Ensemble Performer Submissions are Here

There’s a new feature launching on the site today. And to many people around the world, it might seem long overdue. To people in the U.S., it might seem a bit confusing since it’s a concept we’re only just beginning to explore.

When Nick and I spend time in Europe and Canada trying to learn more about how festivals and theatres operate, one question we were asked many times was “How do individual performers submit to be part of festival ensembles?” We didn’t have an answer. It’s something I personally had only recently been exposed, but it’s such a wonderful idea, and one so in the spirit of improv festivals, I’m amazed it’s only now popping up in the U.S.

In the model that’s been going on for years, a troupe submits to a festival and – if accepted – comes and performs their show. This is great, but it doesn’t typically give performers a chance to play with anyone new. Sometimes, there is a jam, a Maestro or an All-Star Show, but that’s about it.

The new model doesn’t replace troupes visiting, but it offers an additional option. One, or sometimes a few shows will be scheduled during a festival with a cast of performers who may have never played together, or even met before. Sometimes this show is as simple as a jam. Sometimes the performers come into town well before the festival to meet and work to create a show together.

For example:

team

Mike, Jaclynn and Robert are all great players from around the world. Each of them may want to visit a festival, but doesn’t have a troupe to submit. All three of them are invited to be part of the festival ensemble. They come from their respective home towns and build a show unique to that festival bringing the styles and loves from their home and learning about the way other people play.

Why this is cool?

There are a few reasons bringing a festival ensemble to your festival can bring something really cool that you haven’t had before.

1. Visitors who don’t have traveling troupes can visit your festival. Sometimes a performer is part of a troupe with people who cannot travel. Sometimes a performer finds themselves without a troupe at all. Traveling to festivals is a very difficult proposition for these players. It’s hard to justify the cost of traveling if there are no performance opportunities. This allows them to visit and hopefully bring some of the festival greatness back to their city.

2. Playing with new people. I can speak to this personally. Having done a couple ensembles now, I’ve gained amazing new insights into performing, both from my coaches and from my fellow players. I’ve had the opportunity to play with people from other parts of the country and the world that I never would have had the opportunity to play with otherwise.

3. It’s ephemeral. It’s the very spirit of what we do in some ways. An festival ensemble is a show that exists only for one weekend. Only for one festival. It is a shared experience, and then it is gone.

What are ensemble shows like?

There’s no one answer to that. Some festivals have an existing structure that they work visitors into. Some have the group find a format that compliments the players. Some ensembles only meet a few hours before the show. Some ensembles spend a week together. It’s really up to the festival how they want to format this.

How do I submit on The Improv Network

Go to the festival submission page like you would if you were submitting a troupe.
Look for a button that looks like this
submit
The submission page will ask you for a brief introduction explaining why you’d like to be invited as a featured performer and asks you to include a video link to a show you were in.
That’s it.

How do I accept performer submissions at my festival?

During your setup process for your festival, you will check a box on the first page indicating if you want to run performer submissions. You will then be asked to give a brief description of how your ensemble will work.
That’s it.

You can submit to be in an ensemble today

I really hope more festivals around the world keep doing it, and I hope festivals in the U.S. start adopting it. Improvaganza in Hawai’i just had their first ensemble and I hear it went great. Phoenix and San Diego will both be announcing their ensembles later today. (Thanks to both for your patience while we got this tool off the ground). Please visit their respective pages on the site when they go live. I know it’s kind of a new concept to understand it’s potential for some, but it can be a great way to build our community even more.

A few special shout-outs. Thanks to Improvaganza in Edmonton and The Vancouver International Improv Festival for letting me be a part of their festival ensembles. Also, click that link in the last sentence to learn more about VIIF’s ensemble which is coincidentally starting today and will be performing this weekend. Thanks to Marisol Chavez and Lauren Morris who helped me beta test this new feature and gave some really great feedback.

The Rubric

Looking Into a Festival Producer’s Mind, or How Do They Decide Who to Choose?

THE RUBRIC: Looking Into a Festival Producer’s Mind, or How Do They Decide Who to Choose?

In the years I’ve produced the Alaska State Improv Festival (AS IF), I’ve heard performers ask “What can I do to improve my submission?” I’ve also heard my fellow producers bemoan that their 1 to 5 judging scale leads to a massive swath of “3” scores from their reviewers, making it impossible to figure out whether an ensemble is in the 25th percentile or the 75th percentile of the submission pool. More rarely, I hear of a rubric that takes a background in advanced statistics to comprehend where even the person creating it can only hope that it reflects more than a mathematical curiosity.

We do things a little differently in Alaska. The way we review submissions has made it much easier for our production team to determine where in the pool each ensemble fits. By describing the AS IF way, I hope that it helps performers understand what goes on in the mind of a producer. I also hope it helps other producers create a meaningful rubric for their own submission review processes.

Our Rubric:

The AS IF production team has always valued variety as well as skill. This became central to our scoring rubric which is divided into four parts, each scored on a 1 to 5 scale (minimum score of 4; maximum score of 20).

Originality – Does the show contain original elements? If we read the description of your show and say, “We’ve never seen that before. This sounds great!” then you’ve done well on originality.

Execution of Concept – Does the show deliver on its intended premise? If the show is described as an improvised detective show in the style of Columbo but the video contains a montage of disconnected scenes, then you probably lost almost all of these points.

Marketability – Can we describe your show to a lay person in one or two sentences and get them excited to see it? Think of a show like Jill Bernard’s Drum Machine – It’s a one-woman improvised musical based on a historical event. Her accompanist is the Zoomtronic 123 drum machine. Two sentences, you know the gist of the show, and you want to buy a ticket.

Skill – Regardless of whether the show was original or delivered on its promise, was it skillfully performed?

What’s The Reasoning Behind the Rubric?

We decided early that we wanted to provide not only quality shows, but to a broad spectrum of shows to introduce our audience to what improv can be.

Instead of asking “On a scale of 1 to 5, how were they?” the four parts of the rubric force the reviewers to consider more deeply what the show’s strengths and weaknesses, and whether the show is a fit for AS IF.

How Does It Work in the Real World?

Our results have been remarkably consistent. Groups that have received scores above 15 have proven to be exceptional additions to the festival. Groups in the 13 to 15 range have mostly been either placed on the waitlist or accepted as “last group in.” A couple of these groups have underwhelmed, but several have flashed brilliance that was not seen on the submission video. Groups who score under 13 are generally not considered for inclusion

Most importantly, we have been able to retain a consistently high bar for the festival. The sets at the festival are of high quality, yet are quite varied in style, composition, geography, etc., and the whole package reflects the overall vision of AS IF.

Anything Else?

The numbers don’t tell the whole tale. There are times when a producer makes a choice that goes against the numbers. This can happen based on personal knowledge of the performers, a reference from a trusted insider, a desire to not have too many of a particular type of show, or just a gut instinct regarding whether the submission video reflects the ensemble’s ceiling or their floor. If you are a producer, you have a right and a responsibility to look beyond the numbers to include the acts that best represent the festival’s vision.

If you are a performer who is caught on the wrong end of a producer’s decision, please understand that the number of submissions often greatly exceeds the number of available slots and that in a different pool of submissions you may have made the cut. If there is a festival you have targeted and you have not been accepted, don’t presume that’s the end of the story. Submit with another video, submit with a different ensemble, ask the producer where the submission fell short – and be ready to take the hard note.

So that’s a look inside the head of a producer heading into the submission period. Alaska State Improv Festival is in its open submission period through the end of September, and we hope to see many of you join us in Alaska next April!


Eric Caldwell is the Producer of the Alaska State Improv Festival, entering its fifth year in 2017.

Spotlight on Improv Fest Oklahoma

The Improv Festival Oklahoma is celebrating its 8th year. I was able to interview them about what their festival is all about.

You’re celebrating your 8th Improv Festival Oklahoma this year. Tell us a little about the history of your festival.

Red Dirt Improv created Improv Festival Oklahoma in the summer of 2009. A handful of improv troupes were active in the Oklahoma City area, and we all decided to put on a coordinated weekend of shows with great improvisors visiting from out of town. We really wanted to raise awareness of improv in Oklahoma as well as meet other cool improvisers.

Over the course of eight years, Improv Festival Oklahoma has grown. Last year, OKC Improv began co-producing the festival with Red Dirt Improv. This partnership has infused a lot of passion and momentum into Improv Festival Oklahoma.

What do you look for in submissions?

Quality improv is number one. Everything about an improv act doesn’t translate perfectly into submission forms and videos, but that may be all we have to review! Ideally, troupe submission forms and videos will give us a good idea of what would be performed at IFO. Usually, a complete submission will give us what we need to decide.

We are also looking to showcase improv that is new to OKC audiences. Short form, long form, musical, duos, solos, ensemble groups, we like to see it all!

What will a team get if accepted?

Each accepted group will get 25 minutes of stage time and a week of early access to sign up for workshops. If seats are available, performers will be able to watch performances for free.

Improv Festival Oklahoma will host an after party each night of the festival. These after parties will be very close to the venue. These will be a great opportunity to eat, drink, and socialize. We love to show visiting improvisors a great time.

Tell us about what it’s like to visit Oklahoma City. What are some great highlights from the city?

Oklahoma City has a lot of great restaurants in Bricktown (very close to the venue), a nice zoo, casinos, and a variety of museums. We’d love to set up some early arrival / late departure group outings to some cool spots.

Will you be doing workshops at this festival and if so who can improvisors look forward to taking?

This year we have a number of great improv instructors including Rob Belushi and Jon Barinholtz.

Tell us about the venue that IFO has

IFO workshops and performances and will be held at the Paramount Theatre in Oklahoma City. This is a nice 50-seat theater near downtown OKC, so there is plenty to do before and after shows. OKC Improv has had great success hosting its recent shows in the venue and has been developing regular improv crowds.

For someone who has never heard or seen the OK improv scene. Tell us what you’re all about

The improv scene around Oklahoma City is full of fun, friendly, and passionate improvisors. On IFO weekend, that is amplified. It’s always fun seeing IFO’s regular return visitors and new faces. With IFO’s single venue and workshop space, we are certain participants will make lifelong improv friends over the course of the weekend.

Submissions are open until July 31st. Instantly submit HERE today!


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 a teacher an alum of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

“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. 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.

ASIF – Review of The Alaska State Improv Festival

The Del Close Marathon. The Chicago Improv Festival. The Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival. The New York Improv Festival. The Boston Comedy Arts Festival.
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Chances are very likely that you’ve heard of these festivals, and probably attended at least two of them. I’m sure that you were exposed to an insane amount of improv troupes from around North America, and possibly Europe, and were blown away by the level of talent and variety featured at each of these festivals. I mean, how could you not be? There’s so much to see and experience. But here’s the thing about some of these mega-festivals: they’re so big and so intense that it becomes difficult to establish any sense of community amongst the improvisers that the typical performer’s e
xperience is to simply show up, get your performer’s pass, see a few shows, perform in your assigned time slot, and maybe see/do something in that city before it’s time to go home the next day.
Plus, one of the evils perpetuated in these types of mega-festivals is the illusion of status. Sure, some people/teams have achieved various levels of recognition be it through television, film, writing, talk shows, magazines, YouTube, or what-have-you, but there’s no opportunity to humanize them in any real way that matters because of the sheer amount of people attending these festivals. Sure, you might be able to go back to North Carolina and tell all of your friends that you got to tal13187866_10157629804150206_1747861823_nk with Jack McBrayer for five minutes, or that Amy Pohler accidentally spilled a drink on you in the Green Room. But where’s the humanity in that? Where’s the real life connection with another human being that matters? The answer is a simple one: The Alaska State Improv Festival!
Here’s one of the things that I love most about ASIF: Eric Caldwell, the festival producer, has been to so many festivals over the years that he knows exactly what to offer in terms of organization, variety, and community. Let me break it down for you.
Organization:
Once accepted to perform in the festival, Eric automatically adds you to the ASIF Facebook group where you receive updates and alerts in real time. I can’t stress enough how fantastic this is because it accomplishes a few things right off the bat: the ability to connect with other performers (both past and present), immediate and direct contact with the festival producer (what other festival can you say that about???), and pertinent information regarding the festival itself as questions arise.
Before the festival has even started, accommodations, rides to and from the airport, workshops, sight seeing tours, after parties, discounted performer “eats and drinks” hotspots, and other individual points of interest have all been worked out well in advance that you genuinely feel taken care of. This isn’t one of those festivals where you hope you are able to find a place to stay within budget that is within an Über ride of the venue. Nope. It’s all been taken care of for you!
13187872_10157629804100206_776965086_nAND on the back of your performer’s pass there is a schedule of all of the shows for the weekend so you can plan accordingly. Quite thoughtful.
And AND…for anyone performing in the festival, Eric has provided a webpage on the ASIF site specifically for improvisers providing information about all sorts of local grocery stores, restaurants, points of interest, workshop schedules, performance schedules, directions, phone numbers, maps, etc. It’s an amazing resource!
Variety:
There is so much about ASIF that I find outstanding that it becomes challenging where to start first. Let’s begin with the fact that you’re in Alaska’s capital performing improvised comedy! The landscapes are breathtaking, and are some of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever seen (and I literally travel the world for a living)!
Then there’s the incredible talent that Eric is able to bring in from all over: Susan Messing, Amber Nash, Parallelogramophonograph, Pinque Pony, Scared Scriptless, Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger, Nick Armstrong & Bill Binder, Pawn Takes Queen, and 1 Deep just to name a few off the top of my head. (There’s so many more that are going unmentioned that have absolutely blown me away! Seriously, everyone is just so, so talented!)
And that’s what is so great about this festival: A) the range of performances that you’d rarely get the opportunity to see again, and B) that you actually get to know the people behind the ensemble. What a rare blessing it is to actually have time to sit down to lunch with Susan Messing and talk about life! Which leads me into my last point about ASIF…
Community:
We, as improvisers, know the importance of community. It’s what strengthens us and brings us together both on stage and off. It’s what allows us to brainstorm new ideas and collaborate on projects. If it weren’t for these basic ideals there wouldn’t even be improvised comedy as we know it. We’d be fighting against each other constantly in the latest version of “The ME Show.” So why do we naturally gravitate towards perpetuating this idea that “my way is better”, or “I was taught the real way of improvising”? It’s silly and its destructive. But thankfully ASIF breaks those barriers down by creating a lot of community-building activities in which we get to really spend time together and appreciate other’s way of operation.
Exhibit A: The Whale Watching Boat Tour
When are you ever going to get this opportunity again in your life?! It’s incredible, it’s amazing, and it’s 100% worth it! I mean, come on?! It’s a boat full of rowdy improvisers! How could you not?! So much fun!
Exhibit B: The Mixer Jams
You know what’s even more fun than performing with your team? Performing with a group of extremely talented improvisers from all over everywhere in a completely bonkers show where literally anything can happen! So much fun!
Exhibit C: The Afterparties
Each night after the last run of shows, Eric has made arrangements for everyone to gather together at some of the local bars, restaurants, and local Juneau hotspots just for the sake of hanging out and getting to know each other better. Seriously, what mega-festival does that? Ok, ok…the Del Close Marathon does that. But it’s not open to all performers, AND it’s not an environment conducive to connecting with performers that you’ve never met before. ASIF is the very definition of bringing people together to celebrate this most amazing art form that we all love more than life. So much fun!
Exhibit D: Workshops
I’ve had the pleasure of learning from some of the improv “greats” in my time, and the workshops offered during ASIF are no exception. These master artists (and I refer to them as such) have taught me more about improv, the love of the art form, the creative nature of performing, and small technical approaches that I can apply in my own way than any other workshop I’ve ever taken in the past.
Plus, you’re learning/honing your craft amongst a mixed group of your peers, of whom you may never get the opportunity to perform with ever again. I’ve made so many special bonds with many of Juneau’s local improvisers that will stay with me forever! And I’m genuine in saying that I love these people. I love the connection that we created together. I love the pure joy of discovering things together while being directed and steered towards positivity, emotion, story, and humanity. These are some of my most cherished memories only available to me through ASIF’s magical ability to bring people together.
Special shout outs to Susan Messing, Parallelogramophonograph, and Rich Baker. So much fun!
The long and the short of it is that attending ASIF is like summer camp for adults. You make new friends, you experience new highs, you get to see some of the best performers in the world at the height of their game, and you get to experience Juneau, Alaska in a way that you truly will never be able to experience outside of the festival. It’s magical. It’s personal. It’s beautiful.
The Alaska State Improv Festival – the best festival I’ve ever attended! There, I said it.
Mike Brown
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Festival Spotlight – West Coast Musical Festival

The West Coast has it’s first dedicated festival to the musical improv arts and it’s in San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I had a chance to interview the Executive Producer of the festival Gemma Bulos here is what she had to say:

Tell what inspired you to create The West Coast Musical Improv Festival

As far as the Bay Area community, in recent years, musical improv started to get more popular and we just hit that tipping point and all of a sudden it exploded! Where only a few improv troupes were doing musical improv, now every Bay Area improv dojo is offering their own unique voice to the genre.

As far as Un-Scripted Theater Company, musical improv has always been part of the fabric of Un-Scripted. Every year we would have at least 2 musical shows and they were often the most popular. We’ve even done an all-musical season, and have created many original styles of musical improv, focusing on full-length improvised musicals in a variety of genres. Some favorites included A Tale of Two Genres (improvised Dickens genre mashup), Shakespeare: The Musical, and The Great Puppet Bollywood Musical. We’d performed at musical festivals in NY with the Magnet, at the SF Improv Festival, and it felt like the time was ripe to start celebrating our rich musical improv community in the Bay Area and around the country!

What can improvisors who submit expect from the festival?

It’s our first year, so we’ll have lots of local talent, since this may be the first time we all come together as a Bay Area community to celebrate musical improv. And of course we’ll invite musical improv pioneers and welcome national talent so we can share the love!

Will there be any workshops?

Yes, all the workshops will be musical improv. We’ll have national and local talent! Stay tuned! Also, we’re accepting submissions for workshop leaders.

What are you looking for in a musical improv group that submits?

Again, this is our first year, it’s been exciting to start exploring what we want our festival to feel like. We’ve been getting great advice from other festival producers who have been so generous with their wisdom. We’re looking for variety, uniqueness, playfulness, innovation, and fun fun fun! (Not in that order and not all at the same time!)

Tell us about the venue you’re performing in.

The venue is the Un-Scripted Theater just blocks from Union Square! For out of towners, it’s just minutes from the BART, right on the trolley line, and easy access to all the wonderful things our City by the Bay has to offer.

San Francisco is such a wonderful city. What are some things you recommend improvisors do while they’re there?

They should absolutely check out the active improv scene in SF, like our sister theaters BATS, Leela, and Endgames. There are tons of fun touristy things to do, like taking a cable car (leaving from Market St. near the theater and heading to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39), riding a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, and learning about S.F. history via free walking tours all over the city! Some local websites that can help you find offbeat activities include Broke-Ass Stuart, FunCheap SF, 7×7, and The Bold Italic.

If you’re a musical improv troupe you can submit HERE.


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.

Review of the Improvamonium in Rochester, NY

We reached out to our community to get some feedback on festivals. Here is a review of Improvamonium in Rochester, NY by attendee Ron Williams:

This festival was awesome! First, it was free to register. All you had to do was find a way to get to RIT. They put you on the poster for the event, so it makes your team feel super official. After arriving and finding the building (it started to snow on the way up), we were very happy to get 26 minutes to perform a set. A lot of the talent was local, and we were the only team from NYC. The college crowds are very receptive, and it was easily one of the best shows we’ve ever done.

Where to Stay: There is a hotel right next to RIT.

Where to eat: Plenty of bars right next to campus with burgers.

Overall, I’d do it again if the rest of my team wanted to. It was well run and the auditorium was huge (had to be over 200 seats).

 

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.

Guest Blog: Improv is My Therapy Part 1

There is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence on how improvisation helps people. Many of us have firsthand experience on how improvisation has changed our lives and have probably heard similar stories from others in the community. Improvisation is also used in corporate workshops and in drama therapy as a way of teaching skills that are useful for increasing workplace effectiveness or dealing with mental illness. As an individual who teaches psychology and does improv, sometimes I wonder why improvisation seems such an effective tool for improving the lives of individuals. In what I hope to be the beginning of a series of articles (note my optimistic “Part I” in the title), I will begin by discussing why “Yes, And” is therapeutic by drawing comparisons with similar psychotherapeutic concepts.

For many, the rule of “Yes, And” is the first tenet of improvisation that they learn. This phrase reminds us to first say yes, to agree with what the other person in the scene has said, and then show that we are agreeing by adding to that. While the temptation is often to go “No, But”, we learn over time that by saying yes and building something together, we create a much more enjoyable experience for ourselves and the audience.

Our desire to say “No, But” is usually related to control. Studies in social psychology tell us, we are fearful of things that we perceive to be foreign to us (such as the thoughts in someone else’s head), and trusting of the things that we perceive to be from us or similar to us (such as the thoughts in our own head). Improvisation is a frightening experience (as we often forget) in that we are coming to the stage with nothing prepared; this activates our fight-or-flight response and causes us to want to default to our primal settings. Our simple, anxious minds want to stick to what we tend to perceive as good, which is anything that we can control (i.e. the thoughts in our own head). Instead of trying to trust another person, we try to save ourselves. Improvisation teaches us to embrace and acknowledge our fear, but not to be controlled by it.

In psychology, we often refer to people’s perceptions of the amount of control they exert over their lives as their locus of control. Individuals with an internal locus of control believe that they have control over their life, while those with an external locus of control believe that their lives are controlled by external forces. To be healthy, an individual should be somewhere in the middle; it is important to be comfortable with not always controlling everything, but also to be aware of what one can control. Individuals with an internal locus of control benefit from Yes-Anding because they learn to accept what they can’t control (by saying “yes”); individuals with an external locus of control benefit because they learn that they have some control over their environment (by saying “and”).

Agreement is not a one-way street; not only are we agreeing with what our partner is saying, but they are agreeing with what we are saying. Carl Rogers, an influential American psychologist, developed the idea of unconditional positive regard. According to Rogers, a therapist should show unconditional positive regard to a patient, that is to say, no matter what a patient shares with their therapist, the therapist should show acceptance without negative judgment of the basic worth of the individual. On stage, we are asked to show unconditional positive regard to our teammates, and that can be very therapeutic. We base our self-esteem partially on how we are viewed by others, and when our thoughts and ideas are supported and elevated to the level of comedy gold, we feel great about ourselves; we learn to trust our ideas. Being yes-anded reminds us that we are valuable, worthy, and wanted. Yes, And teaches us how to relinquish some of our need to control the world around us, to thrive even when we are fearful and uncertain, and to remember that we are individuals of worth and brilliance.

Guest Blogger and NIN Member Jeff Thompson

Jeff has been an improviser since 2002 and has studied at iO West, ComedySportz LA, Second City Hollywood, The Groundlings, Nerdist, and UCB LA.  He is also one of the producers of the Hollywood Improv Festival.

When not on-stage, he can be found teaching psychology, coaching teams, consulting for businesses, or playing video games.