Finest City is Growing

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The San Diego Reader

All eyes were on San Diego last weekend for Comic Con International, the annual event in the Gaslamp Quarter that sells out every hotel within 100 miles and sends every local store owner scrambling to find something Star Wars related to put in their front window. It’s one of the biggest – if not the biggest event in the city each year, so naturally one would assume it would grace the cover of the weekly San Diego Reader. But this year when thousands of visitors hit the streets of visitors walked the streets, it wasn’t The Avengers on the cover of the magazine seen at every street corner, it was Swim Team, a harold team out of Finest City Improv.

It’s not entirely surprising. In the last year Amy Lisewski and Chris George and a handful of very dedicated performers have been working tirelessly not just to launch an improv theatre, but to take the time at each step of the way to do it the right way. While many younger theatres rush to get shows up hastily without thinking of the long term, but the finest city folks are thoughtful. They book shows that will expose new audiences to quality improv in a comfortable environment. They promote their shows actively, but also accurately. They reach out to their community. This is why Finest City is going to explode in the next few years and should be a model for other young theatres.

One thing that kills a lot of new theatres is doing anything they can to get people in the doors, even if that means promising things that they are not. Those first shows are filled, but people don’t come back. And they leave with a bad taste in their mouth about missed expectations. A theatre has to respect the culture it’s in and Finest City did that exceptionally last weekend. The article certainly was a great boost, but a magazine article alone isn’t enough to lay all your promotion on, especially with a well intentioned, but slightly flawed article. The media in many cities still doesn’t fully understand improv and it will take time and care to properly build a strong healthy relationship with them.

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Get the word out

Finest City didn’t try to work against Comic Con, they worked with it. They promoted their show in places where it would be visible to visitors and also to locals. The question of course was, in the midst of everything Comic Con, what would motivate people to come to an improv show a few miles walk away? They reached out to that audience with respect. Which is not the same as pandering. These people came from across the country to celebrate genre. They loved comic books, Star Trek, Star Wars & He-Man (OK, maybe that was just my reason for coming). A genre-based show to promote would seem obvious on first glance, but we all know that a large percentage of genre improv in North America is more genre mocking that genre respecting (Start Trekkin NYC, On the Spot, Kind Strangers and a few others being wonderful exceptions) These people take their fandoms very seriously and some don’t take to kindly to seeing it poked fun at or mocked. So that’s not what they did. Instead they invited Drunkard and Dragons from Los Angeles to come on down. It’s a show with a touch of genre work without coming off as condescending. Did it work? You bet. It was the strangest improv audience assembled in a while. Han Solo came. So did Carmen Sandiego and Hello Kitty and… dragon..lady.. something. Comic Con came because they were promoted to well. And before D&D they got to see to fine local shows; Stage Monkeys and Red Squared. Assuring people saw good improv and hopefully left with a better appreciation for the art.

This was the final performance in the temporary space. Finest City Improv is moving to a permanent home and they’re making sure they do it right. Best of luck to them in their new space in the years to come.

Correction: The photo on the cover was of Swim Team performing at Sidestage Improv managed by Mike McFarland and Charles Webber who have been working hard to promote the San Diego scene for the last few years. They are great folks and certainly no disrespect was intended. – Bill

Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America. During Comic Con he picked up Stonedar for his impressive He-Man collection.

DUOFEST Delivers!

DuofestLogoTwitterThree Years ago I met Amie Roe and Kristen Schier of The Amie and Kristen Show at the Seattle Improv Festival and they told me about DuoFest. Yeah it took me a while to get  to Philadelphia but I finally did and I was impressed! For those of you who have never heard of DuoFest it’s an improv festival with the sole purpose of showing two-person long-form improv shows.

DuoFest was an amazing and intimate experience. The headliners this year were Scott Adsit (30 Rock) and Jet Eveleth and they delivered! But DuoFest is more than just headliners. Two of the stand-out groups were Dwight D. Eisenhower with Russ Armstrong, not related, and Rick Andrews both out of the Magnet Theatre in New York who had a playful improv spirit, played fast and furious and wrapped the show up in a nice bow.

The most physical show you’ll ever see was the amazing 2-MAN-NO-SHOW out of Canada. I was lucky enough to meet this spirited duo at The Detroit Improv Festival last year and they did not disappoint this year. Were these guys ever onstage? They were on the walls, the audience and everywhere! They’re Improv Spidermen!

So what am I trying to say here? Go to DuoFest or at least submit to it if you have a two person show it’s definitely a fun time and in such a great city!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Improvisor and Writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick is currently on AMC’s Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Parks and Recreation. Recently, Nick received a development deal for a TV Show he created for A&E. 

Onstage Nick has trained at The Groundlings and iO West. You can catch him performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA’s Longest and Critically Acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network.

Bottle Us Up…You Could Make a Fortune!

HappinessinabottleI’m blown away! That’s right blown the freak away! The third year of Camp Improv Utopia happened over Memorial Weekend and I still have a smile on my face that seems to be tattooed there forever. Why? Because of the campers and the community that has been built.

I mostly perform at iO West in Los Angeles which has one of the best improv communities and still does. But what camp does is it brings people from all over the country, sometimes even other countries, and brings them all together for one weekend to share the same passion, philosophies and yes and attitude. Chef Rick, who makes amazing food there said it best, “If I could bottle up the joy and happiness you guys bring to this place I’d be rich.” He will be selling these bottles on Amazon.

When Del and the Committee brought long-form into reality back in the 60’s I’m sure they never thought how big it would grow and how it would build such a huge and awesome group of positive people. A group of people that say yes. What a concept. A group of people who accept you with open arms even if they’ve never met you and will support you, what other industry does this happen in? Certainly not at my old corporate job.

One of the campers who came from Florida said, “I flew to California on Friday morning knowing one person that would be at this camp and left Monday feeling as if I’d just had a reunion with 100 good friends.”

I wish this event could be televised on every channel in the world, so people could watch people getting along, being positive and supporting each other. I think the world could learn a thing or two from Improvisors.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Improvisor and Writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick is currently on AMC’s Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Parks and Recreation. Recently, Nick received a development deal for a TV Show he created for A&E.

Onstage Nick has trained at The Groundlings and iO West. You can catch him performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA’s Longest and Critically Acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community

Welcome to the National Improv Network!

62116_451764218228461_1211590182_nHi there! Thanks for being a part of National Improv Network. If this is your first introduction, welcome! If it’s your tenth, thank you for stopping by again. The site was created by improvisers for improvisers with the idea that we want you to succeed in every aspect of your theatre from performances to the business end.

We recognize that the improv community is growing. There is now a troupe or theatre in every major city in the United States. Several wonderful, new improv festivals have popped up across the country in the past few years.

We want to connect you to them. We want the improv community not to be defined by state lines, but by one community linked together, expanding the art form and growing it into a national scene.

For those already in the improv community, whether as a performer or as an avid audience member, we know that improv is great and a true art. We at National Improv Network want the general public to see it the same way. Right now, improv is not widely recognized as competing with stand-up, sketch or theatre. We want to help raise the visibility of improv to the general public. We feel that if we can get a national effort and raise the awareness of improv that in turn provide more opportunities to perform, bring more customers to our venues and help your local improv theatre grow.

Please consider us a resource for you. To help you grow, to connect you to the greater improv community. Everything we roll out is designed to help you grow internally and externally. We believe that together we are better, just like an improv ensemble but on a national level.

Nick Armstrong, Bill Binder and Kate Anderson

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