When A Stoppable Force Meets A Movable Object – How Many Festivals?

Today I submitted to the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival; which got me to thinking. How many festivals HAVE I submitted to this year? By my count, this year alone I’ve submitted to 12 festivals, attended 8, performed in 7, and taught workshops (either during or as a result of attending) at 3. Wow! When you see the numbers before you it’s quite daunting.

So here’s how I make it work with the flight attendant gig: improv is (and always will be) my #1 love. If you truly love something, you’ll find time for it. That’s what I do with comedy. I submit, I book, I rearrange. I always make improv my priority. Now having said that, I also have to know my limits.

There was a time when I was flying over 100 hours a month (which doesn’t sound like a lot because that number only reflects my pay. Not the amount of hours I actually work. It’s messed up, I know), running my own improv team (Trapper John), taking classes (at The Magnet), figuring out how to do Solo Improv (with personal coach Alan Fessenden), and also dating a girl long-distance who lived outside of Detroit. Doing all of this just about killed me, so I had to learn the art of Time Management.
Long story long, I’m still learning how to effectively manage my time, but suffice it to say, I’ve learned how to mix classes, shows, and festivals into my time table. Here’s how:

1) I make a very general map in my head as to how I want the upcoming year to go down. Let’s take 2013 for example. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish levels 4 AND 5 at The PIT before 2012 was over, thus not making me eligible to audition for house teams come January 2013. I had also applied and was accepted to perform in the first ever Alaska State Improv Festival (ASIf!) in April as well as the LA Improv Festival in June.
2) My next step was to figure out my goals and then fit them around what I already had planned. I knew that I wanted to finish classes before the year was out. I had also recently become an intern at The PIT with a regular Tuesday night Box Office shift. The real trick for me was figuring out what days of the week I would be free to fill my schedule with non flight attendant stuff.
3) Now that I had a few specifics in mind, I could start the process of filling my schedule. As a flight attendant, I’m usually on-call 20 days out of the month. I know in advance when these days are going to be, as well as my days off, so that I can plan my schedule. Working in the international base, I know that all of my trips are going to be either 3 or 6-day trips. (ie. day 1, fly to London. Day 2, stay the day in London. Day 3, fly back from London. Days 4-6, repeat). So, I always knew that on days 3 and 6 that I’d always be back in New York. This way I can plan to take classes, work a shift as an intern, teach classes, or do a show. Plus, I had my days off to plan things.
4) Rearranging the schedule. I would always plan my improv stuff first and then rearrange my schedule to accommodate. Generally, it hasn’t been too difficult a task. I just know better than to plan things on the weekend. And if I do, I can only plan to do something one weekend a month, as weekends have proven murderous to try and get off.

Anyway, technical mumbo jumbo aside, I’ve been playing this game of planning and rearranging my schedule to accommodate the love of my life for seven years now, and has become so commonplace for me that I forget what it’s like to have a typical 9-5 where I know that every evening and every weekend is going to be free.
And as for the girlfriend outside of Detroit… Yeah, that didn’t last long.

So…this is my life. It gets daunting. A lot. Which is why I try to take the advice of Peter Gwinn in his book “Group Improvisation” and take some time to live and experience life (and in my case, sleep!)


Improv Warrior: Jill Bernard

Improv Warrior (n.) Someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty. An improvisor, who is not just a performer, but lives and breaths improv, heightens the art, cares for the art and brings it to new levels.

Today’s Improv Warrior is Jill Bernard. I have had the pleasure of performing with Jill and bumping into her at practically every festival in the country. She is an amazing teacher and an amazing talent. But beyond that she is just a wonderful human being. Jill recently celebrated 20 Years as an improvisor and celebrated it in a major way! –Nick Armstrong

Here is what she had to say:

From Jill Bernard:

On Sunday December 1, 2013 I did a show called “JILLVITATIONAL: 20 duos in 12 hours to celebrate 20 years” – the length of time since I began improvising.

My favorite part was the sensation of each new partner. Jeff Wirth has taught me many things, but one little interesting tidbit is to read how an audience volunteer wants to play when brought up onstage. Are they a clinical person or an emotional person? I thought of that concept a lot during my twenty duos, because each pairing was an opportunity to be the scene partner my friend was asking for. When someone steps onstage, they’re proposing a game. If your opening line is, “I don’t know, Edgar, perhaps this climb was too ambitious, the temperature’s dropping faster than we could’ve predicted,” you’re basically saying, “Hello, would you like to play doomed mountain expedition with me, in a slightly old-fashioned and serious style?” and my answer will be yes yes a million times yes thank you, let’s let’s.

I was charmed by the opportunity to do so twenty times in a row, especially since I am rather infamous for being an ungenerous player who will drag your corpse behind the sled of my agenda. It felt like a lovely challenge to play the Venn Diagram of just the two of us to the nth degree, in the Viola Spolin sense of ‘following the follower.’

I picked twenty friends but I could’ve picked a million friends. The feeling I was left with after it was all over was “Oh, what’s wrong with the limits of my body and my brain that I can’t just keep doing this hour after hour and get to share the stage with everyone ever?” Being alone with just another person is the full dose of them. It’s the extra virgin million parts per million version of their aesthetic, and you get to take a bath in it. I could get used to that. Trish Berrong and I neared the final moments of the final duo and my eyes filled with tears for all the gratitude I felt in that moment – gratitude that Trish Berrong and Bailey Williams would come up from Kansas City, Lindsay Gonzales would come from Chicago; Samantha Pereira , Katy Kessler, Kelvin Hatle, Eric Heiberg, Doug Neithercott , Lauren Anderson and Josh Kuehn would come do improv before noon; Butch Roy would play and let me use our theater for this silly project all day long; Mary Strutzel, Eric Knobel and James Moore who were alongside me when I started would still be alongside me now; Clay Macartney, Bernard Armada would just hop into the unknown; Nate Morse would bring me a cat piano; Meghan Wolff, Jason Bindas and Carolyn Blomberg would be those kinds of friends who will play with you just because; and for everyone who came to watch and cheer and bartend and tech and box office. That’s a lot to be emotionally touched by, especially after a long day fueled by mostly Topperstix and runner’s Goo.

It was good, it was fun, but I won’t make an annual event of it as it’s exceedingly odd? arrogant? pathetic? to make up an event named after yourself. I did it because, as I told a reporter, “Improvisational comedy is the kind of an unsustainable ridiculous career where you ask yourself what you’re doing with your life every 12 months or so. I used this idea to kind of cheer myself up. It’s also an uncelebrated art form. Improvised theater is not even eligible for an Ivey award, none of the newspapers or online calendars have an ‘improv comedy’ section. As a result, improvisers can’t sit around waiting for recognition, we have to celebrate ourselves.” I feel so celebrated now. What a wonderful boost to spur me on for twenty more years.

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


When A Stoppable Force Meets A Movable Object

We have been reaching out to many of the people we’ve been meeting on the site and at festivals around the country. I met Mike through NIN first, then saw him on the road. He had an interesting story to tell. Mike will be one of the contributors to our site, we are reaching out to more people too as to give you a variety of ideas, thoughts and advice. –Nick Armstrong

Here’s Mike’s Intro Blog:

When Nick Armstrong asked me to start a blog on the NIN I was completely flattered and honored to be part of one of the best (and fastest growing) online communities that exists for improvisers! I felt as though someone was finally taking notice of my hard work. For once, someone that matters is taking an interest in what I do an a comedian. Almost immediately afterwards I freaked out because I had no clue what I would write about. I’m just a little twerp from Oil City, Pennsylvania. I’m a nobody. Who would honestly want to hear my story?

Then Nick offered a tip as to what I might write about: for the past seven years I have been working as a flight attendant for United (previously Continental) Airlines. I literally travel the globe on a daily basis and perform improv wherever I can. Plus, as an added unique feature to add to my repertoire, I specialize in Solo Improv which I have patterned exactly after a normal ensemble improv troupe. It’s a portable one-man show that takes me around the world doing what I love best: making people laugh.

In this blog, I aim to offer a weekly glimpse into my life as a Solo Improv artist that has the opportunity to travel the world. Some weeks will focus on what is currently happening in my life, while others will shed some light on my past and how I got to where I am now.

If it at all comes across arrogant and self indulgent, then I apologize. I am actually aiming for conceded, self righteous, and all important. So let’s all work together to keep me on the right track, shall we?

Mike Brown

Mike was born in Franklin, PA, raised in Oil City, PA, and now resides in Harlem, NYC with fellow improviser, Josh Hurley, and his cat, Minerva. He works as an international flight attendant for United Airlines and performs Solo Improv around North America and Europe. Mike teaches and coaches improv via 10,000 Hours, The University of Oxford, John Jay College, and Skype & FaceTime. For more info, visit soloimprov.com

Red Rocks Improv Festival Combines Improv and The Great Outdoors!

547231_611653305522623_1019168721_nI just got back from Cedar City, Utah and I have to say I’m impressed! Off The Cuff Improvisation, which will be celebrating its 10th year in the small city, put on the 4th Annual Red Rocks Improv Festival. The festival was filled with improv performances from all over the country, workshops and wonderful trips to Cedar Breaks and Zion National Park where improvisors had the chance to hike and bond!

Tj and Wendy Penrod are the force behind the festival and OTC Comedy and have been since its inception. This year Red Rocks decided to partner with NIN and use our submission service to help gain some more exposure for the festival and it worked! Gaining improvisors from California all the way to New York! Tj and Wendy have created an amazing improv community in Cedar City and are actively involved in the arts culture there.

Being such a small town with one main street…named Main Street, I had worried that it might be hard to get a crowd. Not here! Wendy, TJ and their OTC gang have done such great work out there building a community that both nights were filled to the brim with audience. This audience was hungry for improv too!

This years festival added and extra bonus. OTC Comedy rented a 15 seater van, we dubbed the party van, to pick us up and take us hiking to places like Cedar Breaks and Zion National Park. I went on the Zion National Park hike through The Narrows which is not just any trail, it’s a 90 percent water trail where you wade through water in narrow slot canyons! AMAZING! It was a great experience and a great way to meet and hang out with people from other improv communities. When we reached the end of our journey one of the OTC gang started to jump off a rock into a pool of water…everyone followed suit in support, some conquering their fears! It was such an amazing experience filled with community, friendship and fun!

So should you attend this festival? Yes! This is the perfect example of what a festival should be. They took the idea of bringing great shows to their community exposing their small town to big named groups while also taking care of their out-of-town guests and treating them to their beautiful surroundings! Someone asked recently “Why do you go to festivals?” This is why I go to festivals!

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

7 Delegation Tips for Festivals


This takes organization + trust

This takes organization + trust

I’ve been to quite a few festivals this summer guys – Chicago, Detroit, Phoenix….there are some amazing things happening in the improv world!  I’m struck by how big these events are, and the successes and challenges they have in executing a great festival.  It takes a village guys.  Even if it’s a small village, it takes a village, to get things done on a large scale.

Most festivals have a team of volunteers (and if you don’t have a team of volunteers – tweet @xoticdonkeymeat to talk) and the most effective tool in your belt to get massive amounts of things done is the D word – yup – Delegation – to these volunteers.  Lots of folks struggle with delegation, but practice makes perfect!  Here are 7 steps to effective delegation to your volunteers.


1.  Ask for volunteers before you’re ready, when you first meet to discuss your next festival/event

People who volunteer before you’ve even got things written down truly want to help and are happy to be directed to do work.  When you ask (in an email blast, or a sign up sheet), also include a space for them to note what they can help with – they may bring something up you didn’t even think of.  Keep this list.

2. Know what you have to get done – specifically – in writing 

Of course you know everything that has to get done!  But it’s all in your head.  Write it down in Google Apps/Evernote/Whatever Mac users use to share things.  You can’t effectively delegate if you don’t know the specific tasks that you need to share.  Write down all the things you need help with, the type of work you need and when it’s due.  For example:

  • Ticket sales – good attitude & chatty, best in 4 hour increments – Days of Festival
  • Clean up – doesn’t mind working late – 2 hours/day – days of festival
  • Hosting – should have prior host experience – days of festival
  • Marketing – Printing, tweeting, facebooking – 4 months before festival
  • PR – sponsorship packets, business solicitation

Writing them down will help you a) organize your thoughts and b) realize how much help you actually need.  Which brings me to…

3.  Pick people that are gonna help

I have a saying when it comes to project teams – you play cards with the hand you’re dealt.  Every person is very valuable when you pair them with the right task.  Look at your list of volunteers (which you totally have shared with the other people who are making your things happen, yes?) and your list of tasks.  Tap the people on the shoulder who are best suited for certain tasks and ask them personally – it will make them feel more excited and involved than if they enter their name in a slot on a spreadsheet.

4. Now that you know what you need to get done, ask for volunteers again

This time, be specific in the requests that you have for your volunteers.  Note the days and times of volunteer requirements, if applicable (like ticket and clean up) or the goals of what you’re trying to accomplish for larger tasks (looking for 2 businesses to sponsor festival).

5.  Set yourselves up for success – the do’s & dont’s

  • Don’t leave open-ended task assignments
  • Do make everything ‘accomplishable’ – ‘I’d like to have 400 copies of this delivered to HQ by Tuesday night’ or ‘Can we review the sponsor copy by noon on Wednesday?’ – set clear expectations and a deadline
  • Don’t assign a task and assume it’s taken care of
  • Do assign tasks to your team of volunteers and check in on them at least weekly, and as you move closer to your festival date, check on them bi-daily
  • Don’t assume people ‘don’t want to help’
  • Do assume everyone wants to help but might need more direction – sometimes, you just need to ask an un-assuming “was I not clear enough in my instructions?  Were they confusing?”  Everyone is learning, and the opportunity to be a better leader will make delegation even easier in the future

6.  Keep it fun and thank your volunteers

Keep the entire experience engaging and fun and full of honest thank yous for your volunteers.  They are there for free, and they’re happy to see your event successful, so thank them, with the full ‘Thank you’ as they help you out during the event.  And if they have a great time, they’ll ask others to join them in the future and you can grow your team of volunteers.

7. Be open to feedback

Your volunteers are helping because they want to see the festival successful.  Volunteers leave if they are overworked or if they are frustrated that their voice isn’t being heard.  Send feedback surveys specific to the volunteer work, and ask if there was anything that frustrating about the job they were assigned.  Everyone just wants the festival successful, and a fired up volunteer might be able to help with that.


Don’t wait until big events to recruit volunteers.  Always be looking for ways to include new people and follow tip 4 to assure that your volunteers feel valuable, so they’ll be ready for bigger tasks like….volunteer coordination!

Pyramid // mrwynd

Kate is a contributing member of National Improv Network and works in product, customer and business development.   She blogs about getting things done at unicornwrangler.com and tweets @xoticdonkeymeat.  

Make My Job Easier! – A Wish List from Marketing

amazyn-wish-list3We are posting this with permission from Trish Berrong who runs the marketing for the Kansas City Improv Festival. We thought it was pretty helpful. Enjoy and thanks Trish!

From Trish Berrong:

I’m not on the selection committee for the Kansas City Improv Festival, but I do the marketing. Here’s the wish-list I sent to the committee last year in selfish hopes of making my job easier: 

—GOOD: generally recognizable (in the civilian population) names and credentials (SNL, 30 Rock, Daily Show)
—OK: kinda recognizable names and credentials (UCB, Second City, Groundlings)
—MEH: obscure names and credentials (anywhere else)

—GOOD: two guys fishing, improvised rap musical
—OK: improvised [insert genre here]
—MEH: longform or shortform with no POV

—GOOD: Every show, a new play will be improvised in the style of such great works as ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ ‘Speed-the-Plow’ and    ‘House of Games,’ with all the rat-a-tat and grift of its actual predecessors. 
—MEH: [Troupe name] is a [descriptor] monoscene with [differentiating factor] by [cast description].
—YAWN: We generally perform Harolds, but recently have been expanding out to new and innovative forms.

Other things that would make selling a festival easier:
—Websites vs. Facebook pages
—Clear, interesting photos that show peoples’ faces and have something going on
—Submission videos we can easily pull a 1-3 minute, high-quality clip out of for promotion on the website

And a few other considerations: 
—Form/style/approach gives us something different from what we have in our city
—Cast members are also in-demand workshop teachers
—Set is easy to plug in anywhere in a show (things that make it hard: too dark or low energy, dramatically different vibe, complicated props/tech/set, etc.)
—Cast seems fun, professional and low-maintenance

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