Spotlight On: The 13th Annual Phoenix Improv Festival

I met Bill Binder in an iO West Class over 10 years ago. He would drive from Arizona to LA to take his class each week and then drive back home the same night. He finished classes at iO and went back to Phoenix to help created the Phoenix Improv Festival and The Torch Theater.

My first ever improv festival was PIF in 2004. Among the improvisors there were such improv vets as Craig Cackowski and Jack McBrayer. I had no idea what an improv festival was or what it was even all about. But I have to say I was the luckiest improvisor alive to experience PIF. It really was a game changer for me as an improvisor and improv in general. It paved the way for a lot of things including NIN. Celebrating their 13th year as a festival I interviewed Executive Producer of PIF and Co-Founder of NIN Bill Binder about the upcoming festival:

You’re celebrating 13 years of the Phoenix Improv Festival. How does that feel and what are your goals this year?

Reflective. We have such a huge wonderful community, but some of us have been here since PIF 1. It’s interesting to see how the community and we, as people, have grown and changed in the past decade. We’ve learned so much and we’re always excited to have new people and ideas help it grow even more.

Logistically we have many internal goals that are related to growth. The last two years we played it a little safer than we had in the past because there were so many things going on in Phoenix. Dearing Studio and The Torch opened, NCT and Theater 168 both expanded. Weddings, babies. So much. But this year we can put a lot of our focus back on the festival growing again. We want to push our comfort levels a little. We’re right on the cusp of becoming a much bigger cultural event here.

Our other big goal is becoming another hub for communications between improvisors. Our first festival was designed solely to get the theatres in our town together to learn from each other. We’re really at a point where we can be doing that on a national level. If we’re all in one place, why not use that time to share ideas as theatre owners and festival organizers outside of just having shows?

What can improvisors expect at your festival outside of performances? Workshops? Conferences?

We’ll have a few workshops for sure this year. We haven’t nailed down exactly who yet. We will be bringing back the unconference this year after it’s success last year. Every festival has great discussions during after parties, but we’ve moved them into the daytime as well. Saturday afternoon will be set aside for organized discussions in the hotel on coaching, marketing, improv theory, you name it. Last year, the breakout panel was a discussion on gender issues in improv across the country. We’re really excited to be host to these conversations so that we can all grow.

We’ll also be having a photo shoot and probably a few other things to announce. Oh, and the after parties will be pretty great this year.

Talk about your venue? Where does PIF take place?

We love playing in The Herberger Theater Center. I honestly believe it’s the most beautiful venue in our state. We all love our respective theatres in town, but it’s nice once a year to dress up nicer and present our art to an audience that might not think to see improv otherwise.

What’s there to do in Phoenix?

It depends what you’re looking to do. Our venue is about 1/4 of a mile from Chase Field where the AZ Diamondbacks play. We’re also just south of The Phoenix Art Museum, Opera House and The Deck Park. There are plenty of good places to eat around Phoenix too. Visitors almost always love Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles and some folks want to go visit Pizzeria Bianco ever since Oprah named it The Best Pizza in America. (If you want to avoid the four hour wait, ask a local for the secret to get in fast). We are also in old-west territory, so we have plenty of mountains and deserts nearby for hiking and views. Of course, past festivals have shown that plenty of people just love hanging out at the pool or playing basketball at the hotel. (Did I mention we put all of our performers and instructors up in a hotel a block from the venue?)

What makes PIF different then any other festival?

Wow. That’s a great question. I think the big difference I see between PIF and other festivals which I love is that most festivals are really connected with the passionate people at a particular theatre in town. Phoenix takes more of a Green Bay Packers approach. I don’t think the people of Phoenix associate the festival with any particular group or theatre. It’s part of the cultural landscape of the city. People get excited talking about it eight months before it happens because they know it will be a celebration for everybody. As much as we use the festival to promote improv all over the city year round, people know the festival as part of this city’s traditions and they come out to see great art. We take that responsibility to heart to show them great art and that means treating our visitors like the artists they are. I know – as a traveling performer – that sometimes you feel a bit like a vagabond, but here you’re an artist. And I think that respect leads to great shows and great times. We still use one venue because if we invite you to come play, we want to see you. and we want other troupes to see you too. I was honored by the quote from Dave Hill in our local paper last year.

There are a couple of festivals that have been around for a while that have become a little more corporate, a little long in the tooth. And that’s why the PIF is so unique. It’s grown, but it feels like both a grass-roots and a big-time experience.

Submissions for The Phoenix Improv Festival are now open and you can instantly submit on NIN today! Submit HERE.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups. 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!

A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships

a_rising_tide_lifts_all_boats

When we started the idea of the National Improv Network one of our goals was to help all improv theaters grow and succeed. As it is improv is not really widely known to the general public. To the improvisor shaking his or her head right now, you know your Mom thinks you still do stand-up. It’s true, we know what it is because we live, breath and sleep improv. But if you go do interviews on the street asking what they think improv is, I can guarantee their either going to say Stand-up or Whose Line is it Anyway.

Our philosophy is this, A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships. This means that working together for the common good of our art will only make each company grow and succeed. That since the general public isn’t aware of improv, working together to bring awareness, such as putting on an improv festival or going out together in your community is a great way to bring awareness, thus bringing more audience to all theaters. You’d think with a community that is so embedded in the yes and club it would be the way all over the place. It’s not. In my travels I’ve heard  and witnessed some communities that have drawn battle lines, poach players from each other, have non-compete clauses, where players can only play at their theatre and it makes me frown. If you only understood that following the improv philosophy of yes and is the way you should be conducting your business. We are not a corporate entity we are a community of people. I get that some companies are considered corporate improv, but we can’t treat it as you would like running a Walmart.

A perfect example is Los Angeles. There started out being only 2 improv theaters when I first moved out there, now there is probably 7 to 10. Could be more, they’re popping up everyday. Having all these improv theaters in town has only grown improv and brought more awareness to the general public. When I started at iO West in 2001, we only had one theater to perform in and maybe our friends came to watch. Fast forward to 2013 and we perform in front of sold out crowds and there are three theaters running at iO West and UCBLA always has a line out the door. There’s enough to go around if you create the awareness.

This may not apply to you, I honestly think it’s a small percentage of communities, but still if we all work together, if we are all the tide that makes all our ships rise the world will have to know who we are and what we do. After all aren’t you tired of your Mom asking you how your stand up is going…No Mom I do improv!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups. 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!

Improvaganza Ohana

Kumu Kahua Theatre

Kumu Kahua Theatre

Improvaganza had their 8th annual festival and it was a mix of traditions that have become part of that festival and completely new surprises. The Honolulu improv scene is constantly growing and changing and it reflects in a spectacular festival.

Many people assume the reason to visit an improv festival in Honolulu is spending a weekend in Hawai’i. And it’s not a bad perk. But the festival is one of the high water marks across the country for making the festival itself as rewarding and fun an experience for visitors as possible.

As a visiting performer, the variety of shows was one of the highlights of the festival. Most festivals generally tend to invite groups that are similar to the style of the town their visiting. But Hawai’i invites shows from drastically different schools. Funbucket from Seattle and Indigo Shift from Austin are stylistically about as far apart on the spectrum as you can be, but both were celebrated and both were shown to audiences that get to learn that improv isn’t just one thing. Geographically as well, Honolulu has the blessing and curse of being equally far for everyone. This year’s international entry came in the form of Paris Tales from – not surprisingly – Paris.

The Arts at Mark's

The Arts at Mark’s

The diversity doesn’t limit itself even to improvised theatre. Improvised musical performances from Leeni and the musical jam band and improvised movement and dance from Spatial Sculptors were part of the weekend as well. There was even improvised karaoke.

Another great gesture for performers is the walking situation of the festival as a whole. Visiting performers don’t always have transportation while in town. A cab ride was needed for many to get from their hotels to the festival, but once there, everything was a quick walk. Many good places to eat were nearby and both venues were within four minutes of each other. The Arts at Mark’s Garage and the historic Kumu Kahua theatre were both beautiful spaces well suited for improv and easy to travel between. This was great not only for getting to call times, but seeing other groups as well without being stuck at one venue all day long. This is something more festivals should strive for.

On a personal note, this was my fifth year going to Improvaganza. I am honored to have been invited back so many times to such a wonderful festival. My group Galapagos was inducted into the Five Timers Club and the pleasure to perform the closing show of the festival. It was a very special thing to me.

The Hawaiian culture is beautiful. Most visitors to the islands only see it in it’s commercialized, charicaturized form. But the real people who live their treat that culture with honesty and love. It’s a culture not dissimilar to that we all share as improvisors; support and trust. Mahalo Improvaganza.


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

Spotlight On: Eau Claire Improv Festival

ECIFThe Upper-Midwest doesn’t havea a great improv scene; it has several. Chicago, Minneapolis, Madison & Detroit are each growing communities with their own style. Smack in the middle of that, Eau Claire, Wisconsin has been looking to grow into a nationally recognized community of its own, and it seems to be off to a great start with the help of people like Amber Dernbach and Elliot Heinz. What tarted as a single high school team back around the time of Jurassic Park and Crystal Pepsi, has now grown to a vibrant improv town. Eau Claire now has an improv festival all it’s own. We’re excited to have a new festival as part of the network and I was able to reach out with some questions for Amber – the festival’s lead coordinator so travelling improvisors could learn a little bit about their festival and maybe try to add it to their next round of visits.

Eau Claire is pretty new to the national improv scene. What’s the improv like there? You’re in a pretty unique place to be quite near Chicago and Madison which are strong longform and shortform cities, respectively. How do those play out in Eau Claire?

The improv scene here has been fostered at our Eau Claire Memorial High School, where alumni have then gone out with the goal of improvising in the nation. Since the beginning of the high school program in 1993, Eau Claire has rapidly learned to love and support the local improv scene. The adult teams in the area share a unique blend of short and long form improv, where you can see both in one performance. The Memorial improv program begins its season with short form, but always works towards the final goal of a long form performance at the end of the school year. A university has also finally emerged in the last few years, focusing only on short form. High school alumni often come back to Eau Claire after years of experience in places like Chicago or Minneapolis with incredible long form performances. The Eau Claire audience is beginning to get the hang of long form improv as more teams emerge and continue to push the scene as far as it can go.

Rick Andrews

Rick Andrews

What can a visiting performer expect if they visit. In addition to a show, will there be any special workshops or other events? Will there be a chance for improvisers to meet each other outside of showtimes?

We will have workshops available from Rick Andrews (NYC, Magnet Theater), individuals from Minneapolis, Chicago, and Eau Claire. Most of the festival is close enough together where it will be impossible not to meet everyone. This year we are offering a “home base” of sorts at a local improv household. Here teams are free to crash on the floor or a cot. The basement of this house has a small theater and will be available for teams to practice, warm-up, or jam with one another. We will have other housing options if teams wish not to be a part of the “home base” household.

When the festival isn’t going on, what other things are there to do in Eau Claire? What’s the best place to grab food near the festival? Are there any historic sites or interesting places to visit nearby?

Accessible, affordable, park-like Eau Claire can be a winter wonderland in December. We have several parks that folks can walk through, antique shops for gazing, several eateries for grazing. The Leine’s Lodge is just a short drive away in Chippewa Falls, WI where adults can tour the brewery and have a few drinks as well. Grab a cup of coffee at Racy’s, breakfast at the Nucleus on Water St. or the Grand Ave Café on Grand St., lunch at the Acoustic Café, dinner at Tokyo Japanese Restaurant or Shanghai Cuisine. Eau Claire is full of cozy shops and café’s, all within 10 minutes of one another.

Lazy Monk

Lazy Monk

Other great things:

  • Rivers
  • Bike trails
  • Egg Roll Plus
  • Pad Thai (restaurant)
  • Lazy Monk Brewery
  • Banbury Place, independent artist studios in former tire plant.
  • Joynt, scooters
  • Galloway Grill
  • V1 Local Store
  • Public Library
  • Antique shop
  • UWEC Jazz
  • Vibrant downtown music scene
  • Strong local ethnic communities, primarily Hmong and Mexican.

This is your second year. What inspired you to put on a festival last year? What did you learn from that and hope to make even better this year? You’re surrounded by many improv cities, what are your hopes for making Eau Claire something special?

I decided to organize ECIF because there is an increasing improv scene in Eau Claire. What started as a near cult-level high school improv scene has spilled into a local adult scene. So many Memorial High Improv graduates have continued to be working improvisers around the region. Its important to celebrate this history and continue to develop local talent by offering accessibility to visiting national artists. What I learned from that first festival is that people in Eau Claire want more improv! Six hundred people attended a show or took a workshop last year. That level of support for a first year festival, run out of my kitchen between the hours of midnight and 2 a.m., spurred me to continue a second year. Eau Claire is special. We nurture our local artists and stay connected to those who started here.

I hope that we are able to offer shows to a wider audience this year and make improv a conversation topic for citizens everywhere. We want people to crave more improv in the community! We already have a thriving music scene, so we believe that improv can succeed just as well.

Anything else you’d like people to know about the festival?

Eau Claire is such a neat town and a place that you may not expect to find in Wisconsin. We experience every season here, Which allows us all to adapt to situations without hesitation. The scene here is young, but our community is very supportive with nightly crowds anywhere from 200-600 in the audience during the festival. Friends are made here and connections stay strong.


The festival is taking submissions right now. Feel free to submit or drop Elliot any questions on his profile or in the comments below.

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

Spotlight On: Alaska State Improv Festival

ASIFOne of my great regrets from last year’s festival circuit was that I was unable to make the trip up to The Alaska State Improv Festival. The prospect of visiting a beautiful new place was enticing enough, but I’d spent enough festivals talking with Eric Caldwell from the Alaska scene to know that it was a city where people cared about improv in a big way.

I had the chance to talk with Eric about ASIF as it enters its second year and talk about what performers can expect.

Alaska is a pretty big trip for many performers and the airfare is going to be higher than many other festivals. Lots of groups will do fundraisers to fund their trip. Outside of airfare, what kind of budget do you think performers will need to prepare for?

Airfare is a consideration, but we time our submissions to coincide with Alaska Airlines‘ annual sale. There are also some really good perks with the Alaska Airlines card that can get people to Juneau for less than they think. The festival is during “shoulder season” so hotels are relatively cheap. Festival staff and volunteers did a great job last year taking the performers around for personal tours and we’ve even provided for some of the meals, so there aren’t really many other expenses beyond discretionary spending.

Juneau is a very beautiful city. When not performing what things can people do and see near the festival? Aside from some extra layers, are there any other things that people should pack for a day out in the city?

Juneau’s generally not all that cold in late April, more like Seattle on a cool day than “Nanook of the North.” The area near the venue has some great cafes and restaurants, museums, and art galleries. Outside of the main downtown area, some of the sites that were popular with our guests included the Alaskan Brewing Company, the Mendenhall Glacier, the Treadwell Mine ruins, and a Catholic shrine where we saw whales, sea lions, and eagles from a scenic lookout.

What’s the improv scene in Juneau like? What kind of shows define the Alaskan improv style.

The improv scene in Juneau has developed its own attitude. As people come in and out, we look at where their strengths and interests lie and aren’t afraid to create shows that cater to those areas. Mike and I tour with a show that is Dada-influenced. One of our shows features a couple of local slam poets doing improvised poetry and scenes. At one point, we had a couple of playwrights in the group and started performing improvised one-acts based on locally-written works. It’s led to more people taking chances in both their shortform and longform work, and to people combining their personal interests into their improv formats.

SusanMessing_web[1]Outside of performances, what other treats will be in store for visitors? Do you have any activities planned for visitors? Will there be any workshops or panels? After parties?

Alaskan Brewing Company was one of our sponsors last year, and our after parties were a highlight. Susan Messing will be coming in from iO – Chicago to lead a couple workshops. Amber Nash, of Archer fame, is coming up from Dad’s Garage in Atlanta. So, yeah, we’ll put the quality of our workshops against any festival in the country. In addition to that, we took our guests to not only the tourist spots but to some of our local favorites. We wanted people to feel like they’d experienced Alaska, and the performers let us know that we’d succeeded.

I know you have traveled to many festivals and been involved with many other festival organizers over the years. What are some other festivals that have inspired the shape of ASIF? What are some things that you feel are lacking in the festival community and ASIF is trying to make better?

The Seattle Festival of Improvisational Theater has had a huge influence on what we do. They’ve done a great job of offering great shows and workshops, providing a real sense of community, and keeping it all within a realistic budget. I’ve focused on what I see as “best practices” and look at how we can use our local resources to produce the kind of festival I would like to attend as a guest.

One thing that traveling performers look forward to at festivals is seeing other shows and having time afterwards to share with each other. How much opportunity will visitors have to just hang out with each other and learn from each other?

That’s a primary focus. Performers were provided with festival passes and encouraged to attend each others’ shows, mostly stayed in the same lodgings, toured around the community together, had joint radio interviews, and after parties with free food. Our venue, McPhetres Hall has a commercial kitchen available, and we’ll be continuing our tradition of stocking the kitchen for group breakfasts. The main regret the performers expressed last year was that there weren’t opportunities to perform with the performers from other communities. We’ve fixed that this year by adding a fourth day and the opportunity for mash-up shows.

McPhetres Hall

McPhetres Hall

What’ the venue like?

The venue’s gorgeous. The original McPhetres Hall was a multi-purpose room inside a church. The church was destroyed by arson in 2006, and the church made a point to rebuild McPhetres Hall as a theater-first venue with flexible seating. The facility re-opened in 2011, built with local cedar, a solid light grid, and a nice stage. You could see the performers light up when they walked into the building.

You’re still early in planning your 2014 festival. What’s the one thing that you’re most focused on? What are your hopes for this year’s festival?

We focused on our master artists first. Susan Messing and Amber Nash. Check! Now we’re working on getting the word out to the performers. We had a solid roster last year, and we’re hoping to build on that. Andy Eninger gave us a great compliment, saying that he was amazed that a first year festival was so well organized. If we can maintain what we established in year one while presenting more high quality ensembles and continuing to expand our audience, we’ll be on the right path.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

The 2013 festival featured performers from all around the country. If you’re considering coming to AS IF, you probably either know someone who performed at the festival or know someone who knows one of the performers. They’ll be glad to tell you about their experiences at AS IF.

Submissions for The Alaska State Improv Festival are open now, but they’re closing soon. You can submit your troupe right now on the submission page. If you’d like more information on The Festival, you can visit the festival website or drop a message to Eric directly here on the site.

Improv Etiquette 101:H2NO!

no water botleIn this series of Blogs I will take you through why I believe Improv Etiquette is important and what it should be. I’ll try not to sound too much like an old man on a porch yelling at kids. I’m a reasonable guy, but do have some pet peeves that performers do. I think it’s important to take our art form seriously so hopefully this helps guide you. You can agree with me or not that’s okay these are just some guidelines that are pretty agreed upon by major improv theatres and veteran improvisers alike.

H2NO!
I was recently at an improv festival and I couldn’t believe how many performers brought water onstage.  They would do a scene and when the edit happened take a  swig of water, which then made an awful plastic crinkle noise, put it down onstage and started the next scene. Are you kidding? Now I’m staring at the water bottle! I can understand why stand-ups do it, it’s them up there shilling jokes. Improv is a theatrical experience and improvisors are the magicians. People come to watch improv to see something unique and funny and when you take a huge swig of water they remember you aren’t that magician you’re just another person shilling jokes. You can have water on the sidelines or backstage that’s cool, but don’t leave it onstage or drink it there you’re cheating yourself and the audience of theatrical experience.

Nick Armstorng

Nick is the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community hit us up!

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.

BONUS TIP:

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.  

Good Press Takes Work

newspaper

Don’t let this go to print

You’ve been working hard on your troupe, your theatre, your festival. You’ve been waiting for that chance to get some good coverage in the local press. The moment finally comes. You go down to your nearest 7-11 to pick up a copy and it’s… terrible. It’s a tiny article that takes several minutes to find. It has all the wrong info. It totally misrepresents what you’re all about. How can this be? The simple truth is this. You talk to your friends about improv. You surround yourself with people who get it. But the press in many cities simply doesn’t have the context for what you’re doing (Microsot Word still doesn’t even recognize the word), and to expect a Pulitzer winning article on your show isn’t going to happen without some effort on your part.

Here are seven tips to prepare and enable good press coverage. I’ll speak in terms of newspapers, but the same things apply for radio, television and web coverage. And I’m sorry to say it, but doing everything in this post will still lead to a crummy article or two. But keep at it. Continue to educate your press and the public in your town about what improv is and the quality of your coverage will blossom.

Politely Decline

Sooner or later you’re going to get a phone call or an email out of the blue from the local news. You didn’t send out a press release. You don’t have any big shows coming up. The call kind of catches you off guard. It can be a great opportunity, but you need to be prepared to politely say no thank you. This sounds almost blasphemous and its very difficult to do. But it sometimes will lead to much larger long term results.

It’s easy to get an ego boost from the contact, but step back for context for a moment. Unless you have a pretty good reputation in your city already, this reporter knows nothing about you and probably has some not quite accurate ideas on what improvisation is. There’s no news story to be had. You’ve been assigned as (cue dramatic music) a filler piece. Improv has been prime filler piece material for years. Improv articles appear in regular rotation right between “Biff! Pow! Comic Books Not Just For Kids Anymore” and “Grandma’s on Facebook Now. ‘Like’ It Or Not”.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a filler piece. They can potentially bring people to your show. Keep in mind that the filler piece doesn’t go to the star reporter, it goes to the cub reporter out on their first or second article. They’re looking to get something in by their deadline. They likely have a set of preconceived notions and they are basically looking to put a couple of dates and a soundbite into the Mad Libs they inherited from the last cub reporter before they even call you.

Don’t believe me? Let’s play newspaper Bingo with the last improv article you saw. How many of these can you spot?

 If you didn’t think Sarah Palin, a dinosaur and Gangnum Style were funny, you clearly haven’t been down to see the folks at ComedyHut.

If you’ve only seen Whose Line, you only seen the half of it.

You’re on a quest for buried treasure. Suddenly a robot pops up. Or a zombie. Think Fast! That’s exactly what the quick-witted folks down at Bucket-O-Yuks do every week.

We’re always ‘folks’ by the way. When you get asked. Thank the reporter very much for their interest and invite them to come see a show. Seeing a show and being in your space can illuminate what you’re about far better than two minutes on the phone can. Suggest that you don’t feel answering a few quick questions will accurately portray what you are.

If they agree. Great! Comp them. Come down and say hello.  Let them see what your all about. If they aren’t willing to come down to the theatre, respectfully decline the article and wish them good luck.

But… Isn’t all publicity good publicity? Who cares if the article’s a little stale if it gets people in the door right? Sadly no. No ill intent is in those lazy articles, but they paint a picture of improv that further builds up the stereotypes and misconceptions about the craft and reinforces the reasons people use as excuses “not” to see improv. Of course you will get a few people to come to your show. Those people are expecting to see what the article made you out to be, and they’re going to be disappointed and disillusioned. They won’t come back. They’ll leave bad Yelp reviews. They’ll encourage their friends not to return.

When you get the offer for an article. It’s tempting to jump at anything, but be prepared to say no.

Press Releases

Send them. Send them in a timely manner and send them properly.

In the age of the internet, press outlets received hundreds of press releases every day. Many of them get thrown out because they aren’t speaking the same language that people are prepared to read them. A press release is a specific type of document with its own formatting rules. They aren’t complicated, but they should be followed if you want traction. There are many guides out there on the simple formatting layout of a press release. Learn it.

Be specific. You have shows every week. Why should you get coverage today? Post specific stories, show openings, special guests, theatre milestones. Something to actually write about.

Give lead time. Don’t send a press release on Thursday for a Friday show. Three weeks notice is good for daily journals. Three months is good lead time for quarterly or monthly journals.

Be regular. Your first press releases will get overlooked, but if they’re formatted well and respectful, your name will start becoming familiar. There’s a difference between regular and annoying. Don’t send something every day. But post regularly. If you’re a festival, this is especially true. Post schedule announcements, venue, show times, all that jazz.

Reviews

Articles are great. Reviews are amazing. Press will always push back on this idea. “How can I review a show that won;’t be the same next week?” Well that’s poppycock. Do you know what you’re in for if you go see T.J & Dave or Baby Wants Candy? Of course you do. You know the level of quality you’re going to get. If you have ongoing shows or troupes, invite a review. More people are going to respond to a positive review than the vague promise of something good that may happen.

Quality Press Kit

If a quality article is underway, you’ll be asked for media. Typically photos and logos. Have these available rather than having to scrounge for them. Have them high resolution. If it’s a logo have it in vector format if possible (.AI or .EPS files are more press friendly). Just as importantly have a press kit that’s up to date and has what you want to say in it. Spend time writing out a short bio (one paragraph) and a longer bio (three to five paragraphs) that says exactly what you want it to say. Quotes might be pulled from this, so it’s wise to have it reflect what you actually believe.

An archetypal journalist

You’ll be surprised what I choose to quote.

Interviews

A common thing in many bad articles is bad quotes. Not inaccurate quotes, just bad ones. Remember that you think you’ve said something golden on the phone, but you said  a lot of other things as well. All of them are fair game. It’s completely fine to pause before answering a question.

Talk about what you are, not what you aren’t.  Sometimes you’re specifically asked about comparisons to other things. Whose Line is an especially common go-to. It’s fine to answer these questions and pointing out the differences, but don’t put your own ideas out in that way. It’s the same thing you learn on stage. Talk about the here and now, not what isn’t happening. Talk about who you are and what you believe. Talking about TV shows that aren’t you only spend valuable time talking about what you aren’t. And.. well.. people like Whose Line because it’s fun. People like stand up because it’s fun. Drawing distinctions paints you as not fun.

Talk about who you are.

Share the Love

Do some quick algebra with me. How many people live in your city? Let’s call that a. Now what is the total number of seats in every improv venue in town? Let’s call that b. Is a greater than b? If so, then why are you worried about “competition”. There are thousands of people out there who don’t know about improv yet. If they can’t make your show, but might be able to see the show down the street. GREAT! More people who can appreciate improv. Different theatres have different philosophies, but if the other venues in town are fighting the good fight, share the love. They aren’t the enemy. The enemy is ignorance. So don’t be afraid to raise awareness for all good improv in your town.

Be Part of Your Community

All of the above might lead to a single great article. But they won’t lead to anything beyond that. One thing I muttered at improv spaces across the country is that no one comes out and supports the arts in their local community. If you’ve ever said that, then I’m putting you on the spot right now. When was the last time you went out to a jazz show, or a stand up set, or an art exhibit? Be part of the solution. Does your city have First Fridays? TEDx? Ignite? Does your University have public lectures? Does your neighborhood have a small business council? Does your local government meet with local business? Go to these things. Support your local community. Tweet about them. Use your theatre to support them in any way you can.  “But I have shows every weekend” is not an excuse. There are ways to get out there.

Your theatre is not an island. You’re part of the fabric of your city and your culture. If you close off to that, it will close off to you. If you embrace that and participating then people will know about you and the press will know about you and be happy to celebrate your milestones with you because you are part of the city’s pride.


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

 

Your Festival Is An Institution

An improv festival in your home city is a magical thing. It’s a chance to dress up nice and welcome performers from around the country who made the pilgrimage to your home to celebrate improv with you. It’s a chance to expose a whole new audience in your town to something special. It’s all consuming and exhausting and in an instant, it’s gone again. But something happens around year four. The festival doesn’t go away. It stays on the lips of your students and performers and audience members. It’s something exciting to look forward to and wonder what surprises the next year will bring. That’s because the mindset switches. Your city doesn’t have a series of festivals that happen to share a name. Your city has something special with a unique voice and a unique set of expectations. It’s your own Super Bowl.

As a producing board for an improv festival, it’s a mindset you need to adopt from year one. If you want the festival to grow in the years to come; to have bigger audiences, better press coverage and more volunteers, you need to start promoting it as an ongoing institution. There are many ways beyond the scope of this post to start building that attitude. Many posts in the future will discuss them, but there’s one thing simple thing you can do right from the start that is easy to dismiss in the heat of planning, but which will have tremendous return. Create something visual that people can attach to the festival. Visually brand your festival.

For theatre owners, this idea comes much more naturally. A logo is one of the first things created. It’s a unifying symbol attached to everything the theatre does. This idea is too often not part of the festival process. A festival logo is discarded each year in favor of a new one. The sense of consistency is lost. So how do you create a festival logo that will adapt to your festival in years to come?

Simple and Print Friendly

I’ve seen beautiful and elaborate posters for festival weekends. They catch the eye and draw attention. That’s wonderful. But that is an advertisement. Not your brand. Your brand needs to bring instant recognition. Think of the brands in your day to day life; Apple, Nike, Pepsi. These brands are instantly recognizable for their simplicity. The simpler your logo, the easier it will be for designers to include it in any size on your promotional posters, television commercials and letterheads. Yes, letterheads. As your festival grows, you will reach out to sponsors, grants, media partners, media, community organizations, etc. A good letterhead for a single letter doesn’t make a huge difference, but as time goes on, it will help bring recognition to your festival. The phrase “Oh yeah. I went to this last year.” Will be heard with increasing frequency.

Out of Bounds from Austin, TX has a great simple logo for their festival. Let’s look at it.
oobThe logo is simple an aesthetically pleasing. If the logo was small enough, the text might not be legible, but the circles of OOB would still be recognizable. The logo in monotone and would look fine in black and white.  This logo has been the basis for their marketing for several years. Conversley, this was the marketing for the 2013 Del Close Marathon.

dcm15[1]

As a poster,  this is a stunning piece of artwork. It’s even more beautiful in person – as a poster. This entire image (minus the text) was included on all DCM materials, sometimes smaller than it appears on this page. At that size, it’s incomprehensible. More to the point, the poster is replete with imagery from Del Close, his albums, his life. But aside from the thematic inclusion of Del, there is nothing that connects this to any past artwork for the festival. Eagle eyed viewers may spot the UCB logo in this image. UCB is the producing theatre of the festival and ostensibly deserves some recognition. But the inclusion here isn’t branding, it’s an easter egg buried in the elaborate artwork. At best, this image reminds us of Del Close – the man, and of the UCB theatre, but not of the event itself.

Home Town Pride

Your logo will reach many different audiences. With the exception of submitting troupes, most people you want to see your logo often have two things in common; they live in the city the festival is happening and they may not know exactly what improv is. You can play to both of these. You logo can embody both of those ideas; improv and the city it’s housed in. This has the potential to catch attention through familiarity and then promise more with the unknown. You are a part of your city’s culture. Respect that. Try to find an image that honors the spirit of your city while also introducing the ideas of your festival. Let’s look at the logo for The Phoenix Improv Festival. (Disclaimer: I may be biased towards this logo as it is from my city. But I still believe it to be a good logo.)

phoenix

The Laughing Phoenix has been a part of the Phoenix Improv Festival since 2002. A visitor may or may not make the connection that the city was named after the mythical bird, but residents will recognize its similarity to the official imagery of the city.

city_of_phoenix_logo[1]

The mixture of Phoenix imagery with laughter is a simple connection to make with the logo.

Variations On A Theme

Once your ongoing logo is established. It makes marketing from year to year simple. A simple logo can be tweaked in small ways to match the individual marketing of a year’s event and promotion. OOB in 2012 decided on an apocalyptic theme and included a slightly battered version of their logo, but still clearly identifiable with the brand. Here are some logos from past years’ events for the festivals mentioned in this article as well as The Denver Improv Festival. Each one has a different relationship with the inclusion of their logo from year to year.

phoenix2011 Each festival has a slightly different way of incorporating their logo into marketing for individual events, but each clearly has an identifiable mark.

Pro Tip: Be An Improvisor

Any organization has to figure out how to brand themselves visually. Sometimes they hire outside companies to do it for them. You have a very distinct advantage over all of them. You’re an improvisor. There are many books and lectures out in the world on how improv makes you better equipped to run a business and it’s absolutely true. You have skills that many small business owners cannot possibly grasp. The issue is that there isn’t always a clear description on how to use those skills. So here’s one right here. The goal of using a logo is to express ideas through symbols. In fancy college words, you’re using semiotics and simulacra. You’re attaching meaning to symbols. This is what you do every weekend when you ask for a suggestion. Unless you’re one of that rare breed of performer who takes every suggestion literally, you take suggestions and discover their meaning with your audience. You put out a hand to the audience and discover together why their suggestion is pregnant with possibility. Every suggestions has connotations and undertones waiting to be discovered. What tools do you personally use to do this? Armando? Invocation? Do this. Your suggestion is your festival. You may be surprised to learn what your festival means to you. What it means to others. The things that are unique and wonderful about your festival will come to the surface and you’ll have a much better starting point for creating imagery.

Keep On Truckin’

Every year, your festival will grow and change. That’s wonderful. Each year should be unique and have it’s own voice. But remember that your festival is important to many people and you want it to become important to more people. A consistent iconography is a strong way to keep this happening. That sticker on someone’s laptop from the 2010 festival will be a reminder that the 2014 festival is coming. It will become part of your city’s pride.


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

POSTSCRIPT: As a pleasing coincidence, when looking for a link to invocation for this blog post, I found Kevin Mullaney’s blog post. As an example he included a video of an invocation of an improv festival. So you can see that this idea is not a new one.

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