saw him on the road. He had an interesting story to tell. Mike will be one of the contributors to our site, we are reaching out to more people too as to give you a variety of ideas, thoughts and advice. –Nick Armstrong

Here’s Mike’s Intro Blog:

When Nick Armstrong asked me to start a blog on the NIN I was completely flattered and honored to be part of one of the best (and fastest growing) online communities that exists for improvisers! I felt as though someone was finally taking notice of my hard work. For once, someone that matters is taking an interest in what I do an a comedian. Almost immediately afterwards I freaked out because I had no clue what I would write about. I’m just a little twerp from Oil City, Pennsylvania. I’m a nobody. Who would honestly want to hear my story?

Then Nick offered a tip as to what I might write about: for the past seven years I have been working as a flight attendant for United (previously Continental) Airlines. I literally travel the globe on a daily basis and perform improv wherever I can. Plus, as an added unique feature to add to my repertoire, I specialize in Solo Improv which I have patterned exactly after a normal ensemble improv troupe. It’s a portable one-man show that takes me around the world doing what I love best: making people laugh.

In this blog, I aim to offer a weekly glimpse into my life as a Solo Improv artist that has the opportunity to travel the world. Some weeks will focus on what is currently happening in my life, while others will shed some light on my past and how I got to where I am now.

If it at all comes across arrogant and self indulgent, then I apologize. I am actually aiming for conceded, self righteous, and all important. So let’s all work together to keep me on the right track, shall we?

Mike Brown

Mike was born in Franklin, PA, raised in Oil City, PA, and now resides in Harlem, NYC with fellow improviser, Josh Hurley, and his cat, Minerva. He works as an international flight attendant for United Airlines and performs Solo Improv around North America and Europe. Mike teaches and coaches improv via 10,000 Hours, The University of Oxford, John Jay College, and Skype & FaceTime. For more info, visit soloimprov.com

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