Detroit Rising

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This sticker speaks truth

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

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

 

The Rust Belt on Nine Mile

The Rust Belt on Nine Mile

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

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

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

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


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

 

Good Press Takes Work

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Don’t let this go to print

You’ve been working hard on your troupe, your theatre, your festival. You’ve been waiting for that chance to get some good coverage in the local press. The moment finally comes. You go down to your nearest 7-11 to pick up a copy and it’s… terrible. It’s a tiny article that takes several minutes to find. It has all the wrong info. It totally misrepresents what you’re all about. How can this be? The simple truth is this. You talk to your friends about improv. You surround yourself with people who get it. But the press in many cities simply doesn’t have the context for what you’re doing (Microsot Word still doesn’t even recognize the word), and to expect a Pulitzer winning article on your show isn’t going to happen without some effort on your part.

Here are seven tips to prepare and enable good press coverage. I’ll speak in terms of newspapers, but the same things apply for radio, television and web coverage. And I’m sorry to say it, but doing everything in this post will still lead to a crummy article or two. But keep at it. Continue to educate your press and the public in your town about what improv is and the quality of your coverage will blossom.

Politely Decline

Sooner or later you’re going to get a phone call or an email out of the blue from the local news. You didn’t send out a press release. You don’t have any big shows coming up. The call kind of catches you off guard. It can be a great opportunity, but you need to be prepared to politely say no thank you. This sounds almost blasphemous and its very difficult to do. But it sometimes will lead to much larger long term results.

It’s easy to get an ego boost from the contact, but step back for context for a moment. Unless you have a pretty good reputation in your city already, this reporter knows nothing about you and probably has some not quite accurate ideas on what improvisation is. There’s no news story to be had. You’ve been assigned as (cue dramatic music) a filler piece. Improv has been prime filler piece material for years. Improv articles appear in regular rotation right between “Biff! Pow! Comic Books Not Just For Kids Anymore” and “Grandma’s on Facebook Now. ‘Like’ It Or Not”.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a filler piece. They can potentially bring people to your show. Keep in mind that the filler piece doesn’t go to the star reporter, it goes to the cub reporter out on their first or second article. They’re looking to get something in by their deadline. They likely have a set of preconceived notions and they are basically looking to put a couple of dates and a soundbite into the Mad Libs they inherited from the last cub reporter before they even call you.

Don’t believe me? Let’s play newspaper Bingo with the last improv article you saw. How many of these can you spot?

 If you didn’t think Sarah Palin, a dinosaur and Gangnum Style were funny, you clearly haven’t been down to see the folks at ComedyHut.

If you’ve only seen Whose Line, you only seen the half of it.

You’re on a quest for buried treasure. Suddenly a robot pops up. Or a zombie. Think Fast! That’s exactly what the quick-witted folks down at Bucket-O-Yuks do every week.

We’re always ‘folks’ by the way. When you get asked. Thank the reporter very much for their interest and invite them to come see a show. Seeing a show and being in your space can illuminate what you’re about far better than two minutes on the phone can. Suggest that you don’t feel answering a few quick questions will accurately portray what you are.

If they agree. Great! Comp them. Come down and say hello.  Let them see what your all about. If they aren’t willing to come down to the theatre, respectfully decline the article and wish them good luck.

But… Isn’t all publicity good publicity? Who cares if the article’s a little stale if it gets people in the door right? Sadly no. No ill intent is in those lazy articles, but they paint a picture of improv that further builds up the stereotypes and misconceptions about the craft and reinforces the reasons people use as excuses “not” to see improv. Of course you will get a few people to come to your show. Those people are expecting to see what the article made you out to be, and they’re going to be disappointed and disillusioned. They won’t come back. They’ll leave bad Yelp reviews. They’ll encourage their friends not to return.

When you get the offer for an article. It’s tempting to jump at anything, but be prepared to say no.

Press Releases

Send them. Send them in a timely manner and send them properly.

In the age of the internet, press outlets received hundreds of press releases every day. Many of them get thrown out because they aren’t speaking the same language that people are prepared to read them. A press release is a specific type of document with its own formatting rules. They aren’t complicated, but they should be followed if you want traction. There are many guides out there on the simple formatting layout of a press release. Learn it.

Be specific. You have shows every week. Why should you get coverage today? Post specific stories, show openings, special guests, theatre milestones. Something to actually write about.

Give lead time. Don’t send a press release on Thursday for a Friday show. Three weeks notice is good for daily journals. Three months is good lead time for quarterly or monthly journals.

Be regular. Your first press releases will get overlooked, but if they’re formatted well and respectful, your name will start becoming familiar. There’s a difference between regular and annoying. Don’t send something every day. But post regularly. If you’re a festival, this is especially true. Post schedule announcements, venue, show times, all that jazz.

Reviews

Articles are great. Reviews are amazing. Press will always push back on this idea. “How can I review a show that won;’t be the same next week?” Well that’s poppycock. Do you know what you’re in for if you go see T.J & Dave or Baby Wants Candy? Of course you do. You know the level of quality you’re going to get. If you have ongoing shows or troupes, invite a review. More people are going to respond to a positive review than the vague promise of something good that may happen.

Quality Press Kit

If a quality article is underway, you’ll be asked for media. Typically photos and logos. Have these available rather than having to scrounge for them. Have them high resolution. If it’s a logo have it in vector format if possible (.AI or .EPS files are more press friendly). Just as importantly have a press kit that’s up to date and has what you want to say in it. Spend time writing out a short bio (one paragraph) and a longer bio (three to five paragraphs) that says exactly what you want it to say. Quotes might be pulled from this, so it’s wise to have it reflect what you actually believe.

An archetypal journalist

You’ll be surprised what I choose to quote.

Interviews

A common thing in many bad articles is bad quotes. Not inaccurate quotes, just bad ones. Remember that you think you’ve said something golden on the phone, but you said  a lot of other things as well. All of them are fair game. It’s completely fine to pause before answering a question.

Talk about what you are, not what you aren’t.  Sometimes you’re specifically asked about comparisons to other things. Whose Line is an especially common go-to. It’s fine to answer these questions and pointing out the differences, but don’t put your own ideas out in that way. It’s the same thing you learn on stage. Talk about the here and now, not what isn’t happening. Talk about who you are and what you believe. Talking about TV shows that aren’t you only spend valuable time talking about what you aren’t. And.. well.. people like Whose Line because it’s fun. People like stand up because it’s fun. Drawing distinctions paints you as not fun.

Talk about who you are.

Share the Love

Do some quick algebra with me. How many people live in your city? Let’s call that a. Now what is the total number of seats in every improv venue in town? Let’s call that b. Is a greater than b? If so, then why are you worried about “competition”. There are thousands of people out there who don’t know about improv yet. If they can’t make your show, but might be able to see the show down the street. GREAT! More people who can appreciate improv. Different theatres have different philosophies, but if the other venues in town are fighting the good fight, share the love. They aren’t the enemy. The enemy is ignorance. So don’t be afraid to raise awareness for all good improv in your town.

Be Part of Your Community

All of the above might lead to a single great article. But they won’t lead to anything beyond that. One thing I muttered at improv spaces across the country is that no one comes out and supports the arts in their local community. If you’ve ever said that, then I’m putting you on the spot right now. When was the last time you went out to a jazz show, or a stand up set, or an art exhibit? Be part of the solution. Does your city have First Fridays? TEDx? Ignite? Does your University have public lectures? Does your neighborhood have a small business council? Does your local government meet with local business? Go to these things. Support your local community. Tweet about them. Use your theatre to support them in any way you can.  “But I have shows every weekend” is not an excuse. There are ways to get out there.

Your theatre is not an island. You’re part of the fabric of your city and your culture. If you close off to that, it will close off to you. If you embrace that and participating then people will know about you and the press will know about you and be happy to celebrate your milestones with you because you are part of the city’s pride.


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

 

I’m an Improvisor Offstage Too!

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I guess it’s not new news. I guess I’ve always known it, but I started thinking about it today and I realized that my offstage life and my onstage life have collided like the Higgs Boson. Here’s how:

Damn! I’m Not Perfect?

As much as I want to be perfect, I know that this is unattainable. Such is improv. You can get great at it but you’ll never be perfect. Otherwise, why would you keep doing it? Wouldn’t it get boring? If we say we are perfect, then we have nothing to reach for anymore and we could end up becoming stale and actually worse. I’ve seen people become content with their improv, hell sometimes I find myself doing it, but when that happens I force myself to change and find a new challenge. I guess when I’m 104 and on my deathbed I could lie there and say, ”I did it, I’m perfect.” It won’t be right, but I still might say it anyway. I will also probably not know where the hell I am, what I’m doing or who I am at that point. Strive for greatness, but don’t worry about being perfect.

I’m Human I Make Mistakes:

Sometimes I make big ones, sometimes ones I regret. But just like in improv a mistake can turn into a golden opportunity. I’ve found that the mistakes I’ve made have turned into opportunities for me to learn and become a better person. So I say bring on the mistakes! They can only make you stronger.

Support:

The world does revolve, but not around you. Yeah sorry everyone. I’ve always lived by the motto “Give back more then you get” Okay, so I ripped this off from my time as a Boy Scout. But I live by it. In improv it’s never about you, it’s always about connecting and supporting the group and achieving that group mind. I believe this is a great attribute to take with you offstage, whether it’s at your work, helping someone across the street or supporting a cause, you will find that support only makes the world a better place and makes you a better human being.

So, be an improvisor offstage too! Don’t stop being one once you step off that stage. Be one everyday, every hour and every minute. Commit to life just like you commit onstage, you’ll find when you don’t commit life and improv are much harder. If you do, I can guarantee you that the reward will be amazing.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if Improvisors ran it?

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.

Your Festival Is An Institution

An improv festival in your home city is a magical thing. It’s a chance to dress up nice and welcome performers from around the country who made the pilgrimage to your home to celebrate improv with you. It’s a chance to expose a whole new audience in your town to something special. It’s all consuming and exhausting and in an instant, it’s gone again. But something happens around year four. The festival doesn’t go away. It stays on the lips of your students and performers and audience members. It’s something exciting to look forward to and wonder what surprises the next year will bring. That’s because the mindset switches. Your city doesn’t have a series of festivals that happen to share a name. Your city has something special with a unique voice and a unique set of expectations. It’s your own Super Bowl.

As a producing board for an improv festival, it’s a mindset you need to adopt from year one. If you want the festival to grow in the years to come; to have bigger audiences, better press coverage and more volunteers, you need to start promoting it as an ongoing institution. There are many ways beyond the scope of this post to start building that attitude. Many posts in the future will discuss them, but there’s one thing simple thing you can do right from the start that is easy to dismiss in the heat of planning, but which will have tremendous return. Create something visual that people can attach to the festival. Visually brand your festival.

For theatre owners, this idea comes much more naturally. A logo is one of the first things created. It’s a unifying symbol attached to everything the theatre does. This idea is too often not part of the festival process. A festival logo is discarded each year in favor of a new one. The sense of consistency is lost. So how do you create a festival logo that will adapt to your festival in years to come?

Simple and Print Friendly

I’ve seen beautiful and elaborate posters for festival weekends. They catch the eye and draw attention. That’s wonderful. But that is an advertisement. Not your brand. Your brand needs to bring instant recognition. Think of the brands in your day to day life; Apple, Nike, Pepsi. These brands are instantly recognizable for their simplicity. The simpler your logo, the easier it will be for designers to include it in any size on your promotional posters, television commercials and letterheads. Yes, letterheads. As your festival grows, you will reach out to sponsors, grants, media partners, media, community organizations, etc. A good letterhead for a single letter doesn’t make a huge difference, but as time goes on, it will help bring recognition to your festival. The phrase “Oh yeah. I went to this last year.” Will be heard with increasing frequency.

Out of Bounds from Austin, TX has a great simple logo for their festival. Let’s look at it.
oobThe logo is simple an aesthetically pleasing. If the logo was small enough, the text might not be legible, but the circles of OOB would still be recognizable. The logo in monotone and would look fine in black and white.  This logo has been the basis for their marketing for several years. Conversley, this was the marketing for the 2013 Del Close Marathon.

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As a poster,  this is a stunning piece of artwork. It’s even more beautiful in person – as a poster. This entire image (minus the text) was included on all DCM materials, sometimes smaller than it appears on this page. At that size, it’s incomprehensible. More to the point, the poster is replete with imagery from Del Close, his albums, his life. But aside from the thematic inclusion of Del, there is nothing that connects this to any past artwork for the festival. Eagle eyed viewers may spot the UCB logo in this image. UCB is the producing theatre of the festival and ostensibly deserves some recognition. But the inclusion here isn’t branding, it’s an easter egg buried in the elaborate artwork. At best, this image reminds us of Del Close – the man, and of the UCB theatre, but not of the event itself.

Home Town Pride

Your logo will reach many different audiences. With the exception of submitting troupes, most people you want to see your logo often have two things in common; they live in the city the festival is happening and they may not know exactly what improv is. You can play to both of these. You logo can embody both of those ideas; improv and the city it’s housed in. This has the potential to catch attention through familiarity and then promise more with the unknown. You are a part of your city’s culture. Respect that. Try to find an image that honors the spirit of your city while also introducing the ideas of your festival. Let’s look at the logo for The Phoenix Improv Festival. (Disclaimer: I may be biased towards this logo as it is from my city. But I still believe it to be a good logo.)

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The Laughing Phoenix has been a part of the Phoenix Improv Festival since 2002. A visitor may or may not make the connection that the city was named after the mythical bird, but residents will recognize its similarity to the official imagery of the city.

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The mixture of Phoenix imagery with laughter is a simple connection to make with the logo.

Variations On A Theme

Once your ongoing logo is established. It makes marketing from year to year simple. A simple logo can be tweaked in small ways to match the individual marketing of a year’s event and promotion. OOB in 2012 decided on an apocalyptic theme and included a slightly battered version of their logo, but still clearly identifiable with the brand. Here are some logos from past years’ events for the festivals mentioned in this article as well as The Denver Improv Festival. Each one has a different relationship with the inclusion of their logo from year to year.

phoenix2011 Each festival has a slightly different way of incorporating their logo into marketing for individual events, but each clearly has an identifiable mark.

Pro Tip: Be An Improvisor

Any organization has to figure out how to brand themselves visually. Sometimes they hire outside companies to do it for them. You have a very distinct advantage over all of them. You’re an improvisor. There are many books and lectures out in the world on how improv makes you better equipped to run a business and it’s absolutely true. You have skills that many small business owners cannot possibly grasp. The issue is that there isn’t always a clear description on how to use those skills. So here’s one right here. The goal of using a logo is to express ideas through symbols. In fancy college words, you’re using semiotics and simulacra. You’re attaching meaning to symbols. This is what you do every weekend when you ask for a suggestion. Unless you’re one of that rare breed of performer who takes every suggestion literally, you take suggestions and discover their meaning with your audience. You put out a hand to the audience and discover together why their suggestion is pregnant with possibility. Every suggestions has connotations and undertones waiting to be discovered. What tools do you personally use to do this? Armando? Invocation? Do this. Your suggestion is your festival. You may be surprised to learn what your festival means to you. What it means to others. The things that are unique and wonderful about your festival will come to the surface and you’ll have a much better starting point for creating imagery.

Keep On Truckin’

Every year, your festival will grow and change. That’s wonderful. Each year should be unique and have it’s own voice. But remember that your festival is important to many people and you want it to become important to more people. A consistent iconography is a strong way to keep this happening. That sticker on someone’s laptop from the 2010 festival will be a reminder that the 2014 festival is coming. It will become part of your city’s pride.


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

POSTSCRIPT: As a pleasing coincidence, when looking for a link to invocation for this blog post, I found Kevin Mullaney’s blog post. As an example he included a video of an invocation of an improv festival. So you can see that this idea is not a new one.

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

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