Improv Warrior: Rick Andrews

large_rickandrewsImprov 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 Rick Andrews who is on the board and one of the organizers of DuoFest in Philadelphia. He is also a teacher and performer at The Magnet Theatre in New York. On the first night I was at DuoFest I saw Rick and asked him where he was staying in Philly while doing the festival he said, “I’m going back to NYC every night.”

So get this, Rick would do a show, Dwight D. Eisenhower which was one of my favorites at DuoFest, host some of the hours with crazy positive energy and then when the shows ended, around midnight, he’d hang out and go to the after parties, then he’d hop on a bus at 3 a.m. in the morning, get on a train to get home to teach by 10 a.m. at The Magnet Theatre.

I asked Rick why he had to get back to teach, why couldn’t he just get a sub. It turns out Rick was so concerned about his new level 1 class that he wanted to get back to them to make sure they were taken care of. Sure it would be easy to just get a sub for the weekend, but that’s not Rick.

I’ve always said that improvisors are a different class of people and when I met Rick in NYC about a year ago, before DuoFest, he solidified that thought even more.

Rick is the definition of an Improv Warrior. His dedication to DuoFest, his students and the art form are way above and beyond. Rick is definitely and inspiration to all improvisors. Rick travels to festivals around the country and is available for workshops.

Nick Armstrong

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

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

 

 

 

 

Top 6 Ways to Make a Successful Improv Team

fear-of-successSo you’re out of class, in class or a vet looking to start a new team. It’s exciting! You have the opportunity to do something new, maybe a new form, the Harold or who knows. I’ve been on a ton of teams…a ton. And I think I can safely say what works in making a successful improv troupe. This blog is a guideline to help lead you to making a successful troupe.

1. Have a plan: That’s right have a plan. You don’t need to know what you’re going to do form-wise yet, but have an idea on who you want on the team, why you want to do this, where you’d like to perform and what your goals might be.

2.Make a team of people you like: You can hold auditions that’s fine, but I recommend putting people on your team that you like. People you respect and like to be around that know how to improvise. An improv team becomes a family unit whether you like it or not. If you deny that aspect of it, your team will fail. Also, have people you’d like to hang out with outside of improv. Hang out! Get to know each other. It’s more than just rehearsal it’s a bonding experience.

3. Get an experienced coach: I can’t express this enough. If you don’t get a coach your chances of failure are huge. I don’t care if you’re a student or a vet you need a coach. For Vets this might not mean every week, but at least a tune up here and there. Having your teammates coach each other is a slippery slope and not recommended. You need to grow as a team and you’re going to need that outside eye. “But we can’t afford a coach.” I hear this so much and it’s annoying. You can if you care about what you’re doing and want to get better. Coaching fees range from $40-$80 for two hours depending on the experience of the coach. I can understand for a two-person show that can be steep but for most teams it comes out to about $10 a rehearsal. That’s a STEAL!!! Get a coach or you won’t get better.

4. Get committed: Make sure you get people that are committed performers and artists. Don’t put flakes on your team, even if they are talented. “Eh but she/he is so funny we can let that slide.” NO! It will take your team down. Don’t bend over backwards for a vet or talented person that is not committed. A true professional is committed.

5. Choose a decent team name: Fart Brigade, Laughy Taffy…NO! Stop it. Look to the successful improv teams for help on this: Beer Shark Mice, Cook County Social Club, USS Rock N’ Roll. Simple, clear and it means something to them. Your name says a lot about you as a team. The last thing a theatre or festival wants to list on their site is Fart Brigade.  It’s the gateway to your team. Tacky or pun driven names are a recipe for disaster and makes your work look cheap and underappreciated from the get go. Treat your audience and yourself like poets and scholars.

6. Rehearse regularly: I’m not talking everyday. I always recommend to my teams that they rehearse at least three to four times a month and hang out one day a month together. I think the hanging out is just as important as rehearsal.

I’m sure there are a ton more, but these tips are essential in guiding you in the right direction to make a successful team. Now it’s not perfect, such is improv, but it will help you. You can have a team of the most talented people on it and it may not work. Why? Who the hell knows it’s improv. Improv is like a rose, it is beautiful when it wants to be but can sometimes prick you with its thorn. Remember to come from a place of fun and love. If you at least start with this attitude you’re already well on your way!

Nick Armstrong

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.

Del Close Marathon Going Strong at 15

DelClose15_small.jpg.300x360_q100What started as a 24 hour marathon in 1999 has grown every year in Manhattan. This year the festival featured over 400 groups from around the world on seven stages across the 56 hour span.

In some ways DCM hasn’t changed in years, but this year brought a few nice surprises. Old-timers will remember the street rituals of years gone by involving performers getting a suggestion miles from the UCB mainstage and performing a walking opening on their way, picking up more performers and confusing pedestrians as the blocks passed. The city of New York put a stop to the ritual a few years back, but word passed on hushed mouths that the ritual would take place this year to coincide with the documentary being filmed on the history of the marathon. The ritual is one of the purest forms of yes, and still floating out there and this year included a special treat when the 185 improvisors literally walked into a bar (McManus to be precise). But this time the bartender didn’t say he couldn’t serve 185 improvisors, he just kept pouring shots of some basement firewater as fast as he could.

The ritual did not end up on stage this year, but the press conference kicked off without a hitch. Amy, Matt and Ian greeted and bribed the press while sharing stories of Del and the 15 years of the marathon, including a nice history of one of the most notorious shows, Drunken Sonic Assualt). The conference ended with an unveiling of the UCB’s long promised Improv Manual.

The history of clumping theatres together has waned in the last couple of years since the opening of UCBeast. More east side venues were added this year making it easier for folks to stay on that side of town, even if the promotion for the east side shows was pretty non-existent.

A few scattered workshops popped up over the weekend, but one of the most unique events was the monthly UCB Diversity Program’s meetup. The diversity program – started by Caitlin Steitzer – is a fantastic program designed around building a better dialog around race, gender, age and sexual preference issues. More cities and festivals should strive to create programs like this.

If you’ve never been to DCM, keep in mind that this isn’t your traditional festival environment. You’re not going to have a lot of good conversations about the state of the craft or see a lot of shows from a comfortable seat. This is a party. This is a Las Vegas buffet of improv. Hundreds of groups doing 15-20 minutes and getting off stage. There are drunk shows and half-awake shows and phoned in shows to be found. But in the midst of that, there are also dozens of great shows you’ve never seen before trying new and exciting things. It can be a challenge to find them at Del Close each year, but each year they are there.

It was great to meet so many NIN members for the first time on the streets of Manhattan. We’ll be coming back again next year for sure. Look forward to a book review of the UCB Manual coming soon.


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

DUOFEST Delivers!

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

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

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

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

Nick Armstrong

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

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

Choosing your dental insurance

Choosing a dental insurance plan is almost as big of a decision as choosing a dentist. And in some ways, picking a plan is more challenging. One or two visits to the Cavitations The Silent Killer for a checkup and cleaning will likely be enough for you to figure out whether you and the practice are a good fit over the long term. But you may not discover problems with your dental insurance until you really need the coverage

 

Understanding Dental Insurance
Unlike health insurance, which people rely on to pick up the costs when they are faced with big healthcare bills, dental insurance primarily focuses on covering low-cost, preventive treatments. Most plans will cover 100% of the cost of preventative care such as cleanings, checkups and x-rays, 80% of basic treatments such as fillings, and 50% of more complex and costly procedures such as root canals and crowns. And typically, you will need to be a member of a dental insurance plan for at least a year before coverage for the costlier procedures kicks in, and up to six months for some basic restorative services.

The typical cost of an individual dental insurance policy is around $350 a year. For a family, the cost is around $550, annually. If you pay out of pocket for two checkups and cleanings and a set of X-rays, your cost, on average, will be around $375-$400, according to the American Dental Association. So, with a dental policy, you’re basically pre-paying for your essential preventive care, with a little assurance built in that if you need a couple of fillings, or chip a tooth, you’re also covered.

You can buy dental insurance from an independent insurance agent, from an online marketplace such as dentalplans.com, or from the Obamacare health exchanges.

Dental Insurance Caps, Limits and Deductibles
Most dental insurance policies cap coverage at $1000 -$1,500 a year. When you reach your annual cap, you will have to pay for your dental care for the rest of the year. Given that the average cost for a crown is $750-1200, and the cost of a single implant starts at $1500, you can exhaust your annual dental allowance fairly quickly.

Most dental insurance plans are also likely to have a “deducible,” an amount that you will have to pay out of pocket for dental services before your insurance will begin to cover their portion of the costs – typically $50 for an individual annually, and $150 for a family. But if you buy an insurance “bundle” that includes health and dental coverage, make sure that your dental plan deductible is separate from your health insurance deductible. It is not unusual for health insurance plans to have multi-thousand dollar deductibles before coverage begins. Unless you’re likely to rack up thousands in medical bills annually before you need dental care, you’ll ideally want your dental plan to have a separate deductible.

What Kind Of Dental Insurance Is Best?
If you have a dentist and really want to keep working with him or her, ask your dentist what insurance plans the office accepts and recommends. If you don’t have a dentist, or you don’t mind going to a new dentist, check the Rejuvenation Dentistry NYC one of the hugest rated professionals now a days.

Websites such as Consumer Advocate can help make it much easier to find the right dental insurance coverage. Consumer Advocate ranks both dental insurance and dental savings plans, based on the following criteria: the number of dentists in the plan’s network, the savings that you can expect from a plan, the cost of coverage (your premium), the annual maximum cap, and the dental treatments that a plan covers.

If you know what insurer you prefer, but need help in selecting a plan from among that insurer’s offerings, a web page dedicated solely to detailing the different benefits of an insurer’s plans, such as CignaDentalPlans.com, is a great way to compare plans and choose the one that best suits your needs.

Dental Insurance That Covers Everything
If braces, dentures or bridges are something you or a loved one does or will need, make sure the insurance plan that you choose covers them. And check to make sure that the amount of coverage offered makes sense to you – $1000 coverage specifically for braces may be just what you’re looking for in a dental insurance plan, or may not meet your health and/or financial needs at all.

Dental insurance typically doesn’t offer extensive coverage for major restorative processes such as a full set of quality dentures, and processes deemed cosmetic such as veneers or dental implants aren’t covered by many traditional insurance policies. If you need a significant amount of restorative work, are ready to address long-term dental problems, or (as noted above) don’t want to wait a year before you can get that missing tooth replaced under your insurance plan, you may wish to look at a dental savings plan.

Dental savings plans offer discounts of 10%-60% on average dental care rates, for members who pay an annual fee. Dental savings plans are an affordable alternative to insurance, have no annual caps, no waiting period is applied for accessing care, and no restrictions on obtaining care for preexisting conditions. The best and most comprehensive website for comparing dozens of dental savings plans is dentalplans.com.

Websites can help to narrow the options, but only you can choose the plan that’s right for you and your loved ones. Carefully consider your options – dental insurance, a dental savings plan or self-insurance, and choose the dental plan that’s right for you.
 

So what’s my point? While on the road I still see this struggle. We want to do better but are afraid to go out of our circle sometimes to get that help or we think it’s cheaper if we just take care of it ourselves. We have too much pride in what we’ve created sometimes. Or we just don’t want to spend the money. It’s okay to ask for help. And it’s okay to spend money. If you do spend that money you’ll get more in return and it will save you time to do the things you need to do with your theatre like focus on your shows, scheduling and being an Artistic Director.

 

Remember we are improvisers and we need support even if it’s outside support. If your dream is to run a successful theatre then do it. But you’re going to need a helping hand. Let professionals handle all the hard stuff so you can focus on the stuff you’re a professional at.

Written by: Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Writer, Improviser and Director living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office, Parks and Recreation and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made regular appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Onstage you can catch Nick performing and teaching regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA with LA’s Best Harold Team King Ten and The touring Genre-Improvised Show Kind Strangers. Nick has also trained at the famed Groundlings Theater. He is the Founder and Camp Director of Improv Utopia an annual camp for improvisers. For more information visit www.nickarmstrong.com orwww.improvutopia.com 

Creating Good Submissions, Part III: Who Are You?

Photo by Robert Swier

Photo by Robert Swier

So you’ve created a killer video. You’ve picked a video that represents your troupe’s talent and show well. That’s great. But you still need to make an impression on the festival organizers. If you don’t know them, and particularly if you haven’t built a name for your group, you only have your submission to introduce yourself.

If the submission is done here in the NIN page, it only takes a click. Otherwise, you’ll have to fill out your information again. Either way, far too often, that information is filled out hastily to get a submission in. Taking a little time and thought to filling out the information will be a large step in standing out from the crowd.

First and foremost, read the instructions. If you’re filling out a submission form off of the NIN site, pay attention to what’s being asked for in each field. Nothing will get your submission lowered on a priority list faster than not following directions.

When you want to fill out a profile for your troupe, schedule time to do it. Talk to your troupe about it. Take the time to do it right. Here are some tips on how to fill out a troupe profile that will be read and considered.

Many of the fields will require very little thought; phone number, email address, etc. These are no-brainers, but make sure they’re accurate and formatted properly.

About our show vs. About our troupe

These are two very different things. A description of your show is purely for the sake of the festival planners to know what kind of variety you’ll bring to the festival. A little detail is welcome here, but it’s nothing to lose too much sleep over. “Harold” is a valid answer to this question. If you do have a someone unique or interesting form, please describe it – briefly. There are places for passion and flowery language in your resume; this is not one of them,

On the other hand, a description of your troupe is something to take very seriously. This is your elevator pitch — a chance to be noticed. This is a chance to let the organizers know who you are and what you’re about. Your bio will be read amongst many others that can easily blend together. There are however ways to stand apart from the crowd

Speak of yourself, not the audience — Avoid phrases like, “Audiences will be wowed by our awesomeness.” We all like to think audiences will enjoy us, but that’s an assumption and certainly not unique to your troupe. Speak instead of what is important to your troupe, why you play together, what your play is like. One group in my theatre is almost entirely composed of school teachers. Their show is not specifically academia themed, but their shows are much more likely to be filled with allusions to math, science or American history. Those details can be useful. Share an anecdote from your troupe’s history or a shared passion outside of your shows that brings you further group mind. The people you meet who you want to talk to are people who have interesting and unique things to say, not those who boast about their awesomeness. The same is true here.

Coaching

Please share information about your coach and your coaching history. If you’re currently being coached by someone with a known style or talent, that helps festival organizers know more about you. And don’t underestimate your coach. Even if they aren’t famous, you might be surprised how well known they are. Even before NIN we existed in a small community. If you’re reading this, there’s a 75% chance I’ve grabbed lunch with your coach. But more importantly, it’s important to see that you are being coached at all and are looking for focus and growth. One group once submitted to a festival I ran that boasted “never been coached, never took a class”. Well, “never performed at my festival” could be added to their list.

Please be honest about your coaching. When you say “We’ve been coached by Mick Napier, Joe Bill, Craig Cackowski, David Razowsky, Jill Bernard, Miles Stroth, Dick Chudnow, Matt Besser, Keith Johnstone and Viola Spolin.”, we say “No you haven’t.” You weren’t coached by those people. Part of your team attended a two hour workshop with them… at a festival… while hungover. and you can say that, but that’s not the same. If you really did spend some time coaching with one of them, then by all means say so. But don’t say you were coached by everyone you ever met.

And you weren’t coached by Viola.

Quotes

Quotes are great. They’re not only helpful for review, but if you’re accepted they can help festival organizers promote your show to their local press outlets. Press quotes are great when you get them, but never be afraid to ask for quotes of theatre owners or festival organizers.

History

If you’re just starting to etch out a name for yourself in the national scene, you won’t have much history. That’s fine. It won’t put you out of consideration. If you do have some history as a festival troupe, write it down. It’s a good resource to see your history and what kind of festivals you’ve done well at in the past. This is your “References” section. And if you think we’ll call other festival organizers and ask about you… you’re right. We will. Listing your history is a great chance to get someone we respect to speak on your behalf.

Photos and Logos

As mentioned in Part I of this posting. not every troupe has access to professional photographers or equipment. Professional cast photos are great when they’re available. They can help with promoting the festival. But if you don’t have the means, please include something. Please take the time to take an actual cast photo, not a picture you found on your hard drive when filling out your form of last year’s Halloween party.  I don’t care how awesome your TRON outfit was. (OK I do, but not in your submission).

impr

This is not the best first impression

Some troupes have logos. Some don’t. That’s fine. Logos are helpful to producers if you have one. Keep in mind that if your logo is used, it will be most audience’s first exposure to you. If your logo is something you put together in Microsoft Paint, it might be a good idea to go without.

Create some e-Harmony

You want to travel. You want to play. I get you. I’m a festival producer, but I love to travel and perform as well. It’s the best thing in the world. That doesn’t mean every festival is the best match for you troupe. If you aren’t selected to visit a festival, that doesn’t necessarily mean your quality is not up to snuff. Sometimes your show simply doesn’t fit a certain festival. In the future, this site will have producers from many festivals talking about their festival’s and the types of shows they are looking for. But never be afraid to reach out to festival producers and talk to them a little about what they’re hoping for. Sometimes you’ll realize that your show wouldn’t compliment the festival. That’s OK. Keep looking. You’ll find the right festival for your show.

These are all useful tweaks to your presentation, but the larger overall message is this. Be honest about who you are. Everyone is vying for attention by saying how awesome they are. And no one cares. Be honest about who you are and what you enjoy. Ultimately, it’s the quality of your show that will be the final call for producers if they invite you or not, but an honest presentation will go a long time in getting their attention.

Final Note

Even if you do everything in these last three posts. Sometimes you won’t get invited to festivals. There’s a lot of competition out there. It feels bad to be told no. And believe me, it is the crummiest feeling in the world to say no. But dust yourself off and try again. Don’t be afraid to reach out and thank the festival producers for their consideration and ask for feedback. They’re a fantastic resource on how to continue to grow as a troupe and how to fine tune your submission. They’re almost always happy to have that dialog with you.

Submission for the Phoenix Improv Festival open this fall. I hope to see your amazing submission packet then.

Read Part 1, Read Part 2

Creating Good Submissions, Part II: Choosing a Show

You must Choose. Choose wisely.

When submitting to a festival, it’s often hard to decide which is your “best show.” It may be a relief to know that most people reviewing these submissions don’t want to see your best show; that show has already happened. Festival producers want to see a show that best represents what they can expect to see at the festival.

Of all the factors that contribute to choosing a show, two stick out far more often than any other as bad choices — and often lead to shows getting looked over. Avoiding these two pitfalls will greatly help your chances.

  • Showing your best show ever … from 2008. Many submissions come in with really tight, funny shows. This is the same submission video that a group has been using for years. The players have grown since then. The cast might not even be the same. It’s not representative of the work they are doing now. More to the point, it begs the question, “If you haven’t done a show this good in five years, why would I believe you can deliver this at my festival?” Don’t show your favorite show from the past if it doesn’t showcase who you are now.
  • Showing your most recent show ever. Many groups don’t record their shows and rush to make a submission video days — or even hours — before the submission deadline. That’s putting all of your eggs in one basket. Also, it puts an undue amount of pressure on the performers to play beyond their normal game and for a camera they aren’t used to. Most submission shows filmed the day before deadlines are not the best work and it also sends the message that this show was recorded only to satisfy a requirement and that shows a lack of self-respect.

Just like Goldilocks, you need to find a solution that’s somewhere between the two; something that’s just right. Get in the habit of recording shows often, not just when a festival is approaching. This will give you more options to choose from and less pressure on any specific show. For some groups it is unrealistic to record all shows or to archive them all, but keep at least a handful of recent shows whenever possible.

Now that you have a few shows to choose from, selecting them can still be difficult. Here are a few things that will be noticed:

  • This looks like they're having fun

    This looks like they’re having fun

    Start out strong — A show with a strong opening will always work better than a show with a strong ending. Your show is being viewed by people reviewing many tapes. Your potential festival gig will be for an audience that has seen several shows that evening. Both of these are different audiences than the audiences you have in your regular shows who may see only one or two shows a night. A weak opening will let the show blend into the many other shows being seen, and a strong ending might not be met with an active audience.

  • Have fun — So many submission videos look like the performers are nervous about being on video or just plain not having fun onstage. Just enjoy the chance to play with people you love. If you enjoy being on stage, we’ll enjoy watching you.
  • Choose the show that has your voice — The people in your town enjoy your show, there’s something special and unique about it — showcase that. Even if that show is a little rough around the edges, showcase what makes your show different than the other shows out there. That’s what people come to festivals to see.
  • Watch before you submit — Sometimes shows feel different onstage than they do watching from an audience point of view.
  • Don’t send a highlight reel — Unless specifically asked for, no one wants to see a highlight reel. That’s not what the festival audience will see. Submit a complete, unedited work.

Don’t make this decision on your own. Talk with your ensemble. Watch a couple with them. Discuss which show you best want to represent your group. Upload it and link it to your NIN page and it’s ready for submission. The video portion of your submission is complete. Now what about the rest of the package.

More to come dear readers in the final part of “Creating Good Submissions.” Read part 1

Vision and Soul Before Paperwork

It’s exciting to be an improvisor right now. With more information on how to start a business available to us than ever before — and pioneers we can learn from in front of us — it’s like the future of improv is in our hands!

Often, the first question folks ask when they want to start a business is, “Should we be for-profit or not-for-profit?” Let me lay some serious truth down right now:

The FIRST thing any budding theatre company, festival or theatre venue needs to figure out is not what piece of paper to file. The first thing you need to do is agree with your leadership team on your theatre’s vision and soul.

Your vision and soul are the reason why you are in business. They are your ‘This is why we are here.” Are you here because you want to make the best improv? The most supportive ensembles ever created? The best place to get shitfaced and laugh? The place for families to spend time with their children in a safe environment for them?

Answering these questions, and even just bringing up the discussion, will give you and your team of amazing improvisors-slash-theatre owners an opportunity to get on the same page for what you are creating. Once you are on the same page, it is easier to make business decisions, determine what shows to put on, and create a great experience for your students, performers AND customers.

Here is a proposed way to get there:

Develop your company vision and soul: Why are you doing this and what do you want to do?

A way to answer this question is to go around the room at your next leadership meeting and ask everyone:

If money and time and resources were no object, what would our theatre/festival look like to you?

Allow everyone to speak fully, and do not criticize anyone’s dreams. After everyone has spoken, pull out the common threads and look for agreement. Perhaps you would get something like this:

Team member A: “I believe improv is a team sport. It’s important to me that our theatre is very supportive.”

Team member B: “I would build ‘nights out’ with our neighboring businesses so that everyone is benefiting in our small business community.”

Team member C: “I would pay everyone in our theatre enough money to live from doing improv full time.”

From these different threads, you could draw that your vision and soul might be:

“We are a community and student focused theatre that is committed to bettering our community’s ‘night out’ experience and creating an environment that supports art as life. Experimentation is encouraged.”

If your leadership team agrees on your goal, you’ve created a guidepost everyone can check in with and maintain true to your vision. Now that you know where you want to go, survey the business options in front of you to see which best fits your needs. For-profit companies can put money back into their communities, and be just as benevolent as non-for-profit companies — the important thing is that the legal/financial structure supports YOUR goals, not the other way around.

Take action! If you are developing your company and haven’t filed paperwork yet, do this exercise with your leadership team and let us know what your “why” and “how” is! If you’re a theatre who’s been doing this for a while, when was the last time you checked in on your vision and made sure you were tracking to it?

Kate is an innovator working in business, product and customer development by day and an improvisor by night living in Chicago, IL. She blogs at unicornwranglerinc.com on creating companies that value innovation, employees and their customers. Having recently moved from Phoenix, she is looking forward to getting back to the improv stage in Chicago with a group of new friends. When she is back in Phoenix, she plays in Purple Monkey Dishwasher at the Torch Theatre. Tweet at her! She likes that. @xoticdonkeymeat

 

Welcome to the National Improv Network!

62116_451764218228461_1211590182_nHi there! Thanks for being a part of National Improv Network. If this is your first introduction, welcome! If it’s your tenth, thank you for stopping by again. The site was created by improvisers for improvisers with the idea that we want you to succeed in every aspect of your theatre from performances to the business end.

We recognize that the improv community is growing. There is now a troupe or theatre in every major city in the United States. Several wonderful, new improv festivals have popped up across the country in the past few years.

We want to connect you to them. We want the improv community not to be defined by state lines, but by one community linked together, expanding the art form and growing it into a national scene.

For those already in the improv community, whether as a performer or as an avid audience member, we know that improv is great and a true art. We at National Improv Network want the general public to see it the same way. Right now, improv is not widely recognized as competing with stand-up, sketch or theatre. We want to help raise the visibility of improv to the general public. We feel that if we can get a national effort and raise the awareness of improv that in turn provide more opportunities to perform, bring more customers to our venues and help your local improv theatre grow.

Please consider us a resource for you. To help you grow, to connect you to the greater improv community. Everything we roll out is designed to help you grow internally and externally. We believe that together we are better, just like an improv ensemble but on a national level.

Nick Armstrong, Bill Binder and Kate Anderson

Creating Good Submissions, Part I: Technology

HawkinStroth in action

pictured: HawkinStroth

Submitting to a festival can be daunting sometimes. Even with the tools on this site that help expedite the process, you’re submitting information alongside dozens or hundreds of other groups. You want to be recognized. You want the festival producers to see what it is you love about your troupe. This is your resume and you want it to stand out.

Ultimately, each festival will be looking for different specifics, but they’ll all be looking for two things; good content and easy access to it. A little work on your end can elevate both of these and make your submissions much more likely to be considered for festivals.

Almost every festival requires a video of your show. This requires some tools of technology. Some groups have access to theatres or friends with fancy technology. Others don’t. And that’s OK. Even with very crude technology, it’s possible to make a quality submission. No one cares if your submission is in HD as long as they can see and hear you.

Camera specs

That said, better cameras will take some of the work off of you. If you’re considering buying a video camera, the salespeople will try to sell you features that may be useful to many customers, but not to you. Here are some features that will help you make more useful submissions (and a few features that won’t).

  • CMOS: This can be an expensive option, although it’s getting cheaper all the time. Most improv shows are done in lighting conditions that most cameras weren’t designed for; low light and high contrast. Cameras that can’t handle these conditions well will “blow out” the difference between performers with lights on them and their background. This means glowing faces and bodies. Part of the joy of seeing an improv show is the intimacy, and seeing the expressions on players’ faces. This can be lost if your faces look like a million burning suns. CMOS is the best low light option in a reasonable price range, but CCD or any “low light” option is better than none.
blowout

What is going on here?

  • External microphone jack: Depending on your venue, the camera might be quite a distance from your show, and almost always on the other side of the audience. If it’s a struggle to hear you, you’ll get tuned out. That said, you do not need 5.1 surround. Believe me, I know it sounds cool. But this means capturing sound from behind the camera, which is likely your tech booth. With great respect to your tech booth, I don’t need to hear it.
  • Flash Media: There are still amazing cameras on the market that use tape based media. They are for making movies. Tape can be expensive and time consuming for recording theatre shows. Unless you are planning on archiving shows on tape, which would become insanely expensive, you’d be re-using tapes. Tapes are mechanical devices and wear out quickly. You’ll find shows are garbled on tape after a few recordings. Capturing your shows to a computer for submission purposes is also in real-time, which means 30 minutes to capture a 30 minute show and you need to be near the computer to process. This doesn’t sound so bad, until you remember that usually you get home after shows pretty late at night and you don’t want to babysit the computer week after week. Hard drives are also not the best storage solution for recording shows as it requires moving the camera to the editing station often. HDDs also still have limited storage space. A single SD card can typically store a week’s worth of shows at most theatres while a HDD can store only one night’s worth.
  • Simple Workflow: This is not going to be on the “specs list” for any camera — you’ll have to do a little research. No cameras (that I’m familiar with) on the market today support NTFS storage. I won’t bore you with the technical explanation of what this is, but here’s what it means to you. Cameras can only record a small handful of minutes at a time. This is fine for most people who don’t need long continuous shots. But a typical improv show is recorded live for 20-45 minutes. In cases like this, each camera manufacturer has their own methods of combining several small clips together to make one continuous file on your computer. For some cameras this is a quick simple process that you don’t even realize is happening. For other cameras, it is cumbersome. Also, some cameras apply unique codecs and wrappers (which is a fancy word for file types) which can’t be read by certain computer programs. At the time of this writing, Sony has the most simple and useful tool for importing longer files to computers, but in 2014 and beyond other cameras may be more useful.
  • Appropriate lens: Most festivals want as much of the stage visible at all times rather than a camera person moving the camera. A single shot covering the whole stage is preferable. Each staqe is uniquely shaped and you’ll want to find a lens that can capture the stage without diminishing the performers. If your stage is particularly wide, consider a wide angle lens — or at the very least a camera which supports 16×9 mode. If your stage is particularly small, this won’t be as large of a concern.

What you don’t need

  • 120hz: Also called Motionflow or Cinemotion or some other catchy name depending on the company. It can be very useful for recording NASCAR races. For an improv show, it doesn’t affect how the festival producers see your show.
  • Steadycam: As we are about to discuss, your camera should always be in a fixed location, not handheld if at all possible.

Making the best with what you have

All the features listed above will help, but it’s ultimately up to you to make sure your technology suits your environment. Here is how to record a show that will be easier to watch

  • Use a tripod: If you don’t have a tripod, use a shelf or a tabletop. Set up a shot that will capture the whole stage and lock down the position. The people viewing your show aren’t looking for creative camera work, they’re looking for a consistent view of everything going on. A handheld camera will miss parts of the show; it will be making choices for the festival producers and eliminating their scope. Boring single shots win every time.
  • Exposure: You can play with all the other settings you want, but the one that really matters is exposure. Get into the space ahead of time and simulate the lighting conditions of the performance with performers onstage. Too much exposure leads to a blur of white, too little exposure leads to a blur of black. Turn the exposure to a point where you can see the players faces at the front of the stage as this is the area where they are closest to the lights.
  • Separate the camera from the audience: I have watched hundreds of videos where the camera is in the middle of a laughing audience. Laughter is great, but not if I can’t hear the show. Put the camera, or the microphone if external, away from the laughing audience.

Creating a video

Once your show is done and you’ve dumped it to a computer, it’s time to get it online to be seen. At this point, you’ve done all you can do for the video quality, all that’s left is to make the show viewing as effortless as possible for festival producers.

  • Don’t include a long intro: It is often appreciated to have the name of the group and the date of performance at the top of the video. This shouldn’t take more than five seconds. Certainly, no one wants to see your promotional “hilarious” video for three minutes before watching your show. The same applies for the actual onstage intro to your show. Some videos include an MC introducing the show, some don’t. Either is fine as long as it’s very brief. If your actual show doesn’t begin by the sixty second mark, you’ve already lost the attention of the viewer.
  • Don’t break up your show: Many video sites have time limits which means breaking up your show across three video links. Nobody wants to load three links to watch one show. Vimeo allows files up to 500Mb on their free account, which should suffice for most shows.
  • Make it embeddable and accessible: Many festival organizers embed your submission video into whatever submission review tool they use. They don’t want to go to another page. More importantly, they need to be able to access it. Facebook is a big offender on both counts. Many videos can’t be embedded, and some cannot even be viewed unless the festival organizer is your “friend.”
  • FOLLOW DIRECTIONS: Many festivals have specific requests for shows. Read them. Make sure your show meets them.

Taking care here will make sure that your video can easily be viewed and more accurately represent your group. Of course, that doesn’t answer the question of which show to submit. For the answers to that see Part II.

Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America. Bill is also a founder and website administrator for the National Improv Network. He’s always looking for feedback on how to make the website and the community stronger. Say ‘live long and prosper’ to @whbinder

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