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.
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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hit next and you go deeper down the rabbit hole.

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

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

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

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

And that’s it. Moving along.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOAPBOX

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

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

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

END SOAPBOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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-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.

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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.

 

 

Getting to the Point

An improv theatre is getting ready to open in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That alone is cause to celebrate. But the story here is pretty remarkable. And they could also use some help from the improv community. So check out their video and then read up on the quick interview I got to do with Jason Tomalia


Michigan has a long history of improv, but never really in Ann Arbor. Which is surprising. For non Michigan folks. Tell us a little bit about Ann Arbor and why it’s a town so in need of improv.

It did have a successful improv theater downtown for a while called Improv Inferno. I won’t pretend to know all the ins-and-outs of why it closed, but I can tell you it wasn’t because they were having a hard time drawing an audience.

Ann Arbor is a university town. There is a solid music scene and the University of Michigan even has a division devoted to musical improv. We’d like to have a stage that embraces improv in all its forms. Ann Arbor is also a counter-culture hub that thrives on questioning and challenging everything. Satire is a natural fit and improv is a medium that allows for pushing boundaries with topical and relevant material.

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Jason Tomalia

That said, there is improv all around the state. How have you been connecting with the other great performers and festivals in your state?

I have been active with the improv community in Detroit and did some volunteer work with the Detroit Improv Festival the last couple of years. I have a good relationship with the folks at Go Comedy! and we are working with Gary Lehman who heads up Go U (Go Comedy’s improv training program). Gary is also a performer and director who is well connected to the Detroit improv scene.

I am taking time to get out and watch other performers and groups. We will be inviting established groups in to perform on Fridays and Saturdays, so I will be continually looking to connect with groups from all over the state and beyond.

Tori and Jason will obviously be involved. Who are the rest of your ensemble? How did you come together?

I already mentioned Gary. Mike Fedel also teaches improv in the Ann Arbor area and has a connection to the improvised music scene and he is a musician himself. Meriah Sage is a counterpart to Tori and provides depth to our Saturday Family Series goals as well as creative dramatics for kids, which is essentially a precursor to improv. She is also an outstanding director, designer, and marketing guru. All of us have ties to Eastern Michigan University.
We will be forming our cast of Pointless improvisers (you like that?) through auditions and they will be pivotal in creating our improv, sketch shows, and array of other offerings.

We truly want to embrace a spirit of cooperation so we will be reaching out to others (theaters and individuals), but I don’t want to say too much because nothing has been finalized. (I know, mystery, right?)

Tori Tomalia

Tori Tomalia

When you faced a crossroads, you decided to make the world a little better. Why improv? What has it given to you in your life? How do you hope to share that with the world?

Oh, wow. Why not improv? What hasn’t it given to my life?

Just before Tori’s diagnosis, she was making a name for herself through teaching and directing at EMU and I was getting more connected to the improv scene in Detroit. After the news, I tried to maintain a level of normalcy and continue on, but I had to draw back and process our new reality. I fully relied on skills gained through improv, i.e. accepting change as fuel and going where the scene takes you. The experience has driven home the notion that life is one big improv set with the stakes constantly being heightened. It is up to us to find a way to cope, to “yes, and” and carry on.

Improv has helped me grow and become a better person in so many ways. It has given me an ability to dig down deep, trust my instincts, and find solutions. It has provided a safe place to truly question and it forces you to empathize. Improv builds confidence and character. It has taught me how to have someone’s back and trust in others to have yours. Okay, improv mixed with Tai Chi, meditation, and theatre experience.

Life is improv and improv is life. Conversation is the most natural form of improv. We all do it, everyday. To take that and turn it into a theatrical experience is totally awesome, and super scary. I think the scary part is also a draw. Fear gets in my way all the time. It is what has held me at plateau points with my own improv. It has kept me from making bold moves. Fear has kept me on the back line. The funny thing is that I say fear has done this, but really it’s just me letting the fear have control. Improv is scary, or at least it can be. We grab a suggestion and go. Who knows where we’ll end up? A group’s chosen form hardly guarantees success and can be a hindrance. Improv has taught me to take a deep breath and jump. It will work out. We will find a way to make it work. That’s a good note for life in general. Am I babbling? I should probably shut up. Whatever. The skills I’ve learned through improv have made it easier to cope with my wife’s cancer, have made me a better dad, and have given me the ability to tackle difficult times with a sense of calmness, strength, and belief that we can make the seemingly impossible a little more doable. Improv has also instilled a strong desire to live with honesty, empathy, compassion, kindness, and love. These are the values we teach our kids. These are also values that help strengthen communities. Okay, we’ll call that good. I’ll shut up now before I write a book.

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One beautiful thing about improv is that each theatre can pursue their own passion. You’re passion about life is clear from your video. What kind of improv really motivates you? What will Pointless be sharing with the rest of the improv world?

I love long form improv. I love the story structure and the freedom to go anywhere and create anything. Don’t get me wrong, I love short form too, but long form is my true passion. I love satire, as well as social and political commentary. I want our improv to be fun and funny, who doesn’t, but I also want it to question and challenge.

OK, so craft beer. What makes yours delicious?

I brew with love. This may sound cheesy, but I approach beer like improv. Beers have styles, just like sets have forms. Think of a Harold like an IPA. Strong aroma, hoppy, and you’ll probably love it or hate it. There is little in between. Anyway, there are specific elements and points you are trying to hit with various styles of beer, but it is always the brewer that adds their own twist on the recipe. Go out and buy three or four different IPA’s, stouts, porters, lagers, or whatever and sample them along side of each other. There will be differences even within the same style. The same is true of improv forms and groups.

We will be brewing on a small system so that we can take audience suggestions and develop new recipes on a constant basis. This means that even our “go-to” beers will have some slight variation from batch to batch. I look at this as good. Grains and hops are slightly different from year to year. I say embrace it. I’m not interested in modifying ingredients to make sure that each and every time we brew the same recipe it tastes exactly the same as it did before. It will be damn close. To the point that most won’t notice the subtle differences, but the avid consumer will be able to say things like, “oh, this has more citrus notes than the last batch.” There are improv groups that I’ve seen tons of times. Their sets are always different, but almost always delicious… uh, I mean entertaining.

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Pointless can only grow. How do you want to see it blossom? What impact are you hoping to have on the community?

Initially blossoming will entail the addition of sketch comedy shows, a college team night, music-based improv, group events, and web content (shorts, web series, etc.). I also want us to get into feature length film/video projects, both improv based and fully written material.

We would love to add a larger brewing system in the future where we could brew and distribute our favorite beers. I also want to do tribute beers to all the improv greats, e.g. Viola Spolin, David Shepherd, Paul Sills, Del Close, Dudley Riggs… Honestly, we could have a tap dedicated to beers inspired by improvisers all over. Think about a beer that honors the intensity of a Mick Napier, or the fun-loving quirkiness of Jill Bernard. Oh, man, great people, great beers.

We will want our classes and workshops up and running as soon as possible (when our doors open, if not before), but that will be another offering. I’d like our school to become the premiere place in the Ann Arbor area for training in improv and writing. I’d also like to see our performers build a body of work while they are with us. I would love to see our little pocket of the country become a powerhouse in the realm of improv and new media offerings.

Our family lives in the neighborhood where we are opening our business. We have a vested interest in making this community stronger for all who live here. My goal is not to become a millionaire, if that is a side effect then cool, but my goal is to provide for my family and give back to the community in any way we can. I firmly believe that businesses have a responsibility to the communities they serve. I know that we want to have events that align with the values I mentioned earlier. I will figure out a way to give to lung cancer research. I ultimately want to find a way to create financial opportunities for improvisers. It gets hard to work for free, so I want to be forward thinking on devising ways to make sure improvisers are compensated for their time, energy, and hard work.

To wrap up, I thought about being a doctor when I was younger, but my heart wouldn’t let me get too far away from the arts. When I was a kid, I was doing an improvised one-man baseball game and shows with my cousins in my back yard for my mom and grandma. I knew this was going to be my life. I devoted my adulthood to theatre. B.A. in theatre, M.F.A in creative writing, an M.A. in theatre with an emphasis in improv, a diploma in improv/sketch writing from the Brave New Institute, and a diploma in improv from GoU. When we went through the intense pregnancy with our twins, my son’s surgery, and then my wife’s diagnosis and subsequent treatment, I wished I had become a doctor. Then I realized that I had chosen the profession that helps people find meaning and peace through the tough times. Comedy helps us cope with the harsh realities of life. The importance of play is highly underemphasized. I am at my best when I keep things light, funny, and don’t take myself too seriously. I want to give that back to my community and offer skills that will help people tackle issues with new eyes. We need to be willing to work together, and more importantly, play together in order to make cool things happen.

To support Pointless, you can head over to their Kickstarter for the next two weeks.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the book biographical, instructional a little of both?

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

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

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

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

What do you hope improvisors get out of your book?

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

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

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

Is this book for improvisors of all levels of experiences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where can we purchase the book?

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

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

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

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Nick Armstrong

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

 

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