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.


Interview with Rick Andrews – Joining the NIN Team!

As you’ve probably heard by last weeks announcement Rick Andrews from The Magnet Theater in New York will be joining the NIN team. He joins Bill and I to help us develop the site and reach out to even more improvisors. We are extremely happy to have Rick on board. Here is an interview I did with Rick so you can get to know him a little better:

N: Rick, tell us about yourself. What theater do you call home and why?

R: Hey earth people!  I’m an instructor and performer at The Magnet Theater in New York City, NY.  I started doing improv at Improv Boston, then continued in Saint Louis.  I moved to NY about 4 years ago and quickly fell in love with the Magnet.  I love the attention and care put into the training program and all of the students.  I believe that improv is something that anyone can do and do well, and The Magnet really creates an environment that allows all to succeed and grow.  I also believe that good improvisation can take all kinds of shapes, speeds, and sizes, and I love that I get to explore that at Magnet, to see great work of different styles and approaches.

N: You’re a teacher of improv. What is it you like about teaching improv?

R: Teaching Improv is the my favorite thing to do in the entire world.  Improv gives people genuine confidence; it puts them in situations where they follow their gut and the ensemble supports that choice and they see their choices born into wonderful scenes.  People learn to really trust themselves and others and the change I’ve seen in students who dove into improv in just the short time I’ve been in New York is very staggering and humbling.  People very rarely get to play, and improv lets us play while also fostering excellent listening, teamwork, etc. It makes people better people, which sounds culty and insane, but it’s true.

On a personal level, Improv is the thing I love most, and getting to share that love with others and see them fall in love with it is very fulfilling.

N: Who are your improv heroes?

R: Oh man!  Armando, Tj and Dave, Cackowski, Jill Bernard, Will Luera, Joe Bill and Mark Sutton, …these days the people who inspire me are the people I’m insanely lucky to work with on a daily basis at Magnet.  Too many to name…

N: Do you have an improv philosophy? If so, what is it?

R: There are a lot of ways to do an excellent improv scene.  A compelling relationship will feel different than an odd or interesting character, which will feel different than a well heightened game, etc.  I view these styles as techniques to achieve different but compatible goals.  I’d never coach a group to play an Armando, for example, without talking and thinking about game.  But I’d also never coach a group to do Monoscene without thinking about character.  Improv is improv, but different styles and methods allow us to play shows and scenes that manipulate reality and comedy to varying affects.

Uniting all of these, though, is what I call the dynamic in the scene.  It is the sub-atomic level of all improvisation.  The core of any improv scene, regardless of style, is the two people being affected, most often by each other.  Everything else in the improv scene is super invisible and make believe, except for how the people are being affected.  The people will always feel more palpable and real, the audience will always inherently invest in their active behavior above all else, and it is where the moment-to-moment truth in comedy comes from in a scene.  Every reaction is another chance for an honest response.

A relationship is not compelling if the people are not actually affecting each other; a character is no fun if he/she doesn’t affect anyone.  A game and pattern is meaningless without anyone being affected by it, etc.  Good improvisation in any style follows these ideas and usually leads you back to being affected; The audience doesn’t want a sketch you wrote in your head 2 seconds ago.  They are compelled and moved to laughter and other emotions by the shared journey and the truths and humor discovered on the way.

N: You’re joining the National Improv Network as a team member. What are you most excited about joining the team?

R: The growth of improv over the last decade or two has been amazing, and the capabilities of the National Improv Network to help further connect the community are really fascinating to me.  Our art form is a transient one.  If someone in New York makes some interested musical innovation, someone in LA can hear it on a record, online, etc.  They can experience those ideas.  But for improvisation, we need to connect to each other, we need to travel and see what else is going on to get that outside inspiration.  The freer the exchange of ideas, the better, and I think NIN is a wonderful tool for that.

N: What drew you to join the team at NIN?< R: I'm a user of the site and a big fan of the goals and aims.  I have faith in improv not only as a useful tool to develop comedy but also as a wonderful artform and pursuit itself, and I also believe in collaboration over competition as a way to achieve those means.  I think NIN embodies all of that, and so it's a no brainer to help be a part of it! N: You travel to a bunch of festivals, where do you see improv in five years from now?

R: The change and growth I’ve seen in New York and beyond in the last few years has been amazing.  You still get the same commitment and love in improv by folks who are pursuing and interested in comedy as an art and career.  But I’ve been seeing so many more “regular people” who want to try improv for other reasons, to work on public speaking, feel more confident, meet people, or simply to be playful and have fun.  Improv is becoming a thing that adults just do as a part of being an adult.  In my head, I liken it maybe to where yoga has gone?  From a more niche thing to something that a large part of the population participates in.  I think improv is immensely rewarding to do and enhances people’s lives in so many ways; I see that continuing to spread.
-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. He has also taught workshops around the country. 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