Competition Or Collaboration?

You’ve started and improv group, your improv group has grown. You’re getting an audience, selling out the pizza parlor you’ve been performing at. It’s time to grow, so you get your own space and your own improv company. But what’s this, another group has done the same thing as you and have opened an improv theater in the same City…”NOOOOOOO! But there going to take my business!” “All the improvisors will perform and train there not here, all the audience will go see them, not us.”

As an owner and/or performer you’ve probably witnessed or have been a part of the above scenario. It happens in most cities. The new kid on the block comes in with their new theater and improv philosophy and you see it as a threat or don’t agree with their style.

It is my philosophy that improv cannot work in competition it has to work together…

How Corporations Work:

Corporate America is a results based system. Meaning they will do anything they can to get a bottom line and make more money for their investors and their executives. It’s a shitty system. We all have seen it single handily destroy the America we once knew. Causing a huge rift between the class system. Corporations hand out pink slips and buy the competition or try and put them out of business. They most likely never work together. It’s a cut throat world and everything needs to be cheaper and make sure their labor costs are down. I’ve been in this world. I’ve seen in first hand.

How Improv Works:

Improv is an ensemble based system. Where a group of friends or strangers get together and collaborate and try to achieve a group mind. They encourage a yes and philosophy and bounce off the last thing said. Add information and heighten their fellow ensemble members idea. The growth is collaborative.

Now…How Improv Cannot be a Corporation.

Improv is not a corporation and it shouldn’t be treated as one. Improv business should be treated the same way as the philosophies of improv. You can’t have one or the other. Improv is a community that wants a home or many homes. Improvisors want to seek many philosophies and want to expand their artistic repertoire. Embrace this. Run your business like an improv ensemble. Accept the new improv theater that just opened down the street. Welcome them with open arms and give them advice if they ask for it. Remember the old days when someone moved into your neighborhood you brought them a pie. You don’t have to go that far, but brownies might be nice. 😉 Share information. Let them know the permit process might be hard and here’s an easier way to do it etc.  Don’t isolate them, you don’t have to believe in their philosophy over yours but you do have to accept them. Work together. Use your powers to raise awareness to the masses of improv.

Here’s an exercise: Count how many improv theater seats in your town, let’s say 500 and now see how many people you have in your city, say 200,000. There is no competition. You can easily work together to tap the potential audience market by raising awareness. All 500 seats will be filled every weekend.

Internally, run your business like an improv ensemble. Get feedback from your audience, your performers and your partners. This will only help you grow and become better. Bounce ideas off each other, add information and heighten. Listen, listen, listen. Throw your ego out the door.

The Improv Community:

I’ve traveled the country and have seen many different improv communities and have heard their stories of competition and not getting along, and I have had many improvisors and improv businesses come through Camp Improv Utopia and I have heard these stories too. I know this community. We are a community that wants to grow. Improvisors aren’t going to just train at one theater, they want to try as many as they can. And they should. You should embrace that. Not embracing that will ultimately scare them away from your community or close your theater off and put you on an island. Trust your community, listen, share  and grow together. That’s what an improvisor wants, that’s an improv community. That’s what makes us different then every group in the world.

Don’t let your business be guided by competition, let your business be guided by collaboration.

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

Improv Competition: Healthy or Unhealthy?

17765_512x288_manicured__qnem5coi9kc5pxt8mjzdpa1Okay, so over the years I’ve received multiple e-mails, facebook posts, invitations and so on about voting for a specific team or theatre to either win an “improv award”, win “the best comedy theatre in (Name of City here) or come to their cagematch and vote for their team. I’d like to share a few thoughts on this:

Vote for My Theatre as Best Comedy Club in (Enter City Here)

I see this all the time, and somebody reading this probably has a theatre that has won it and is listed in their local newspaper as the champions of comedy in their city. I recently asked a good friend of mine, who won the award, if there was any benefit to winning it. Did they get any new audience? What did they get? He said, “No new audience, but they offered us a discount for advertising.” So let me ask you this, is it worth the time to clog up your social and theatre marketing, scrounging for votes to be listed? Will scrounging for these votes drive people away from your social media page? If you’re asking for votes that you’re the best comedy club in your city, does that mean you really are? Votes don’t equal great shows right? And if your Uncle, who has never been to a show votes for you is that a fair and honest practice?

Vote for my team for an Improv Award

Okay, this one kind of drives me a little crazy. If people like your team and your team’s work, they will nominate or vote for you, right? Wouldn’t it mean more to win knowing that each week you put on a great show and you had people that wanted to nominate or vote for you? If you win because a ton of your friends, who might even be in other cities and have never seen your show, voted for you and you walk up to the podium is that basically like rigging an election? I say win on merit and hard work not marketing for votes. Case in point, the Del Close Awards nomination submissions in Los Angeles have recently gone up, and when they did all I got was barrage of “Nominate my group for best team.” I’m okay with a little awareness of this awards ceremony as it is all in good fun, but when it becomes a campaign for votes it takes the fun out of it and takes the merits of the show away. Shouldn’t we want to win on our talent and merit? Should we even have Improv Awards?

Team Vs. Team: The Cagematch

Most every theatre has some sort of competitive improv competition, such as The Cagematch. This is where two improv teams square off onstage in an all out improv battle to the death. The rules are two teams do a show and the audience votes for the winner. That’s that thing, you see each team brings a billion of their friends and they vote for them and whoever has the most friends wins. It’s great for the theatre because it packs the house and that’s good, theatres like packed houses and that’s why Cagematches are popular. My friend and improvisor Kevin McShane from the long-running iO house team Trophy Wife once brought up a question, “Is there anyway we can just pack the house without doing a competition to get people there?” Me, I’m not a big improv competition guy, but I see why theatres do it. It gets people in the doors, buying drinks and it’s usually people that don’t watch improv as much. But what are you really winning as a team? I’ve seen shows where CLEARLY team A won, but team B brought more people so they ended up winning. I know life isn’t fair, but it just seems like a strange practice. In my earlier years in improv I did The Cagematch and I remember winning and knowing we had such a bad show compared to the other but still won. We felt awful. We felt ashamed. It was almost like you couldn’t look the other team in the face because they knew they had a stellar show and that our show was just average to bad.

In the end, I’m not for or against these practices and I see pros and cons to both, but I’m interested to see what everyone thinks about improv competition, is it healthy for the art or unhealthy, is it a necessary evil? We don’t have discussions set up on our site yet, but feel free to comment on Twitter and Facebook your thoughts on Improv Competition. I’d love to hear what you think!

About Nick Armstrong:

Nick is an Actor, Improvisor and Writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick is currently on AMC’s Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Parks and Recreation. Recently, Nick received a development deal for a TV Show he created for A&E.

Onstage Nick has trained at The Groundlings and iO West. You can catch him performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA’s Longest and Critically Acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. Nick has taught improv at iO West, Westside Comedy Theatre and has done workshops all over the country.

Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want!

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