Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

When we started the National Improv Network in April of 2012 Bill Binder and I set out to connect the improv world like never before. Drawing inspiration from Kevin Mullaney’s Improv Resource Center, we created what is now The Improv Network, a non-profit worldwide site dedicated to the art of improvisation. Our mission has always been to give any theater, festival and improviser a chance to grow no matter what city they were in. That they didn’t have to go to Chicago, LA or New York to get great improv, that they could create it in there own backyard. I’m proud to say, I think our mission has been accomplished. We of course can’t take all the credit, thats the hard work of all the creators out there.

There’s a new generation of improviser coming up that can help see where improv needs to go next and what this site can do to help them get there. Improv faces many new challenges and some more serious issues today. I believe it’s my time to make space and let someone else come in. Someone who has the vision for what the Improv Network looks like in this new improv world. I’m very excited about the prospect of handing this over to the next generation of improviser. Bill and I always said, we should only be its guardians for a bit and let it go. So, for now I’m letting it go, passing the baton.

THE NITTY GRITTY

I will take my leave in December of this year as we try to locate a new person(s) to take my spot. Bill will remain on for now and I will remain on the board with myself, Bill Binder and Jeff Thompson. I will be on only as a consultant going forward. Not day to day operations.

I’M NOT GOING AWAY 

You’ll see me around. I’m going to focus on running Camp Improv Utopia, with a similar mission as The Improv Network, just in real life form, and continue to be M.I.’s Westside Comedy Theater’s Artistic Director, love the community here. I may even write a blog from time to time. Hope you read it. I plan to travel to festivals, theaters and continue to be inspired by the art I love and dedicated most of my adult life to. Time to free up the brain to create new ideas and new things. 🙂

THANK YOU

I want to thank my partner in crime Bill Binder, the Spock to my Capt. Kirk. Bill truly loves improv so much and has done so much for the worldwide community. If you saw the work he puts into the site, the free hours, you’d be shocked. How could someone put all this free time and energy into this? Because they love it. And Bill does. He is the man behind the curtain. If you see him, give him a big hug. He’s also an amazing improviser and teacher and you should never hesitate to have him out to your community. He is truly a visionary. In improv history books, you’ll hear about Viola Spolin, Del Close, but you should be hearing this mans name as well, he belongs in there.

Jeff Thompson – For keeping us on task and coming in and helping us when we needed it most. He’s TIN’s spirit animal. Jeff will continue on and help where needed and we couldn’t be happier with his help and guidance.

To all the Producers, improvisers, creators that have used the site. We made this for you, I hope you like it and keep using it. Thank you for making your festivals, your theaters, your teachers, your students all successful. Thank you for sharing your stories of successes and failures. Information is power and you have all been amazing in helping each other out. To that I say thank you.

GOODBYE, FAREWELL and AMEN…

So I say Goodbye, Farewell and Amen. It’s been a great honor and privilege to help create this resource. I firmly think that sometimes you have to move on in order for something to grow. For my part, I think I grew this as much as I could and am now looking forward to the next improv generation to take over and grow it to where it needs to be today. I’m proud of the work I’ve done and the communities I’ve helped. But it’s time to leave The Improv Network behind and hand the keys over. So whoever you are, please take care of it, have passion and love the art of improv first. Take this site and make it help people however they need to be helped. Let it live in the spirit of what our art form gives. The power of yes, the power of support, the power to change lives.

If you’re interested in taking my role in The Improv Network please e-mail me an essay on what makes you the best candidate and a resume to nick@theimprovnetwork.org and bill@theimprovnetwork.com

What we are looking for:

  1. Must have passion for the art and integrity of improvisation
  2. Must be an improviser (Duh)
  3. VISION: Have a vision, is there a hole in improv? Help fill it. What does improv need? Get it and throw it out to the masses. Find the resources and provide it.
  4. SUPPORT- Have a vision on how to support theaters and festivals in the modern improv era.
  5. Must be okay with working for free – This job does not pay. It’s been my honor to give back more to improv then it has given me.
  6. LEADER – Be someone that leads by example in your community. Someone who goes above and beyond.
  7. Technical stuff – Business Finances with Bill, Report to the Board in monthly meetings, blogging a few times a month or finding bloggers, coming up with new ideas to implement into the site. Answering e-mails to people with questions.

So that’s it. Is that you? Hit us up!

Signing off,

Nick Armstrong

Co-Founder

The Improv Network

 

7 Ways Improv Festivals Need to Step Up Their Game to Get Submissions

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a ton of festivals over the past several years. They have all, for the most part, been great. Also, helping run this site with Bill Binder I also get to see how many festivals there are in the world now and interact with them on a daily basis. Currently listed on our site is 118 improv festivals. Some major cities have two or more festivals now. Holy crap right? What does this mean? It means that more then ever you will be competing for submissions. It may be easier to get local teams, but getting teams from out of town is becoming harder and harder. Here are 7 ways you can step up your game to keep the submissions rolling in and attracting troupes to your festival.

  1. Make it even more inexpensive for Improvisors – They are mostly coming for free, paying for transportation, hotel, food. A good example is The Detroit Improv Festival and The Phoenix Improv Festival. Both festivals help ease the pocket pain of improvisors. DIF offers food for performers during the entire fest with free BBQ’s and food in their greenroom for performers to eat between workshops and shows. PIF gives each team a free night for hotel the night they are performing. This is incredible and very generous, but the reasons these two festivals are hugely popular when it comes to submissions. Word of mouth in the improv world is king!
  2. Try to schedule your festivals better – Look at your region. When are other festivals running? Maybe spread it out so you’re not crossing over each other or running submissions at the same time. This could bring your submissions down as you’ll be competing for them.
  3. Do something new and different – Is your festival getting tired? Are you just doing the same thing every year? Giving out the same gift bags? Shirts? Buttons? Maybe look to spice it up with something new or even in the way you format your festival. You don’t want to just attract new teams all the time, but maybe bring back teams that are amazing and do well at your fest. You don’t have to do much to adjust things just a bit every year. Look if it’s not broken don’t fix it. But enhance it. Don’t let it become stale water.
  4. Listen to your troupes – If you’re not sending out a post festival survey you’re doing yourself the biggest disservice. It hurts to read these sometimes because of how much work you put in to this and for the most part you aren’t getting paid probably. But you still are running a festival and you have a responsibility to the people who come to it because they’re paying to come. Sometimes your troupes may be pointing out a big flaw or even a minor one that can cause big problems. You can’t please everyone, but if you get the same note three times, it needs to be addressed. You should have a post festival pow-wow where you go over the positives and negatives of your festival with your board, fest commission or whatever you call it.
  5. What else do you have to offer? Sell your town or city. What can you offer them to do? The Alaska State Improv Festival offers Whale watching, The Red Rocks Improv Festival offers hikes in Zion National Park. These are huge things that bring tons of improvisors from around the country to come to these remote festivals. For how remote these festivals are they get good submissions. Even if you’re not a remote festival you have a big city to show off, find deals, get discounts, do what you can to attract troupes. Make your festival a vacation destination. Also, don’t just offer workshops. Have parties, conference style meetings add value to your festival in an inexpensive way. Some festival even split the door with their troupes. Paying your troupes is a great way to get more submissions.
  6. Make a more specific festival – If you are in a town or city that has multiple festivals or are in a region where you have a bunch, consider doing a more specific festival. A genre improv festival, musical improv festival, trio festival etc. This may pull you away from the pack a bit.
  7. Travel to festivals yourself – If you’re a festival producer you have to go to other festivals and theaters. See what they’re doing, how they’re run, network. You can also see acts perform and invite them to come to your festival. You get a live view of what’s going on. Sometimes better then watching little videos on your computer. 😉

That’s it for now gang! I hope this helps. If a small festival in Cedar City, Utah or one in the Last Frontier of Alaska can attract troupes so can you. I can say the festivals listed in this blog follow these 7 steps for sure and I know that’s why they do well. If you feel like you can add to this please do so in the comments.

Consider Teacher Workshops at Your Theater or Festivals

NIN’s year of the teacher was amazing. We created the Teacher Tool which will allow you to submit yourself, for free, as a teacher to a festival and let theaters know when you’re in town so they can hire you if you in the neighborhood…NEATO!  With that said, I’d like to chat with our readers about hiring veteran teachers to come to your festival and/or theater to do teaching or coaching workshops. There is huge value in this. I think we have a responsibility as theaters and festivals to start training the next generation of improvisors to become great teachers and have the tools and knowledge they need to succeed.

A lot of theaters, festivals and communities are still young. I’d say about 80 percent of the theaters and festivals I go to  fit in this category. For theaters, a lot of communities are growing pretty fast and we are basically making teachers out of students or recent alums. I get it, the demand is there from incoming students and you want your business to push forward, but what about the teachers? Teaching is a different art all together. Especially teaching something like improv. Just like improvisors who need training, so do teachers. Sure, you may have to shell out a few dollars to get a master teacher to come out, but your return on investment is going to be huge. The better the teacher, the better the business, and the more chance to have returning students. The better the student, the better the performer, the better your audiences will get because of the quality of work – Trickle-down Improv-nomics. You may not see the money right away, but invest in your theater it will be worth it in the long run. I know some theaters are doing this already and to you guys! YAY! You’re ahead of the game and I’d be interested to hear about the experience. You have to think big picture. I know it’s hard to think that as we try to figure out how to pay our rent for next month or buy more paper towels for the bathroom, but the long game is where it is at and it’s worth it.

For festivals, what a great opportunity to offer this course to your community and improvisors coming into town. We are so focused on the teaching of improv skills and forms, we are forgetting that a lot of these improvisors are going to become coaches or teachers eventually. If you’re inviting a master teacher to come to your festival, have them do an improv workshop, but also have them add an instructor workshop. Why not? You have them there. Again, may cost more, but I feel this is something that would do really well. After all these people are the best in the business and have years of experience in teaching. They know what works with students and what doesn’t.

I want to take a second to thank all the teachers and coaches out there for doing the work and committing to our art form. You’re paving the way for the future of improv. Right now we may not get paid as much as we deserve but I do see a day where that will change and it’s all because of the blood, sweat and tears coming from your passion. So, thank you!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California, Yosemite and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West and The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops at theaters and festivals around the world.

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.

 

 

Do’s and Don’ts Part 2: Festival Submission Packets

Looking to make a great submission packet? Ever since co-creating NIN over two years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to see some really good troupe submissions and some really bad ones. I’ve heard and interviewed many festival producers over the last two years and have chatted with them at festivals and here are some Do’s and Don’ts regarding your festival submission packet.

DO

1. Have a full un-edited improv show. This is a no brainer you’d think. Not just 5 or 10 minutes of a show but a full show. Most festivals book you a 25 to 30 minute slot so they need to see your whole show so they know what they’re buying. If you don’t have a video you won’t be accepted. Unless you’ve made special arraignments with the festival organizer then you may get in, but if they don’t know you you’ll be passed up.

2. Make sure your video is clear and you can hear it. You won’t believe how many videos we see that are grainy or you can’t hear it or it’s really bad audio. Also make sure you tape at an angle you can see the whole stage. You’d be surprised at how the Bermuda triangle gets improvisors and you can’t see them perform. Imagine you have to watch 100 videos. What do you think you’re going to do when this one comes up…NEXT! It doesn’t have to be produced with multiple camera angles, we don’t want that, but it should be clear and easy to listen, see and hear.

3. Fill out the application completely! If you’re on NIN we guide you through that process, but if your a non-member going through a google form fill it out. Festival producers don’t want to chase you down for information and they will most likely pass you up. If they are asking for it, they want the information for a reason.

4. Submit early. A lot of times it’s cheaper and festivals don’t usually get a ton of submissions at the beginning so that may benefit you and give you a little more attention.

DON’T

1. Be vague – When filling out your troupe synopsis or your bio don’t just put “We are hilarious” or something weird that doesn’t make sense like “We are funnier then a unicorn,” yes this is for real! We understand you’re being witty, but I can’t sell that to an audience and I still don’t know what you do. Are you trying to outwit a Unicorn? Pretend you’re writing a bio to someone who has never seen your show or an improv show ever. Here is an example of a great troupe Bio from The Bearded Men out of Minnesota:

The Bearded Men began performing together in 2006. They’ve been fortunate to have trained with some of the most talented names in improv, including Jill Bernard, Matt Donnelly, Kevin Mullaney, Joe Bill, 3 for All, and more. They travel as often as possible to national festivals and anywhere else that will have them. In 2014 they formed a second group based in Los Angeles, Bearded Men West. 

The Beards perform short and long form improv. However, they primarily focus on narrative based long form improv they call, Epic Adventures, many times layering on a theme.

Since 2011, Bearded Men Improv has had a weekly show at HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis and in 2014 Bearded Men West began performing weekly, currently at the Impro Lab. They are grateful to have such awesome and supportive places to perform regularly.

Simple, to the point and an outside audience can get it. Remember you’re not just promoting yourself to a festival producer and committee you’re promoting yourself to a potential audience. Make it easy for a festival producer to know who you are.

2. Be lazy – Take it seriously put time and thought into your submission as team. How are you going to sell yourself? If you’re a troupe have a logo, have a troupe photo. Nowadays this is easier then ever so there is really no excuse. You don’t want to make a bad impression. Your submission is your first look into your troupe. A festival organizer will see this and take you more seriously and if they’re on the fence about you, this may put you over the top. Here’s an example of a great submission packet from our friends at Switch Committee out of Chicago. If you put some love into it you may just get some love back. These guys book festivals!

3. Let your Show Bio and Show Description be the same thing. Don’t just copy and past your bio and your show description have them be different. A bio is the history of your troupe, when you were formed, what theater you come from, maybe a little info on what you do improv-wise and maybe even what festivals you have done. A show description is just that a detailed description of your show. “A montage that is different” is too vague. Also, 1,000 other teams to that too. How are you different? Explain it. Here is an example of a good show description:

Hot Codlins out of NYC

One troupe, 5 ladies, dozens of characters — Hot Codlins came together over a shared love of telling stories.  You want femme fatales? Greasy gangsters?  Weird aliens and wacky rom-com sidekicks?  We got ’em all.  We do long-form, character-based improv that plays in, out, and around genres and styles of film, tv, and theater.

4. Don’t submit as show that you’re not going to bring. If you’re video is of a Harold and you decide to do a montage at the festival you could potentially risk losing the relationship you have with that festival. When they’re booking shows and putting you in their schedule they are being very strategic about how they’re doing that. And if they wanted a Harold in that spot and you are them and you don’t deliver. Yikes. That’s very unprofessional. So do the form you’ve promised. Also, make sure you don’t submit your team and then come with completely different cast. The people in the video submission are the ones the festival organizers expect to come. If for some reason your accepted and your troupe members back out notify the festival organizer immediately and go from there. But this again, depending on when you contact them could risk you’re troupe giving them a huge headache and not coming. If you do it within the first week or so of being accepted you are probably still okay.

So there you go. This should help guide you of what to do and what not to do when it comes to a festival packet. I hope this has helped and if you’re not a member already become one for free at nationalimprovnetwork.com. We can help you make a great submission.

Nick Armstrong

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.

 

Recording on the Road

You don't want your shows to look like this.

You don’t want your shows to look like this.

Festival shows are always exciting times; great audiences, geat venues, and the excitement of sharing what you love with someone new. We love festival shows and we often want to record them. Recording festival shows can make for great submissions and also great memories. The reality of it though, is that this isn’t your theatre and you don’t have the same control over your environment. Recoding festival shows can vary in quality from not quite as good as normal to B-roll footage from Cloverfield. We want to be as close to the former as possible. And we also want to do so while respecting the festival and the people putting it on.

There are three ways people usually record shows on the road. Here are a few tips that might make for the best quality recordings and the best etiquette on the road.

General tips

Respect the tech
This overrides everything else in the article. The producers and the tech controllers at any festival have a lot on their plate. They don’t need to worry about your plate too. If you want to record your show. Don’t ask them to do the work for you. Sometimes, they volunteer to help. And that’s awesome, but never assume. On the other side, don’t ingnore them. This is their house. Try to talk to them well before your show; earlier that day or before you even arrive in town if possible. Ask permission to record your show. Ask what will be non-intrusive to their work. Almost every time, they’re willing to find a way to get you taken care of without interfering with their work. They may even request that you do not record. Respect that too. They’re the boss.

Set the lighting conditions
The lighting conditions of this space aren’t the same as yours. The contrast between the lit stage and the dark theatre can make a big difference in recording. And the lighting conditions when an audience is arriving is different than during showtime. If you get a chance. Go to a prior show at the festial, or politely ask during your tech time to go to the actual lighting conditions of the performance. That way you won’t have to adjust during the show.

Power
Don’t assume there will be a power outlet. In fact, unless there is a super-convenient power outlet. Don’t use them. Make sure you have battery power for your show and then some. It just saves a lot of panic and hassle

We’ve got a camera guy who will set up in the corner

Get out of the way
There are paying audience members. And many of them are getting their first exposure to improv. They get right of way 100% of the time. Don’t take a good seat away from them. Don’t be blocking their view. Don’t be blocking the way to the bathroom. They win. Always

Speaking of the bathroom
There are areas where people are likely to be walking during the show, most frequently these areas are the walkway to the bathroom and the exit. If possible don’t have that walkway between you and the stage or your going to get a lot of heads. Is that a big deal? No, not really. But something that can sometimes be avoided for a slightly better experience.

Buy a ticket
If your camera guy is taking a seat. Buy them a ticket. Support the fest.

We’re just going to put this camera on this ledge here

Don’t get robbed
It’s not a common problem, but use common sense. Don’t leave a camera in an exposed place where no one will see it get ganked.

Record early
Don’t get stressed about hitting record and then running backstage. Just make sure you have plenty of space and start recording really early.

Our friend is going to hand-hold a camera during a show

Make that display non-intrusive
The Person behind your friend doesn’t need to see to versions of the show

Turn off the noise
So help me, turn off those beeps and dings.

Train them to use a camera
Most of the time when you ask a friend to record a show, they don’t have experience recording shows. Let them know to get a good wide shot of the stage and to not zoom in and out and move all over the place unless they really have to. If someone’s head ends up in front of them, move slowly out of the way instead of jerking the camera around.

Elbows on armrests
It’s a simple trick to minimize shudder and arm fatigue. Have them find a comfortable place to rest their elbows, either on armrests or their lap. This provides a makeshift tripod that won’t be shaky. But it will also allow them to hold the camera up for a while without arm fatigue. They can also put one arm down for a moment here and there while the other arm holds in position.

Camera Phones

Consider a phone
Smartphone cameras are getting to be pretty good these days. They might not be quite as good as a good handicam, but it’s one less thing to bring to the theatre and worry about. Not to plug, but I personally use a Sony Xperia Z and it works fantastically. 1080p, 24fps. They’re pretty nice and they don’t require lugging extra equipment.

Turn off time limits
Many camera phones have a not-well known feature that they will stop recording after 30 minutes to prevent accidentally wasting space and battery life. It’s a good idea, but turn it off for shows that might be longer than that. If you have a camera person, let them pay attention to start recording again if this happens

Mini-tripods
There are phone tripods now. They’re cheap and they fit in your pocket

Battery Chargers
Same as above. Cheap and portable.

Horizontal for the love of all good things
Don’t hold that camera vertical. It’s just… the worst. That’s true of pretty much everything in life, but especially a show on a stage that is longer than it is tall.

Recording on the road is tricky. But with a little thought and a lot of respect for the tech crew, it can work out.


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

Crime Time

That’s right everybody. It’s CRIME TIME! Queue the 1990s-esque intro with kids striking poses with their arms crossed and hands on their hips looking “tough” with sideways hats on while Pearl Jam’s guitar intro from “Even Flow” plays and the word ‘CRIME’ flashes across the screen in neon lettering. It’s time to talk about something we sort of look past or don’t really discuss when it comes to festivals and traveling. While festivals do amazing jobs promoting the local landmarks of the town, they sometimes don’t mention the ‘shadier’ not so good areas. Let it be known that this article is not to be discriminatory of any race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or any of the sort. It is merely to meant highlight a topic that not many festivals or performers think about when they travel to a new town and to bring awareness to the fact that crime is everywhere and you should keep that in mind when going somewhere you’ve never been before. Everyone gets so caught up in the excitement of what’s to come that they aren’t thinking about what could go wrong right now.

This has never been something that I have heard a festival come out and say outright. Mainly because talking about the bad things isn’t really something you want to highlight. It’ll make people not want to come to your festival, right? Yes and No. The sad truth is that the ‘bad’ happens everywhere. Crime exists everywhere you go. It’s next door, down the street, on the train or bus and everywhere you look. However, half the battle is being AWARE of it and knowing where it’s most prevalent. I’m not saying put up street advertisements or marketing in your festival promotions that there are certain places you shouldn’t go, but just by word of mouth you could be keeping a lot of people safe.

If you’re a performer and you’re reading this, just be aware of your surroundings and keep in mind that you are in a new town and you might not know the specifics of what goes on in that area. That means you should ASK where the best places to go are and where the best places to avoid are. There is no harm in asking. We’re talking about safety here. There are certain parts of Chicago that I will never go to or travel to on the train at night. Why? Because the crime statistics and the everyday news indicate there’s a damn good chance I’ll get robbed, beaten up, or worse. That’s not a dig at anyone who lives in those areas, but a fact reinforced by the local news and crime reports.

Furthermore, I learned this first hand at a festival recently. I remember we decided to walk around and see the sights and sounds of the city. We practically screamed “WE’RE TOURISTS” as we waltzed around pointing at things uttering “ohhs” and “ahhhs.” It was the middle of the day and we were excited to wander so we weren’t really on alert for anything. Note: Anything can happen at any time; especially when you least expect it. Unfortunately, we went down the wrong block, which resulted in us being followed for the next two blocks by two guys who were sending off the tell-tale signs that they were going to jump us. Luckily, we spotted them, stopped walking, and were in an open area looking right at them so their element of surprise sort of went right out the window. Once we made eye contact with them they slowed their walking down and crossed the street. The one guy who was trailing behind ran up to his friend and put his hands in the air while mouthing, “What happened?” Now, I could be completely wrong. They could have been coming up to say “hey welcome to our city let us take your picture”, but given the mean looks on their faces, the clinched fists in their hands, and everything I’ve ever heard about muggings I would have to argue otherwise. Later I would discuss this with local performers who said, “oh yeah you shouldn’t walk around there.”

Another way to fully grasp the issue is to look at it from the criminal’s perspective. If I was a criminal (I’m not but if I was), I would rather rob or steal from someone who doesn’t live around the area rather than somebody who does. Why? Because the people traveling are unsuspecting and they aren’t going to tell the police, “Hey I saw him last week walking down State Street!” Distancing yourself from the crime is bad guy 101. This is why criminals travel across the city, steal someone’s iPhone on the train, and then go back to where they live which is 10-15 miles away. By you being the one who is traveling, you’ve just made their job a lot easier. In short, for the criminal, you’re a better target because you’re not from around there and you’re not suspecting it.

In conclusion, if you’re traveling to a festival and you’re going to go walking around the city please make sure to ask the local performers where the best places to go are as well as the not so good places. If you’re a festival producer or local performer, pass any and all information you may have about troublesome areas around town so as to keep everyone safe. As stated before, the sad reality is that crime is everywhere, but we can most certainly combat that with awareness. Being knowledgeable and aware is going to be all the difference. It’s better to know than to not and wish you had later. Keeping everyone safe and knowledgeable about what is happening in your town should be at the top of the list of the many wonderful things you’re offering to your performers.


  • Ryan is a graduate of iO, The Second City Conservatory, and the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago. Ryan performs improv comedy with his independent team Switch Committee as well as on the Playground team Desperado. In addition, he is an Associate Producer for Big Little Comedy, which is responsible for the Big Little Comedy Festival each year. In 2013, he completed an entire month of comedy by performing 31 days in a row for the month of January. He’s a frequent blogger (here, The Second City Network, and the iO Water Cooler) Instagramer, Pinterester, and Tweeter in his spare time. You can follow the madness @TheRyanNallen.

Announcement: The NIN Sister Festival Project Launches

The National Improv Network (NIN) is launching a project that puts improv festivals together to help them grow, share and become known nationally.

How does it work?

Preferably a festival from one side of the country pairs with a festival from the other side of the country. For instance our first pairing is The Phoenix Improv Festival and The Detroit Improv Festival. The great thing about this pairing is they are on opposite sides of the country and their festivals fall at different parts of the year. Heck if you know festivals in other countries you should do that too. We have some listed on NIN.

Why?

Our goal is to get festivals together so they can help each other cross promote, help each other out and share information. What works at a fest, what doesn’t etc. Also, it’s likely The Detroit Improv Festival doesn’t have the same contacts and submissions as the Phoenix Improv Festival so during the off season of PIF they will help DIF promote their submissions and vice-versa.

So what do you do next?

Go to the Festival page on NIN and look up a festival you may want  to parnter with. We will be sending an e-mail to our festival members with this blog too so they know what’s going on. If you feel more comfortable having us introduce you to a festival please e-mail me at nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. I’d be happy to get you in touch.

If you’ve partnered with a festival let us know! We will promote it on our site and spread the word as well. So join the movement and help our community grow even more. Yes and!

Nick Armstrong

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.

 

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.

A Social Festival for All

So you have a Facebook and Twitter for your improv festival. You may even have a Google+ page. Sweet. Awesome. Now what? Many festival organizers and improv groups know they need a Facebook, Twitter, and all the things because everyone else has it. But most of the time those pages just sits their unused which can be your biggest mistake. By leaving your social untouched and unloved, you are missing out on one of your festival’s biggest assets to help not only promote, but also build your festival’s presence. Here are a few tips to help you get started make your Social Media well social.

1. Make it a part of your marketing plan.

Along with your website, interviews, and flyers, your Social Media should be considered in your marketing plan. As Ariel said, go where the people are. With nearly 30% of Americans getting their news via Social Media, it is a force that can not be ignored when it comes to promoting. Just posting everyone once in a while is cool, but it doesn’t get the word out. You get the word out by coming up with a plan for before, during, and after the festival. This can range from what you are posting, Facebook advertising, and hashtags for the event.
On anything you use for marketing, make sure it connects with your Social Media. For example, on flyers make sure you have your Facebook and Twitter handle. Connect your website with your social platforms. The main purpose of Social Media isn’t to sell sell sell, but think of it as a television commercial or radio spot, but online. While you can’t always connect directly to ticket sales, the proof will be in how well the word got out.

2. It’s Personal

Let your festival reflect the offline atmosphere online. That means all your posts shouldn’t be come to our show! Come to our workshops! Buy tickets! Some of your posts (which should maybe be 5-7 a week leading up to the festival) should be about the groups, some of the planning, fundraisers, or anything personal towards the festival. One of the 13th Phoenix Improv Festival’s most popular posts were photos of the performers as teenagers. Another was images from past festivals that built up nostalgia and got users excited for the upcoming festival. People in general relate to things more on a personal level. As a result, they are more likely to invest in seeing your festival, and are less likely to ignore your buy tickets posts when they do happen.

3. Get the performers involved

Piggy backing off point two, if your performers are having fun it will reflect in their shows. This can be done before the festival by featuring them in your social media, emailing asking for any of their promotion, or as the Phoenix Improv Festival likes to do, treat them like rockstars. Be creative in how you post or get them involved, and know they may not want to and that is alright. You may want to start with local groups and build from there. Those groups that are invested personally will your biggest advocates for your current festival and beyond.

4. Your audience isn’t just improvisors.

While the performers of the festival may be your biggest advocates, they aren’t the ones buying tickets. Sure their family and friends may purchase some, however you should try to appeal to the general public of your city. With your Social Media, make sure some of your posts are directed at people who love watching improv to those who have not seen it before. This can range from videos, photos, and getting the venue and local businesses involved. For example, any Tweet we were sure to mention the Herberger Theater and mention our Family Friendly shows. Also connect with your local audience because who knows your city better than you?

5. Have Fun!

At the end of the day, improv is adults playing make believe on stage. While we can have grounded moments, your social media shouldn’t be your Office Space type of job. Your Social Media should reflect the fun and beauty that is improv. Whether it is pictures from the event, quotes from the show, or what is going on backstage, let your audience, performers, and online community know the fun you are having. Don’t be an asshole. 😉


Born and raised in Phoenix Arizona. Runner. Improvisor. Traveler. I play well with others in my fancy shoes, and I love Space Jam.

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