“Don’t Think Twice” Puts Improv in the Spotlight

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Improvisation has definitely hit the zeitgeist in the last few years. An entire episode of “The Simpsons” was dedicated to it just this year. One one hand that’s great. It’s a lot of fun to see what we love being mentioned more frequently. But on the other hand, that’s all that’s being done, mentions. A stray mention of Del or The Groundlings might work its way into the text to show that the media behind the reference “gets it”. But those jokes are only for us. Awareness of this thing called improv is rising all the time, but the perceptions of what it is and can be haven’t changed for the general public in 20 years. Improv continues to grow and mature, and the references on our television screens – while fun – tend to reflect the same world of improv that existed in 1994.

Don’t Think Twice is a film which doesn’t treat improv as a joke, or even as a lampshade to hang a story on. The film plays with the ideas and realities of improv theatre, both on and offstage from a place that is not only informed, but inviting. It welcomes audiences into the artform with a love and respect that never gets in the way of new audiences discovering it. They even got Liz Allen to coach the fictional improv troupe in the film, which goes a long way towards bringing their performances an authenticity.

Because of all of these things, Don’t Think Twice stands among a very small number of peers. But this is not a movie review. This is an invitation to all of us to use this film’s release as a chance to start dialogues in our communities; dialogues between the members of your theatres, between the different organizations in your city and between performers and the general public. This film offers, for perhaps the first time in a while, a new starting point to engage in conversations on what the artform is, and where it is going.

The film has been touring lately with advance screenings, View this site to learn how to process your visa. Many of you have likely seen it already. I was very fortunate to be able to speak with stars Chris Gethard and Mike Birbiglia (who also directed) about the film and it’s potential effect on improvisation.

You definitely have two audiences for this film, improvisors and the general public, and you’re also going around doing workshops. This has the potential to enhance, for smaller cities especially, the improv scene. How are you hoping it will help them develop or enhance their own voice?

Chris: Well, I really feel like smaller cities are really and truly important right now, as far as the history of improv, because improv in the last ten years has become more and more of a pipeline to success. You look at Saturday Night Live and it’s full of improvisors. You look at sitcoms. You look at Parks & Rec, The Office, I mean everywhere. Everywhere you look it’s people coming up from the improv world. And I think the theatre I came up at, The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, had a lot to do with that, really lead the charge on that. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s really cool. I take a step back, I look at it and it’s like, “Oh right. This art form is a valid thing. Talented people can really shine in this thing.”

But I do think it’s really hard for innovation to happen under the microscope that that brings with it. The potential success is a thing that people now show up for at places like UCB, at iO, Second City, Groundlings. People are showing up because they want to be successful and they see it as a platform to springboard, not universally, but more and more. And I think smaller cities, it’s really important and I really love that such an effort being made in this movie to show encouragement and fan the flames and invite specifically improvisors to test screenings and previews, because I think that smaller cities that aren’t under this magnifying glass, that don’t have this expectation or this potential for megastardom. I think that’s where the art form itself can still grow. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the best improvisors and some of the best improv shows in the next five to ten years aren’t happening in New York, Chicago and L.A. Because I bet that the freedom to fail doesn’t exist there as much anymore. You know I’ve been to great theatres in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Bellingham, Washington; Phoenix, Arizona; St. Louis. Cities that aren’t necessarily the places where you go to chase the Broadway dream or the Hollywood dream, and I think those are the places where the artistic dream can really shine and build.

Mike: There’s this great quote in the book that’s in the movie called “Something Wonderful Right Away.” It’s an oral history written by Jeffrey Sweet. There’s a quote in that book – I think it was Paul Sills who said – “On any given night, an improv show can be the greatest play, the most inspired, most topical, best performed play in the world on that night.” That can be in this room in front of 30 people, and that’s a profound possibility. So, it’s exciting to relish that opportunity.


So the art form’s only been around for about sixty years. There’s still not a huge public awareness of it. The entry points for a lot of people are pretty limited. When you add one new entry point, that’s significant. Certainly this is one of the few entry points for the public that addresses longform. For a lot of people this is going to be their first exposure to it, having not gone to shows. How do you think that’s going to influence general awareness of the artform as a whole and longform specifically?

Mike: There’s two things right now. There’s a great documentary called “Thank You Del.” Todd Bieber directed it. It was at South by Southwest, and there’s our film and both of them deal with the history of longform improv and I think that we have a real shot at helping explain the art form to people a little bit and what’s special about it. I feel like when you say ‘improv’, most people just think “Whose Line is it Anyway?”, improv games, freeze tag, that kind of thing. But actually, in a lot of ways, I like to think of it as these are improvised plays, happening in the moment and there’s something really special about that. As Sam (Gillian Jacobs) says in the movie, “Improv is an artform unto itself.”

Chris: I remember when I started in 2000, I signed up for classes at UCB and I’d never seen longform, and I lived in Northern New Jersey. I was as close as you could get. And it’s really spread. Now I feel like most colleges have one, if not more, longform improv troupes and it still feels like a relatively underground thing. So I do think it will be an entry point where a lot of people can find it, and a lot of people, I think, will kind of know what it looks and feels like for the first time. I also think there’s probably a lot of kids who will show their parents this movie.

Mike: This is what we do.

Chis: Yeah, this is what we’re doing.

Mike: I’ve had a lot of people say that to me at screenings. “Finally, I can explain this to my parents.”

Chris: It’s a really impactful thing. I remember my parents had what can only be described as real concern when I was like, “I want to go and do improv in New York City,” while I was living in their basement in New Jersey. It didn’t necessarily seem like a path towards anything stable. I think this movie will prove that it’s not, but also prove that, like any other type of art, it has some validity that’s worth taking a risk on.


These are great and wonderful words from very smart people. We owe great respect and love to San Francisco and Chicago in the ’60s and ’70s and to New York and L.A. in the ’80s and ’90s. But we also owe love and respect to the cities and times we live in now. We learn from the past so we can continue to build this in the future. Thank you to Mike and Chris and to all the people who made this film.


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival.

Special thanks to Arturo Ruiz who helped with the editing of this piece.

Consider Teacher Workshops at Your Theater or Festivals

NIN’s year of the teacher was amazing. We created the Teacher Tool which will allow you to submit yourself, for free, as a teacher to a festival and let theaters know when you’re in town so they can hire you if you in the neighborhood…NEATO!  With that said, I’d like to chat with our readers about hiring veteran teachers to come to your festival and/or theater to do teaching or coaching workshops. There is huge value in this. I think we have a responsibility as theaters and festivals to start training the next generation of improvisors to become great teachers and have the tools and knowledge they need to succeed.

A lot of theaters, festivals and communities are still young. I’d say about 80 percent of the theaters and festivals I go to  fit in this category. For theaters, a lot of communities are growing pretty fast and we are basically making teachers out of students or recent alums. I get it, the demand is there from incoming students and you want your business to push forward, but what about the teachers? Teaching is a different art all together. Especially teaching something like improv. Just like improvisors who need training, so do teachers. Sure, you may have to shell out a few dollars to get a master teacher to come out, but your return on investment is going to be huge. The better the teacher, the better the business, and the more chance to have returning students. The better the student, the better the performer, the better your audiences will get because of the quality of work – Trickle-down Improv-nomics. You may not see the money right away, but invest in your theater it will be worth it in the long run. I know some theaters are doing this already and to you guys! YAY! You’re ahead of the game and I’d be interested to hear about the experience. You have to think big picture. I know it’s hard to think that as we try to figure out how to pay our rent for next month or buy more paper towels for the bathroom, but the long game is where it is at and it’s worth it.

For festivals, what a great opportunity to offer this course to your community and improvisors coming into town. We are so focused on the teaching of improv skills and forms, we are forgetting that a lot of these improvisors are going to become coaches or teachers eventually. If you’re inviting a master teacher to come to your festival, have them do an improv workshop, but also have them add an instructor workshop. Why not? You have them there. Again, may cost more, but I feel this is something that would do really well. After all these people are the best in the business and have years of experience in teaching. They know what works with students and what doesn’t.

I want to take a second to thank all the teachers and coaches out there for doing the work and committing to our art form. You’re paving the way for the future of improv. Right now we may not get paid as much as we deserve but I do see a day where that will change and it’s all because of the blood, sweat and tears coming from your passion. So, thank you!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California, Yosemite and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West and The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops at theaters and festivals around the world.

Tomorrow is Say Day

jason-chin-headshot[1]Last January, we all lost Jason Chin. It was a devastating blow to our community. Even those who never met him knew of his love and complete devotion to making improv beautiful. Hundreds, if not thousands of improvisors have been made stronger through his teachings and his friendship.

In the days that followed, at a celebration of his life, T. J. Jagodowski and Charna Halpern agreed that it is all too uncommon for us to remind each other how much we mean to each other, how infrequently we say how much we appreciate each other. What a wonderful thing if we could take just one day out of the year to say those things to each other. That’s how Say Day came to be.

And that day is tomorrow. why 7/29. Simply because a quick glance at a phone revealed that 7-2-9 spelled out S-A-Y.

Many theatres have embraced Say Day. We do too. Tomorrow will likely be a busy day for many of us, but I hope you all take the time to reach out to your cast mates, your teachers, your students, the people doing the business ends of your festivals and venues, your coaches, your families and everyone else who has influenced your life for the better and given you the wonderful gift of growing in improv. Time to say “Thank you”.

Jason Chin has left us. He’s one of the many people we never got to say how much he meant. I hope tomorrow (and beyond) we take the time to say it.


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

The New Teaching Tool is Here

teaching-tools[1]The Teaching Tool is live now and this is just the beginning of the tools which will be rolling out for teachers and people hoping to bring out teachers during the rest of 2015. So here is a brief guide on what exactly the tool is, what it will be, and how to use it.

Like the festival submission tool here on the site, part of the purpose of the teaching profiles is simple convenience; having all your information in one place and easy to send to others. But the other part is helping to put the right information there. There are plenty of people out there who have experience both as traveling teachers and as theatre owners. They know the needs and speak the language of both. But there are also many people who only know one of those. Many teachers don’t know the kinds of information that theatres or festivals need when looking to bring out instructors, and vice versa. This tool, and the tools to come will attempt to bridge that communications gap and make the process of bringing instructors to your city as simple as possible.

Some of those tools will be pretty high falootin’. I’ll talk about some of those plans at the end of the blog. But in order for those tools to work, teachers need to be able to set up a home base for those tools to run through. So let’s get those profiles going.

Theatres: Setting up the Teacher’s Lounge

If your theatre has a training program. You can set up a space for your teachers to call home. You can also have some basic information about your training program here for viewers to see. Eventually, there will be more tools for student tracking and curriculum building, but for now it’s just a place to showcase your teachers. Setting it up will only take about two minutes.

Enable the Training Page
The first thing you need to do is to enable the teaching page. To do this, edit your theatre info either from the theatre’s profile or your own home profile. Towards the bottom, you’ll see the following options.
Theatre 00

Make sure “Training Program” is checked “Yes” and save.

If you return to your theatre page, you’ll see the option to set up your info.

Theatre 10

Clicking here will take you to a brief wizard that will allow you to enter information on your training program, a link to your registration page and a course catalogue.

When you’re finished, you’ll be returned to your theatre profile and you’ll see a new tab called “Training” on your profile that will be visible to anyone who wants to know more.

Adding Instructors
Now that your training page is setup, you’ll see different options on the top of your screen when you visit it. One of the options will be to “Change Instructors”. Clicking this will let you add instructors to your training page the same way you would add performers to your theatre before. You may notice that some performers on the site aren’t on the list of people you can add as instructors. That’s because they haven’t indicated on their NIN profile that they are teachers. Drop them a line and let them know they can enable that on their profiles and then they can be added to your faculty.

Teachers may also indicate that they are teachers at your theatre on their own profiles, but their addition to your faculty on the page will only go live pending your approval. You’ll receive an email any time someone indicates they’d like to be listed on your training page.

Congrats, you’ve set up your training profile. Keep an eye open for future developments here.

Teachers: Enabling Teaching Tools
Not everyone is a teacher, so not everyone needs all the teaching tools popping up around the page. If your a teacher – either as part of your local training center or on the road, you can enable those features by editing your profile and checking the box below.
Teacher 00

Once you return to your profile page, you’ll see the invitation to get started.
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Click it and you’re on your way.

Basic Info
Depending on the options you select on the way, not everyone will fill out every part of the wizard, but the first page is the same for everyone. Most of the options on the first page are pretty self-explanatory, but here’s a quick rundown..

-Bio:
You have the option of displaying your current bio on your teaching page, or creating one more catered to your teaching experience. If you select “New Bio” you will have the opportunity to type a teacher-specific bio on your page. Don’t worry, your existing bio will still show up right where it always had on your performer profile.

A note on cut-and-paste Sometimes it’s easy to cut and paste info like that from other web pages. When you do, you take not only the text of that info, but all of the formatting rules and potentially all sort of other background information from the other page. Doing so is never “harmful” but it can have three unintended results: It can make your profile sluggish to load if there’s excessive amounts of background, it can try to apply the visual formatting from your old page, which could look quite incongruous, and in some rare cases it could just not save at all, and you’ll have to type it over again. If there’s a lot of text you want to copy from another website, a good idea is to copy it first into a basic text editor (Notepad for Windows, TextWrangler for Mac) to clear out any unneeded background noise, and then copy and paste it again into the page here.

-Type:
You have two options here. You can select if you are a teacher in a training program and you can select if you are a teacher who teaches your own workshops. You can absolutely check both. Each will give you access to different tools.

-Website:
This is a totally optional space to include a link to an external webpage about your teaching.

-Headshot:
This is a place to upload your headshot. Why? When people bring you into town it’s very helpful to have a good looking image of you to promote your workshop to potential students. This sometimes means the difference between a half-full workshop and a full one.

Hit next and you go deeper down the rabbit hole.

Home Theatre
If you selected “I teach classes as part of an improv training center’s faculty” on the previous page you’ll be presented with a list of theatres in your state. The wizard only lists the theatres in your home state to prevent having to search needlessly, but in the off chance you teach regularly out of your home state, just drop me a personal note and we can set that up manually for you.

You might see an empty list even though you know there are theatres in your state. If that’s the case, double check your own profile that you have your home state (Two letter abbreviation) filled in.

If you are already listed as a teacher for a theatre, it will say “Active Teacher”. For other theatres, it will say “[Join]” to add yourself to the faculty. This change won’t automatically put you own a theatres teacher list. The theatre admin will have to approve your request.

You might see a theatre that says “No Training Program”. This is because either they actually don’t have a training program or because they haven’t indicated that they do on their theatre profile. You can always reach out to whoever maintains the profile and ask them to enable this feature.

And that’s it. Moving along.

Accolades
If you selected “I teach workshops locally and/or while traveling” you will now have a chance to post a couple of quotes about your teaching prowess. Enter up to three quotes and who said them to appear on your main teaching page. In the future, theatres and festivals will have the option to add testimonials to your profile in its own section, but even then, you’ll be able to choose the three quotes you want to place right on your front page.

Quotation marks? If you’re anal like me, you’ll want to know if you should include “” or not. Don’t worry, the main profile has a little bit of formatting code that will make sure all quotes look uniform on your main page.

Booking
Here’s the part that’s going to actually take a bit of thinking. This is also the part that is going to make the biggest difference in getting invited to theatres and festivals.

Theatres and festivals, particularly ones that haven’t had a lot of experience bringing teachers out are frightened of calling you. It sounds silly, but it’s absolutely true.

That fear comes from the fact that they respect you – and all teachers – enough that they are afraid to open a dialog with you only to realize they aren’t able or willing to offer you what you need in exchange for your time and knowledge. Not just you, all teachers. Young theatres often simply don’t know what is expected of them in terms of taking care of you.

This is your chance to put that information out there. Put in writing what you are asking in exchange for a workshop.

SOAPBOX

Don’t be afraid to ask what you are worth. Don’t set your expectations so low that you will actually end up losing money to take a weekend to teach. There has been a false idea for a long time that theatres can’t afford to spend the money it would take to bring out a teacher. The truth is, theatres are going to make money from your visit, both in the long term via better shows and more ticket sales, but also in the immediate term during your visit with just a little bit of planning on their part.

Don’t be unreasonable. Don’t be a diva. But demand to be treated like a professional (and act like one in return). I’m speaking as a theatre owner myself and I promise you, the value of bringing you out is becoming more and more clear as 2015 moves into 2016.

Don’t be ashamed to ask for your skills to be respected. You will have to earn that respect at first, to be certain, but don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If theatres are going to grow, the relationships with teachers will have to continue to grow and evolve and that starts now with us all collectively working towards that.

END SOAPBOX

-Travel
Travel accommodations. If the workshop isn’t in your city, how are you going to get there? What do you need for that to happen.

-Lodging
Lodging. More than likely you’ll be there more than one day. You need to sleep. You need a shower. What do you need from theatres to make this happen?

-Transportation
This one gets forgotten pretty easily. Unless their theatre has a bedroom upstairs (I’ve actually experienced this, and it’s pretty great) you’re going to need to get to and from the venue. And you may need to get to a place to eat, or get around while visiting. Make sure to let the theatre know if you have any needs here.

-Payment
How much do you expect to be paid. Now this is of course the most variable figure. There can be a lot of factors that can affect this. Sometimes flight costs can change this. Sometimes the length of your stay or the number of activities you’re involved with can affect this. But put down a good baseline so theatres have at least an inkling of what they’re getting involved with. And also don’t be afraid to include as much info about the things that may cause some flexibility. The more info they have, the better.

-Other
Wildcard. There is often some piece of info that doesn’t fit into the other categories. Maybe you have a special skill that is worth mentioning. Maybe there are some conditions that can affect your travel plans (there’s at least one very good instructor on the network who gets free airfare around North America. That’s pretty useful info). This is really a place to put any extra info you think would be helpful.

-Extra Services
Even tough it’s at the bottom of the page, it’s the most important piece of info to some people. They’re going to calculate what it will cost to bring you in, and they’re going to have to figure out how to make that money back, and how to make the most of your visit. Are you available to do additional workshops? Are you willing to sit in on shows. Are you willing do to coaching sessions with groups while you’re in town? You’ve spent the top half of this page telling them what you expect. Now’s the chance to tell them what they can expect from you.

Teacher 30

-Travel
This info is just for you. You’ll be able to see it from your profile page, but no one else can. Booking your own flights and/or hotels can be a hassle. Booking someone else’s can be a nightmare. Lots of pieces of your personal information will be needed to book your flight.
-First Middle Last Name
-Gender
-Birthdate
-Other (depending on the type of flight or hotel)

In addition to personal info, you may have frequent flyer miles or perks reward memberships. Now if the theatre has them as well, by all means, let them reap the reward. They’re paying for this. But if they don’t, might as well earn some frequent flier miles.

This area is a place to store all your personal info as well as any membership info or other travel info all in one place. That way, when you’re ready to visit, you can copy and paste that info all at once rather than hunting it down from a half dozen webpages.

You’re done!
Congratulations. Your page is all set up. On the final landing page of the wizard you will be able to either visit your profile and look it over, or go right to setting up your workshops.

Teacher 40

Huzzah

Setting up Workshops

You can click through from the last page, or you can add workshops at any time from your teaching profile. Right smack in the middle of the page you’ll see [Add Workshop].

Let’s begin.

Setting up your info

There’s a lot less info here than for your teaching profile. Just fill out the fields.

-Instructors
Do you teach this workshop alone, or do you teach it with others. If you teach with partners, you’ll have a chance in a few minutes to add them to the workshop. For now, just select the appropriate box.

-Description
Pretty self-explanatory. Just fill out a description of your workshop.

-Cap
How many students can you have in your class before diminishing returns on what they can learn?

-Length
How long is your workshop (in hours)

-Difficulty
This is admittedly a very subjective term. But just think about if this class would be helpful to a level 1 student, an advanced student, or someone who has been performing for some time.

Submit!

Adding Instructors
If you’ve selected multiple instructors, you can add up to three additional instructors to your workshop from the workshops page. Adding instructors works very similar to adding performers to a theatre or a troupe in other parts of the page.

So what exactly does that mean in terms of maintenance? Since you created the workshop, you will be the primary contact person for the workshop. You will also be the only one who will be able to edit the description et al for the workshop. The workshop will show up on their respective pages however and their teaching profiles will be linked from the workshop page.

Congratulations. You’ve set up your profile and your workshops.

Now that you have a profile, you can start reaching out to theatres and they to you, but there’s not a lot to facilitate that outside of just reaching out to each other. New tools will start filtering in over the coming weeks and months of 2015. Why aren’t they up immediately? Well, we got as much feedback as we could building the profiles, but undoubtedly some of you will also have great ideas we hadn’t thought of. We want to give the teaching profiles a test run by themselves to get your feedback so we can incorporate those changes into any tools to come rather than launching those tools today and then reinventing them.

So what’s coming?

Teacher Listings
Nothing super-complex here. Just a searchable list of teachers accessible from the main menu.

Festival Submissions
Soon you’ll be able to submit not only your troupes to festivals, but also yourself as an instructor. And festival organizers won’t just be able to see you if you’ve submitted. If you’re in a troupe that submitted to a festival, the organizers (if they opt in to this part of the tool) will be able to see that you are instructor, which might help your chances and your troupe’s chances of being invited.

History and Reviews
When you start teaching at festivals and theatres on the network, you’ll start building a history, not only to show your experience, but to offer potential bookers to contact those you’ve worked with in the past for recommendations. Those theatres and festivals you visit will also have a chance to leave reviews on your page. (We’re working on ways to make this constructive and usable). You’ll still be able to choose your favorite three quotes for your profile.

Traveling Tool
I am so excited about this one. If you’re going to be in the same city as a theatre, it’s a great opportunity for them to take advantage of your knowledge withoug springing for a plane. If you’re going to be in another city for whatever reason (wedding, vacation, etc) You can add a travel notice that will alert any nearby theatres that opt in to your visit. Then they’ll be able to reach out to you and see if you’re game for teaching since you’ll already be there.

Training Center Tools
This first batch of tools is aimed a little bit towards the traveling teacher, but we haven’t forgotten the training centers. We’ll have some cool tools towards the end of the year to help both artistically and logistically. Most of the tools are still very much in the “Wouldn’t it be neat if…” phase, so I don’t want to comment to much on them until they’re a little more firm, but they are coming.

Are these tools coming this week? NO! I’m going to watch TRON (already completed), take a nap and remember what my girlfriend looks like. But they’re coming.

I’m excited by this. I hope you are too. Let’s get to teaching!


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

National Improv Network Launches Free Teaching Tool

In honor of the National Improv Network’s “Year of the Teacher,” we are happy to announce The Teaching Tool, for both traveling teachers and for those who teach as part of their home theatre’s training program.

Like NIN’s submission tool, where improv troupes can curate an online resume to instantly submit to festivals, individual teachers will be able to maintain a professional resume with all the information theatres or festivals need. Not only will you be able to list all of your improv workshops, you’ll also be able to list your travel preferences, pricing and details about your workshops length, student cap and level of difficulty, giving a festival all the information they need to hire you. And for improv theatres you’ll be able to promote your training center to the masses listing how many levels you have, your curriculum and more!

Our promise to you, the improv community, is to create more opportunities for improvisors and The Teaching Tool delivers on that promise. We want to give every improv teacher, veteran or new, the chance to submit their self to a festival with just the click of a button for free.  And we want to make sure it’s easy for a festival and theater organizer to have all their information without having to hunt it down.

When NIN started promoting the idea of theatres bringing out more instructors, one thing we heard repeatedly is that people who hadn’t brought out teachers in the past really didn’t know how to reach out or what was expected of them in the process. It can be an awkward conversation. We really wanted to put as much information about an instructor’s needs out to the theatres before that conversation even begins so that theatres can approach that talk in a more informed way.

The teaching tool is available to improvisors today. Here’s how you set it up:

1. Edit your profile and make sure the option “I am a teacher” is selected to unlock the various teaching tools.
2. Click the link that says “Set up your teaching profile now” on your main profile page to go through the setup wizard.
3. Add Workshops from the teaching profile that will be added to your main profile.

If you’re a theatre with a training program you can now add training information to your theatre. Right now it’s just an information page about your training program that instructors can be listed under. But more tools for training programs will start showing up if you set up your training program today. Here’s how you do it:

1. Edit your theatre profile and select the option saying that you have a training program.
2. Visit your theatre’s profile and click the link to set it up.
3. Fill out the info and hit Submit
4. (optional) hit the “Change Instructors” to add or remove instructors.

These tools are only available for members of NIN. If you’re not a member of NIN you can sign up for FREE at nationalimprovnetwork.com. Sign up today to take advantage of the free resources for improvisors that NIN provides.

About National Improv Network

National Improv Network is an online community and non-profit endeavor that brings improvisors together from all over the world and offers Theatre Owners, Festival Organizers, Improvisors and Instructors a wide array of services and resources.  Currently NIN has over 2,000 members, 1200 improv troupes, over 100 festivals and over 90 theaters listed on the site.

Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder – Co-Founders of the National Improv Network

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as an alum of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

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

 

 

Spotlight on Baltimore Improv Festival

Baltimore has gone through a lot lately, but the show must go on and the 9th year of The Baltimore Improv Festival is showing no sign of slowing down. It’s just what the community needs so please check it out and submit if you can. I had a chance to interview BIF Executive Producer Mike Harris about this years festival.

9 Years is amazing run for an improv festival. What has been the biggest challenges of running a festival?

Thanks Nick. We’ve been really fortunate to have so many great troupes come visit. They’ve really allowed us to build a loyal audience for the festival. Every festival has to figure out what makes it unique, and for us, it has been the enthusiasm of the Baltimore audience. We’ve chosen to keep our festival at one venue to keep the audience concentrated. Which is great for giving performers a chance to get in front of large audiences, but also means we have less slots to offer and have to turn down some really good troupes. That’s probably the biggest challenge right now, saying no to folks we want to invite.

What do you look for in a submission?

Subjective though it may be, we do put funny first. Always like to see troupes that are having fun playing with each other, and showing solid grounding in improv fundamentals. Nothing wrong with breaking the rules as long as it comes from a deliberate choice to do so. Beyond that, we look for troupes that have uniquely marketable formats and increase the diversity of the festival lineup. Any chance we get to offer something Baltimore hasn’t seen before, we’ll take it.

What are some fun things to do in Baltimore?

Best thing about Baltimore is that you won’t mistake it for being anywhere else. We’re a funky, friendly city-sized small town. Baltimore is made up of a borderline absurd numbers of small neighborhoods. Great thing about that is that each one has its own flavor. So in a matter of blocks you can come across entirely different food, music, shops. So, I’d say hit Fells Point, Little Italy, Canton or Mount Vernon and just walk around and see what grabs your interest. And the Inner Harbor is fine. A little touristy and the one place that probably seems least like Baltimore, but tons to do.

With the riots that are happening in Baltimore. What can you say to an improvisor who is hesitant to submit to your festival.

Baltimore has a reputation that predates the recent demonstrations, and we, like a lot of American cities, have deeply rooted, systemic issues and injustices. The problems that came to a head these past few weeks will still be here for the 9th Baltimore Improv Festival and, sadly, probably the 99th Baltimore Improv Festival. That said, the amount of violence was greatly overstated. The overwhelming majority of the demonstrators were completely peaceful. The vast majority of the city is safe, and that includes the area where the Festival will be held.

Will there be workshops at the festival?

Absolutely. We will have two sessions of workshops on Saturday and two on Sunday. Hopefully we will be able to offer around 10-12 workshops over the course of the weekend, and we absolutely encourage members of accepted troupes to propose workshops they would like to teach.

To submit to the Baltimore Improv Festival click HERE.


Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book

So it’s happened. Tj and Dave have written a book: “Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book, with the help of  Pam Victor, you might know her from her wonderful blogs “My Nephew is an Improv Poodle.” This is a huge step forward for the improv community. TJ and Dave’s work has influenced modern day improv and now we get to take a look inside to see how they do it.

There are a lot of books about improv out there but this one promises to be about the experiences and thoughts about improv from the masters themselves.  The National Improv Network was lucky enough to get an interview with TJ, Dave and Pam here is what they had to say:

What prompted you guys to write the book after all these years?

TJ: We found that the books that were out there about improvisation were all well written and helpful so we decided to do something about that.

Is the book biographical, instructional a little of both?

TJ: Closer to a little bit of neither. I would say it’s primarily a collection of thoughts about improvisation. What has worked for us and how we think about it.

With the improv world expanding more than ever, there’s practically a theater and festival in every state now. What do you see happening to improv in the next 10 years?

TJ: I really don’t know. I’m guessing it will keep getting bigger. It seems that more people from every walk of life are finding it somehow. It seems to be a word that more people understand now. It’s so damn good I don’t know why it would ever get any less known than it it now.

Dave: I imagine it will follow the trajectory of the proliferation of stand-up in the 80’s and the housing market in the early 2000’s: boom and bust. Though with more economic impact than the latter.

What do you hope improvisors get out of your book?

TJ: Any little thing that helps or clarifies or excites.

Dave: Maybe a different way to think about this stuff that they have not yet been exposed to. and hopefully it will be helpful for those improvisers…and not merely be confounding.

Pam: Speaking as an evolving improviser, the book has been all of the above for me.

Is this book for improvisors of all levels of experiences?

TJ: I think so. I think at its heart it goes to the basic basic center of how you can improvise and in that, I think anybody might find some benefit from it.

Dave: I think it’s for folks who are interested in improvisation.

Pam: Personally, I tend to think of the book as a PhD in improvisation. Although improvisers of all levels will hopefully find interesting and helpful stuff in there, I am excited that this book could really be useful for experienced improvisers who have been around the block a few times. I have been performing for over a decade and I learned a tremendous amount from getting TJ and David’s approach to the page – more and more each time I went over the material. So I hope it will be useful for people to refer back to as they progress through their improv lives. I know that’s how it’s been for me.

Are you guys different players outside of your duo? Or do you commit to the same philosophies?

TJ: The same philosophies are at heart but different shows are made to do different things. An Armando is not a Harold is not our show, so the player is still the same but the job of the player may be different.

Dave: I think improvisation is improvisation, so for me, the principles stay the same regardless of the specifics.

You have your own theater space The Mission Theater. How has that been going and what has been your biggest challenges having your own space?

TJ: The biggest challenges are getting people to come and figuring out how to run a business. Outside of that, artistically it’s going well. We are really proud of the shows that go on in there. We are working on our second sketch revue, Undressed, and they’re awesome. The house ensemble is incredibly strong and good. We really like the people doing shows in there right now.

Is there going to be any book signings or events we can catch you at?

Pam: On April 1st at The Mission all three of us will be signing books and doing a Q & A moderated by Kim “Howard” Johnson. Tickets are free and can be reserved through the iO box office. More info at missiontheaterchicago.com. Howard, by the way, is the editor of Truth in Comedy and the author of The Funniest One in the Room, among other terrific books. He also was on one of the first Harold teams ever at Improv Olympic, Baron’s Barracudas, with Dave. Oh, and he helped edit our book too. Good guy.

Where can we purchase the book?

Pam: Our book release party is on April 1st at 6pm at The Mission Theater in Chicago, where the book will be on sale from that date on to forevermore. It’s currently available for order online (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.).

We here at NIN are excited to get a chance to read this. We will be posting our review of it soon and would love to hear from our community and see what you think so please drop us a line when you read it.

To purchase the Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The Tj and Dave Book visit HERE and get it today!

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Nick Armstrong

Nick  is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia a non-profit improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also teaches improv throughout the country.

 

Spotlight on The Omaha Improv Festival

The Omaha Improv Festival celebrates its third year. I love watching a small town improv community attract great teams and great instructors. Omaha has done that very successfully. It just goes to show that improv can be anywhere and can be successful anywhere. I was able to interview Dylan Rohde who is the Executive Producer of the festival and Backline Improv.

You’ve created quite a scene in a somewhat small community. What’s your secret? What are the challenges?

There have been many challenges. Whether it was people wanting short-form more at first, to people rejecting Game, to dealing with people who feel like outcasts within our community. Moving downtown was also a struggle as we were almost kicked out of our first location by the health inspector and had to move with no money, at the same time that improv and standup had split ways in the community (lately we have mostly gotten back together though.)

My top 3 secrets are, it’s 1. Community- I try really hard to create a scene that people want to be a part of, and I encourage everyone to hang out as often as I can. For most of the people at our theatre, we are all our best friends. I’ve always believed you can get higher by helping others up rather than stepping on them. 2. I try and be a great teacher. That sounds too broad, but I’ve always felt the best teachers are able to make their material easy to understand to their students. I also think it’s important to work with each student on their strengths and weaknesses. While I was the only teacher for a while, I didn’t want everyone to have the same sense of humor and style. I also believe anyone can be good at improv and refuse to give up on anyone. 3. 3-Line Openers. I don’t know why more schools don’t do these, but they are done every single week in class through our 6 levels except for a few weeks in one level. I also have a different thing to focus on each week, which allows me to cover more ground and link all exercises together on one focus. One week, each line has to be 1 word, then the next week, the first line has to be a vague statement, then the 2nd line gives the specific. This has helped immensely, everyone should do these. I did less 3-line openers in 4 years at 2 schools in LA than my students do by Level 3 here in Omaha.

What’s new to the festival this year?

We have 2 new great venues, and got rid of the worst venue from last year. They are all still very close and within walking distance. We also have the best lineup of shows that we’ve ever had. This is the first year that we have a lineup at Backline that is just straight up solid. It’s the first year that I went out of my way to specifically invite teams I wanted, and got them from the 3 surrounding large improv communities (KC, Denver, and Minneapolis.) Plus, our theatre is cooler, and our part of downtown has improved quite a bit.

What do you look for in a team that’s submitted?

My two biggest values in improv are Trust & Listening. I look for teams that are able to do these well if they want to play the main stage. If I hear over-talking, or someone not taking in information from their partner, then I know they won’t be a good fit. However, we do accept most teams and I try and give everyone the slot accordingly. This year has a much higher rate of quality teams submitting, though, so you should not be butt-hurt if you do not make the main stage. Especially specialty shows and one or two-person teams.

What can improvisors expect at your festival?

They should expect great workshops and shows, as well as a fun time hanging out and getting to know improvisers from all over the nation, especially our neighboring communities. This festival is for improvisers far more than it is for the general public. We want you to land from the airport and start having fun immediately, then not stop having fun till you board to leave again.

What’s some fun stuff to do in town?

Besides the Henry Doorly Zoo (possibly the best in the nation,) and the Old Market (which is right next to most of our events and is basically a large outdoor vintage mall,) we also have Taste of Omaha going on just 9 blocks away. It’s a Food & Music Festival that cost nothing to get in and listen to music, and the food is pretty cheap. This takes place right next to the Missouri River. This is also typically the best week in Nebraska, so the weather should be great for it.

Submissions are due by Sunday the 22nd. To submit instantly to this festival click HERE.


Nick Armstrong

Nick  is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also teaches improv throughout the country.

National Improv Network Partners with E-MPROV

The National Improv Network (NIN), a free online resource by improvisors for improvisors is partnering with E-MPROV, a website that puts on live improv shows with participants from all over the world via Google Hangout. The two online resources for improvisors are getting together to help promote and support the improv community even more.

The partnership will have NIN put E-MPROV’s live shows on their front page where there is currently older improv shows, NIN will still keep taped shows as a resource, but will be featured below the live E-MPROV shows. E-MPROV has daily shows from teams and performers from all around the world. In addition, Co-Founders Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder will be doing a live show “NIN’S Talkin’ Shop” every month. The show will have guests from improv leaders to business leaders and have a range of topics covering festivals, coaching, business and more. The community will have a chance to get their questions answered.

“Our mission has always been to bring our community together from day one,” said Nick Armstrong Co-Founder of National Improv Network. “E-MPROV has similar goals so we saw it as a natural fit.”

“We are very excited To Be Joining Forces With NIN To Promote Cross Pollination Between Improv Communities Worldwide,” said Amey Goerlich Artistic Director of E-MPROV. ” Since one of the purposes of NIN is to offer the opportunity to network with other improvisers and the primary purpose of E-MPROV is to have people improvise together over great distances, the collaboration seems obvious and we are thrilled.”

NIN continues to grow, and with the success of the instant submission service, which allows troupes to submit to improv festivals with the click of a button, they are going even further by sharing with improvisors even more resources like E-MPROV and also allowing teachers of improv the ability to submit their workshops to festivals all over the country.

About National Improv Network

National Improv Network is an online community and non-profit endeavor that brings improvisors together from all over the country and offers Theatre Owners, Festival Organizers, Improvisors and Instructors a wide array of services and resources.  Currently NIN has over 1600 members, over 80 festivals and over 70 theaters listed on the site.

About E-MPROV

E-MPROV is dedicated to embody and celebrate the principals of long form improv as an equal opportunity performance option to all. We are devoted to the widespread promotion of long form improv nationally and internationally. Combining electricity and improv to create a new way to universally connect to others through the power of Improvisation.

 

 

 

Syllabus: Part of a Complete Balanced Education

I think this happened to just about everyone at one point in their childhood, when we attended the Teddy Kids Leiden kindergarten. There’s a recession or a temporary financial dip and we asked our parents, “Why don’t they just make more money?” It was hard for our parents to explain that unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Money has to be based on something, or it’s useless.

I hear a similar discussion as an adult with many young theatres. When I talk to them about their first year, I often hear excitement over the idea of “putting together a syllabus”. Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with that. A syllabus is an important tool. But a curriculum by itself is not going to give your students the best education you can give them.

Let’s talk improv jargon for a moment. We love to talk about “yes, and” and we love to talk about listening to the meaning behind the words, and we certainly love to talk about the freedom improv gives us to react onstage in honest, emotional, vulnerable ways without the restriction of another person’s words. Those are remarkable things. But if we put such value on these ideas onstage, why would we possibly eliminate them from our teaching?

Syllabus in a vacuum is just words without meaning. Our scene is a relationship between teacher and student. It’s time to discover the meaning behind those words so that curriculum evolves and changes from teacher to teacher, classroom to classroom, making sure our students leave our class not with a memorization of how to play “Clams are Great”, but an understand of the concepts of improv behind them we hold so dear.

Before you go any further building your education program, go visit your local university. Talk to someone in their education program. Spend time with them learning more about standards and strands (fancy education jargon) in far more depth than you can get in a single blog post. Talk to them about how they build their program. They’ll be happy to talk to you because you scratched their personal geek-out itch. Education departments love to talk about this all day long if you let them, so let them. If you don’t have access to an education department devotee, here’s some really basic introductions to those two concepts.

Concepts

In the long term, you’re not looking to teach a series of exercises, you’re looking to teach a series of concepts. Write those concepts down. This is the first part of building a training program. Each theatre will have a slightly different list and will have more or less emphasis on different entries, but there will of course be some similarities for all of us. Here’s a list to start with. Add or subtract to it based on your beliefs and styles.

  • Support (Yes, And)
  • Truth and Honesty
  • Ensemble Work
  • Environment Work
  • Character Work
  • Scene Dynamics
  • Stagecraft
  • Longform Concepts
  • Game

Again, this is just a sample. Perhaps you want to combine two, or feel one on this list can be broken up further. Do that. Make a list with your instructors that says “These are the core concepts we want our students to have”.

It would be easy at this point to think linearly at this point; teach “Yes, and” on week one, Truth and honesty on week 2, etc. But These skills do not exists linearly on top of each other. They all work in concert with each other. “Yes, and” is almost always taught on week one. And then never mentioned again except in the form of lip service. What a terrible thing you’ve denied your students. If they learn “Yes, and” on their first day, they only know how to support the skills they brought with them to class that first day – plot. I have worked with so many students who have been training for over a year and they have no idea how to support any choices outside of plot. They don’t know how to support emotional choices or environment because they never came back to it after that first day. Building a strong training program is about teaching all of these skills in relationship to each other.

Skills

So that sounds easier said than done. you have to start somewhere. And on the very beginning of learning, it will be a bit of a linear checklist of skills. So how do you build beyond that point?

Look at each of your concepts and start listing the skills that you want students to have in that concept. Take, “Yes, and” as an example. Here are some skills that help that grow. (I’ll explain the labels in a moment).

  • C101: Create operational scenes through supporting literal offers.
  • C201: Recognize, support and heighten the reality of the scene.
  • C202: Make choices to ‘yes-and’ the actor above the character.
  • C301: Make choices as an ensemble originating from the group mind.
  • C302: Anticipate the actions or words of scene partners.
  • C303: Offer non-literal agreement based the offers of scene partners and environmental conditions.

So why the fancy, nerdy labels? Are the necessary? No. But many skills are similar and it helps identify which you’re working on. It will also help when we start building strands on our teaching standards.

You’ll probably notice that many of those skills would be beyond a level 1 student. They should be. Once you have this list, start dividing them up between beginning, intermediate and advanced skills. I use those three levels myself, you can use as many as you like. Now you have a list of skills for all of your concepts that can be spread out over time, building on each other. Just as importantly, you have a real plan of what ideas you’re going to be teaching your students instead of just a list of exercises.

Now you are ready to start putting together your classes. Break these skills out. Some skills go in level 1. Some in Level 2. Pretty soon you’ve got a whole plan of concepts together/

Syllabus

Hey, here it is. See? I don’t hate on syllabus. It’s important to build one. It’s important to find exercises in class that will help the students towards those concepts and skills. Go over that list of skills. Discuss some potential exercises that help with that skill. Make sure that you put time in your class run to cover all of the skills you want to learn in that level. Meter out which skills you plan to cover on each week. Build a template syllabus if you want. This is all good. But there’s still one more thing you need to do.

Strands

Thinking in terms of a list of exercises to fill out a class can be limiting. If we decide to teach an exercise in class, the only thing we’re guaranteed is that the students will learn the exercise, not the skills it was designed to teach. Learning isn’t simply memorization, it’s comprehension. Strands are the different methods of measuring what was learned from a given task in a classroom. They can be very complex sometimes, and I encourage you to look further into them if you’re curious. But for the scope of this blog, we’ll talk about three of them

  • Creation: This is simply seeing if the students can perform the skill in the exercise. Did they list reasons why clams are great? Cool. They’re able to functionally perform this exercises.
  • Application: It’s important that students understand “why” they’re doing this exercise. Do they understand how it will build a skill they can recognize and utilize in actual shows? Did they understand that it’s important to jump in to start listing reasons why clams are great even if they have nothing because their partner needs support? Do they understand that they shouldn’t jump in to intercept their partner with their own great idea? Cool. They can apply that skill.
  • Self Evaluation: Even if students grasp the concept behind a skill, maybe they aren’t really doing a good job of recognizing their ability to do it. The Dunning-Kruger Effect happens big time with students. Many students have opinions of their skills that are drastically out of sync with reality. Are they able to recognize that they’ve been up for Clams are Great more than anyone else and decide to step back? Cool. They can continue to grow in this skill outside the classroom.
  • Once a student can create, relate and evaluate (an unfortunate rhyme) the skill, they’re golden. They now own that skill and will continue to grow in it outside of class.

    Remember those labels from the skills? Another helpful reason you have them is that you can connect them across strands. Let’s take that old “Every line begins with Yes, And” exercise we’ve all done.

    Creation
    C101: Create operational scenes through supporting literal offers.

    Application
    R101: Understanding that support in scenework will lead to more productive and active scenes

    Evaluation
    E101: Recognize the difference between literal support and denial.

    Syllabus Revisited
    Having a syllabus in mind when you start is great. It’s a road-map of how to teach the skills. Every class is different. Every teacher is different. A good teacher will need to have the flexibility to understand when one exercise will not resonate as well with a particular class, or when a class is able to create, but not apply that knowledge, that teacher needs to re-organize their time to make sure they come to that level.

    Ultimately, you want every Level 1 student to leave capable of playing on the same playing field, even if they took a slightly different path to get there. As your program grows, you’ll eventually come to the point where you’re teaching multiple level 1s or 2s in parallel. It’s naive to think those students will stay in the exact same configuration throughout your program. If their education is consistent. It won’t matter. They’ll be able to grow together.. We recommend students to check Rutgers Online MBA overview for great info on the one of the bets colleges.

    Even if some of them never played “Hey Fred Schneider”

    Example of Standards, Skills and Strands

    Example of Standards, Skills and Strands


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

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