5 Ways an Improv Troupe Can Communicate Better

I get asked this a lot…How do we deal with someone in the troupe that is hard to work with? How do we kick someone off the team? Should we add new people? Should we get a coach? How do we make these decisions? Improv is such a positive force we sometimes forget to set some ground rules because we assume everything will work itself out because we are all easy-going people. Well this is not the case all the time. We are also artists that have strong passionate feelings about things. Sure, improvisors are awesome we all know that, but a troupe needs to communicate and be on the same page or else it will quickly fall apart.

A troupe needs to set up expectations up front so when you come across a situation it’s easier to figure them out in a diplomatic way. Below I have listed some things that will help guide you and your troupe into communication bliss.

1. Get Organized From the Start:

I’ve mentioned this in a blog post before. Your troupe should start an improv bible. Now the bible in the blog mentioned is focused more on the improv aspects of your troupe, which you should have, but in addition to that bible, start a bible on the rules of your team outside of performance. Here’s an example of what you’d have in there:

A. How do we pay for a things – rehearsal space, coach, etc… – Dues Based? Monthly Dues? When we show up for rehearsal? I would personally recommend a monthly dues based system. Why? It’s easy and holds every member accountable. So if they miss a rehearsal you don’t get screwed out of money to pay for the space or the coach. This saves you a lot of tracking people down.

B. Troupe Positions – Sure you’re all improvisors in an ensemble but get organized – Like a Boy Scout or Girl Scout Troupe they have Senior Patrol Leaders, Patrol Leaders, Scribe etc. What are you in your troupe? Positions I think you need to have – 1. Booker – Books the rehearsal spot, coach and submits to festivals etc. 2. Treasurer – Handles all money to pay for space, coach and handles dues. 3. Marketing – Handles all social media posts, invites and team events. And switch roles every few months so you’re not always doing the same job, unless you guys are happy with your jobs then you can keep them as long as you want. But figure out how you’ll handle that.

2.  Set the Rules of Your Troupe:

If you miss rehearsal are you allowed in the next show? How many rehearsals can you miss before you are unable to be a member of the team? How does the team vote ? Meaning how will people deal with who is on or off the team or what new rules will be added or taken away? Does the coach/director vote? Does the coach/director make those decisions? Or is it a team matter only? Have this written in stone so there is no confusion and have everyone understand it and have it be accepted unanimously. If all else fails ask your coach for advice.

3. Get Serious! Get a coach!

PLEASE!!! Get a coach or a director. If you are serious about improv and growing as an artist you need an outside eye. Do not have another teammate give notes or step out and coach you. You need to grow as a team and you can’t do that with one member hopping out and coaching too. It’s a weird dynamic that doesn’t work. If you don’t have enough coaches in your community then someone has to decide not to be on the team and just take the role as a coach. But the best thing about a coach, is as a veteran, they can give you advice on what to do if you’re having issues with an ensemble member. They can be a great mediator. Trust me they’ve been through it all before.

4. Troupe Boundaries 

You have to talk about what is okay and not okay to do. Is it okay if we have physical contact? How far can that go? What are we as a group comfortable with? Some people don’t like to be touched and that’s okay. Know that now so you can figure it out and move ahead as a troupe. You don’t want to find out a month down the road when you kiss someone onstage that they were uncomfortable with that now and are quitting the team.

5. Team Vision

What kind of team do you want to be? Again, set expectations – Do you want to be a traveling troupe that goes to festivals or just a local troupe. If most of you want to travel but there are a few that don’t then you really need to figure out if this troupe goes forward. Agree on what you want out of the troupe. How many shows or rehearsals do you want a month? Where? I know it sounds like a lot but figure it out.

PHEW! That’s a lot. Hey guys and gals, remember improv is fun! YAY! Sure  this looks all serious but  it’s necessary. You will save yourself a lot of time and heartbreak by putting these things in place. It holds you all accountable and there is no questioning what is right or wrong if rules are in place from the get go. Hopefully with these 5 items in place communication will be a breeze.

If you have any questions or you think I’ve left something out please feel free to comment. Go Improv!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network as well as performer in The Sunday Company at The Groundlings and a member of the critically acclaimed Harold Team King Ten at iO West. Feel free to follow me @nickarmstrong on Twitter or on Facebook. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what’s up. 

To e-mail nick e-mail at nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com and for workshop information visit www.nickarmstrong.com.

 

Does Your Troupe Have a Bible?

I always recommend to troupes getting started to put together a bible for their team. This is a great way to see what commonalities you and your fellow ensemble members have in regards to what you like in improv. This also helps a director because they can start to see what kind of team the improvisors want to be and what they really want to focus on.

These are the two questions I usually ask an improvisor when a team is just starting:

1. What do you like in improv? (Meaning the support, the listening, the ensemble, community etc.)

2. What do you like that troupes do in improv shows? (Meaning seamless transitions, no edits, team that just has fun etc.)

Once it is put all together you all have a shared language and it will start giving you hints on what kind of form you want to create or do. Basically giving you the building blocks to your troupe.

Once I get all these answers from the improvisors, I start to put it together highlighting the most common things they share, for instance a team I coach now their common things are:

Creative Transitions

Character work

Patience

Callbacks

Space/object work

Make each other laugh

This helps the improvisors and the coach. It helps the improvisors because they are now sharing a language on what they want to focus on in their shows and the form that they will eventually make. As a coach it helps because you can now hold them responsible for all of this and guide them to their goals and form. So go out and give it a try, if anything it will help you organize your thoughts as an ensemble. If you end up working with this let me know I’d love to hear if it helped.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

We’ve Made a Team…Now What?

In July I wrote a blog 6 Ways to Make a Successful Improv Team and I wanted to do a follow up and dig a little deeper. So you’ve made a team…now what?

It’s an exciting and sometimes hard task to start a new team. Getting people to share a common schedule for shows, rehearsals and more. I’ve started, coached, directed a ton of teams in my over 10 years as a improv instructor and below is some advice I have for improv teams once they get started.

I’ve Got a Conflict!

This will happen 90 percent of the time. People will have conflicts. If you can’t get on the same page this way you’re going to have a difficult time from the start. There is a lot of, “Well I got this on this day so I can’t do it.” I see it on teams all the time. Then it ultimately comes down to who’s conflict outweighs another members. The only true good excuse I can think of is work. It pays the bills letting you do this art sometimes. If you are in a play, another team or some other commitment then that’s great go for it, you should do those things. But don’t commit to an improv team if you are doing those things. It’s all about priorities and when you start a team shouldn’t your team be a priority?

Priorities and Expectations:

An improv team needs rehearsal and practice. It takes a certain focus. In Long-form you have to create group mind, connect, know your philosophy of play and discover a shared language if you want to be a successful team. I want to believe that every teams intention is to make the next great improv team, but you have to set realistic expectations that match your teams priorities. If you want to be the “next great improv team” that’s going to take work and that’s some high expectations. You don’t have to decide on a form but you do have to start speaking the same language in expectations. If you want to be just a practice group and play then that’s a different expectation. A high expectation is a good thing, you should strive for greatness. But it takes work and your priorities need to be focused on this one group in order to have a chance to try and reach your expectations. My advice for a new group is sit down, have a chat and make sure everyone is on the same page. What kind of group is this going to be? A practice group? The best harold team ever? The new form team? Just make sure you’re speaking the same language and know what your expectations are so you can prioritize together.

Developing a Same Language and Group Mind:

Developing a language for a team and group mind is probably one of the hardest things to do in improv. It takes patience, time, wisdom and commitment. You don’t get this right away so don’t think it’s something you can get overnight. But you can start figuring out if you can achieve that by starting to speak the same language. What I mean by this is sharing, as an ensemble, what you agree upon as far as your philosophy of play. For instance, my Harold Team King Ten, speaks a language and philosophy of thematic, theatrical and deep idea based Harolds. We know this, we all agree that this exists within the bible of our team so we know what to look for when someone is trying to point it out or pull a move that associates itself with that move. Your team might want to be a team that plays physically and has no edits. It’s agreed upon you know what’s up. Start telling each other what you love about improv and try to incorporate that into your ensemble.

Who to Get as a Coach?

Not all coaches fit a team. I’ve coached some teams where I clearly was not a good fit and have told them that. Once you’ve decided what kind of team you’re going to be and have set those expectations find a coach that will fit those expectations. Sure you might have to try a couple first and if you’re a practice group you can probably filter through different coaches to get different flavors. If you’re a team that wants to be a great harold team, find someone that has a track record of coaching great harold teams, if you want to do a JTS Brown or Deconstruction find a coach that knows those forms inside out. You owe it to yourself and your team. Set yourself up for success. Yes, it cost money to get a rehearsal space and a coach, but you have to invest in your improv and acting education if you have set those priorities and expectations. Stay true to them.

Don’t Try to Be That Great Other Team Be Your Team

This is big. Watching improv is probably one of the best things you can do to learn how to be a better improvisor and team. Watch shows together even! But don’t become that team. Why? Because that’s already a team and they do what they do. What do you do? What stamp is your group going to put on improv? Your team is your own thumbprint on improv so be different, play to your strengths as an ensemble. Those people you just watched are 8 or so people who come from a different walk of life then you. Allow yourself to find who you guys are.

Support

If anything this is the single most important thing. Support your fellow ensemble on and off stage. Make them look good in life and stage. Be there for them, learn who they are as a person, their passions, triumphs and failures. Know them as a human. This will help you connect and know them on a deeper level gaining each others trust and if you can do that the sky is the limit onstage.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. 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! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

 

 

Can I Have a Suggestion?

f139f95a49389299038c04dc0eeb-660x439Most improv teams start off with this very line in some form or another. It’s been on my mind a lot lately. It’s usually a word that is shouted out by an audience member to get the improvisors going on their way. Let’s dig deeper shall we and have a discussion.

Inspiration and 3rd Degree Choices:

A suggestion is a point of inspiration. You don’t have to hit it over the head. For instance, if your suggestion is Hammer, you don’t all have to start being a hammer or start talking about a hammer you can be construction workers on the job or a boss knocking the man down. (Hammer/nail metaphor). I call this my 3rd Degree Choice. When I get a suggestion from the audience, like Rose, the first degree of that is simply a rose, the second degree of that is garden or yard and the third degree of that could be love or beauty versus harm (Thorn and Rose) etc. What I’m trying to say is let’s dig deeper in our suggestion get to a deeper meaning that our show can hang its hat on. Love brings out certain emotions, beauty versus harm can bring out a great dynamic in your show at the very top. What if half the show had the POV of beauty and then we see that same first half done completely from the harm POV. That sounds pretty fun!

How do you get a suggestion?

We’ve all seen the standard, “Can I get a suggestion of anything at all.” That’s a fine one because we can be inspired by anything. When I was doing the JTS Brown we got a suggestion of a line of dialogue, poetry or song lyric. This inspired us because most of the time it had an energy or emotion attached to it that thrusted us into inspiration. Locations are fun and can definitely give you some sort of emotion or state. What do you ask for and how does it work for you or your team?

Feel a suggestion:

I like to tell my students to feel a suggestion instead of thinking about it. When a suggestion is hurled our way we often start thinking of what it is and then we are placed in our heads immediately. I like to say feel it. When you hear the word cabbage how does it make you feel? It makes me feel gross and yucky because I absolutely hate cabbage. So I might start an opening or a scene with that emotional state. Of course you might love it and start a completely different way, so the second scene or your part in the opening might be the opposite of my reaction and create a dynamic opening or the start of a dynamic show. There is no wrong way to feel about a word. Everyone is their own thumbprint of emotions.

Your suggestion is: Dildo!

Yes, we all get the inevitable suggestion of dildo at some point or something along those “Blue” lines. The best thing to do in this case is explore the third degree of it. One, a dildo, two, sex and three, sexual revolution. Give the jackass that gave the suggestion the best theatrical experience of his or her life by doing the best and smartest show possible. After getting a shitty suggestion it is one of the most fulfilling things ever to do a great, smart and funny show. We play to the top of our intelligence and this is one way to prove that to an audience.

Teams that don’t ask for a suggestion:

I know TJ and Dave don’t take a suggestion and still have amazing shows and I’ve seen some other teams do it too. I always felt the need to get one, so I felt connected to the audience. Thoughts?

I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to approach a suggestion. Just some open thoughts on how I see them and would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. 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! For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

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