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.

Over the Rhine

A review of the IF CINCY Improv Festival of Cincinnati

A few weeks ago, I was very fortunate to perform with Switch Committee at the first ever improv festival in Cincinnati. The festival, produced by OTRimprov, went off without a hitch. They were very well organized months in advance in terms of preparation, marketing, and hospitality. This festival was run very smoothly and it looked like they have been doing it (running festivals) for a while even though it was only their first year. They were more than prepared in terms of providing performers with hotel deals and all the essential information visitors to their city would need (local restaurants, coffee shops, bars, uber/lyft info) for the festival. Everyone involved was so nice and hospitable. So, rather than being vague and saying “it was great” over and over, I’ll give some specifics on the things I loved. Here goes:

  1. CINCINNATTI! It is a very hip and stylish city with buildings designed with beautiful murals and street art. Before our workshop, we went to a coffee shop down the street from the theater called the Coffee Emporium. I got something called a Milk Way. Write that down. Milk Way in Cincy. There are a few areas of town that could be considered a little shady, but doesn’t every city have that? If you’re visiting to perform I would just ask the organizers or other local performers where the best places to go are instead of meandering around town on your own. It’s also really close to Kentucky, which we did not know. We thought our phones were messed up numerous times throughout the weekend while we were driving around.
  • Swag Bags We got bags which contained t-shirts, lanyards, chips, water, and other knick-knacks. I’m a big fan of the swag bag and most importantly the lanyard because I collect them trading cards. For some festivals, you have to purchase a t-shirt, but they were kind enough to include them in the bags. Free t-shirts may be expensive, but if you have the budget it’s definitely something I suggest the festival do. Keep in mind, you want performers to wear those t-shirts and represent your festival when they get back home. “Oh that’s a cool shirt, how was that festival, I think we’ll submit next year” is something that could come out of providing your performers with shirts.
  • Team Dinner They offered dinner to all the performers at the local hotel everyone was staying at. There was bread, croissants, cookies, pop, green beans, and mac n’ cheese, potatoes, and roast beef. It was a very nice gesture and I know all of the teams appreciated it. They didn’t have to do that, but they did and that speaks volumes about how they welcomed the performers to the festival.
  • House Dad We were assigned a house dad who was available to answer any questions we may have had while on our visit to Cincinnati. I love this because it gives visitors the ability to interact with a local performer and find out more about the place they are visiting. Phoenix does this too and it is extremely helpful for the performers in getting accommodated and feeling welcome.
  • The Know Theatre The theatre is beautiful and perfect for an improv show. There are two performance spaces within this theater. The ‘underground’ Cabaret stage right when you walk into the theater, which is a small and quaint stage perfect for a 2-man show and the ‘Mainstage’ upstairs, which is fully equipped theatrical venue with an enormous amount of space and a turquoise carpet perfect for a 10+ person ensemble. We got to play upstairs and very much enjoyed the amount of space provided.
  • Workshops They offered workshops to the performers. We were fortunate enough to be able to teach a workshop and it went extremely well. I know Susan Messing also taught a workshop and if she’s teaching a workshop that’s just another reason you should be at this festival.

All in all, OTRi did an incredibly fantastic and amazing job producing their first ever improv festival. I mean, hell, they got Susan Messing to headline their first year! That’s big time baby! The bar has been set and it’s pretty high. At the end of the weekend, the whole festival was a major success and I’m very excited to see how it grows and develops in the years to come. Teams looking for a new improv festival to go to should put this one on their radar.

Congratulations IF CINCY! Great Job!

  • 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.

5th Annual Red Rocks Improv Festival Review

There it is! Another amazing improv festival in the books! Once again our friends from Off The Cuff in Cedar City, Utah have brought us three nights of amazing comedy to enjoy, experience, and to learn from as the 5th Annual Red Rocks Improv Festival hit the ground running in classic improv fashion.

First of all, I need to point out the amount of planning and preparation that went into this festival. Don’t confuse the RRIF as another one of “those” festivals where you show up and “check-in”, only to sit around and wait for your performance time slot to approach, all-the-while wishing that you’d been able to meet a few other performing teams at the bar and network. Sound familiar? Of course it does. Because unlike mega-festivals (ie DCM, LAICF, and CIF) this is a smaller intimate group setting. The producers of the RRIF did that intentionally so as to create a community away from your home. This serves two purposes:

1) It actually allows you to mingle and to get to know other teams in a one-on-one basis.

2) It enhances your performance on stage. It really does. For instance, how many times have you performed at LAICF and the crowd was so small (assuming there IS a crowd) that you throw in the towel and say “screw it”. Instead of being focused on “what form are we going to do for the festival” you find yourself in a much more relaxed/social environment where you focus on each other. You are LITERALLY BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS offstage, which in turn translates to building relationships onstage. See how that happens? So yeah! A huge round of applause to Off The Cuff for creating an intimate social environment for all to enjoy!

The second aspect of the festival that I’d like to point out is the extra curricular activities. I am specifically referring to the hikes out in Zion National Park. These hikes are breathtaking and super fun! I mean, just check out that view:


You really want to pass THIS up? And this is just one of many hikes this region has to offer.

I could go on and on about how much I loved the hikes, but I’ll let Yelp do that for me. In the meantime, visually munch on these pics I snapped.

Now for the comedy aspect of the festival. I mean, wow. Just….wow! The RRIF has a way of finding some of the BEST improv teams out there! Just to highlight a few of the showstoppers, teams like Beehive, Fancy Football, The Comedy Project, Old Vegas, Melissa? and Pawn Takes Queen were among the best of the best. You may not have heard of some of these teams, but trust me…you won’t soon forget them!

And especially as an east coaster, I’m am super thrilled to get to know and mingle with more than just teams from New York and Boston.

Attending improv festivals is seriously one of the best things you can do as an improviser as it allows you to showcase your talents, network with other teams, improve your skills by building relationships off stage, and experience something completely new that you normally wouldn’t have the chance to see in your own hometown.

Cross-pollination, people! That’s what we are trying to accomplish here!

Oh! Here’s something I forgot to mention: the STAGE! Wow! What an amazing theater these guys have created! The theater at OTC is part of a strip mall including stores like Big Lots, The Dollar Tree, and JoAnn Fabrics (not quite sure if those businesses are accurate, but you get my gist), but don’t hold that against them because once you get inside….holy crap! It’s beautiful! For starters, it’s an open-air room with a full size elevated stage located in the rear of the space, and individual padded chairs facing forward. The ticket counter is smartly located right as you walk in the theater, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but trust me. It is. Many other theaters either don’t have an established ticket counter, or if they do it is all the way in the back or easy to miss. So yeah. It’s a big deal that the first thing you see is where to purchase your tickets. Immediately on your left as you walk in is the tech booth. Again, not a huge deal to point out, but in OTC’s case it is. For those of you who have had to tech shows in the past, how cumbersome are most tech booths? They are small, tiny, cramped spaces that aren’t usually large enough to accommodate more than two or three people at a time. And even that’s a stretch of the imagination! Off The Cuff’s tech booth is probably 15×10 feet in surface area, and has a full range of your standard lights, sound, and projection, but it is also equipped with a full video editing station so you can receive a copy of your performance before you go home!

Long story long, the theater at OTC is one of my favorite to perform on because you actually feel like you’re performing on a stage. As a performer, that’s huge! I’ve done festivals in the past where my “stage” is a 5’x3’x5″ off the ground, and the room feels like a glorified broom closet. (Not exactly praising your performers here, guys). But the stage at OTC’s Red Rocks Improv Festival make you feel like a rock star!

In summary (what a clichéd way to end a review), the Red Rocks Improv Festival is certainly one of the BEST I’ve ever been to! (And I’ve been to a lot!) Sure, it might take you a while to get there, but once you do you won’t regret it!

Mike began his comedy career in 2005 as a Philadelphia Phillies “Phanstormer,” performing on-field sketches for the crowd. He founded The Mike Brown Solo Improv Extravaganza and was a member of improv teams “Trapper John”, “Robot Junkie”, and “Ha-Prov”, and currently performs two-prov with “God’s Little Athiest”.

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.


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 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.


As Long As We’re Here

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you run a festival, chances are you started because you’d been to a festival you enjoyed. As a young performer, it’s awesome to get to perform for a new audience and see new shows. It’s exciting to get workshops from great instructors you don’t have access to. Those are usually the take backs from anyone’s first festival – because those things are great. As performers grow, those things are still wonderful, but they have new needs as well.

When I talk to people putting on festivals, the thing they’re always excited about is recreating that experience for new players, great shows and great workshops. That’s the beginning of a great festival. But there’s so much potential to schedule more. You’re city will soon be host to dozens of performers. But it will also be host to other teachers, coaches, directors, artistic directors, marketing managers, festival organizers, and theatre owners. How often do you have all these people in one place. A festival is a great chance to cater to their needs, but also to learn something from them in return.

There are many activities and ideas that can make the festival a great productive time for everyone and make your theatre and other theatres grow from the experience. Here are a few ideas, please think even beyond them.

Non-performance workshops:
Workshops on making yourself better onstage are invaluable. You can also schedule workshops to make yourself better offstage. Have you ever considered inviting someone you consider to be a great teacher to run a workshop for other teachers? Imagine having Craig Cackowski or Miles Stroth working with your instructors helping them make the training center in your town better. Workshops on coaching or directing can make your theatre (and those of other visitors) great.

And what about the business side of running a festival. Get together a bunch of festival organizers and go to a workshop together on social media marketing or how to secure sponsors. Or just how to maintain a budget for a venue. Here’s the thing that will sound really strange. The workshops don’t have to be run by performers. If you know someone who is great a writing grants, ask them to run a workshop. Your festival and other festivals will grow from the experience.

Do you have a big headliner coming to your festival? An A-List performer. If they do a workshop, great. You might also ask them to have a one hour talkback session with performers all all experience levels to ask advice on a variety of topics. These are smart people and they have ideas that might help outside the context of their workshop. A lot of people may have questions, here’s a chance to ask them.

Panels are another great way to let experiences folks talk on subjects that they are great at. This already happens at your festivals, but it happens at the bar during the afterparty. Bring it into the daylight, let people bring a pen and paper and listen to a series of teachers and organizers give presentations on ways to help theatre, ensemble and festival health.

Full blown conference
We’re professional performers. We can act like any other professionals do, except we’re probably more fun. Mix all of these above ideas in whatever fashion you choose. Create a schedule of different talks and open conversations in various rooms. Set moderators, invite visiting performers to suggest topics of conversation. Get theatre owners talking to each other. Get festival organizers sharing ideas in structured and unstructured ways. Don’t get rid of the workshops, but add something to do for the people looking to make their ensembles better.

You’ll be surprised how much you learn.

Fun fact. In 2012, people from Austin, Phoenix, Minneapolis, La Crosse, Los Angeles & Houston spent two hours during a festival talking about how to improve the festival submission process across the country. The result was The National Improv Network. Amazing ideas can come out of sharing ideas with other folks. If they’re in your town, make something amazing happen.

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

Miles To Go Before I Sleep


NIN with Producer Jeanette Knight

There’s a famous poem by Robert Frost that I do not have permission to post in its entirety here. In it, the narrator stops his horse on a snowy night far from the city at a small farmhouse in the deep of the night. Even his horse is confused at this seemingly non-final destination, but the narrator understands what the horse does not; that there is still a great journey ahead, but the journey itself and those points along it should be cherished as much as the destination.

I think of that poem frequently since my visit to the Coachella Valley Improv/Comedy Festival, a freshman event that in some structural ways was very different than what many of us recognize as an improv festival. After-parties were replaced with dinner banquets. Energy drink sponsors were replaced by city council members. The audiences had a solid generation lead on the audiences elsewhere. Those surface level differences were immediately noticeable. But just as noticeable was the far deeper similarity; a true love of the art. It was visible on the faces of every staff member, every volunteer. They loved what improv was and could be.

And the audience loved every moment of it. This audience, many in their 60s or beyond, had possibly never seen this thing we’ve fallen in love with. And now they’re in love too. Such a joy of discovery was evident in the audience as they poured out after the last performances of the evening. I recognized that look of a new found love that I’ve seen in so many level 1 students over the years.

There’s an old, bad notion that only shortform should be shown to an “unsophisticated” or “untried” audience; that longform is never going to win over an improv Muggle. There’s an old, bad notion that to do challenging artistic work (in shortform or longform) you have to find the hip, elite, Avant-garde audience – probably in a major city. I personally challenge anyone who passes on these ideas to run those theories by any audience member walking out of the Indio Performing Arts Center that night. These people were not treated with kid gloves. Fancy Football hit some dark honest relationships, DAAAANG Judi Dench and Mister Town City both weaved complex narratives around each other in tremendously satisfying ways. White Women hit every single scene hard and unflinching. Every show that night rang with the truest sense of Truth in Comedy. They honored the oft quoted words of Del and treated their audience like poets. And the audience reacted in kind.

The residents of Indio, California are not elite or underground. They enjoy good art. The residents of Juneau, Alaska are the farthest thing in the world from Avant-garde, but Rorschach Pattern 9 constantly and consistently challenges them artistically. And they come. Chicago and San Francisco gave a wonderful gift to the world many decades ago; a gift I am thankful for every day. But now that gift belongs to all of us. And that gift needs to continue to be shared in every place.

Improv doesn’t need to be the exclusive privilege of the metropolis. Festivals shouldn’t be the domain of cities with NFL franchises. Any town I visit that tells me it’s too small to support an improv scene, I will point to Indio. Any town that says its audiences wouldn’t get improv, I will point to Indio. Improv is everywhere. The love of improv is everywhere. The state of improv in the world – just like in that poem – is lovely, dark and deep. But we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep.

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

That’s Made Up?

Over a year ago, I went to my very first improv festival – the 12th annual Phoenix Improv Festival, to be exact. I had been doing short form for a little while and knew someone within the Torch Theatre community, which produces the festival. I was anxious to expand my horizons and watch some performances. I don’t have enough time to encapsulate my experience – it changed my life and I spent the next year in the Torch watching shows, training, volunteering and performing.

One night while sitting in the box office during my volunteer shift, Bill Binder was at the computer and suddenly said, “Hey, you should submit to festivals.” Hah. That’s rich. Me. Wait, he’s not joking.

So many questions filled my head, “What? Really? Are you sure? Huh? Me? Now? … Really, really?” None of them particularly enlightened, but also none of which unsure of how to go about submitting. You see, I also sat in the meeting during PIF13 that was launching a social network for improvisers – the National Improv Network. I had all the necessary means to successfully submit to a variety of festivals across the country, so really the only question in my head should have been, “Why not?” (This is also what Bill said to me.)

Cut to my troupe mate Rachel Cepeda and me sitting at a Starbucks madly investigating all the festivals with open submissions that were somewhat nearby. There’s one in Roseville! I have no idea where that is, let’s go there! Hey, this is where Nick Armstrong grew up! (2nd name drop, you’re welcome.)

And we were accepted.

And we drove for 13 hours up to Roseville, CA.

It was awesome.

We made it in late Saturday evening and went straight to the theatre to catch the last block of shows. The Tower Theatre is a beautiful venue with this awesome stage that has seating on three sides of it like a peninsula in a sea of audience members. And the audience was so excited and supportive; watching such a different array of improvisers was incredible.

Rachel and I visited a wine tasting Sunday afternoon where we both ended up teaching the people there some improv. For some reason, my explanation of ‘yes and’ was translated to repeating everything I said in a question (i.e.: “You were late to work today.” “I was late to work today? Oh.”) – my instructing needs work, I get it.

I (and I know Rachel, too) was filled with so many emotions throughout the weekend – anticipation, trepidation, adrenaline, nerves, giddiness, excitement, more nerves – that continued even to right before we got onstage to do our set.

They No Girls

They No Girls

The performance was nothing like I’ve ever done before. It didn’t even feel like a show – it felt like a rehearsal people were watching. They trusted us so implicitly and followed us on our journey. It was without a doubt the best show we have ever performed. It isn’t even comparable to performing in a regular theatre schedule because festival shows have this pure energy that cannot be reproduced in any other environment; you can’t manufacture the thrill an improv community unleashes in getting the rare opportunity to showcase its love to the masses.

The National Improv Network isn’t going to change the way improv is done – it is changing the way it’s done. I may not fully comprehend but am in no way oblivious to the fact that I would have never performed in the California Improv Festival without NIN. Rachel and I (They No Girls) are the only non-house team at our theatre that has performed in a festival. That is really because people don’t submit. You may still find yourself hindered by agonizing doubt, but you are no longer hindered by lack of resources.

So if you’re reading this and you’ve never experienced what I’ve experienced, all I have to say to you is this:

Hey, you should submit to festivals.

I began my long form improvisation training in the summer of 2013 at The Torch Theatre. I perform now with the newest Torch house team along with other various troupes.

You can watch Alisha and Rachel’s performance at the California Improv Festival Here

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.

Spotlight On: Big Little Comedy Fest

thumbnail_1399617601-300x300[1]I’ve met a lot of great festival producers through the National Improv Network. One person I didn’t meet here is Tina Jackson. Tina has been a passionate performer on the festival circuit for about as long as I can remember. She’s been leading by example in the community for a long time, which is why I was excited to hear a few years back that she and Dan Grimm (another fantastic performer) were going to be putting on a festival. Both they and I had been on the road long enough to see the kinds of festivals that did things excellently and those who maybe had a little room to improve. I knew that Tina and Dan, and the people they were working with would build an amazing festival coming from the knowledge of a traveling performer.

And they did. Big Little Comedy Fest has grown quickly and its growing list of amazing producers is still out there on the road doing what they can to make festivals around the country great. In all that time, however. I never really had a chance to ask about some of the really unique ideas at Big Little. So I jumped at the chance to learn a little more.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the only improv festival that isn’t permanently housed in one city. There’s obviously a passion there to do something. What was the genesis of the festival. What made you feel the need to create such a unique festival?

The genesis for Big-Little started about 5 years ago when I was unceremoniously cut from my Harold Team at iO. I had a bit of a personal improv crisis at that time – What am I doing in Chicago if the reason I moved here is no longer part of my life? Am I still a good performer? I had a pow-wow with my former coach, Kevin Sciretta, who assured me that I was still a dynamic performer, and encouraged me to find another avenue for my passion, outside of iO, which turned out to be festivals. Having attended a handful myself, I decided to call a few friends and set up an informal weekend of shows at a small theatre in Grand Rapids, MI (where I’d gone to college). That weekend’s success is what became the first Big-Little Comedy Fest. It was my way of turning lemons into lemonade. My improv redemption.

Turns out, running a festival out of town, and in 2 cities throughout the last 5 years, was both complicated and extremely rewarding. I always compare it to planning an out-of-town wedding, hiring the best musicians, the best wedding photography, and catering. But what’s so great about Cleveland and Grand Rapids is that unlike Chicago, where Big-Little is based, they’re cities that aren’t over-saturated with improv. They’re hungry for shows and workshops and out-of-town exposure, and even local press that they aren’t normally able to garner on their own on a regular basis. What Big-Little has turned into is an opportunity to bring big city improv, sketch, and stand-up in a large-scale event to smaller comedy communities throughout the Midwest. (Hence the name, Big-Little Comedy.) But what we really love is the chance to show places like Cleveland and Grand Rapids at large what kind of comedy already exists in their city by showcasing the great local teams alongside out-of-town acts that draw more attention to the event.

Babymakers (Vert)That said, you’ve been in Cleveland two years now. Is it going to be your home for a while now? What made you decide on Ohio this year?

We’re definitely going to be in Cleveland for the forseeable future. Cleveland is my hometown, so last year’s move to Cleveland amazing for me in a lot of ways. Not only was Big-Little able to put on an AMAZING weekend of shows for bigger houses than we ever have before, but (selfishly) I was able to bring my passion home to my family and friends, which was such a great added bonus. We’re also trying to get shows together in Louisville, with a potential for adding a full festival there within the next year.

The festival has been going on for five years, but I know the producers have been on the festival circuit themselves for many years. What kinds of things are you hoping to bring from other festivals? What things do you think you’re making even better

Oh God, I love festivals. One of the best parts of festivals, for me, is the networking you get to do with other performers from around the country. This past year, we made it a point to treat our performers like rock stars, including airport pickup, personal liaisons, killer afterparties, performer discounts, etc. That’s something we’ve always loved about festivals like Out of Bounds, the effort they make to ensure that your stay in their city is as pleasant as possible.

Full CrewWhat is the Cleveland improv scene like. And what are its audiences used to? What kinds of shows are you hoping to introduce to the city?

Cleveland comedy is primarily built around a popular stand-up and theatre scene, but the improv scene, although small, is a vibrant one. There’s a little longform, a little shortform, a little sketch (I can’t recommend ​
Last Call Cleveland highly enough), a little training, but no dedicated theatre or organized scene on ​​ a large​r ​
scale. The local teams there have great followings, which makes Cleveland such a great city for a festival. The audiences really love and embrace comedy and come out to support it in force.

And despite being largely unfamiliar with longform, they really seem to respond to it, which is so great.​

Every time I’ve performed in Cleveland, it’s been in front of a packed house (and a​s a regular Chicago performer, that’s such a nice change of pace from some of our​ regular​ shows​)​.

Lost DogWhat are some things that are new to the festival this year?
New starting this year will be trying to run fests in 2 cities in the same year. We don’t have official dates for an event in Louisville yet, but we’re looking forward to adding more events in more Midwest cities every year from now on.​

What are some of the non-performance activities planned for the festival this year? Workshops? Parties?

We’ve definitely got a couple fun things in the works including a reprise of our awesome bowling/drinking afterparties at Corner Alley.​


Where does Big Little go from here?
Onward and upward! We have a lot of things building right now for our 5th Anniversary Year, including more events both in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. Our network’s really been building for the last several years and it feels like everything’s coming together for us now. We added a lot of new staff this year, including 3 new producers, interns, and a dedicated marketing team, which is nice because we’re finally able to do some of the things we’ve had on the backburner for a while, because we didn’t have the manpower to put them into action.​

It’s not too late to visit this year. Submissions are open for another week. I highly recommend submitting and heading to Ohio.

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

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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