Let’s Be Alpacas Together

For a group of people who pride themselves on never going on a script, we fall back into a lot of the same sayings over and over again; “Support Your Partner”, “Heighten the Game”, “Play to the Top of Your Intelligence”. We sometimes get into such vain repetition that we kind of forget what those words really mean, and also assume that those we’re saying it to will somehow understand exactly what we mean.

Around NIN circles, one of those sayings is “A rising tide lifts all boats”. Now, if you know me, you know I believe that to the core of my soul. But just because we say those words a lot doesn’t mean we can always back them up. We’ve become so confident that it is true, that we never really talk about that idea in a real clinical or analytical sense. Maybe we should.

Well, it turns out there is some math to support it. Some 18th Century Math to be specific. That kind of thing was all the rage among the prominent nerds of the 1760s. But I don’t think we want to go that far back today.

Instead let’s go back to 2008 and Dan Gilbert’s excellent Ted Talk.

If you haven’t watched his videos or read his book, they are absolutely filled with very straightforward ideas which are great tools for marketing your theatre or your festival. In fact, you should really watch his whole video here when you can. Each of his points could be the topic of a blog post (and if there’s interest, perhaps there will be.) But today, let’s just talk about one of them.(slightly altered to fit this post)

Thought Experiment

If you’re reading this you may live in a major city, or at least near one. I want you to think about that city and answer the following question. You can’t Google or research this answer. Simply answer.

Are there more dogs or alpacas within the city limits of the city you’re thinking of?

It’s not a trick question. You know the answer. It’s obviously dogs. You don’t need statistics to know that’s correct. But why do you know that?

You know that because you see dogs. There are dog parks. There are dog grooming centers. There are magazines about dogs. There are clearly lots of dogs in the city. That doesn’t mean there are no alpacas around. There probably are. Maybe in a zoo or in a farm somewhere. There just aren’t nearly the same number of dogs, or you’d know.

The brain is pretty smart. That kind of reasoning is how humans cope day to day with making informed decisions without firm hard statistics at every moment. It helps us make good decisions. But that part of the brain can also be hacked.

As few alpacas as there are in your city, there are probably even fewer Powerball millionaire winners. But it doesn’t feel like it, does it? Every week on the news, they show the newest winner. Every jackpot billboard has a picture of a winner. A different winner on every billboard. You start seeing Powerball winners. They must be real, because you see them. And the more Powerball winners you see, the more likely you are to get a Powerball ticket. Even if you’ve never bought a lottery ticket. I’ll bet you thought about it more than you thought about getting an alpaca. Tell me I’m wrong.

The truth is, people make decisions based on familiar things. When I am hanging with my troupe and we think about grabbing a bite, pizza is an option. Because pizza places are everywhere. When I visited Vancouver last month and we talked about where to eat, people suggested grabbing donairs because there are donair joints everywhere in Vancouver. You know why we don’t consider that in Phoenix? Because no one I know has ever heard of a donair. There is actually a Canadian donair places within short driving distance of me. I just never saw it. And even if I saw it before, I probably wouldn’t have gone in because it wasn’t familiar. Pizza must be good or there wouldn’t be pizza places everywhere.

We’re Alpacas

If you own an improv theatre, if you run a festival, if you have a troupe: You, my friend, are an alpaca in your town. Improv is growing faster than it ever has. People know it beyond just a TV show now. Some day we’ll be ferrets. Some day we’ll be goldfish. And I know someday, we’ll be adorable puppies. But today? We’re alpacas. It’s OK. Own it.

When the people in your town think of getting a pet. They think about getting a dog. When they think about going out. They think about going to a movie. Advertising your shows, fliering the local record store, putting a poster up on that community board? It’s not enough. The people who see those fliers know that you have it in your mind to do improv. Big whoop. It doesn’t mean it’s worth their time. That attitude is not going to change as long as you’re the only improv flier they ever see.

There are more improvisors in your town than there are alpapacas. There are way more improvisors in your town than there are Powerball winners. There are probably more troupes and theatres in your town than there are Powerball winners. So act like it. Put that face out to the people of your city. Let them see a different improv troupe when they turn the corner. Let them know about what the guys across town are doing. Put up a poster for the festival being put on by the people you only talk to three times a year.

There are still so few of us out there, people don’t know we’re here. Why in God’s name would you hide that fact by not promoting shows around town that are not your own? Show your city that improv is worth doing. Show your city that improv is worth seeing. Invite those people to join a real true improv community. Because if you do, they will. It’s not just a warm fuzzy thought, it’s solid business sense.

So yeah, a rising tide lift all boats. But that tide doesn’t just appear from nowhere. That tide is the people of your city and they will lift you up. But you have to let them see the boats.

Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. And he wants to give a special shout out to Jeter’Z, NCT Phoenix, Chaos Comedy and ImprovMania who make the greater Phoenix area an place of improv.

What’s Your Next Step?

Whether you’re a veteran improvisor or one that has just finished classes you’re probably asking yourself what’s next? It’s a pretty daunting question really. I’ve been doing improv for over 15 years now and I always ask myself what’s next. I think it’s something you should always be asking yourself as an improvisational artist. It’s an important question. Why end up getting stale, why not grow and keep learning?

As students just finishing, stale may be a ways away. If you just finished classes your “What’s next” can be any of the following and should help guide you:

  1. Audition for a troupe – Does your theater hold auditions? Then do it. Even if it’s scares the crap out of you…DO IT! Yes, you may fail, but you have to experience it you can only become better by practice and auditioning is an art all onto itself. You can be a good player and still really succumb to the pressures of “the room.”
  2. Start your own troupe – This is in your control. Just finished spending a long time with a group of good people from your class? Know some friends of yours that are improvisors too? Start your own troupe and go for it. Start getting onstage and doing shows. There’s no better training then getting in front of a crowd.
  3. Start training at another theater – Get another perspective from someone that has a different philosophy. It’s your own personal journey, go see a show at some other places and see what connects with you the most. Then start taking classes there.
  4. Take part and watch as many shows as you can. You can learn by watching the good, the bad and the ugly.

For veterans, you probably ask yourself this question a ton like I do. You’ve been on that one or two teams for 5 to 10 years now and are pretty content with showing up and getting onstage. You’re not phoning it in, but it’s not as challenging. What can a veteran do to spice things up?

  1. Like I told the newer improvisor take classes at another theater that has a different philosophy then the theater you trained at. I know you’re screaming, “Screw that” I’m not paying X amount of dollars to do that. Why not? In 2009 after doing 8 years at iO, where I was teaching, I decided to take classes at The Groundlings. It was tough doing a level one class for sure, but I sucked it up and it was actually a great learning experience. These theatre’s two philosophies are way different and I learned a ton. It really gave me another perspective on things that helped me become and even stronger and more consistent performer and an even better teacher. You see as a vet performer you get to learn things in two parts. One, is you learn their way of doing things and two, you get to learn how a teacher teaches in their style. It’s a win win!
  2. Take a break – It’s always nice to take a sabbatical once in awhile. If you’re doing the same thing, maybe it’s time to take a vacation from improv for a bit and come back to it with a new and fresh perspective on things.
  3. When or if you attend festivals take a workshop that sound interesting to you or that you haven’t done before. For instance, I was at the Detroit Improv Festival and I took a physical workshop from two amazing improvisors from Canada who, at the time, I’d never heard of, but I was really taken by their workshop, their style of play and their commitment to that skill. It really rubbed off on me and I incorporate it into my work today. Yes, I’m an old war horse when it comes to improv but we can all still learn and see what new things are happening.
  4. Challenge yourself and start a new team. As a vet I feel we have some responsibility to help the younger improvisors at our theaters. Start a team with a mix of vets and newer improvisors. It will be refreshing for you and it will help them play with people that are better then them.

For every improvisor it’s a personal journey. But It’s a journey that can take twists and turns. As an artist we should always be evolving and never become content with what we are doing. If you feel that way, shake things up a bit! It’s scary but can have amazing results.

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 a performer and teacher at iO West and The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the world.

Spotlight on Antelope Valley

There are lots of big festivals in the state of California. But a new festival is happening up in Lancaster and it’s producer has a lot of excitement to put Antelope Valley on the improv map. I had a chance to talk to Chris Calvin Murphy about the fest.

A lot of people aren’t familiar with Antelope Valley. Where exactly is it? What’s the area like, and what’s the improv like?

The Antelope Valley is located in the high desert of LA County, about 45 Minutes to an hour northeast of Los Angeles. It is made up of two main cities, Palmdale and Lancaster (Our festival is taking place in downtown Lancaster this year.), and has a a few smaller surrounding cities. The AV is a great change of pace from LA. A lot of actors and artists live in the Antelope Valley but, commute to LA each day. After working, auditioning, or rehearsing in the city all day coming back to the AV is a nice change of pace and stress reliever.

The improv scene is definitely starting to grow. There are a couple troupes that actively perform throughout the AV, my troupe the Comedy Illuminati being one of them, and we have been offering training programs to people interested. Antelope Valley College has a popular improv class, but, it is a bare bones beginners class. Our audiences grow every show we put on and there is a general consensus that the residents of the Antelope Valley want a larger thriving comedy and entertainment scene so they do not have to drive all the way to Los Angeles each weekend.

There are many improv festivals and theatres within driving distance of you. What have you learned from those scenes? What do you hope to bring of the greater California community to your area?

One festival in particular, the Coachella Valley Improv Festival ran by Jeannette Knight, gave us a lot of advice on how to run our festival, which because of our similar city’s and demographics has helped out quite a bit. One thing that keeps being ingrained into us is too treat the troupes and comics that are coming to our festival like Rock Stars. We want to give all of these talented, generous, and adventurous people the best weekend of their lives. We also hope that this paves the way to give our city what they have been craving: a strong and active comedy scene.

In contrast, what do you think Antelope Valley has that’s unique that you hope to show off to the rest of the state and the country? What should visiting performers take away from the festival?

The Antelope Valley is home to a LOT of incredible talent. While several of our members have trained at some of the notable training grounds in Los Angeles, like Groundlings, Second City, UCB, etc… a lot of the actors, comics, and improvisers out here have not had the luxury to. Often times the AV is looked down upon by people in Los Angeles because it is often thought of as a lower income area, which is for the most part true – – but that does not diminish the crazy scrappy talent that exists among these artists that are doing anything they can to get their voices heard. I would like visiting performers to take away the knowledge that they can accomplish whatever they put their minds to if they work hard enough. This festival was an extreme challenge, but, we have enjoyed every moment of it thus far.

What’s the venue like?

Our venue is the top floor of an art house cinema called the BLVD Cinemas. It does not have a traditional stage or feel to it, but, it plays host to several comedy shows every month. It is full of comfy leather couches and ottomans, and seats a little over 100 people. It also over looks the arts district of Downtown Lancaster. I think it is the perfect venue for our first year, it really has a great atmosphere and feel.

For visitors from out of town – both performers and audience members – what is there to do in Antelope Valley outside of the festival?

The AV is a great place to unwind and get away from the hubbub and stress of the city, that is not to say the AV is a small town. The AV is a great place to get connected to nature again. We would recommend a hike at the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve. The real treasure of the AV is The Blvd, the downtown arts district of Lancaster, there you will find some great art galleries and museums, delicious restaurants, cafes, and coffee shoppes, an array of unique and cool boutique shops, the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, and the BLVD Cinemas where our festival is taking place.

Being your first year, what do you hope to showcase to local audiences and performers? What do you hope will happen in Antelope Valley in the next year?

We would like to show local audiences how broad and unique the improv world is, and also how endearing and accepting the community is. We hope that this festival paves the way for a larger comedy scene and opens the door for other unique artistic opportunities locally.

If you had one word to describe what makes this festival unique, what would it be?

Scrappy… we may be a bit naive and slightly disorganized, but we are determined bunch, and we are going to do what it takes to make our festival unique and fun.

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 Alaska

The Alaska State Improv Festival is back and you have one more day to submit. A lot of you know about the great festival, but if you’re on the fence. Here’s a little sneak peek as I interview Eric Caldwell, the festival’s producer.

ASIF continues to get some of the best word of mouth out there. Why do you think that is? What can first time performers expect if they come on up?

The production created the festival that we would want to attend. Every performer is offered a ride from the airport, and we always divert to the Mendenhall Glacier before going to the hotel. Once everyone has a chance to recover from the scenery, they experience McPhetres Hall – our performance venue. McPhetres Hall is a modern facility designed for theater with quality sound and lighting capacity in a beautiful natural cedar facility. It is clear to any performer walking into the facility that we are taking their presence seriously and giving them a gorgeous space in which to do their work.

Juneau has a very supportive audience that is open to all kinds of improv. What kinds of new shows are you hoping to bring up this year that might not have been in past festivals?

The production team always looks for quality and diversity. Any time we review a submission and say, “We’ve never seen that before!” we get excited. AS IF has enough of a history of binging in acts that expand our audience’s definition of what improv can be that our audiences expect they’ll see something different. This year, we invited Parallellogramophonograph from Austin, Texas because they have a chameleon-like ability to stage many forms of narrative improv. There are some groups in the pool right now that approach improv from interesting directions, and we hope there will be a few more troupes that sneak in at the deadline that blow us away.

Lots of whale pictures up on Facebook. Can you talk a little about the whale watching tours?

The past two years, we have contracted with Dolphin Jet Boat Tours to provide a whale watching charter at a discount rate. So many people who submit to AS IF are looking for The Alaskan Adventure and this is one way we can make that happen. Because AS IF happens a week before the tourist season, we have the jet boat all to ourselves and we get extra crew to help spot for whales,seals, and other creatures. This past year, they even sent out a scout boat for us so that we’d get to the whales that much quicker. The operators are huge fans of the festival as well and can be seen near the front wearing their vendor passes throughout much of the festival.

You travel to festivals pretty frequently, but many Alaska performers don’t get that chance. What are you hoping to expose local performers to at the festival this year. And what part of the local scene are you looking forward to showing the rest of the world?

More Alaskan performers are going to festivals now. Urban Yeti (from Anchorage) performed at both the Del Close Marathon and at Out of Bounds Comedy Festival in Austin. I was in the audience for the Out of Bounds set, and had a lot of joy watching them absolutely kill it in front of a full house at one of the largest festivals in the country. With our group, we have three self-described “dirty old ladies” who are performing as Seriously Obnoxious. Once they have their feet under them, they fully expect to be going to Outside festivals. Morally Improv-erished has some new cast members and are exploring different styles. We’ll see which one wins out by the time April rolls around.

ASIF is definitely a special festival in many ways. What makes this year’s special for those who have been there before?

Well, they probably learned that I make seafood dinners for the performers who come early or stay late. Maybe they stay an extra day or two this time. For those interested in Northwest coast art and culture, the Walter Sobeloff Center has opened and is available for tours. The building features a Tlingit longhouse and some exceptional art and history displays. Beyond that, they can expect more of our Alaskan hospitality, maybe seeing some sights they missed last time, and a festival that continues to improve every year.

Submissions are still open, but only for a few more hours. Be sure to submit today.

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 Denver

I’ve been to the Denver Improv Festival a few times now and it never disappoints. Not only is the festival amazing the city is pretty awesome to visit too. I had a chance to talk to Emily Coates, one of the producers of the festival about the upcoming Denver Improv Festival.

What are you most excited for in this years DIF?

I am super stoked about our headliners this year, and about one of the new festival venues that we’re using. 2015 should be the biggest DIF yet. The new venue and the headliners will be a big step forward for us and I’m really excited about what this step could do in terms of continuing to put Denver on the map as a great improv city. I’m also really excited about our sponsors. We have a new ticket sponsor – TicketsWest – and it feels very official to have a ticketing company come on board and give us their support. Sexpot Comedy and Denver Relief are also supporting us again this and they’re doing crazy fantastic work for comedy. All of these sponsors are serious about this festival and they believe in us. They inspire us to work even harder and to stay motivated.

I’ve been to this festival twice and loved it. The city is amazing. I’m addicted to One-Up Barcade. But I’m sure Denver has a lot more to offer, what can improvisors do in the city?

Denver is an awesome city. Besides hanging out with really cool and nice people, we have a lot to offer in terms of great weather, great breweries, cool music, unique art, and, of course, really killer comedy. You can see great comedy here any night of the week now pretty much and I think that’s amazing. There’s a lot of heart in our comedy scene.

What do you look for in a troupe submission?

Great energy and chemistry are big elements we look for in submission videos. Those are often, in my opinion, the elements that tend to make an improve set great. We also just look for solid sets in video submissions or buy views in YouTube with the help from https://themarketingheaven.com/. It could be that we know a team, and we know they’re capable of doing great work, but if the video they submitted isn’t as great, then they might not score as high. We also look for a strong opening and getting to the good moments right away. I personally am happy to see a set really pick up and do well toward the end, but, in general, we look for a strong start and consistency throughout.

What kind of workshops will DIF be offering this year?

I am really looking forward to our workshops this year. Plus, they’re going to be held at another new venue and I think that will add to the festival tremendously. We haven’t finalized everything just yet, but two of the workshops, that for sure are happening, are going to focus on forms and on characters. I’m so thrilled about our headliners teaching, and I’m really looking forward to having them share their experience and insight with us.

What is the current improv scene like in Denver these days?

The improv scene in Denver is rockin’ awesome right now. It’s growing and more and more people are getting into improv. You can see an improv show here almost any night of the week in Denver. That’s amazing! And many of our shows are definitely on par with what’s going up in places like New York and LA. This is also a loving community. I personally feel really supported here and I couldn’t ask for more as an artist.

If an improv troupe gets accepted what can they expect?

If a team is accepted to the DIF, and if they commit to coming out here, they can expect to have an awesome time. Denver truly has one of the best, if not the best, comedy scenes right now. They can expect to hang out with other awesome improvisers and comedians and to have a killer weekend. All of our performers and volunteers will get super cool stuff – like a DIF t-shirt, free beer and free pizza during and after shows, discounts and support from our sponsors, free breakfast burritos on workshop day, and more. They can also expect to feel a whole lot of love! We really care about this festival and about making everyone feel welcome. I personally feel very grateful for anyone who takes the time to come, so we want to do everything we can to make it worth it for them.

The festival takes place November 6-7, 2015. To submit click HERE.

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 Grand Rapids

A few years back, Big Little Comedy hosted an event in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That was the first chance a lot of improvisors got to experience improv in that city. Now Grand Rapids is hosting it’s own festival. I know from experience that Grand Rapids is a great place to visit, so I’m terribly excited about an improv festival and scene happening there. I got a chance to talk online with the festival’s producer Katie Fahey about the festival and what she hopes it will become.

Most people outside of the area don’t realize how big of a city Grand Rapids is? What’s the improv scene like out there. What gives it a unique voice?

One thing I love about GR’s improv scene is that it isn’t afraid to be experimental. There is a weekly event called Comedy Outlet Monday’s. It’s basically a big comedy experiment lab where people come to try out new ideas in front of an audience, and it has lead to some fantastic comedy! Everything from lights-off improv, comedic juggling, and nerdy ‘ted talks’ – there is so much talent, all ready to jump in and collaborate all of the time. We’ve got a really supportive improv community,ready to ‘yes and’ the heck out of anything you give them.

GR also has a lot of cool troupes that give back, and work towards bettering the community, we have an event planned that we’re very excited about called ‘Comedy- Beyond the Laughter’. It’s a panel highlighting 3 different groups in the community that use improv for healing, raising awareness, and giving back to the community.

Along the same lines, your audiences are going to be exposed to new things at the festival. What kinds of shows are you hoping to attract to showcase new kinds of improv to your audiences?

The Grand Rapids Improv Scene is rapidly developing, but it’s still finding its footing with all of the great things happening in Grand Rapids. The festival committee is hoping to attract some experienced long-form troupes, niche troupes, and really troupes from outside of GR to show our audiences what else, and other varieties of comedy are out there.

Why start a festival now? How do you think it will shape the future of Grand Rapids, both for performers and audiences?

Last year was our inaugural year, and it was a catalyst for the local improv scene, so many wonderful things and collaborations have formed in just a year since and we hope the festival keeps collaborations strong and the community working together.

We hope to expose our audiences to the many variations of improv, and hope they leave with a greater appreciation for the art of improvisation!

Michigan has a great history of improv; Detroit, Ferndale, Novi, Ann Arbor, Hamtramck, even Houghton. And of course, you’re not too far from great improv in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois (except for that pesky lake between you all). What are some of the things you admire from other festivals and shows that you hope to bring to Grand Rapids. And what are some of the things you feel are missing that you hope to bring to the scene?

Grand Rapids is a great place for improv. Our audiences have come to love and expect great things from all the acts in this area. But they may not yet be aware just how much variety there really is out there, and just how vast the scope of what “improv” really encompasses. We’re excited to bring the excitement and community love of improv to Grand Rapids that other festivals bring. We’re really focused on helping improvisors connect with other troupes, and work with new people while they’re here! We have several events that focus on this, especially our ‘Improv Chaos’ event, it’s a fantastic night of strangers becoming troupe members.

We’re also very lucky to have a Commedia de’ll Arte (one of or the oldest form of sketch improv, involves masks, many theatrical elements, and is just a super unique interesting art form) presence in GR, which we’re proud to highlight as part of the festival.

For performers visiting for the first time, what kinds of things are there to do around town when they’re not performing? Where are the best places to visit and eat?

Our performance venue is within walking distance of a thriving downtown, full of great art venues, theaters, ballet, museums, markets, restaurants, a zoo, and of course BEER! Grand Rapids is Beer City USA, after all, and you can’t leave here without sampling some of the finest suds our town has to offer!

Downtown, Eastown, Gaslight Village, and the Center of the Universe are all absolutely fabulous and unique neighborhoods to eat at in Grand Rapids.

We highly recomend: http://www.experiencegr.com/
to find exactly what you’re looking for.

What’s the venue like?

The Dog Story Theater, in downtown Grand Rapids, is a thrust stage with great sightlines and an intimate feel that allows for easy audience interaction. It has become an improv hub in Grand Rapids, and has some of the most welcoming staff/volunteers in town, perfect for improv!

Are there going to be activities outside of the shows for imporvisors to do? Workshops? Panels? Parties?

Yes all of the above!

Jams and Parties on the bookends of the festival 10/12 & 10/19 – along with some in-between that those accepted into the festival will know about!

Thursday is our night on the town-think Improv Bar Crawl, where you get entertainment at every bar

We’re having our awesome “Comedy- Beyond the laughter” panel on Saturday 10/17 at 4:00 pm highlighting how you can use Improv for healing, raising awareness, and creating community.

Workshops! Will be throughout the festival, but pretty heavy during the day on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the festival.

A festival can have a huge impact on the relationship between theatres in town and between performers and audiences. What would you like to see happen between this year’s festival and a year from now?

We’re hoping that the festival planning committee, can become a permanent entity going into next year. No Outlet Improv Troupe financially backed the last, and this years festival, but they’re planning on donating revenue raised this year to a festival committee that can make the festival self-sustaining into the future. Our ultimate goal is to be able to pay every troupe that performs!

One of the biggest draws for submissions for festivals is word of mouth. Of course, in your first year, there won’t be any past performers to spread the good word of your festival. People don’t know you yet. But if the festival goes as planned. What do you hope visitors will say about your festival?

We do have a certain amount of word of mouth from our small but successful first outing last year. The success of that has certainly led to many more local improvisers submitting and getting involved this year. Our hope for next year is that this year’s visiting troupes from Ferndale and Chicago and St Louis and all over, will return home and tell their communities about how great it is in our little corner of the globe, how supportive our community is, and how excited our audiences are to see everything they have to offer!

Submissions are only open until Midnight tonight (Eastern). Get on that and submit.

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

Marketing & Social Media for Theater Owners

What Is Marketing and Why Should I Do It?

Hello fellow improvisors with marketing dreams!

My name is Andrea, and I’m an improviser by night and a marketer by day. After talking to the wonderful Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder at Camp Improv Utopia, we mutually realized that a lot of theater owners are asking questions about how to better utilize their marketing and social media tools. Don´t forget to read your king kong digital marketing reviews before you get started.

I won’t pretend to be a marketing expert, but I will do my best to provide advice and tools in this post (and in future posts) on a subject that I spend 8 hours a day thinking about.

This will hopefully be the first in a series of posts on how to bring together all your different and wonderful marketing ideas in order to accomplish your goals and to help your theater and your community flourish.

The Definition of Marketing for Theater Owners

Before we talk about the ins and outs of marketing, we should start by discussing the definition of marketing. I know this will be a review for many of you as I see so many theaters doing so many great things already, but it’s good to get everyone started on the same page.

There are numerous definitions for the term ‘marketing’ these days because the word marketing has become somewhat of a buzz word and any buzz word’s meaning tends to get lost in the cloud of the buzz. Here, for example, is a definition from Wikipedia that abruptly and concisely defines the term:

“Marketing is about communicating the value of a product, service or brand to customers or consumers for the purpose of promoting or selling that product, service, or brand.”

And while I think definitions like this are certainly factually correct, these definitions simultaneously glaze over the most important aspect of marketing: the human connection. Yes, marketing is about communicating the value of a product to a consumer, but more than that, marketing is about making a genuine human connection between your business(you) and another person.

I think a more accurate definition of marketing is the following,

“I believe passionately that good marketing essentials are the same. We all are emotional beings looking for relevance, context and connection.” – Beth Comstock Senior Vice President and CMO of General Electric and overseer of the founding of Hulu.

What does this definition mean? It means that every time you market your theater you should be thinking about three things.

  1. Is what I’m promoting genuinely relevant to my audience (consumers) and/or am I marketing to the right audience?
  2. In what context does it make the most sense to share this information with my audience? (e.g. social media, press releases, flyers)
  3. Is the way in which I’m sharing this information helping me to make a genuine connection with my audience in the sense that they are feeling good about the relationship they have with my business.

The third tier is perhaps the trickiest because it’s the mistake I see businesses make the most. Your first priority when marketing is not to make your business look good. Your first priority is to make other people feel good about themselves in relation to your business. The distinction is small but important because it’s the difference between shouting, “my business is great,” into an empty room, and genuinely saying, “You are great, and my business is greater because of you,” to an actual person.

Everything you do when marketing should first and foremost be about making other people (your consumers) feel significant and in turn your business will look better. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t deliver a good product (a good product is the root of everything), but it does mean that when you’re promoting your theater you should be thinking about how your products (shows, classes, etc.) are good for others and not how they’re good for your business. If you can remember to ask yourself the above three questions any time you are marketing your theater, you will likely be on the right track to creating a healthy long term relationship with your audience.

Different Types of Marketing for Theater Owners

Since marketing is founded on promoting your business through human connection, it can be comprised of almost anything. However, ‘anything’ isn’t helpful in making definite decisions about how to progress your business, so here is a basic breakdown of some of the more popular types of marketing that may be relevant to small business owners. The terms below are split up for clarification but very often overlap and work together. I will discuss these at further length in future posts.

Online Marketing – Promoting your theater on the internet via online banners, ads, search marketing, email marketing, etc.

Search Marketing – Driving consumers to your website when they do an internet search (through search engines such as Google) via paid or unpaid methods.

Email Marketing – Directly marketing to current or potential customers via email.

Public Relations – Strategically promoting your business to the public in a positive way. This often includes press & media outreach.

B2B Marketing – Marketing as one business selling to another business. This is relevant for theater owners in things such as corporate workshops.

Partner Marketing – Teaming up with another organization in order to promote both businesses for your mutual benefit. An example of this might be two theaters teaming up together or theaters bringing in outside performers or businesses that have complimentary agendas.

Influencer Marketing – Marketing to key individuals who are highly influential in your community who then further market your product for you.

Grassroots Marketing – Targeting small groups in various, creative ways and hoping it will spread to larger audiences.

Social Media Marketing – Reaching out to your audience through Social Media channels via paid or unpaid methods.

Sales Marketing – Following up with consumers in a personalized way to help them purchase a given a product (i.e. a class).

Content Marketing – Creating content to attract people to your business or content that your audience can interact with. Examples of this would be specific images, blog posts, or interactive tools or training.

Direct Mail Marketing – Advertising through standard mail. This can be used to promote your theater to locals in your city.

Word of Mouth Marketing – As opposed to organic word of mouth, actively pursuing businesses and influencers to spread the word about your business.

Why Is Marketing Important for a Theater Owner: Making People Feel Significant

I think the most obvious reason that marketing is important for theater owners is that good marketing can drive people to your theater. Whether you’re trying to fill the seats for a show or get more students into the classroom, good marketing can be the force that helps your theater to grow.

What I also think is interesting and that I’d like to follow up on from earlier is the importance of making people feel significant when you’re marketing to them. Think about a given student you have in your theater that LOVES your theater. Then think about the reason why that student loves your theater. Likely you have given this student a really incredible experience. You’ve given him an awesome class, a great community to be a part of, a caring teacher, and more. Now this student can’t wait to tell his friends about his experience. You’ve nurtured this student in what was probably a very natural way because most improvisors are such caring people.

Now think about what would happen if you marketed from a similar point of view. If through your marketing you made people feel incredible about an experience or potential experience. This is how you create long term followers and long term followers are what make your theater really grow. Because getting someone in your audience for a night is great, but getting someone in your audience every month for a whole year is much better.

This brings us back to the start of the importance of building a connection with your audience and community. These connections, whether they be through a simple email or a face-to-face talk, can be what inevitably make your theater not only the place to be but the place that people truly want to be.

San Diego based improvisor. Loves science fiction books and the show BoJack Horseman. Also enjoys eating food and drinking water and sometimes exercising. During the day time, she markets different things to different people.

Tomorrow is Say Day

jason-chin-headshot[1]Last January, we all lost Jason Chin. It was a devastating blow to our community. Even those who never met him knew of his love and complete devotion to making improv beautiful. Hundreds, if not thousands of improvisors have been made stronger through his teachings and his friendship.

In the days that followed, at a celebration of his life, T. J. Jagodowski and Charna Halpern agreed that it is all too uncommon for us to remind each other how much we mean to each other, how infrequently we say how much we appreciate each other. What a wonderful thing if we could take just one day out of the year to say those things to each other. That’s how Say Day came to be.

And that day is tomorrow. why 7/29. Simply because a quick glance at a phone revealed that 7-2-9 spelled out S-A-Y.

Many theatres have embraced Say Day. We do too. Tomorrow will likely be a busy day for many of us, but I hope you all take the time to reach out to your cast mates, your teachers, your students, the people doing the business ends of your festivals and venues, your coaches, your families and everyone else who has influenced your life for the better and given you the wonderful gift of growing in improv. Time to say “Thank you”.

Jason Chin has left us. He’s one of the many people we never got to say how much he meant. I hope tomorrow (and beyond) we take the time to say it.

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

Do’s and Don’ts Part 2: Festival Submission Packets

Looking to make a great submission packet? Ever since co-creating NIN over two years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to see some really good troupe submissions and some really bad ones. I’ve heard and interviewed many festival producers over the last two years and have chatted with them at festivals and here are some Do’s and Don’ts regarding your festival submission packet.


1. Have a full un-edited improv show. This is a no brainer you’d think. Not just 5 or 10 minutes of a show but a full show. Most festivals book you a 25 to 30 minute slot so they need to see your whole show so they know what they’re buying. If you don’t have a video you won’t be accepted. Unless you’ve made special arraignments with the festival organizer then you may get in, but if they don’t know you you’ll be passed up.

2. Make sure your video is clear and you can hear it. You won’t believe how many videos we see that are grainy or you can’t hear it or it’s really bad audio. Also make sure you tape at an angle you can see the whole stage. You’d be surprised at how the Bermuda triangle gets improvisors and you can’t see them perform. Imagine you have to watch 100 videos. What do you think you’re going to do when this one comes up…NEXT! It doesn’t have to be produced with multiple camera angles, we don’t want that, but it should be clear and easy to listen, see and hear.

3. Fill out the application completely! If you’re on NIN we guide you through that process, but if your a non-member going through a google form fill it out. Festival producers don’t want to chase you down for information and they will most likely pass you up. If they are asking for it, they want the information for a reason.

4. Submit early. A lot of times it’s cheaper and festivals don’t usually get a ton of submissions at the beginning so that may benefit you and give you a little more attention.


1. Be vague – When filling out your troupe synopsis or your bio don’t just put “We are hilarious” or something weird that doesn’t make sense like “We are funnier then a unicorn,” yes this is for real! We understand you’re being witty, but I can’t sell that to an audience and I still don’t know what you do. Are you trying to outwit a Unicorn? Pretend you’re writing a bio to someone who has never seen your show or an improv show ever. Here is an example of a great troupe Bio from The Bearded Men out of Minnesota:

The Bearded Men began performing together in 2006. They’ve been fortunate to have trained with some of the most talented names in improv, including Jill Bernard, Matt Donnelly, Kevin Mullaney, Joe Bill, 3 for All, and more. They travel as often as possible to national festivals and anywhere else that will have them. In 2014 they formed a second group based in Los Angeles, Bearded Men West. 

The Beards perform short and long form improv. However, they primarily focus on narrative based long form improv they call, Epic Adventures, many times layering on a theme.

Since 2011, Bearded Men Improv has had a weekly show at HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis and in 2014 Bearded Men West began performing weekly, currently at the Impro Lab. They are grateful to have such awesome and supportive places to perform regularly.

Simple, to the point and an outside audience can get it. Remember you’re not just promoting yourself to a festival producer and committee you’re promoting yourself to a potential audience. Make it easy for a festival producer to know who you are.

2. Be lazy – Take it seriously put time and thought into your submission as team. How are you going to sell yourself? If you’re a troupe have a logo, have a troupe photo. Nowadays this is easier then ever so there is really no excuse. You don’t want to make a bad impression. Your submission is your first look into your troupe. A festival organizer will see this and take you more seriously and if they’re on the fence about you, this may put you over the top. Here’s an example of a great submission packet from our friends at Switch Committee out of Chicago. If you put some love into it you may just get some love back. These guys book festivals!

3. Let your Show Bio and Show Description be the same thing. Don’t just copy and past your bio and your show description have them be different. A bio is the history of your troupe, when you were formed, what theater you come from, maybe a little info on what you do improv-wise and maybe even what festivals you have done. A show description is just that a detailed description of your show. “A montage that is different” is too vague. Also, 1,000 other teams to that too. How are you different? Explain it. Here is an example of a good show description:

Hot Codlins out of NYC

One troupe, 5 ladies, dozens of characters — Hot Codlins came together over a shared love of telling stories.  You want femme fatales? Greasy gangsters?  Weird aliens and wacky rom-com sidekicks?  We got ’em all.  We do long-form, character-based improv that plays in, out, and around genres and styles of film, tv, and theater.

4. Don’t submit as show that you’re not going to bring. If you’re video is of a Harold and you decide to do a montage at the festival you could potentially risk losing the relationship you have with that festival. When they’re booking shows and putting you in their schedule they are being very strategic about how they’re doing that. And if they wanted a Harold in that spot and you are them and you don’t deliver. Yikes. That’s very unprofessional. So do the form you’ve promised. Also, make sure you don’t submit your team and then come with completely different cast. The people in the video submission are the ones the festival organizers expect to come. If for some reason your accepted and your troupe members back out notify the festival organizer immediately and go from there. But this again, depending on when you contact them could risk you’re troupe giving them a huge headache and not coming. If you do it within the first week or so of being accepted you are probably still okay.

So there you go. This should help guide you of what to do and what not to do when it comes to a festival packet. I hope this has helped and if you’re not a member already become one for free at nationalimprovnetwork.com. We can help you make a great submission.

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.


The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting In and Attending Improv Festivals

So, it’s festival season, there are a lot to submit to now so I thought I’d write some do’s and don’ts about trying to get into a festival and what to do when you get into one.

Do –

1. Have a great unedited video! A lot of festivals want to see what they’re getting and they want to see your show. Tape a bunch of your shows and take one that you think represents your show the best. It’s better to have a few to choose from. Taping just one rarely works out. Also, if you do a festival and they tape your show get it from them.

2. Fill out all the information. Whether your a member on NIN or a Non-Member filling out their application. Fill it all in! They are asking for all the information for a reason. Don’t make them work harder to find it, because they have 100 other teams submitting that have it all filled out and you will get passed up.

3. Put some effort into your submission – Have a professional group photo, a team logo, make it look sexy. You want to make it easy for a festival to promote you. Remember they have to fill your seats so anything you can do to make that easier is amazing to a festival producer. Do you have press clippings? Give that to them too. This shows you care and that you mean business and a festival producer will see that.

4. Network – Have fun, go to the parties at a festival, thank the volunteers, the producers, the bartender. Go support other improvisors shows. It’s a great way to meet people and I can guarantee you, you will find someone there that does another festival or has been to one and can help you get into more.

5. Take Workshops – What a great way to get teachers you would not necessarily have in your community. Most of the time the festival is putting up good money to bring some master teachers out and not making a profit off of it. They do it more for you. So take them up on it and trust me you’ll come out a better improvisor. Plus you get to play with people from all over the country and it’s also a great way to network. I’ve met some great people taking workshops in the past

6. Send a thank you e-mail to the producers after the festival. And if they send out a survey, do it. It helps them tremendously to hear your input.

7. Wear appropriate clothing – Sometimes you should ask what the attire is at a festival, but really what it comes down to is professionalism. Probably not the best ideas to wear shorts and a t-shirt.

8. Ask for feedback – Did you not get accepted. It’s okay to e-mail and ask for advice on your submission. Also, reach out to us at NIN and we can always help give you advice on it.

Don’t –

1. Back out of a festival once you’ve said yes. Recently, there has been a string of this and I’ve heard gripings. If you say yes then you’re in. You have committed and the festival has already put you on the bill, promoting, made posters, programs etc. By quitting you have cost them money and now time to fill your spot. I can guarantee you will not be invited back and the community is a small one it gets around.

2. Submit your team of 7 people and show up with 3 or 4 or different improvisors. When you submit your team and they watch the video with those improvisors that’s who they are saying yes to. If you bring a different team of less then what you’ve promised that becomes a huge issue. Festival Producers go through a lot to try and promote a festival, pick teams and fill seats. Your job is to give them what was promised.

3. Be unprofessional – You’re representing your team and your theater. Show a little pride and make sure you show up to your calltime on time, do the show you promised and respect everyone that worked to get the festival going, don’t be drunk during your show. I know this sounds like common sense but I’ve seen it all.

So if you want to get into a festival, be invited back or go to more festivals these do’s and don’ts should help guide you on your way through the festival circuit. Just keep in mind, once you’re in a festival you are representing that festival to their audience and community. Happy traveling and submit away!

To submit to a festival instantly become a member at www.nationalimprovnetwork.com it’s free to join!

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.


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