Deal or No Deal

The audience said What?!

furiousIn the performing arts space, improvisors almost always go to the audience for a suggestion. Universally, depending on your form, you’ll start the show off with, “Thank you for coming. We are so and so and can we get a suggestion of anything at all to get us started?” It’ll be a word, phrase, object, location or anything you need to go off of. Sometimes, the audience will say something that would be considered taboo. In fact, it might happen often. In our classes and improvisational training, as improvisors, we’re told about the blue humor type jokes you might want to avoid when you’re on stage. However, how can you avoid it when the audience just threw it at you as a suggestion!?

Well, there’s a few different suggestions. Neither is the RIGHT way and neither are the WRONG way. They are both options for you to choose from. Back to the opening of the show. You were hoping for something like “banana” (hilarious) or “rollercoaster” (even more hilarious) and instead you got “AIDS”, “cancer”, “9/11” or “balls.” People love to come in and throw something horrendous out for a quick cheap laugh with their friends. They’re typically always in a group. In my opinion, the taboo suggestion is mostly always said because the person is trying to be funny with their friends. Rarely, is it done by one guy or girl and if it is I want to know what the rest of their day is like because I’d like to write the screenplay for a straight to DVD movie about their life called Solo Heckler. I digress. Let’s look at the first choice you can make as an improv group.

1. DEAL. In this situation, you’ve decided to take the suggestion. Your group has heard what the audience has said and you took it for everything it was worth. It varies from improvisor to improvisor, but sometimes people think that a bad suggestion is going to dictate the show when it’s not really the case. It will be whatever you make it out to be. Keep in mind, as improvisors, we have the distinct ability to take whatever we get and turn it into anything we want. While it might seem like a hand grenade was just tossed your way, it’s really a chance to work around the suggestion. For example, they gave you “meth” as a suggestion (because they’ve been watching a lot of Breaking Bad coincidentally). In my experience, it’s best to not just reenact whatever you’re given. That goes for improv in general. If the suggestion is taboo than acting it out might not be the best course of action. However, I believe you can do anything you want as long as you’re INSPIRED by the suggestion. Be inspired rather than derailed. Take what they gave you and twist it around on them. Show them something they weren’t expecting at all. They paid to see a show and they threw you a curve ball so now show them why you’re up there and hit it out of the park. With that suggestion, for example, you could do something associated with addictive personalities, shady undercover characters, or a couple being stuck in line at the pharmacy. It’s really whatever inspires you and your group and there is no right or wrong choice. How the show goes after you make that choice, however, will answer the question whether or not it was the best choice for the show.

2. NO DEAL. In this situation, you’ve decided to NOT take the suggestion. The audience shouted out something terrible, horrible, and downright embarrassing but the ensemble has decided to ask for an alternative suggestion. This is not right and this is not wrong as there is no right or wrong approach. Whatever you decided works for you and your group is entirely justifiable. If the suggestion is offensive than feel free to ask for another. Literally say, “Can we have another suggestion please” or “anything else?” Keep in mind, that you and your group are the ones who are about to put on a performance that could last up to 25 minutes. 9 times out of 10, based on my own experience, when you ask for another suggestion, the audience is going to give you one. There’s a funny thing that occurs after a taboo suggestion is given. The people in the audience who didn’t chime in the first time around now have something to say. Most likely because they also don’t want to see a 20 minute show about that terrible thing that some guy or girl said trying to be funny. Simply say, “thanks, can we have another suggestion please” and go from there.

In the end, you have one of two options if your group is doing a form that starts with the request for a suggestion. You can either DEAL and take the suggestion or NO DEAL and ask for another suggestion. No choice is a wrong choice and either one can result in an amazing or a disastrous show depending on how it affects you and your group. There’s no guarantee regardless of the suggestion as I’m sure you’re all well aware.

In my opinion, taking the suggestion and turning it around shows the audience (and the art of improv) that you have the ability to take anything at all and be inspired by it. I recommend you discuss with your group at your next rehearsal what the best course of action is when you’re faced with a taboo suggestion. If the group consensus is DEAL then you DEAL if the group consensus is NO DEAL, well you get the point. By talking about it prior, you’ll be prepared as a group and not looking around at each other as if the train just ran off the tracks. Always remember that you hold the stage and you can do with it what you please. You can take a suggestion, ask for another, or not ask for any at all. In the end, the mission is yours, should you choose to accept it. Wait, whoops, sorry, I mean it’s up to you to say DEAL or NO DEAL.

Ryan Nallen is a writer and performer in Chicago. He is a graduate of iO, Second City Conservatory, and the Annoyance. He plays with his independent team Risky on the Rocks, the Harold team Denver at iO Chicago, and with the Incubator team Desperado at The Playground Theater. He is an Associate Producer for Big Little Comedy, on the Marketing Committee at the Playground, and a Midwest Representative for the National Improv Network. You can also follow his online ramblings at @TheRyanNallen.

How to Hire an Improv Instructor: Standard of Practice

During my travels and throughout all the improv summits I hold at Camp Improv Utopia I always get the question: How much and how do we hire an instructor? Is there a standard?

Our improv industry doesn’t have a standard yet. But most every industry has a pretty good standard of practice when it comes to hiring outside help. Bill and I created NIN for a lot of reasons, but one of them is to help guide improvisors, theaters and festivals. In this blog I am going to try and breakdown for you a standard of practice for hiring an improv instructor.


The  standard is to purchase the instructors airfare (Coach) or if they are closer and don’t need airfare pay for their gas money. The current Govt. rate is $.58 per mile click HERE for the official govt. resource. Also, transportation from the airport. You can easily have someone pick them up or pay for a car to get them.


The standard is to get the instructor a hotel room for the time they are there. Unless they offer something else assume this is what you should do. The accommodations should be nice. Think of it as a place you’d stay too. I have heard nightmare stories from instructors about being put in bad neighborhoods and bad hotels so do your research.

How much do I pay them: 

This can vary…But I’ll try to break it down:

1. It really depends on your budget and the instructors experience – But remember this, they are not only training your students, they are usually training your instructors or future instructors. So think about this when hiring them.

a.) For one standard workshop and show a good average rate ranges from $300 – $800 again depending on the instructor. For Master instructors, think about $1500-$3200. But usually when you have one of these type of instructors out you are getting more than just one workshop and a show. This is all negotiable just want to give you some ball park figures.

b.) If you have them doing a couple workshops and a show that can range from $800-$1,700 for a typical instructor. Again, this is negotiable and depending on the instructor. It may be more for your top instructors this could be double as mentioned above it could range from $2,000 – $4,000. But again for most instructors the average should be around $800 – $1,700.

c.) Usually if you’re going to spend the money, bring an instructor out for shows and workshops. They will charge you a flat fee for their services.

d.) The 60/40, 70/30, 50/50 split scenarios. I get it, some theaters have to pay rent for their space and some instructors will do this, but you won’t get quality instructors from this scenerio. Why? You haven’t guaranteed them money to come out. Can you guarantee them the workshop will be sold out? Are you only charging $20 a head? Now if you’re charging like $80 or more a head a scenario like this may work out. But again, an instructor is leaving their community, job and family to come help your community out. They have put years of work, teaching, stagetime and money into their education.

You have to realize you are booking them out of potential other work so it has to be worth it for them to come out to you and you have to put a value on your community. If your community gets the best training from these instructors, you all get better. Creating better shows bringing in more students and more audience and potentially more revenue for you. That’s your return on investment.

Per Diem: 

Now this can get tricky. Are you feeding them? Taking them out? If so you might not have to give a per diem. But if they’re on their own it’s usually $40- $75 a day in per diem. It varies from place to place….San Francisco is more expensive than Omaha for example. You don’t have to pay per diem on their travel days but just the days they are working for you. This is a standard practice in most industries. They have to feed themselves about three times a day. Now can you build this into their base fee? Yes! Just ask them about it. Can you waive it because you’ll be feeding them…Yes. Again, depends on the instructor but always ask.

I know it’s improv, but you should have them. It’s really ridiculous not to. Doesn’t have to have tons of legal speech but at least outline what you are each responsible for. It protects your theater and festival and it protects your instructor. It also protects you from that awkward moment after the workshop of “How much did we say?” You can find templates of them online. Here is a sample template.Of course you can change the wording to fit your needs and always run by a lawyer if you have access to one.

Fundraising for this money:

Now you’re probably screaming, “Nick, how can we afford this?” “We are just a small festival.” This is my answer: Ask yourself why are you throwing a festival and why are you bringing these teachers in. It’s most likely to bring a name or experience to help your community grow and your audience grow. To bring your community more attention. Remember they represent your theater or festival that week or weekend so you get all the press, the growth as teachers and performers the whole shabang! Yes it’s an investment and you might lose some money, but in the long run your return on investment will be seen in the quality of work you’ll be elevated to and hopefully with better shows and improvisors comes more audience.

Fundraising has so many more outlets then ever before with social media and things like Kickstarter. Do some events during the year, get other theaters or groups involved. Have a budget so you know what your goal is. Here is a list you can consider doing to fundraise during the year:

1. Kickstarter, Indigogo or something similar. I’ve seen these have much success.

2. Do fundraising shows that the money goes directly to the festival. (Phoenix Improv Festival and The Torch Theater run a 48 hour marathon called GhostFest every halloween to raise money for their festival.

3. Festival Submission fees – The average submission fee is around $25-30. Merch sales at your festival – T-shirts, buttons, stickers etc.

5. Sponsorship Packets – Does your improv fest or theater have a Sponsorship Packet? Why not? Get local businesses, improv companies and more to put money into your programs, list their logo on your site. I’ve seen some great ones. Here is one from The Pittsburgh Comedy Festival as a great example.

6. Auctions and Raffles: Auction off classes, get prizes from other companies that can donate to you some goods or services.

Ultimately, you might not have the finances to do this and that’s okay. Keep working at it. Some teachers have wiggle room so just talk to them. Value them for who they are and their experience. If we are to become a greater community we have to have standards like other industries and I hope this helps guide you. Sure there are scenarios that aren’t listed here and things can change. And you can get creative…I’ve heard of a company that instead of paying the instructor they made it a vacation for them…tickets to disneyland, a vacation destination etc…So you never know. Best of luck and we are always here to help you! If you have any comments, experiences or suggestions please do!

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.

Spotlight on Houston Improv Festival 2015

On of the few festivals scheduled haven’t given me the privilege to visit yet has been the Houston Improv Festival. The festival and it’s producers are growing and doing great things in the city of Houston. I had a chance to talk to Todd Boring about the festival this year. Read this article and then hurry up to submit to a great time in Texas.

Many Festivals are hard to reach for east coast or west coast troupes, but Houston is easily accessible from anywhere in the country. That said, many visitors have never been to the city before. What are some of the points of pride in Houston for people to visit?

The food in Houston is legendary.  We are the #1 Fattest City on most lists for good reason.  Ninfa’s on Navigation is the best Tex-Mex in the world.  The best BBQ debate often comes to blows, and you can hardly go wrong venturing into any Vietnamese restaurant.  Pho?  Pho-get-about-it!  Come to town expecting to sate your wildest food fantasies!

We have several world-class local brewers that generously sponsor live comedy.  The beer here is clearly something we brag about.  St. Arnold’s, Buffalo Bayou, Karbach, 8th Wonder, No Label and Southern Star all have delicious varieties and are all based here in the Houston area.

Generally, there’s a lot to do if you experience improv fatigue: stand-up, live music, museums, ballet, art galleries, theatre, parks, trails … did I mention eating?  The festival hotel is right off Upper Kirby, which has great shops and food options.  The theater is in the heart of Midtown, near the Museum District, and only a few blocks from the light rail.  Plan to improvise and explore.

OrangeShowMonumentWhat are you offering visiting performers? What kind of budget should they be prepared for if they spend the weekend?

New this year, we are offering a single night’s stay at the Houston Improv Festival hotel – the Four Points Sheraton – for all out-of-town groups.  It’s about 5 miles from the theater off Highway 59, and regularly it’s about $80 per night.  On top of that, all performers will get a pass granting them access to all shows (subject to available seating).

As mentioned above, there are tons of great places to eat in Houston, and we really encourage folks coming in from out of town to check them out.  Do yourself a flavor and ignore all the big chains.

If you enjoy Mexican food, then Ninfa’s on Navigation is absolutely not to be missed.  Take a truckload of friends (it is not required to drive a truck in Houston, but it is highly encouraged), and expect to share everything you order.  With a drink and tip you will have more delicious Mexican food than you can eat for around $25 a head.

There are some great little dives on Almeda and on Main just a few blocks from the theater.  The app Urban-Spoon should definitely be your friend while you are in town.  If you are on a tight budget, then you can still eat well at $10 a meal if you limit your drinks to water.

Speaking of drinks, at most bars domestics (Bud, Miller) will cost you in the $3 range.  (A horrible waste of money IMHO.)  Our fabulous selection of microbrews will cost you around $5.  No Label has been our beer sponsor since the festival’s inception and their Hefeweizen is one of the best.  For sampling a wide selection of local beers and eclectic bar food, we highly recommend The Hay Merchant in the Montrose area.

While Houston is expanding its light rail system, you are going to have a much better experience getting around if you rent a car.  Also, maybe you haven’t heard, but we make gasoline here.  Your patronage is appreciated.  Definitely budget for some wheels – preferably lifted with a set of longhorns on the front.

What are some of the ideas in the Houston Improv scene that you really want to showcase to the world?

The Houston scene is finding its footing.  Although CSz Houston has been around for over 23 years, there were only a few independent groups a few years ago.  Today we have two additional established independent theaters with live comedy shows nearly every night of the week that also offer a full complement of improv training.  Groups are forming and re-forming so fast we can’t keep track anymore.  It’s a thriving comedy scene, and it’s growing.

Guest Improvisers will begin relationships with the city that could lead to other opportunities.  There is a hunger in Houston for improv.  It’s a pretty exciting era for us.

On the other side, what kinds of shows are you looking to showcase to the people of Houston?

We are always looking to broaden the horizons of our community and our audience.  Groups doing unique forms and styles at the top of their intelligence are highly desired.

Also, we would really love to see more short-form groups submit.  Frankly, although we think CSz Houston is the best short-form group in the country, we’d love to have some groups submit who could challenge that statement.

Finally, this year we are adding a family-friendly show slot.  In past years we strived to make the Houston Improv Festival a place where performers can share their art without restrictions, and we have no plans to change that for the majority of our show slots.  However, Houston has a lot of young improvisers that we are excited to introduce to this art form, and we are looking for groups willing to work within a PG-rating parameter.

What are your big goals in 2015 to grow from the 2014 festival?

Our goal hasn’t changed since the beginning:

To produce and promote improvisational theater in collaboration with the growing pool of improv acting and comedic talent in Houston.

Bringing Jimmy Carrane to Houston is a big realization of that goal this year.  Jimmy’s Improv Nerd Podcast will allow us to highlight our emerging improv scene.  His Art of Slow Comedy workshops give us a chance to expose a large pool of graduates to the artistry of this craft.

Looking forward to a great festival in 2015.  We hope you will join us! Submissions close January 1, so get crackin’!

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

Deduction Time

Any time of the year is a good time to send some financial support to the theatres and festivals you love. There are fundraisers and Kickstarters and good old ticket sales all year round. That goes for for profits and non-profits alike. But these next two weeks are the weeks when many of us are looking to make those few deductible donations before the end of the tax year. Check your local groups and see if they have a place for donations. It’s great to support the improv in your own city.

If you’re looking to go beyond your city. Here’s a very small list of groups around the country. Feel free to send additions my way. I’ll be happy to add them.

Your support matters

Your support matters

And this is just a small sampling of groups that are going to continue doing great things in 2015. Let’s keep improv growing everywhere.

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

Update that profile

Getting noticed in a sea of submissions

On Tuesday, Ryan mentioned a lot of ways to get your troupe online and seen by the world. That’s an important thing to do when you’re starting to grow. Just as important is to remember that your troupe will grow and change in membership, style, focus and quality. As the calendar year is coming to a close, now is a good time to see if your online presence really reflects the status of your troupe today.

What does the audience see?

Your troupe’s webpage or Facebook presence is very much a window to your show for audience members. Even if you’re active in posting content, now is a good time to take a look at your routines and see if they’re still representative of your group.

A webpage is an easy thing to overlook in the age of social media, but that’s still the place people often land first when searching for something to do in your town. You’ve seen your webpage 100’s of times. Now is a chance to look at it with new eyes. Does the message of the webpage that applied to your group three years ago, still apply? Is the information current? For Pete’s sake, is the contact information and showtimes listed correctly? I hope so. If you have access to a photographer. Maybe now is a good time to update those photos. (And before you say “Physician heal thyself”, NIN’s webpage will be getting a bit of a minor facelift in the new year to reflect where we are now).

When you go back to Facebook, Twitter, and the rest (please tell me someone is using Ello to promote shows) your content is ever evolving, but the same principal applies. Maybe some new photos. Maybe a new flyer for that same show you’ve been doing will better reflect you in 2015.

What do festivals see?

Hey look, it's my troupe - in 2005.

Hey look, it’s my troupe – in 2005.

Unlike audience members, festival reviewers have their own things that catch their attention. Your profile here is your resume to the world. If you want to be invited to perform in other cities, it’s best to have that resume updated. It’s even more important here to have a current cast listing and imagery so the groups inviting you know what to expect. Even if your profile is pretty solid, it will definitely not go unnoticed if you submit the same video three years in a row. (Keep in mind, if you weren’t invited last year, and submit the same show, your odds aren’t much higher).

Take some time out from a practice this month and watch some of your recent videos. Try to find one more suited to your group’s current frame of mind. Check your bio too. Does it reflect the shows you’re doing now?

A lot of focus here has been on your bio and video, but check out all of your information. Is your cast list accurate? Does your profile lead to a Twitter account that hasn’t been used in a year? Clean it up. And then you’ll be in a better place.

reviewaccountingstandards[1]An outside eye

Festival producers love to help. They are happy to talk about what they look for in a submission, and they’re typically happy to talk to you if you haven’t been selected on what things you might do to help you get into more festivals. Reach out to festival producers and ask them to look over your profile. It’s a great way to get some free advice.

That’s true all the time. But this month, it’s especially true. I’ve talked with several festival producers and theatre owners who agreed to be available to any troupe who asks for a profile review. If you’re interested in getting feedback on your troupe’s profile, leave a comment here or drop me a PM and your profile will be forwarded along to a few producers who will look over your troupe profile and offer advice on getting into festivals in 2015.

You might be surprised at the things you hear. Your best ever video might not be as helpful to you as a decent more recent video. Your really clever bio might not be as helpful understanding who you are as a plainly written description of who you really are (Keep in mind that your bio might be the 100th one read that week. It’s probably not that much more clever than any others).

Let’s all showcase ourselves the best we can.

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 You or Your Group

In this day and age, if you’re not online, you’re dead. That might seem blunt, but it’s absolutely true. If you’ve ever read Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work” you’ll know first hand that having an online presence is essential to promoting your work and showing the world what you have to offer. It’s also the best way to get constructive criticism, share what you know, and build trust with your audience. Not to mention, everybody else is already online. If you’re trying to get people to come to your shows, festivals, or theater, they need to have a way to find out about it.

In this day and age with all of the technological advances we have at our finger tips, you NEED to have content online that you can direct people to. Content varies in a variety of ways. For the purpose of this article, I’ve broken it down into 3 simple, but detailed, sections. There’s written, audio, and visual content. Through this article, I’ll break down these different mediums, how they can be beneficial to you or your group, and tips on how you can implement them. Keep in mind, these are all just suggestions. Feel free to incorporate one, all, or none of them at your leisure.


Written content is a broad term that can be something as small as a status promoting your show to a press release detailing everything your production and performers have to offer. It allows your audience to READ about what you think is worthwhile to share or just what you’ve been up to. Types: Articles, Blog entries, Facebook statuses, and Tweets.

FacebookCreate a Facebook page
This is one of the first things you’re going to want to do. Facebook is the KING social network right now. Pretty much everyone I know has it and that’s how I find out about news, shows, and everything else that is going on in the world. I know comedians who will post a comical status and then I see them incorporate that into an act they do later. In other words, posting the joke as a status was a test run to see if it works (people liked it). Having your own page for your group adds some professionalism to your group as well as a direct place for people to go to find out what’s happening lately.

  1. Events allow you to directly invite targeted/specific people to your show(s).
  2. You can tag multiple people in your group when you promote a show so that it appears on all of their timelines (more eyes might = more people in your audience).
  3. (Most Important): Stop inviting people to help you plant bell peppers in Farmville.

Twitter2. Create a Twitter Account
The point is to drive more traffic to your page and most importantly to your show. The time frame it takes to create a facebook page or a twitter is probably less than 20 minutes.Tip: Use hashtags. Twitter allows you use to hashtags to drive more traffic to your posts. Using #improv #comedy #theater allows you more chances for people to see what you or your group have to say. It also allows you to connect with other groups or theaters already utilizing Twitter. Tip: If you’re managing multiple Twitter handles, it’s best to use a service that allows you to update/tweet all of them at any given time easily rather than signing in and out of the Twitter website. Look into services like: Tweetdeck (personal favorite), and HootSuite.

Web3. Create a Website
Setting up a functioning website would probably take a few hours and then you have it as a point of reference to direct people to for as long as you pay for the domain. Tip: You don’t need to be an advanced HTML coder to create your own website. There are a ton of drag and drop website builders that are easy to use and will allow you to do it yourself. Some cost-efficient and easy to use services include: Wix, WordPress, Tumblr, and Squarespace.



Audio content is pretty self explanatory. It’s what you want your followers to HEAR. It is beneficial because it allows your audience to literally hear your voice and/or music (if you’re a musician). If you have an opinion or an idea for a series, you can create a podcast Types: Podcasts, MP3 recordings, Voice-over, etc.

PodcastStart a Podcast
Services like: Podbean, Pod-o-matic, and Libsyn are established sites for hosting podcasts. If you have a few friends and want to talk about something that you think others want to hear, do it. Better yet, post it up because it’s something you’d want to listen to.

SoundcloudCreate a Soundcloud
If you want to just do voiceover recordings, impressions, characters, or show the world that you can sing, you can do it here. Just create an account, upload your audio, and wha-lah! Soundcloud offers a widget (on Android) where you can just click record and easily upload it to your account within a few minutes.



Visual content is what catches your audience’s eye. It can be anything from a 6 second vine to a short film. Any type of visual content allows your audience to SEE your creativity and what you’re offering.
Types: Videos (YouTube, Vimeo, Vines, etc), Drawings, Show Posters or Flyers.

YouTubeCreate a YouTube or Vimeo Channel
If you’re ever submitting for a sketch team, production team, or talking to a director/agent you’re undoubtedly going to hear “show me an example of your work.” In other words, let me see your reel. This is step 1 to developing a place where your reel is eventually going to go. This will be the home for all of your video content.

InstagramCreate an Instagram
Think of it as a virtual photo album for your group’s shows and travels. If you’re a group that travels to a lot of festivals, having an account that showcases all of the wonder places you’ve been is great for you and your group as a reminder of what you’ve done together, but also shows your audience/fans/followers what you’re up to and what you find interesting to share. Tip: Hashtags allow more ways for people to see your images.

VineCreate a Vine
Have a funny idea that’s only 6 seconds long? Create a Vine account for you or your group and start vining. There are TONS of people who have had major success just because they had a funny 6 second looping video. Tip: Hashtags and the ability to tag people allow for more opportunities for people to see your work. Use ones relevant to your group and popular ones that are on the rise for more loops.

FacebookDesign a show poster or cool logo
Having an eye-catching logo or show poster is Advertising 101. It’s the first thing people are going to see and it might stop them for a second when they’re walking by. The logo might catch their attention and have them look up your group on facebook, twitter, or your new website and find out when your next show is (if it’s not listed on the poster). For posters, keep it simple. The simpler the better. People don’t want to read a novel when they look at a show poster. Give them the name of your group, location, and performance dates accompanied with a cool picture. Tip: If you’re not a great artist, ask a friend to help you come up with something. If you see another group with awesome posters/logos, ask them for help (and offer to pay them for it).

Just to clarify, you’re not limited to using one or the other. You can use one, two, or all three types of content when promoting your work. In fact, the more the merrier. You can write a Facebook status or Tweet (written) and accompany it with a photo of your cast or video from a previous week’s show (visual). You can record a podcast (audio) and then share it via Facebook, Twitter, and/or your website (written). You could also just use one. Keep in mind though, you don’t want to bombard your audience with too much content or they’ll be turned off to it. Think quality over quantity.

In the end, it’s all about who you want to reach and what you want to promote. It’s also about asking yourself, “Do I want people to know about this? Is it important to me?” There’s nothing wrong with working with a limited audience or traveling by word-of-mouth, but if you want to build yourself up so that your work can be found nationally (or internationally) and create more opportunities, you’ll need to have content ready and available online. It’s also going to give you the feedback you need so you know what works and what doesn’t. These are all suggestions on creating an online presence for you or your group. Hopefully this is helpful for anyone interested in establishing an online presence or in need of the first steps to marketing themselves.

Ryan Nallen is a writer and performer in Chicago. He is a graduate of iO, Second City Conservatory, and the Annoyance. He plays with his independent team Risky on the Rocks, the Harold team Denver at iO Chicago, and with the Incubator team Desperado at The Playground Theater. He is an Associate Producer for Big Little Comedy, on the Marketing Committee at the Playground, and a Midwest Representative for the National Improv Network. You can also follow his online ramblings at @TheRyanNallen.

Spotlight on San Diego Improv Festival 2015

The San Diego Improv Festival launches into its second year in February. I was able to interview Kevin Dolan one or the Producers of the festival. Check out what wonderful things this city and the festival have to offer.

This is your 2nd year of the SDIF. Tell us how the SDIF came about.

Amy Lisewski, the Artistic Director of Finest City Improv (FCI), has always believed in bringing the top improvisers to perform and teach workshops in San Diego. Even before FCI had its own space, she would have the best people she knew down from LA to teach workshops during the day and perform on the same bill with local teams at night. Once FCI had its own theater – and one that is attached to a hotel no less – having multi-day festival was a natural step.

It is unique to have a festival where the theater and hotel are connected. Tell us about that and what the hotel has to offer for improvisers.

FCI has a great location, attached to The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows. The place has a retro feel reminiscent of a Hollywood-style property you would see in a 1940s movie. The hotel restaurants have tasty food, the lobby is a great place to relax, and the rooms have been recently remodeled. And of course there is a swimming pool which we use for the festival’s big social event: the pool party on Saturday afternoon.

The biggest advantage to being attached to the hotel is that it’s great for connecting with other improvisers. We want the San Diego Improv Festival to be a social event as much as it is an improv event. We want people to make friends and come back every year to see those people again.

The neighborhood surrounding FCI is also “uber-hip,” or so I’m told. I can definitely tell you it has some good restaurants that don’t cost a fortune.

What can improvisors expect?

Our goal is to make SDIF the perfect weekend vacation for the improviser.

Even if your team isn’t performing at the festival, you can participate in our open jam on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights before the shows start. This is an opportunity to get on stage and play with the people you’ve been partying with all week.

We also have a full workshop program, with four already scheduled and four more in the works. Improvisers will be able to take up to two workshops on Saturday (10am and 3pm) and two on Sunday (11;30am and 3pm). Workshops will be two and a half hours long to facilitate getting adequate stage time for all attendees. Nick Armstrong and Karen Graci from LA, and Colleen Doyle and Jason Shotts from Chicago, are the confirmed workshop instructors.

Then there are the parties. I already talked about the Pool Party on Saturday afternoon – it’s scheduled between the morning and afternoon workshops – and that’s the social highlight of the festival. There will also be parties either on site or very close by on Friday and Saturday nights after the shows. With the hotel so close by, the parties were very popular last year and I expect it to be the same this year.

And of course we’re going to have a great lineup headlined by King Ten from Los Angeles and Dummy from Chicago; as well as other great teams from Chicago, New York, and other places closer to home.

The San Diego Improv Festival is the perfect improv vacation: take great improv workshops, see world class improv teams, party with fun improvisers, and participate in an improv jam (or two).

If accepted to the festival what do improvisers have to look forward to? Discounts? Workshops?

Performers will receive a wristband which will allow them to get into shows free of charge when there are seats available (at start of show). Performers can guarantee a seat by buying tickets or a festival pass in advance and are given a 50% discount. Performers will also receive a welcome package upon arrival.

Tell us about your great city…What can improvisers from out of town do while they’re there?

Of course, San Diego has some of the nicest weather anywhere in the world. Also, FCI is not too far from Balboa Park, home of the San Diego Zoo as well as a number of popular museums. San Diego has a number of micro-breweries, for those who like beer. And of course the beach isn’t far away. Surf’s up!

What have been some of the biggest challenges putting a festival on?

There are a so many details involved in staging a festival. We are fortunate to have people like Kat Brown, Erin Hanehan, and a great team of volunteers to make everything go smoothly.


Instantly submit to SDIF today.

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.

Meet the New Submission Tool

The very first submission on the site was nineteen months ago, almost to the day. Since then we’ve heard a lot of feedback from both troupes and festivals on how to improve the tool. I don’t intend for that communication to end, but I’m very excited to announce the new submission tool which went live this week based on the feedback from folks. So grab a tasty beverage and I’ll give you a tour.

For Troupes

One of the things festival organizers have asked for is more customized information. More information is always great, but if we start making troupes fill out complete forms for each festival, the whole point of the instant submission tool is kind of lost. So the submission side isn’t too terribly different. You can still submit with one click, but if you need to include a little extra information, there’s now a way to do it.

Let’s look at the main submission page for any festival. It looks pretty similar to the old tool, except for some minor visual tweaks. You still have all of your troupes listed with a checkbox on which groups to submit.
submit 1
When you check the box, you’re ready to submit, but you’ll notice a new sidebar shows your troupes availability and has a small area for any notes to the festival producers.
submit 2
If you’re unable to make a certain day of the festival, that’s really helpful information to send to the festival producers, so you can uncheck any days you won’t be available to travel.
submit 3
After that you’re good to go. That’s it. Hopefully still a very simple process.

Just a reminder though. One thing that hasn’t changed is that while we can program changes to our own website, we can’t reprogram PayPal’s website. Sometimes PayPal takes up to 15 seconds to complete your transaction and send confirmation back to the submission tool. If you don’t wait it out for those few seconds, your submission might not be recorded properly.

For Festival Organizers

The rest of this blog post is mostly for festival producers, but for everyone else; if you’re curious about what the submission process looks like or you want some extra tips on how to let your best side be seen, then read on.

One thing that has been added for anyone that is reviewing a festival is a quick link on their main profile page. Just below their troupe and theatre information will be a link to take them directly to the festival page. This saves some clicks of going to find it int the list. This link is only visible to the reviewers (meaning other people won’t see the festival link on your profile page) and will disappear once the festival starts.


Once on the festival submission list, you’ll be presented with a lot more information right away.


Immediately visible will be the name and avatar for the troupe, their city and state, their availability, any notes left by the troupe, their home theatre, time of submission and status.

Not all troupes connect their troupe with a home theatre, and they certainly aren’t required to, but it is often helpful to help festivals have a bit of background on your troupe. If you want to connect your troupe to your home theatre, you can contact your home theatre’s admin and request to be added.


The Status pull down is only visible to the event’s administrator (other festival reviewers will see text in its place). This is so multiple people aren’t undoing each other’s work. The check box area can be set to “SELECTED”, “WAITLIST” or “REJECTED”. Once one of those options are selected, a second drop down appears to let you track if a group has been contacted and whether they’ve confirmed or declined an invitation.


That last part was important to me personally. I know it can be heartbreaking to not get into a festival, and even moreso when you find out about it from some other group’s Facebook post. Contacting “all” groups, both accepted and rejected is really a best practice for festivals and this status box will hopefully help producers better facilitate communicating with groups.

The last thing you may have noticed is the (Not Paid) tag next to certain troupes. You won’t see that often, but it will happen. Earlier in this post, I mentioned waiting for PayPal to send confirmation back to the website. 95% of the time, people do that. But once in a while, a group will leave the PayPal page before letting everything finish up. We certainly don’t want to penalize groups who have troubles with PayPal, so on those occasions where a group didn’t quite finish the PayPal portion of their submission properly, it will still show up in the submission list with a not to try to get in touch with those groups and finish the submission properly.

And of course, since there are more options on the submission review list, there’s also an “Update” button to save your changes. Actually, for festivals with very long submission lists, there are a few “Update” buttons, spaced out along the page to prevent a lot of scrolling, but there’s no need to stress over which one to use. They are all identical.


So that’s the new submission tool. Big thanks to the folks at the OC Improv Festival, Alaska State Improv Festival, Twin Cities Improv Festival, Phoenix Improv Festival, Detroit Improv Festival and Houston Improv Festival who offered a lot of suggesstions and helped with occasional beta testing on these new tools.

So what’s next? There are some more tools coming soon, but none of them will require a complete replacement of the tool. Those features will just start popping up in the next little bit. Curious? Here’s a sneak peek at some of the features coming in the 2.1 version of the submission tool:

  • Who’s Reviewed This? Soon each reviewer for a festival can mark individual troupe submissions as viewed. This will allows the submission committee to track who has seen which shows. (Hint: everyone should see every show)
  • Mark Complete Nothing huge technologically here. Just an option to set your review process as complete. This will remove the link from reviewers profile pages.
  • International Options More flexibility for festivals overseas (currency, timezones, etc).
  • Contact Now An option to directly email groups from the submission list. This will automatically set the group’s status to “Contacted”

I hope the new tool makes people’s lives a little easier and give festivals and troupes the opportunities to put on the best shows for audiences. As always, suggestions for the future of the tool are always welcome.

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

3 Tips To Break Your Routine

Routines are the worst. That’s right. I said it. Why? Because I am a human and I can say things. Oh, sorry, why did I say that first thing? Because doing the same thing over and over is boring, repetitive, and eventually no longer productive. When you first did that thing, maybe it was a sketch show or a stand-up joke, it was great. That’s because it was new and fresh. You found it exciting and you were eager to share it with people who wanted to hear it. Then you did it 50-100 times. The excitement and passion you had in the beginning has faded. It got boring.

It’s important to start over or start fresh sometimes. If you want to push yourself as a performer or a writer, you need to change it up. If you’re an actor, doing the same thing over and over, will most likely get you typecasted. Sometimes that can work in your favor (we need a guy who does physical comedy) or in your detriment (he just throws his body around the stage). By changing it up, you are constantly challenging yourself and telling the world, “Hey I’ve got more ideas than that one thing I showed you I’m good at.” You need to be a mover and a shaker. Here are 3 tips on how to successfully break your routine so that you can keep challenging yourself on a consistent basis:

file_101560_0_Baby_Mirror[1]Recognize it.
The best course of action is to recognize what you’ve been doing, how long you’ve been doing it, and to…stop doing it. If the routine has been going on for a while, try doing something different. This pretty much applies to everything in life. If you haven’t picked up a book in the past year then pick up a book and read something for God’s sakes. Like Amy Poehler’s new book “Yes, Please” which is great. Let’s say, for example, you’re an improviser and you’ve found that for the last 6 months you’ve consistently played straight-man characters every show. Then for your next show plan to play a wild outlandish character. I don’t mean PLAN in the sense that you have a character monologue and you walk out during an improv scene and steamroll everyone as Anastasios Papagologis, The Pastry King. (This is my wheelhouse character and I’m only using it as an example for this article. Don’t get any ideas!) As I was saying, no, don’t plan, instead, just know that at some point during that show you’re going to do something unlike what you’ve done before character-wise. That could be anything from a new physicality to a voice. Sames goes for the contrary, if you’ve played ridiculous characters all year, take a step back and play it straight. If you never do object work then start the scene holding, grabbing, or touching something. If you’re a writer and you’ve only written satirical jokes for the past 4 months, try writing something new like non-fiction or a short story. Change is good. Change is your friend. Changes opens the door for more creativity.

garb-can[1]Throw it away.
Literally take what you have been doing and throw it in the trash. If it’s a page in a notebook, tear it out and throw it away or turn the page and literally write ‘new routine’ on. If it’s something you refer to such as an online document, create a new folder entitled OLD, and drag the document into it. The physical act of moving it from one place to another or throwing it away is key. That act is in itself refreshing. It’s like throwing an ex’s stuff they left in your place in the dumpster. Out with the old and in with the new. Make room in the cupboards for creativity by throwing away the reserves you’ve been relying on to get by.

writingablogpost[1]Write something new everyday. That might seem daunting, but it’s not. I said write something. That means anything whatsoever. It can be a brief summary of your day or an idea that pops into your head on your commute to and fro. There is no limit and there is no restriction. If you’re not ready to jump into 3 mandatory pages a day as prescribed by The Artist’s Way then write whatever you can. But, it has to be every single day. You can either buy a notebook and literally write or draw in it, use the note-taking app on your phone, or download other cloud-based note-taking apps like Evernote, Google Keep or Google Drive so you always have them backed up and stored. With those apps, you won’t have to worry about losing all your ideas if you lose your phone or your notebook. The constant act of writing everyday will eventually get you into the habit of having new material to draw from. You’re probably thinking, wait a minute, isn’t that a routine? Well, smarty pants, yes it is. However, it’s a good routine to help you break out of your bad routine. In addition it’s something NEW you haven’t been doing already. Think of it as a routine to generate new material rather than a routine that stalls your creativity. Sure, 90% of what you write each day might be garbage, but that other 10% is gold and you better mine it like it’s 1848.

In the end, the goal is to continuously challenge yourself. Not only as a performer, but as a person. Routines can be good, but they can also stall us and leave us too comfortable to be productive again. Doing the same thing over and over is soul-sucking and exhausting, but starting something new can be exciting and rewarding. Now, if you’ll excuse me, back to writing my Anastasios Papagologis, The Pastry King, monologue.

Ryan Nallen is a writer and performer in Chicago. He is a graduate of iO, Second City Conservatory, and the Annoyance. He plays with his independent team Risky on the Rocks, with the Harold team Denver at iO Chicago, and with the Incubator team Desperado at The Playground Theater. He is an Associate Producer for Big Little Comedy, on the Marketing Committee at the Playground, and a Midwest Representative for the National Improv Network. You can also follow his online ramblings at @TheRyanNallen.

Welcome Ryan Nallen to the NIN Team

We are happy to announce that Improvisor Ryan Nallen will be joining the NIN team. Ryan has been contributing very resourceful blogs for the last year and will now join our NIN team helping spread the word and making the site even better. I had a chance to interview Ryan:

Tell us about your improv background…What schools have you gone to?

I’ve been improvising now for around 7 years. I originally went to college to wrestle at the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana. I had taken a theater class because I was told it was a blow off (easy) class by my student advisor. For the final exam we had to do a student written play and half way through I forgot my lines. I just started rambling and making things up to justify what was happening. The class laughed at the nonsense coming out of my mouth and afterward my teacher pulled me aside and said, “You should look into doing this. You have a natural talent.” After the season finished, I decided to take that teacher’s advice and quit the team. I have been acting and improvising ever since. As for my training, I am a graduate of iO Chicago, the Second City Conservatory, and the Annoyance Theatre.

Who are you favorite improv instructors?

Thats a tough question for me because I feel like every teacher I have had has taught me something valuable or has provided me with great insight based on their own experiences. You can always learn something from somebody and I try to maintain that belief with every class or workshop I take.


Switch Committee

Tell us about Switch Committee and how you guys formed? Why do you travel to festivals?

Switch Committee had originally formed out of iO. Dave Karasik and I were in level 1 together and enjoyed playing together so we decided to form a group inviting other people we’d played with who we felt we had good playing chemistry with. Since the group has formed, we have had 2 runs at iO, performed at almost every venue in Chicago, and have traveled to and taught at over 10 festivals around the country. I really love traveling to festivals because I enjoy meeting new people who love doing the same thing I love to do. It’s something very special to get people from all over the country together to sit and watch each other do make believe. Traveling to new places to meet and see how other people are improvising is very exciting to me. Also, it’s like a vacation and who doesn’t love a vacation?

You’re becoming a part of the NIN team. What has NIN meant to you?

First of all. Thank you! This is awesome and I’m honored! I think NIN is an invaluable resource to the improv community. The purpose of it and how the people involved work so hard to bring performers and teachers from all over the country together speak volumes about the kind of support and collaboration that exists in our small world. Through NIN I have been able to connect with people and festivals that I might not have been able to connect with otherwise. It’s given me a central place to go to find festivals and more importantly groups and people with shared interests. It is because of NIN that I can say I have improv friends in almost every state in the country.

Where do you see improv heading?

We are in a weird, but GOOD, growth phase right now. A lot of theaters are growing, moving, and getting larger, which is fantastic for the performing arts community in which we belong. For example, in Chicago, iO and the Annoyance recently moved to new locations, Second City is expanding, and multiple other theaters like The Playground and M.C.L. (Music Comedy Live – formerly Studio Be) are rebranding and establishing new programs. Then you’ve got other shows popping up in attics and garages (the S%$& hole) generating the entire support of the community simply because they’ve created a judgement-free environment inviting pretty much anyone (sketch, stand-up, improv, musicians, etc.) to come and play free of charge.

With that, there will always be a show to see. I’ve seen it first hand here in Chicago. You don’t need thousands of dollars or a theater license. All you need is a space to play in and people who want to play in it.

How do you feel about the national improv scene?

I think its great. I absolutely love traveling to festivals and seeing what other people are doing in terms of their form and playing style. It’s also great to see the support that everyone has for one another. Rather than “oh I don’t know you you’re from another state” its “hey we love doing the same thing tell me more about you and your group.” It’s like a family and everyone is eager to watch each other play. Nationally its continuing to grow as well with more theaters and festivals popping up and existing theaters moving/expanding. I see it continuing to grow and people continuing to try new things. I see it getting bigger with more opportunities for people to perform both locally and nationally. It’s very exciting!

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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