Steps Towards Inclusion or “How to Run A Comedy School or Theater and Not Be an Asshole”

Wow, 2020 has not been kind to theaters.  First, many have had to close because of a pandemic (but good job on putting human lives before profit).  And now, another ugly underside of the comedy and theater community is being revealed.

Yeah, there’s something worse than me out there right now. It’s racism.

Being inclusive is not a destination. It is something that a community must continue to work on.

Now, this article is about the current situation regarding race and a response to the history of racism in America, so some of the language will be race specific.  Laurel James has already done a great job tackling gender-equality and trans-inclusivity in this article: “How to Make Your Improv Theater More Trans Friendly”, so please also check out that article as well.  Also, they spoke recently with Aaron Mosby (Washingon Improv Theater) about inclusion.

So here are some things to consider:

(1) Can you and the other members of the team acknowledge that you contribute to systemic racism?

I’m a cishet, Black man and I know that my actions (even despite the best of intentions), contribute to the systemic oppression of other people.  Now, I’m definitely not a racist, but in order to create a safe space, I have to be anti-racist.

Don’t let this guy charm you, he’s got male privilege.

If your team cannot acknowledge their potential biases towards others based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ability, or religion… then you’re going to have a very hard time making your theater a more inclusive space.  Just because you’re not screaming the n-word at every Black student who decides to sign up for a class, doesn’t mean that you’ve created a safe space for students.  You are both defined by what you do and what you don’t do.

And when a person from a disadvantaged group brings up a problem that they have, are you really listening to their complaint?  Or are you sweeping it under the rug?  More on that in a bit.

(2) Do you have performers from a variety of backgrounds, and do you avoid tokenism?

I have heard of improv troupe auditions where directors and coaches have pre-determined slots of minorities.  The conversation might sound a little bit like this, “Okay, this guy is really good at characters so let’s put them on the team.  And this guy is a bit of a wild card, so we can also put him on the team because he brings the energy.  And now we need to choose someone to bring a little color to the team.”  Hmm, can you tell what’s wrong with this situation?

Tokens. Great for Chuck E. Cheese, not great for your improv team.

This is the difference between not being racist and being anti-racist.  Weirdly enough, the most interesting thing about a minority is NOT the color of their skin.  If the only thing that you value about a person is their race, this is a problem.  Anti-racism involves actively fighting against tokenism and making sure that you are holding everyone to equal benchmarks.

(3) Does your staff (teaching, artistic, and managerial) represent your ideal student body?

There is a subconscious message that is sent to students and performers when your managerial staff is not diverse.  Put yourself, for a moment, in the shoes of a young Black man starting in the mail room of a company.  He sees other Black men in the mail room.  He even sometimes sees other Black men working the night janitorial shifts.  However, he doesn’t see any Black men (or women) who are C-level executives, or Vice Presidents, or… middle-management… and maybe just one who’s making $55k a year in a cubicle on the second floor.

No witty comment needed.

If I walk into your theater and I don’t see anyone that looks like me, I will immediately feel like I don’t belong.  This is a natural thing that our brains do, where we identify with people who we feel are similar to us.  If I can’t imagine myself on your stage or teaching a class, then I might be slightly less inclined to sign up for a class.

(4) How willing are you to accept feedback and admit that you are wrong or have been wrong in the past?

It’s hard to admit that you’re wrong.  Take it from me, I’m right almost all of the time, and so when I’m wrong, it really hurts!  Especially if something that I did hurt someone else.  But in those moments, it is important to listen to how you’ve hurt people and make the changes needed to be better in the future.  Digging your heels in and saying “Well, I can’t be racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic because _________” is a bad look.  Don’t do it.

Alcoholics Anonymous has got it right.  The first step is admitting that you have a problem.

(5) Do you tolerate intolerance?  If so, stop it!

This is easy (but it’s so hard for some people).  If I’m a male student, I shouldn’t make jokes that put down women.  If the teacher doesn’t say anything, then it tells the female students that sexism is okay!  If White students are making Black jokes, and the teacher doesn’t say anything, then the teacher is saying that racism is okay.

Comedy is not dead.  You can be funny without insulting people based on their genetics or heritage.  Imagine this:

A gorilla in a bespoke suit making copies.  The Xerox machine beeps an error message and the gorilla slams his hand on the Xerox machine, crushing it.  A giraffe in a tweed suit calls the gorilla into his office.  They sit awkwardly for a moment.  The giraffe says “This is the second Xerox machine this week, Mr. Macgregor, do you have anything to say for yourself?”  The gorilla stutters out an apology under his breath.  The giraffe says, “I know you’re hurting after the divorce.  But we’re all here.  Okay?  Everyone in this office cares about you.”  The giraffe gets up and hugs the gorilla, his neck wrapping around the gorilla’s body.  The gorilla returns the embrace, but the back of his suit tears.  They share a glance and start trashing the office together.  COMEDY

I’m… actually impressed that I was able to find a picture of a giraffe and gorilla on Google. And like… there were a few to choose from.

If you can’t be funny without being offensive, then just get better at comedy.

(6) Do you encourage your community to embrace diversity?

If only there were an artform based on multiple people meeting in the middle and building something together.  Like, where instead of saying no and pushing their own ideas, they were encouraged to say “Yes…” and then maybe something else.  I dunno.

Honestly, if you’ve been doing improv for years and you haven’t learned to be a more tolerant person and to embrace people’s differences and uniqueness, you’re not good at improv.  Come at me. 

I know what you’re thinking: “Jeff, but by not accepting people who are intolerant, aren’t you also being intolerant?”  Haha, okay… someone got a BA in philosophy.  The only thing that should never be embraced is hate.  So if your version of “diversity” is putting down other people instead of raising them up, then you’re not a good person.

Create a community where people are supported and raised up.  And don’t be afraid to get rid of toxic people.  Honestly, you’ll be so much happier.

(7) How educated are you on issues of race, sex and gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability?

Read a book.  Read an article.  Never stop reading.  I’m a professor of psychology, so I teach people about all of the -isms and -phobias for a living.  I still read articles, watch informative videos, engage in discussions, and understand that I still can be very wrong about things.  And also, the things that are okay now, might not be okay years from now!  Society changes!  Keep on learning!

(8) How aware are you of microaggressions?  And how can you be a better ally?

Have you ever had a stranger ask you to smile?  Have you ever had a stranger try and touch your hair or ask you how you “get it like that”?  Has a stranger ever asked you about what your genitals look like?  Have you ever been on a date and had someone tell you that you should be ashamed of yourselves for being in public?  Has someone ever told you that you’re one of the good ones (in reference to other people of you race)?  Or has someone told you that you’re not really a member of your race because you don’t act like a specific stereotype?  Has someone assumed that you could or could not do something because of a stereotype?  Have you ever been told that you speak English well?

It’s not fun.

The great philosopher Wikipedia defines a microaggresion as a “term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups.”  People from marginalized groups deal with these little indignities and microinsults all of the time. If you don’t know many people from those groups, you might not be aware that they deal with them constantly.  Listen, learn, educate yourself.  If you know what these are you can: (1) stop yourself from saying them and (2) catch others and call them out on saying them.

(9) How will you measure success?

Honestly, how will you?  What does a diverse team look like to you?  What does a diverse student body look like to you?  Have a specific goal and work towards it, and then once you’ve gotten there, make another goal.  This is not a destination; this is a journey of many parts.

(10) What can you do to address income inequality?

Individuals from marginalized groups often come from households with limited financial resources.  Payment plans, sliding-scale enrollment (where you offer individuals cheaper tuition), and full scholarships are all options for helping marginalized groups be a part of your theater.  Actors spend hundreds (often thousands) of dollars every year developing their craft, and unfortunately, not everyone has that luxury.  So we should all be thinking about how we can make art more accessible to everyone.

Also, maybe don’t have your free improv jams at 2am on a Tuesday night.  Some people have work in the morning.

(11) Are you leaving the fox in charge of the hen house?  And are you the fox?

Often the leadership of theaters and comedy schools is one individual who built the theater from the ground up (with a little bit of unpaid labor here and there) or a bunch of friends who got together and built something together.  As a result, the power of the institution is in the hands of a few people who are very unlikely to want to give it up or are unlikely to want to have the difficult conversation with their good friend of 8 years who keeps on asking out his students in the middle of class.

“Well, when the artistic director does it, that means that it is not illegal.” — Richard Foxin, Artistic Director of the Hen House Comedy Club

We can’t do it anymore.  Turning a blind eye to abuses of power is not okay.  Honestly, it never was, but it was just so much simpler to pretend like it wasn’t happening.

I’m not saying that it’s easy.  I’m not saying that any of this is easy.  But you know who has it harder?  The students and performers who had to deal with years of bullying and microaggressions, who worked hard to rise up the ranks of a school only to be told that they’re “difficult to work with,” which is often code for “not willing to tolerate abuse.”  It’s harder for the students who might skip a meal because comedy is their dream only to realize that the lessons that they learned in Improv 101 about supporting each other and having each other’s back is just an empty mantra that we slap on t-shirts.

Let’s be better.

Aaron Mosby on Building Anti-Racist Theaters

LAUREL: Welcome, Aaron! I’ve known you for a few years through the San Diego Improv Festival and I really admire you as a performer. Tell us a little bit about yourself!

AARON: My name is Aaron Mosby. I’m the Director of Consulting & Delivery at an IT services company called Avtex. The oldest of five, and I grew up in Atlanta, GA and Minneapolis, MN. I live with my girlfriend in New York, NY. 

I spent 10 years volunteering, teaching, and performing at Washington Improv Theater (WIT) in Washington, DC. During that time, I served as a member of the board for 5 years, 2 of which were spent as the board chair. 

LAUREL: Tell us about how you got started at Washington Improv Theater. 

AARON: I saw my first show at WIT in 2006 and got seriously involved in the theater in summer 2009. I had just been laid off from a job which gave me the opportunity to take 2 week-long intensives. Shortly after, I started volunteering at the box office and working as a TA. After finishing the classes program in 2010, I began a program of becoming a teacher. In 2012, I began teaching and joined Nox, which would go on to become a house ensemble at WIT. In 2014, I joined the board of directors. After two terms, I stepped down, in part, because I moved to New York. 

LAUREL: How does WIT’s structure foster diversity? 

AARON: The core structural element that facilitates diversity at WIT is its non-profit status. WIT is a mission-driven organization that exists: “To unleash the creative power of improv in DC. To engage audiences with performances that exhilarate and inspire. To ignite the spirit of play in Washington with a revolutionary training program. To create a home for improv, connected to the life of the city.”

To meet this mission, WIT has to rely on diverse voices that make up Washington, DC. This drives WIT to have a city-wide strategy to get improv into as many hands as possible. This is woven into the classes program, which hosts classes in diverse locations around the city. It’s woven into the artistic programming that is proactively interested in making sure that audience members see themselves represented on stage. It’s woven into the board of directors that is as diverse as the city itself. 

LAUREL: How has WIT’s structure and mission statement helped them navigate issues in the past? 

AARON: WIT is accountable to the community it has helped to create throughout the city. In 2017, the improv community in the DC metro area called for accountability on diversity in the improv community. WIT released a detailed report of the people who worked for the organization, including the board of directors, full-time staff and teachers, and the people who made up performance ensembles, including players and directors. In addition, they created a public tracker of these data points that can be assessed and reviewed by the community at any time. WIT also opened up the theater space for a town hall discussion that gave everyone in the community a chance to share ideas on ways WIT could create more inclusive opportunities. 

LAUREL: Do you think large, for-profit theaters can uplift diverse voices as well as smaller nonprofits can? 

AARON: I believe there is a way for for-profit theaters to uplift diversity, but it has to be baked into every aspect of how the theater is run. Building a diverse space is an on-going effort that must be continually attended to to drive desired outcomes. This will also likely include additional investment in unique marketing campaigns that communicate to diverse audiences who may not otherwise be engaged in traditional marketing channels. 

LAUREL: What advice would you give to someone opening up a new theater?

AARON: Be intentional about the people you partner with to bring your theater into being. Partner with people who are truly passionate about what improv can do to improve a person’s life and the community. 

Have a mission worthy of the art from. Improv is built on spontaneous and fervent agreement. Improv encourages us to trust more and fear less. These foundations uproot engrained human behaviors and open up a space for connecting to other people that is rarely experienced. Improv should be spread as far and as wide as we can spread it. 

Finally, remember that great improv is about relationships, not transactions. For improv to thrive, you have to build a community.

How to Make Your Improv Theater More Trans Friendly

In improv, we aim to create an all-inclusive community of diverse people who come together to create something that disappears as quickly as it was created. It’s beautiful and by its very nature, those diverse voices are essential to creating unique and dynamic work. I want to talk about ways we can make our community safer for transgender and gender non-conforming people.

I’m a trans and non-binary person, but I’ve been improvising since before I had the language to describe my experience of gender. My understanding of myself has shifted, but in the years I’ve been improvising, few changes have been made in the community to make our theaters easier to navigate for trans people. Most of the changes I’m suggesting are cheap and easy to adopt, but could significantly improve the climate of our theaters. Check cosmetic surgeon specializing in ear surgery in Minneapolis when you want cheap and quality surgery.

Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

One way to make your theater safer for transgender people is to do away with “men’s” and “women’s” restrooms and opt for gender-neutral ones instead. A survey conducted in 2015 by the National Center for Transgender Equality showed that 59% of transgender people had avoided using a public restroom in the past year, and that 24% had been verbally harassed or had their gender challenged. That study doesn’t even begin to touch on the experiences of restroom related violence that is all too familiar to trans people. Public restrooms are one of the most unsafe places for transgender people, largely because they are broken down into men’s and women’s – a binary system that best protects those who adhere most strongly to gender roles.

You can instead opt for gender-neutral signs on your restrooms. Some cities already require a single-occupant, gender-neutral restroom in all businesses, but it’s not widely mandated. Instead of men’s and women’s signs, you can replace both with a sign that says “Unisex” or “Both” or “We don’t care. Just wash your hands.” This option works especially well for theaters that have single occupancy restrooms.

For restrooms with multiple stalls, it’s slightly trickier. In some states, it’s required that theaters have both a men’s and a women’s restroom. Heck, some buildings are just built that way. In this case, you could use a small sign near your restrooms to indicate that your patrons should use whichever space makes them most comfortable. Something like: “Presently, our restrooms are labeled men’s and women’s, but we encourage you to use whichever restroom makes you feel most comfortable. If you experience any problems, please talk to our staff. Thank you.” It’s short, sweet, and lets trans and gender non-conforming people know the theater’s management is there to support them, despite unfavorable laws. Avoid language like, “use whichever restroom fits your gender identity” because it ignores gender non-conforming and non-binary identities who don’t identify with either the men’s or women’s option.

Share Pronouns

When you’re all learning each other’s names at the beginning of a new improv class, ask for pronouns as well! Pronouns are just words we use in place of names, so it only makes sense that we would share them with each other as part of introductions. If you’re feeling extra fancy, you could add a place to give your pronouns in your online class sign-up forms – that way they show up on rosters automatically. Just be sure that if someone gives you a different pronoun from the one they listed in their signup sheet, you honor the ones they shared with the class.

Names and pronouns should be relearned at the beginning of every new class or level. This allows people the opportunity to share new pronouns they might be using. Identities change and the words we use to describe ourselves change along with them! All of this advice goes for the formation of new house teams, new staff members, etc. – names and pronouns once again! It’s a good habit to get into.

In my experience, when you ask a class to share their pronouns, at least one person won’t know what that means. That’s ok! I like to say, “Pronouns are the words we could use instead of your name. Like, she, or he, or they.” There are more pronouns than just those three, but that usually gets the point across quickly. If not, you can give an example in a sentence. It’s ok if someone doesn’t understand pronouns or why it’s important. We’re all adjusting to a new culture surrounding gender! It’s rewarding to lend a hand to improvisers who are feeling a little left behind.

Lastly, people will make pronoun mistakes. Teachers, students, staff, audience members. It happens. In my experience, the best way to fix it is to correct them in the moment and move on immediately. No one should be shamed for making a mistake, but it’s also important not to make trans people feel guilty for insisting that everyone honor their pronouns. I once had an improv teacher who stopped referring to me or giving me feedback in class because she was too caught up in trying to get my pronouns correct. I’d rather that she mess up than have my identity impact my experience of the class.

Pronouns Should Be Listed on Staff Name Badges

If your staff and teachers wear name badges, their pronouns should be listed below their name. This prevents people from being misgendered while working and shows your theater’s commitment to gender inclusivity.

Ditch Gendered Terms

Replace “guys” with “folks” or “friends.” Replace “ladies and gentlemen” with “everybody.” A lot of times, especially with English, we’re forced to use gendered language that excludes some groups. This isn’t just for transgender and gender non-conforming people; I’d bet cis* women have felt alienated by these words, too!

Sounds nitpicky? I get it! I grew up in southern California, where it’s routine to call everyone dude, so this one was a little hard for me. Language is inherently gendered. If this switch feels tough to do, it’s because you’ve spent your entire life using language that alienates certain genders. The only way to change it is to start with the words we opt for on a daily basis. It’s tough, but at the end of the day, making your community feel included should matter more to you than cool slang you picked up as a kid.

Sell Gender-Neutral Merchandise

This one’s small, but if your theater sells shirts you don’t need to label them men’s and women’s. Instead, opt for “crew neck” and “scoop neck” or “t-shirt” and “fitted shirt.” Small, but everything counts.

Have a Clearcut Discrimination Policy

When a student signs up for a class or a new staff member is brought on board, they should be asked to sign a discrimination policy and a sexual harassment policy. These policies should be zero tolerance, and should detail the consequences for harassment and discrimination of any kind. You can have a lawyer draft this policy, but if you’re looking for some inspiration, I like HUGE Theater’s. You can find it on their website, and I especially like theirs because they’ve made a clear protocol that allows students and staff to report harassment and transphobia to a third party for investigation.

These are just a handful of ways improv theaters can be better toward their transgender students, patrons, and staff. I haven’t even touched on the world of inclusion initiatives and scholarships. There are a million things to be done, but it’s a start. Thank you for reading and valuing the safety and diversity of our community.

Thanks,

Laurel Posakony

they/them

(See? It’s that easy!)

*Cis is short for cisgender, which refers to anyone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.

What I’ve Learned, So Far, as an Artistic Director

October was my official one year anniversary as Artistic Director for M.I.’s Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica, CA. It’s been an amazing learning experience. You see, there are tons of books on how to do improv, maybe too many now, but there’s not a book about how to be an Artistic Director. It’s like only other AD’s can pass their stories down from generations past, much like the Native Americans did passing on their stories on and on to preserve their history. I know this blog might not interest a lot of you, I’m sure there are only a handful of AD’s in the world that specifically run comedy theaters. But I want improvisers to see the insides a little bit and show you what’s up in the business end of things. Here are some observations, advice I’ve learned over my year as AD:

  1. It’s rewarding! You get to see the growth of many of your performers. It’s an honor to help artists reach their full potential and seeing it is an amazing experience. You see novices turn into masters at playing the piano and actors shine brighter than the first first day they stepped onto the stage. I never get tired of it and it’s what keeps me going.
  2. It is a hard job. You have to cut troupes, players, your friends. This is a very hard thing to do, to e-mail or call a friend or performer to tell them you can not longer perform for now. This sometimes causes strains in friendships and with your performers.
  3. Professionalism – You find out, who is a professional and who is not, really fast. People who don’t show up for a show, are unorganized, flaky. You name it you’ll find them fast and have to deal with it.
  4. You’re the middle man! Yes, you’re the balance of the force. You are the liaison between the business itself and the artists that perform with you. You have to find compromise on a daily basis.
  5. You can’t please everyone – You’re dealing with a ton of personalities. Imagine you can’t even get your team of 8 to decide on a Monday rehearsal, imagine that with hundreds of people and having to get decisions made.
  6. Compromise – I’m not always right and some decisions I’ve made are not the best. But you have to make those mistakes so you can learn from them.
  7. You Should do this – You’ll hear this a lot. So what do you do? Listen, their could be a good idea in there. But know that most of the time the person saying “you should do this.” will not help you carry out that idea. Try to get them involved in helping with  the idea instead of just suggesting. I’ve actually found out when I was more forward about that and gave them tasks it worked.
  8. You hear more complaints then praise. Not that I’m looking for praise at all, but your job is to have a vision and direct a theater into that vision. Sometimes people have issues with that, again see 5 and 6 above. HA!
  9. Have a vision and communicate your vision – You can’t just be an admin. You have to have a vision on what you want done and how it fits with the theater. Communicate all your ideas and why you’re doing them with your community. To make sure the community is involved so they have a say.
  10. The Community – That’s what it’s all about. My community has surprised me on many levels and I’ve been doing this for years. At the end of the day you do it for them. They are awesome, deserving and most of the time do this for free. That’s one thing I will always remember when I go into the theater. My philosophy I’ve made with them, if you’re doing this for free you should be A. Be having fun and B. Learning something. If you’re not let’s talk and make sure you can accomplish those.
  11. Be Available – Don’t hide in an office, be available to talk to your community. I have an open door policy. I can be available for anyone in my community to give them notes, listen to what they have to say etc.
  12. Lead by example – Don’t ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do.

I’m sure their are a ton more little things I’ve learned along the way, but these are the pretty major ones I’ve learned and hopefully a little advice and an open door to see what your theaters owners or Artistic Directors go through. I’m pretty lucky to have a wonderful comedy community at The Westside Comedy Theater. They make my job worth it and they are a great group of people.

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

dont_think_twice

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.

Let’s Be Alpacas Together

For a group of people who pride themselves on never going on a script, we fall back into a lot of the same sayings over and over again; “Support Your Partner”, “Heighten the Game”, “Play to the Top of Your Intelligence”. We sometimes get into such vain repetition that we kind of forget what those words really mean, and also assume that those we’re saying it to will somehow understand exactly what we mean.

Around NIN circles, one of those sayings is “A rising tide lifts all boats”. Now, if you know me, you know I believe that to the core of my soul. But just because we say those words a lot doesn’t mean we can always back them up. We’ve become so confident that it is true, that we never really talk about that idea in a real clinical or analytical sense. Maybe we should.

Well, it turns out there is some math to support it. Some 18th Century Math to be specific. That kind of thing was all the rage among the prominent nerds of the 1760s. But I don’t think we want to go that far back today.

Instead let’s go back to 2008 and Dan Gilbert’s excellent Ted Talk.

If you haven’t watched his videos or read his book, they are absolutely filled with very straightforward ideas which are great tools for marketing your theatre or your festival. In fact, you should really watch his whole video here when you can. Each of his points could be the topic of a blog post (and if there’s interest, perhaps there will be.) But today, let’s just talk about one of them.(slightly altered to fit this post)

Thought Experiment

If you’re reading this you may live in a major city, or at least near one. I want you to think about that city and answer the following question. You can’t Google or research this answer. Simply answer.

Are there more dogs or alpacas within the city limits of the city you’re thinking of?

It’s not a trick question. You know the answer. It’s obviously dogs. You don’t need statistics to know that’s correct. But why do you know that?

You know that because you see dogs. There are dog parks. There are dog grooming centers. There are magazines about dogs. There are clearly lots of dogs in the city. That doesn’t mean there are no alpacas around. There probably are. Maybe in a zoo or in a farm somewhere. There just aren’t nearly the same number of dogs, or you’d know.

The brain is pretty smart. That kind of reasoning is how humans cope day to day with making informed decisions without firm hard statistics at every moment. It helps us make good decisions. But that part of the brain can also be hacked.

As few alpacas as there are in your city, there are probably even fewer Powerball millionaire winners. But it doesn’t feel like it, does it? Every week on the news, they show the newest winner. Every jackpot billboard has a picture of a winner. A different winner on every billboard. You start seeing Powerball winners. They must be real, because you see them. And the more Powerball winners you see, the more likely you are to get a Powerball ticket. Even if you’ve never bought a lottery ticket. I’ll bet you thought about it more than you thought about getting an alpaca. Tell me I’m wrong.

The truth is, people make decisions based on familiar things. When I am hanging with my troupe and we think about grabbing a bite, pizza is an option. Because pizza places are everywhere. When I visited Vancouver last month and we talked about where to eat, people suggested grabbing donairs because there are donair joints everywhere in Vancouver. You know why we don’t consider that in Phoenix? Because no one I know has ever heard of a donair. There is actually a Canadian donair places within short driving distance of me. I just never saw it. And even if I saw it before, I probably wouldn’t have gone in because it wasn’t familiar. Pizza must be good or there wouldn’t be pizza places everywhere.

We’re Alpacas

If you own an improv theatre, if you run a festival, if you have a troupe: You, my friend, are an alpaca in your town. Improv is growing faster than it ever has. People know it beyond just a TV show now. Some day we’ll be ferrets. Some day we’ll be goldfish. And I know someday, we’ll be adorable puppies. But today? We’re alpacas. It’s OK. Own it.

When the people in your town think of getting a pet. They think about getting a dog. When they think about going out. They think about going to a movie. Advertising your shows, fliering the local record store, putting a poster up on that community board? It’s not enough. The people who see those fliers know that you have it in your mind to do improv. Big whoop. It doesn’t mean it’s worth their time. That attitude is not going to change as long as you’re the only improv flier they ever see.

There are more improvisors in your town than there are alpapacas. There are way more improvisors in your town than there are Powerball winners. There are probably more troupes and theatres in your town than there are Powerball winners. So act like it. Put that face out to the people of your city. Let them see a different improv troupe when they turn the corner. Let them know about what the guys across town are doing. Put up a poster for the festival being put on by the people you only talk to three times a year.

There are still so few of us out there, people don’t know we’re here. Why in God’s name would you hide that fact by not promoting shows around town that are not your own? Show your city that improv is worth doing. Show your city that improv is worth seeing. Invite those people to join a real true improv community. Because if you do, they will. It’s not just a warm fuzzy thought, it’s solid business sense.

So yeah, a rising tide lift all boats. But that tide doesn’t just appear from nowhere. That tide is the people of your city and they will lift you up. But you have to let them see the boats.


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. And he wants to give a special shout out to Jeter’Z, NCT Phoenix, Chaos Comedy and ImprovMania who make the greater Phoenix area an place of improv.

Marketing & Social Media for Theater Owners

What Is Marketing and Why Should I Do It?

Hello fellow improvisors with marketing dreams!

My name is Andrea, and I’m an improviser by night and a marketer by day. After talking to the wonderful Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder at Camp Improv Utopia, we mutually realized that a lot of theater owners are asking questions about how to better utilize their marketing and social media tools. Don´t forget to read your king kong digital marketing reviews before you get started.

I won’t pretend to be a marketing expert, but I will do my best to provide advice and tools in this post (and in future posts) on a subject that I spend 8 hours a day thinking about.

This will hopefully be the first in a series of posts on how to bring together all your different and wonderful marketing ideas in order to accomplish your goals and to help your theater and your community flourish.

The Definition of Marketing for Theater Owners

Before we talk about the ins and outs of marketing, we should start by discussing the definition of marketing. I know this will be a review for many of you as I see so many theaters doing so many great things already, but it’s good to get everyone started on the same page.

There are numerous definitions for the term ‘marketing’ these days because the word marketing has become somewhat of a buzz word and any buzz word’s meaning tends to get lost in the cloud of the buzz. Here, for example, is a definition from Wikipedia that abruptly and concisely defines the term:

“Marketing is about communicating the value of a product, service or brand to customers or consumers for the purpose of promoting or selling that product, service, or brand.”

And while I think definitions like this are certainly factually correct, these definitions simultaneously glaze over the most important aspect of marketing: the human connection. Yes, marketing is about communicating the value of a product to a consumer, but more than that, marketing is about making a genuine human connection between your business(you) and another person.

I think a more accurate definition of marketing is the following,

“I believe passionately that good marketing essentials are the same. We all are emotional beings looking for relevance, context and connection.” – Beth Comstock Senior Vice President and CMO of General Electric and overseer of the founding of Hulu.

What does this definition mean? It means that every time you market your theater you should be thinking about three things.

  1. Is what I’m promoting genuinely relevant to my audience (consumers) and/or am I marketing to the right audience?
  2. In what context does it make the most sense to share this information with my audience? (e.g. social media, press releases, flyers)
  3. Is the way in which I’m sharing this information helping me to make a genuine connection with my audience in the sense that they are feeling good about the relationship they have with my business.

The third tier is perhaps the trickiest because it’s the mistake I see businesses make the most. Your first priority when marketing is not to make your business look good. Your first priority is to make other people feel good about themselves in relation to your business. The distinction is small but important because it’s the difference between shouting, “my business is great,” into an empty room, and genuinely saying, “You are great, and my business is greater because of you,” to an actual person.

Everything you do when marketing should first and foremost be about making other people (your consumers) feel significant and in turn your business will look better. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t deliver a good product (a good product is the root of everything), but it does mean that when you’re promoting your theater you should be thinking about how your products (shows, classes, etc.) are good for others and not how they’re good for your business. If you can remember to ask yourself the above three questions any time you are marketing your theater, you will likely be on the right track to creating a healthy long term relationship with your audience.

Different Types of Marketing for Theater Owners

Since marketing is founded on promoting your business through human connection, it can be comprised of almost anything. However, ‘anything’ isn’t helpful in making definite decisions about how to progress your business, so here is a basic breakdown of some of the more popular types of marketing that may be relevant to small business owners. The terms below are split up for clarification but very often overlap and work together. I will discuss these at further length in future posts.

Online Marketing – Promoting your theater on the internet via online banners, ads, search marketing, email marketing, etc.

Search Marketing – Driving consumers to your website when they do an internet search (through search engines such as Google) via paid or unpaid methods.

Email Marketing – Directly marketing to current or potential customers via email.

Public Relations – Strategically promoting your business to the public in a positive way. This often includes press & media outreach.

B2B Marketing – Marketing as one business selling to another business. This is relevant for theater owners in things such as corporate workshops.

Partner Marketing – Teaming up with another organization in order to promote both businesses for your mutual benefit. An example of this might be two theaters teaming up together or theaters bringing in outside performers or businesses that have complimentary agendas.

Influencer Marketing – Marketing to key individuals who are highly influential in your community who then further market your product for you.

Grassroots Marketing – Targeting small groups in various, creative ways and hoping it will spread to larger audiences.

Social Media Marketing – Reaching out to your audience through Social Media channels via paid or unpaid methods.

Sales Marketing – Following up with consumers in a personalized way to help them purchase a given a product (i.e. a class).

Content Marketing – Creating content to attract people to your business or content that your audience can interact with. Examples of this would be specific images, blog posts, or interactive tools or training.

Direct Mail Marketing – Advertising through standard mail. This can be used to promote your theater to locals in your city.

Word of Mouth Marketing – As opposed to organic word of mouth, actively pursuing businesses and influencers to spread the word about your business.

Why Is Marketing Important for a Theater Owner: Making People Feel Significant

I think the most obvious reason that marketing is important for theater owners is that good marketing can drive people to your theater. Whether you’re trying to fill the seats for a show or get more students into the classroom, good marketing can be the force that helps your theater to grow.

What I also think is interesting and that I’d like to follow up on from earlier is the importance of making people feel significant when you’re marketing to them. Think about a given student you have in your theater that LOVES your theater. Then think about the reason why that student loves your theater. Likely you have given this student a really incredible experience. You’ve given him an awesome class, a great community to be a part of, a caring teacher, and more. Now this student can’t wait to tell his friends about his experience. You’ve nurtured this student in what was probably a very natural way because most improvisors are such caring people.

Now think about what would happen if you marketed from a similar point of view. If through your marketing you made people feel incredible about an experience or potential experience. This is how you create long term followers and long term followers are what make your theater really grow. Because getting someone in your audience for a night is great, but getting someone in your audience every month for a whole year is much better.

This brings us back to the start of the importance of building a connection with your audience and community. These connections, whether they be through a simple email or a face-to-face talk, can be what inevitably make your theater not only the place to be but the place that people truly want to be.


San Diego based improvisor. Loves science fiction books and the show BoJack Horseman. Also enjoys eating food and drinking water and sometimes exercising. During the day time, she markets different things to different people.

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.
Teacher 20

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.

 

 

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