Embrace Your Community

One of the biggest pieces of advice we can give about starting an improv theatre in a small town is you have to love your city. That may sound pretty simple or naïve, but stick with us here. What we mean is, you need to embrace everything about your town for good or bad. We live in a small rural town in Southern Utah called Cedar City. At first glance it might not seem like the kind of place an improv theatre would do well in. It’s the kind of town where nothing is open on Sunday or after 10pm on the weekdays. However, it’s home to a University and has a small but thriving arts community. We used all this to our advantage. We took all the negatives and turned them into positives. For example, one of the biggest negatives about our small town is the fact that choices are limited. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard people say, “there’s nothing to do in Cedar City.” The advantage this gave us is we created something to do that quickly became a staple of entertainment, especially for the University students. Now when we hear someone say there’s nothing to do, we say, “have you ever seen Off the Cuff?” Another negative of our small town is they tend to fear change. This is where patience paid off big time for us. While the University students were quick to welcome us the town itself was a little reluctant. We realized that this feeling all came from a fierce loyalty to Cedar and we needed to prove ourselves. We accomplished this in two ways. We stuck around and continued to grow and we got involved in our community. Getting involved was huge. We do workshops with the local high schools, we volunteer at city events, we participate in the parades, and we get our name out there. It took a while, but we’ve been able to form connections and friendships that have helped us out more than we say. The more involved in your community you can be and the more you support local businesses the more they will, in turn, support you.

Go outside your town and network.

The great advantage to living when we do is how easily we can access information. It’s so easy to see amazing improv and find a lot of great information on the web that can help you stay current and fresh with your improv and always keep you moving forward. Off the Cuff has benefited so much from taking opportunities like the National Improv Network and Camp Improv Utopia. As a small community these types of things allow us to get connected and make our community better. Nick’s post about a rising tide raises all ships is very true for us. The more the word about improv gets out and the success of improvisors gets more mainstream smaller communities will grow and larger communities will prosper.  This is a huge. It’s really easy for your troupe to fall into patterns that limit growth, especially when the only improv you see is each other. OTC makes it a point to go outside our community as much as we can. We love to travel to festivals and theatres to see other shows so we can broaden our horizon. This is crucial, it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut and become complacent when you’re the only gig in town. In order for you to remain current you need to see what else is out there, take every opportunity to go to a festival, watch shows in person, meet other improvisers, take workshops so you can bring back to your theatre the best information out there. Through this you’ll also meet the most incredibly talented and giving people in the world who are so eager to help you in anyway they can. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and take advantage of the knowledge of those who have been through professional training and love improv as much as you do, they are so happy and willing to help. Off the Cuff would not be where it is today if it wasn’t for some amazing people that have helped us in so many ways and those people accepting us with open arms into their communities thus making our community bigger and better.

Strive to be better and be proud of who you are.

As a small community, NEVER become complacent. You have to drive yourself to want to improve and practice. Just because you might be the only improv group and the area doesn’t mean you are the best. Keep your ego in check, which sometimes in a smaller community might be harder because the audience only sees you perform and doesn’t have all the options a larger community might have. At the same time, don’t let your ego tell you the opposite that your group doesn’t know what they are doing and improv in larger communities is better just because it’s from a bigger city. Be proud of your work. There is a term called “farm-prov” thrown around in larger communities that refers to improv groups from smaller communities. “Oh great, here’s another farm-prov group from nowhere.” Embrace that term! WE ARE FARM-PROV! Watch us take that suggestion, help it grow into characters, relationships, themes and scenework and harvest the laughter! (By the way does anyone want to go to festivals as a group called farm-prov and dress up like hillbillies and totally kill a show with us?) Small communities rock! That being said, we are all part of a larger community and the more we as improvisors, theatres, festivals, friend’s, and foes embrace this it’ll do nothing but grow.

Make goals that are realistic and be ready to go beyond them.

We always have a clear vision of what we want to accomplish and what we think we can accomplish. We budget our money wisely and think business decisions through thoroughly. When we set goals for OTC we make two lists: what we want to accomplish and what we know we can accomplish. Both remain on the table at all times. We first try to accomplish the goals we know we can. We make it a point to not put the cart before the horse. That being said, in a small town you have to create opportunity for yourself and this requires doing some things before you’re ready. If we tried to accomplish only what we thought we could, we would never be as far as we are now. For example, when we decided we wanted to host a festival, we had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t live in a big town where there are already improv festivals or even festivals close by. We had never run a festival before and had only participated in one. We asked for advice from people we knew who went to festivals often and we went for it. We had no clue how to accomplish that goal but had we waited until we were ready, there wouldn’t be a Red Rocks Improv Festival at all. We always think ahead to next year, we never close ourselves off to the option of changing the festival, and this mentality has helped us improve. Each year our festival gets bigger and we learn more about what we can do to make it the best it can be. We remain flexible and ready to change but always have a vision and a concrete idea. Remember that there are amazing opportunities out there. You might have to look a little harder for them and work a little harder to make them happen but it’ll pay off.  In a small town where improv is not established, you’re going to be the first to do a lot of the things. Being the first at anything requires a huge leap that takes quite a bit of courage and faith. You have to take the leap and learn how to fall as you’re falling. Creating an amazing strong improv community in a small town is a lot like doing improv, first you say yes then you figure it out as you go.

Guest Bloggers: TJ and Wendy Penrod

Tj and Wendy are the Founders and Artistic Directors of Off The Cuff Improvisation in Cedar City, Utah. In January of 2014 they will be celebrating 10 years as a company and this year marked their 4th Annual Red Rocks Improv Festival which has attracted troupes from all over the country to their small town.

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A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships

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When we started the idea of the National Improv Network one of our goals was to help all improv theaters grow and succeed. As it is improv is not really widely known to the general public. To the improvisor shaking his or her head right now, you know your Mom thinks you still do stand-up. It’s true, we know what it is because we live, breath and sleep improv. But if you go do interviews on the street asking what they think improv is, I can guarantee their either going to say Stand-up or Whose Line is it Anyway.

Our philosophy is this, A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships. This means that working together for the common good of our art will only make each company grow and succeed. That since the general public isn’t aware of improv, working together to bring awareness, such as putting on an improv festival or going out together in your community is a great way to bring awareness, thus bringing more audience to all theaters. You’d think with a community that is so embedded in the yes and club it would be the way all over the place. It’s not. In my travels I’ve heard  and witnessed some communities that have drawn battle lines, poach players from each other, have non-compete clauses, where players can only play at their theatre and it makes me frown. If you only understood that following the improv philosophy of yes and is the way you should be conducting your business. We are not a corporate entity we are a community of people. I get that some companies are considered corporate improv, but we can’t treat it as you would like running a Walmart.

A perfect example is Los Angeles. There started out being only 2 improv theaters when I first moved out there, now there is probably 7 to 10. Could be more, they’re popping up everyday. Having all these improv theaters in town has only grown improv and brought more awareness to the general public. When I started at iO West in 2001, we only had one theater to perform in and maybe our friends came to watch. Fast forward to 2013 and we perform in front of sold out crowds and there are three theaters running at iO West and UCBLA always has a line out the door. There’s enough to go around if you create the awareness.

This may not apply to you, I honestly think it’s a small percentage of communities, but still if we all work together, if we are all the tide that makes all our ships rise the world will have to know who we are and what we do. After all aren’t you tired of your Mom asking you how your stand up is going…No Mom I do improv!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups. 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!

Take a Break! Don’t Forget About Life!

“Improv is a life art so go experience it”

RelaxI see a lot of improvisors get burned out. Hell, I get burned out too.  You have to remember as an improvisor part of your learning experience and your rehearsal is the things you do in life. If you’re performing onstage all the time you are forgetting about the outside world. I’ve been there, three rehearsals, two shows and coaching and then you’re like, “Wow, where did my week go? I’ve been at the theatre every night.

TAKE A BREAK!

I think every improvisor should take a break from shows every once in a while. Think of it like a sabbatical. This will re-energize you and get your head away from performing for just a little bit and get you in touch with the world around you again. Being totally immersed into something is okay at first, but in improv you just have to take a step back. Improv is a life art. Part of what informs your improv is your experiences offstage so if you’re missing that your work may plateau. I often hear improvisors saying, “I think I’ve plateued.” It’s usually because they’re a student in the middle of classes they’ve been taking over the course of a year, or a vet who is doing everything improv from coaching, performing and rehearsing.

HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO BE AWAY FROM IMPROV?

There’s no answer to this. You could just take a week or maybe even a month. It’s really up to you. But read some books, go camping, catch up on your favorite shows, hang out with friends that you haven’t seen in a while that are outside the improv world. Think of it as a summer break so that when you come back to improv it’s like you’re going back to school and seeing all your old friends again.

Improv is meant to be fun and if you’re not having fun onstage and it just becomes work, then you need to take some time off. Improv isn’t work it’s art. So take a break, go have fun, live life for a little bit and then come back and get ready to have some fun!

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! For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

Red Rocks Improv Festival Combines Improv and The Great Outdoors!

547231_611653305522623_1019168721_nI just got back from Cedar City, Utah and I have to say I’m impressed! Off The Cuff Improvisation, which will be celebrating its 10th year in the small city, put on the 4th Annual Red Rocks Improv Festival. The festival was filled with improv performances from all over the country, workshops and wonderful trips to Cedar Breaks and Zion National Park where improvisors had the chance to hike and bond!

Tj and Wendy Penrod are the force behind the festival and OTC Comedy and have been since its inception. This year Red Rocks decided to partner with NIN and use our submission service to help gain some more exposure for the festival and it worked! Gaining improvisors from California all the way to New York! Tj and Wendy have created an amazing improv community in Cedar City and are actively involved in the arts culture there.

Being such a small town with one main street…named Main Street, I had worried that it might be hard to get a crowd. Not here! Wendy, TJ and their OTC gang have done such great work out there building a community that both nights were filled to the brim with audience. This audience was hungry for improv too!

This years festival added and extra bonus. OTC Comedy rented a 15 seater van, we dubbed the party van, to pick us up and take us hiking to places like Cedar Breaks and Zion National Park. I went on the Zion National Park hike through The Narrows which is not just any trail, it’s a 90 percent water trail where you wade through water in narrow slot canyons! AMAZING! It was a great experience and a great way to meet and hang out with people from other improv communities. When we reached the end of our journey one of the OTC gang started to jump off a rock into a pool of water…everyone followed suit in support, some conquering their fears! It was such an amazing experience filled with community, friendship and fun!

So should you attend this festival? Yes! This is the perfect example of what a festival should be. They took the idea of bringing great shows to their community exposing their small town to big named groups while also taking care of their out-of-town guests and treating them to their beautiful surroundings! Someone asked recently “Why do you go to festivals?” This is why I go to festivals!

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! For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

Listen Like a Fourteen Year Old

Good scenes are sometimes like school

Good scenes are sometimes like school

As improvisors, and as teachers of improv, we get asked some of the same questions over and over again. We’ve found our quick little standard responses to those questions that at one point were pretty clever, but maybe it’s time to actually think about those answers rather than giving them lips service. Here are two answers I hear and find myself giving often.

Muggle: I could never do that on stage, I can’t think that fast
Improvisor: You’re doing it right now. We’re improvising all the time.

Student: How do I know what to ‘Yes and’?
Teacher: Just listen harder.

There’s a lot of truth in both of those answers, but they’re incomplete. The first is true. We’re all acting without scripts all day long. But we’re acting on years or decades of our own personal back-story that informs how we react; what we say. We don’t have that when we step into a character. We’re still learning who we are to ourselves and our scene partners. The second is also absolutely true. Listening is the key to building relationships. But how? Most students who ask this questions thought they already were listening. They heard all the words. They speak English (or whatever language the scene is in) well enough to parse sentences. So how can they listen better. We offer very little specifics in improv instruction, so here’s one. I propose the answer to both of those questions is not simply to listen, but listen like a fourteen year old.

I’ll explain.

Try to remember back to eighth grade. It was a weird time. In many ways, every character we inhabit is similar to a teenager; trying to discover who we are and how we fit into the world around us. What are our passions? What kind of person are we going to become? How do other people view us? How do we relate to those around us? What are these new emotions we aren’t accustomed to? Sound familiar? Of course it is. We may not consciously give time to those notions when we enter scenes, but they’re there. And this isn’t a bad thing. This is a wonderful thing. This uncertainty helps us seek out who we are. Somehow miraculously, teenagers survive. They turn into young men and women ready to change the world. Of course, if you’ve ever had to raise a teen (God Bless You) or spend any quality time with them, you know that it can be a trying process.

That’s because as adults, we sometimes use words recklessly. We don’t think through every sentence before we say it; think of all the ways it could be interpreted. But to a teen, they are desperate for clues as to how they are perceived and treated. They are paranoid about every word choice, gesture and fashion choice you make. They dig for meaning where none is present. Even if there’s nothing “between the lines”, they’ll find something there.

Take example from their paranoia. As performers, we are also often even more lax in our choices (in word and deed) onstage because we often act before understanding our own motivations. Don’t let your scene partners or yourselves get away with that. Every word, every movement, every facial expression means something to you. Don’t treat anything as throwaway. Ask these questions;

“Why did you just say that?”
“Why did you say it to me? You could have shared that information with anyone. Why me? What is different about me that I am told this and not someone else?”
“If you’re telling me, you want to have an effect on me? What do you want me to do? How are you trying to make me feel? How will this change who we are to each other?”

Don’t be satisfied with the first answer to this question. Keep asking. Assume that there’s more.

It’s not just for your scene partners either. Ask questions of everything you say. You’ll be delighted that words that come out of your mouth inform so much more than you might imagine.

Have something to add? We finally have a comments section. Let us know what you think!

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 was once fourteen.

16 Tips and Advice for Students of Improv

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“My mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier you’ll be a general; if you become a monk you’ll end up as the Pope.’ Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.” – Pablo Picasso

Students of Improv! You’re going to be okay! Art is hard! Long form is an art that requires patience. You will not get it overnight nor will you get it the next day. A typical 8 week class usually goes like this from a students POV, “I get it, Oh shit, I’m in my head, I get it! I’m lost, I get it, I hate improv I’m never going to get it, WOW I get it!” and so on. Oh this can happen to vets too, nobody is safe from the ups and downs of improv.

Below is a list of things to maybe help ease your fears and give you some friendly tips and advice to help you get through it all. Think of it as free improv therapy.

  1. You can’t be perfect at improv, so don’t worry about it.
  2. You’re not going to get it.
  3. You’re your own worst enemy.
  4. You’re going to live in your head for a while. It’s class you’re learning.
  5. There is no right or wrong so just try everything.
  6. Take direction. They are teachers for a reason.
  7. You’re not the best improvisor ever, you’re not the worst improvisor ever…there is no such thing.
  8. Don’t be someone else in class or do another improvisor, be you!
  9. Sure that guy/gal gets more laughs then you…who cares they do their improv you do yours.
  10. You’re never done being a student.
  11. There will always be a bad show, class or rehearsal no matter how many years you’ve been doing this. Grab a beer and walk it off.
  12. It takes at least 1000 shows and maybe you’ll start getting it.
  13. Play with people better than you.
  14. Watch shows, watch more shows and then when you’re done watching those shows, watch even more shows!
  15. Read, observe and live life. Don’t just be an improvisor.
  16. If you don’t get cast out of an audition it’s okay, do it again and again and again! Don’t give up.

I hope this helps you in your quest. Improv is a wonderful art filled with wonderful people. Probably the best people on Earth in my opinion. Remember, class is about trying to figure out who you are and what you can do. Performance is about trying to figure out who you are and what you can do too. So like Picasso, become the improvisor that winds up being you.

_______________________

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups. 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! For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

 

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.

Occupancy

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.

Parking

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. 

7 Delegation Tips for Festivals

 

This takes organization + trust

This takes organization + trust

I’ve been to quite a few festivals this summer guys – Chicago, Detroit, Phoenix….there are some amazing things happening in the improv world!  I’m struck by how big these events are, and the successes and challenges they have in executing a great festival.  It takes a village guys.  Even if it’s a small village, it takes a village, to get things done on a large scale.

Most festivals have a team of volunteers (and if you don’t have a team of volunteers – tweet @xoticdonkeymeat to talk) and the most effective tool in your belt to get massive amounts of things done is the D word – yup – Delegation – to these volunteers.  Lots of folks struggle with delegation, but practice makes perfect!  Here are 7 steps to effective delegation to your volunteers.

 

1.  Ask for volunteers before you’re ready, when you first meet to discuss your next festival/event

People who volunteer before you’ve even got things written down truly want to help and are happy to be directed to do work.  When you ask (in an email blast, or a sign up sheet), also include a space for them to note what they can help with – they may bring something up you didn’t even think of.  Keep this list.

2. Know what you have to get done – specifically – in writing 

Of course you know everything that has to get done!  But it’s all in your head.  Write it down in Google Apps/Evernote/Whatever Mac users use to share things.  You can’t effectively delegate if you don’t know the specific tasks that you need to share.  Write down all the things you need help with, the type of work you need and when it’s due.  For example:

  • Ticket sales – good attitude & chatty, best in 4 hour increments – Days of Festival
  • Clean up – doesn’t mind working late – 2 hours/day – days of festival
  • Hosting – should have prior host experience – days of festival
  • Marketing – Printing, tweeting, facebooking – 4 months before festival
  • PR – sponsorship packets, business solicitation

Writing them down will help you a) organize your thoughts and b) realize how much help you actually need.  Which brings me to…

3.  Pick people that are gonna help

I have a saying when it comes to project teams – you play cards with the hand you’re dealt.  Every person is very valuable when you pair them with the right task.  Look at your list of volunteers (which you totally have shared with the other people who are making your things happen, yes?) and your list of tasks.  Tap the people on the shoulder who are best suited for certain tasks and ask them personally – it will make them feel more excited and involved than if they enter their name in a slot on a spreadsheet.

4. Now that you know what you need to get done, ask for volunteers again

This time, be specific in the requests that you have for your volunteers.  Note the days and times of volunteer requirements, if applicable (like ticket and clean up) or the goals of what you’re trying to accomplish for larger tasks (looking for 2 businesses to sponsor festival).

5.  Set yourselves up for success – the do’s & dont’s

  • Don’t leave open-ended task assignments
  • Do make everything ‘accomplishable’ – ‘I’d like to have 400 copies of this delivered to HQ by Tuesday night’ or ‘Can we review the sponsor copy by noon on Wednesday?’ – set clear expectations and a deadline
  • Don’t assign a task and assume it’s taken care of
  • Do assign tasks to your team of volunteers and check in on them at least weekly, and as you move closer to your festival date, check on them bi-daily
  • Don’t assume people ‘don’t want to help’
  • Do assume everyone wants to help but might need more direction – sometimes, you just need to ask an un-assuming “was I not clear enough in my instructions?  Were they confusing?”  Everyone is learning, and the opportunity to be a better leader will make delegation even easier in the future

6.  Keep it fun and thank your volunteers

Keep the entire experience engaging and fun and full of honest thank yous for your volunteers.  They are there for free, and they’re happy to see your event successful, so thank them, with the full ‘Thank you’ as they help you out during the event.  And if they have a great time, they’ll ask others to join them in the future and you can grow your team of volunteers.

7. Be open to feedback

Your volunteers are helping because they want to see the festival successful.  Volunteers leave if they are overworked or if they are frustrated that their voice isn’t being heard.  Send feedback surveys specific to the volunteer work, and ask if there was anything that frustrating about the job they were assigned.  Everyone just wants the festival successful, and a fired up volunteer might be able to help with that.

BONUS TIP:

Don’t wait until big events to recruit volunteers.  Always be looking for ways to include new people and follow tip 4 to assure that your volunteers feel valuable, so they’ll be ready for bigger tasks like….volunteer coordination!

Pyramid // mrwynd

Kate is a contributing member of National Improv Network and works in product, customer and business development.   She blogs about getting things done at unicornwrangler.com and tweets @xoticdonkeymeat.  

Spotlight On: Denver Improv Festival

DIF_LogoThere are plenty of festivals going on this year. Sometimes it can be tough to decide on which festivals to submit to without knowing much about the city or its festival. This is the first of hopefully many interviews with festival producers around the country to provide a little peek into what visiting their festival might be like.

David Schultz is one of the many members of The GroupMind Foundation, the non-profit organization which produces the festival. I was fortunate to get in a little time with him between producing shows and planning the festival along with the other members of GroupMind.

The Denver Improv Festival kind of disappeared a few years ago and then re-emerged. What motivated the re-launch of the festival? What were the hopes for what the new festival would become?

Well, I guess there are two answers to that first question. First, the improv scene in Denver really began to mature 3-4 years ago, which brought a renewed interest in doing a festival. It seemed like a great time to bring it back. There were new theaters opening, new training centers picking up steam, and the scene was really taking off. Secondly, the Denver Improv Festival is organized by the GroupMind Foundation, which is a non-profit organization. Because of the lapse in doing a festival, we needed to bring it back to maintain our non-profit status. That may have been the last nudge we needed, but it was a nudge precisely when the scene was ready for it. Our hopes were pretty simple – bring the festival back and try to get better every year.

What are your goals for the 2013 festival?

Above all else, our goal is to bring the whole Denver improv community together to celebrate how far we’ve come, and enjoy each others company. Of course, there are some goals that we have every year – put on great shows, show the best of Denver improv, bring in talent from other cities to expose locals to other styles, and have as much fun as possible. GroupMind also has some boring goals this year like better utilizing corporate sponsorship, keeping our headliners as happy as possible, and filling all of our workshops. Everyone seemed to have such a blast last year – so my general goal this year is to not screw things up too much.

There are a lot of great theatres in Denver with very different philosophies. How does that variety shape the Denver Improv Scene?

A lot of the theaters and training centers are relatively new and their viewpoints are so different. Because of that, a lot of improvisers have gone through the curriculum of two or three different theaters. That exposes them to different points of view and let’s them find a style/technique/form that they really connect with, and they can take ideas from all of the programs. As a result, we’re seeing a lot of good teams that aren’t house teams tied to one theater. I’d like to see more of that. A new venture called “Red Rover” was organized by Justin Franzen at the Voodoo, and quarterly they put on a show where several of the training centers bring on a current class to perform and represent their style, and the night wraps up with instructors from all centers performing together. It’s neat to see, and shows the diversity between training centers.

Outside of a performance, what else can performers expect? Will you have any master workshops? Or unique workshops? Will there be any other organized activities?

We are finalizing our workshop lineup over the next couple weeks, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself in terms of content. One thing I will say is that we are doing fewer workshops this year, and limiting them to the headliners. In years past, we also included local workshops. In retrospect, that diluted the training pool a bit and made it hard to fill up classes. This year headliners get better numbers, and we can teach local workshops at a time when they aren’t competing with headliners. In terms of organized activities, we’ll be doing after parties – these were a TON of fun last year. Look for karaoke too. One of my favorite memories last year was walking into an 80 seat theater at 1am and seeing every seat full as karaoke was going on.

For those who haven’t been to Denver, what are some of the things people can check out in the city during the day? Where’s the best place to get breakfast near the festival?

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Pineapple pancakes

All the venues under consideration are located downtown, and downtown Denver is very walkable. If you are a fan of craft beer, you couldn’t be in a better spot. Also, one of the favorite destinations was a bar called the 1-Up. It’s great because it is jam packed with old school video games and pinball machines. It’s a blast, and for .25 it can be pretty cheap. I think Nick Armstrong got severe forearm cramps playing Track & Field last year. If you have transportation, Denver is only a quick drive to amazing outdoorsy stuff like Red Rocks, the turning of the Aspen, and Casa Bonita. As far as breakfast, the big hits last year were Hi Rise Bakery and Snooze – home of the delicious Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes. I pride myself on recommending places to go, so anyone who makes it out this year can hit me up and I’ll point them in the right direction.

You’ve been to many festivals and experience the good and bad. What are you bringing to DIF that you’ve discovered at other festivals? What are you hoping to provide at DIF that people haven’t experienced before?

I actually haven’t been to too many myself, but I did just return from the Detroit Improv Festival and boy do those folks know how to organize. I was taking lots of notes, although I don’t even dream to match their scale this year. What I would like to provide is a real sense of community, and allow troupes from other scenes to mingle and share ideas. We aren’t a huge festival, and I see that as a good thing and allows for more intimacy. Last year people really mingled at the after parties and it was an absolute blast. I want to bring everybody together, display great improv, and leave everyone with a smile on the face. Hopefully that word of mouth spreads, and more people want to come next year.

Submissions for The Denver 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 or The GroupMind Foundation, you can visit the festival website or drop a message to David directly here on the site.

The GroupMind Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3)organization whose purpose is to enrich, educate and entertain our community in the art of improv. It will work toward this mission through educational outreach programs for local schools, the Denver Improv Festival, and various performance and skill workshops.

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