National Improv Network Partners with E-MPROV

The National Improv Network (NIN), a free online resource by improvisors for improvisors is partnering with E-MPROV, a website that puts on live improv shows with participants from all over the world via Google Hangout. The two online resources for improvisors are getting together to help promote and support the improv community even more.

The partnership will have NIN put E-MPROV’s live shows on their front page where there is currently older improv shows, NIN will still keep taped shows as a resource, but will be featured below the live E-MPROV shows. E-MPROV has daily shows from teams and performers from all around the world. In addition, Co-Founders Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder will be doing a live show “NIN’S Talkin’ Shop” every month. The show will have guests from improv leaders to business leaders and have a range of topics covering festivals, coaching, business and more. The community will have a chance to get their questions answered.

“Our mission has always been to bring our community together from day one,” said Nick Armstrong Co-Founder of National Improv Network. “E-MPROV has similar goals so we saw it as a natural fit.”

“We are very excited To Be Joining Forces With NIN To Promote Cross Pollination Between Improv Communities Worldwide,” said Amey Goerlich Artistic Director of E-MPROV. ” Since one of the purposes of NIN is to offer the opportunity to network with other improvisers and the primary purpose of E-MPROV is to have people improvise together over great distances, the collaboration seems obvious and we are thrilled.”

NIN continues to grow, and with the success of the instant submission service, which allows troupes to submit to improv festivals with the click of a button, they are going even further by sharing with improvisors even more resources like E-MPROV and also allowing teachers of improv the ability to submit their workshops to festivals all over the country.

About National Improv Network

National Improv Network is an online community and non-profit endeavor that brings improvisors together from all over the country and offers Theatre Owners, Festival Organizers, Improvisors and Instructors a wide array of services and resources.  Currently NIN has over 1600 members, over 80 festivals and over 70 theaters listed on the site.

About E-MPROV

E-MPROV is dedicated to embody and celebrate the principals of long form improv as an equal opportunity performance option to all. We are devoted to the widespread promotion of long form improv nationally and internationally. Combining electricity and improv to create a new way to universally connect to others through the power of Improvisation.

 

 

 

Syllabus: Part of a Complete Balanced Education

I think this happened to just about everyone at one point in their childhood, when we attended the Teddy Kids Leiden kindergarten. There’s a recession or a temporary financial dip and we asked our parents, “Why don’t they just make more money?” It was hard for our parents to explain that unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Money has to be based on something, or it’s useless.

I hear a similar discussion as an adult with many young theatres. When I talk to them about their first year, I often hear excitement over the idea of “putting together a syllabus”. Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with that. A syllabus is an important tool. But a curriculum by itself is not going to give your students the best education you can give them.

Let’s talk improv jargon for a moment. We love to talk about “yes, and” and we love to talk about listening to the meaning behind the words, and we certainly love to talk about the freedom improv gives us to react onstage in honest, emotional, vulnerable ways without the restriction of another person’s words. Those are remarkable things. But if we put such value on these ideas onstage, why would we possibly eliminate them from our teaching?

Syllabus in a vacuum is just words without meaning. Our scene is a relationship between teacher and student. It’s time to discover the meaning behind those words so that curriculum evolves and changes from teacher to teacher, classroom to classroom, making sure our students leave our class not with a memorization of how to play “Clams are Great”, but an understand of the concepts of improv behind them we hold so dear.

Before you go any further building your education program, go visit your local university. Talk to someone in their education program. Spend time with them learning more about standards and strands (fancy education jargon) in far more depth than you can get in a single blog post. Talk to them about how they build their program. They’ll be happy to talk to you because you scratched their personal geek-out itch. Education departments love to talk about this all day long if you let them, so let them. If you don’t have access to an education department devotee, here’s some really basic introductions to those two concepts.

Concepts

In the long term, you’re not looking to teach a series of exercises, you’re looking to teach a series of concepts. Write those concepts down. This is the first part of building a training program. Each theatre will have a slightly different list and will have more or less emphasis on different entries, but there will of course be some similarities for all of us. Here’s a list to start with. Add or subtract to it based on your beliefs and styles.

  • Support (Yes, And)
  • Truth and Honesty
  • Ensemble Work
  • Environment Work
  • Character Work
  • Scene Dynamics
  • Stagecraft
  • Longform Concepts
  • Game

Again, this is just a sample. Perhaps you want to combine two, or feel one on this list can be broken up further. Do that. Make a list with your instructors that says “These are the core concepts we want our students to have”.

It would be easy at this point to think linearly at this point; teach “Yes, and” on week one, Truth and honesty on week 2, etc. But These skills do not exists linearly on top of each other. They all work in concert with each other. “Yes, and” is almost always taught on week one. And then never mentioned again except in the form of lip service. What a terrible thing you’ve denied your students. If they learn “Yes, and” on their first day, they only know how to support the skills they brought with them to class that first day – plot. I have worked with so many students who have been training for over a year and they have no idea how to support any choices outside of plot. They don’t know how to support emotional choices or environment because they never came back to it after that first day. Building a strong training program is about teaching all of these skills in relationship to each other.

Skills

So that sounds easier said than done. you have to start somewhere. And on the very beginning of learning, it will be a bit of a linear checklist of skills. So how do you build beyond that point?

Look at each of your concepts and start listing the skills that you want students to have in that concept. Take, “Yes, and” as an example. Here are some skills that help that grow. (I’ll explain the labels in a moment).

  • C101: Create operational scenes through supporting literal offers.
  • C201: Recognize, support and heighten the reality of the scene.
  • C202: Make choices to ‘yes-and’ the actor above the character.
  • C301: Make choices as an ensemble originating from the group mind.
  • C302: Anticipate the actions or words of scene partners.
  • C303: Offer non-literal agreement based the offers of scene partners and environmental conditions.

So why the fancy, nerdy labels? Are the necessary? No. But many skills are similar and it helps identify which you’re working on. It will also help when we start building strands on our teaching standards.

You’ll probably notice that many of those skills would be beyond a level 1 student. They should be. Once you have this list, start dividing them up between beginning, intermediate and advanced skills. I use those three levels myself, you can use as many as you like. Now you have a list of skills for all of your concepts that can be spread out over time, building on each other. Just as importantly, you have a real plan of what ideas you’re going to be teaching your students instead of just a list of exercises.

Now you are ready to start putting together your classes. Break these skills out. Some skills go in level 1. Some in Level 2. Pretty soon you’ve got a whole plan of concepts together/

Syllabus

Hey, here it is. See? I don’t hate on syllabus. It’s important to build one. It’s important to find exercises in class that will help the students towards those concepts and skills. Go over that list of skills. Discuss some potential exercises that help with that skill. Make sure that you put time in your class run to cover all of the skills you want to learn in that level. Meter out which skills you plan to cover on each week. Build a template syllabus if you want. This is all good. But there’s still one more thing you need to do.

Strands

Thinking in terms of a list of exercises to fill out a class can be limiting. If we decide to teach an exercise in class, the only thing we’re guaranteed is that the students will learn the exercise, not the skills it was designed to teach. Learning isn’t simply memorization, it’s comprehension. Strands are the different methods of measuring what was learned from a given task in a classroom. They can be very complex sometimes, and I encourage you to look further into them if you’re curious. But for the scope of this blog, we’ll talk about three of them

  • Creation: This is simply seeing if the students can perform the skill in the exercise. Did they list reasons why clams are great? Cool. They’re able to functionally perform this exercises.
  • Application: It’s important that students understand “why” they’re doing this exercise. Do they understand how it will build a skill they can recognize and utilize in actual shows? Did they understand that it’s important to jump in to start listing reasons why clams are great even if they have nothing because their partner needs support? Do they understand that they shouldn’t jump in to intercept their partner with their own great idea? Cool. They can apply that skill.
  • Self Evaluation: Even if students grasp the concept behind a skill, maybe they aren’t really doing a good job of recognizing their ability to do it. The Dunning-Kruger Effect happens big time with students. Many students have opinions of their skills that are drastically out of sync with reality. Are they able to recognize that they’ve been up for Clams are Great more than anyone else and decide to step back? Cool. They can continue to grow in this skill outside the classroom.
  • Once a student can create, relate and evaluate (an unfortunate rhyme) the skill, they’re golden. They now own that skill and will continue to grow in it outside of class.

    Remember those labels from the skills? Another helpful reason you have them is that you can connect them across strands. Let’s take that old “Every line begins with Yes, And” exercise we’ve all done.

    Creation
    C101: Create operational scenes through supporting literal offers.

    Application
    R101: Understanding that support in scenework will lead to more productive and active scenes

    Evaluation
    E101: Recognize the difference between literal support and denial.

    Syllabus Revisited
    Having a syllabus in mind when you start is great. It’s a road-map of how to teach the skills. Every class is different. Every teacher is different. A good teacher will need to have the flexibility to understand when one exercise will not resonate as well with a particular class, or when a class is able to create, but not apply that knowledge, that teacher needs to re-organize their time to make sure they come to that level.

    Ultimately, you want every Level 1 student to leave capable of playing on the same playing field, even if they took a slightly different path to get there. As your program grows, you’ll eventually come to the point where you’re teaching multiple level 1s or 2s in parallel. It’s naive to think those students will stay in the exact same configuration throughout your program. If their education is consistent. It won’t matter. They’ll be able to grow together.. We recommend students to check Rutgers Online MBA overview for great info on the one of the bets colleges.

    Even if some of them never played “Hey Fred Schneider”

    Example of Standards, Skills and Strands

    Example of Standards, Skills and Strands


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

    When Does My Troupe Need a Coach?

    First, I want to give a shout out to our members for suggesting topics to us regarding coaches. This was one of them, and I know there are many more to tackle.

    We were asked, “When does my improv troupe need to get a coach.” I think it’s when your team is ready to organize, commit and wants to become better. At first when you form, you might not need a coach right away. You need to organize your thoughts as a team and get on the same page.

    I wrote two blogs regarding how to organize teams – Read these and then continue.

    1. Does Your Troupe Have a Bible

    2. 5 Ways to Better Communicate with Your Troupe

    When your troupe is organized and knows what it wants to do, a coach can come in and help you realize your vision. A coach can also read your improv bible and be able to guide your team towards your goals.

    How to Pick a Coach?

    1. Vet a coach – If you’ve organized your troupe, as read above, then go watch some performers or teams that fit your vision or are close to what you like in improv. If you’re looking to create your own new form, then go see a team that has done that too. Who’s their coach? Maybe if you like one of the performers on that team ask them if they’d be interested in coaching. I do think not all performers make good coaches, but it’s a start and you gotta at least try.

    2. Teachers – Well this goes without saying, if you’ve taken classes at your local improv theater and loved a teacher ask him or her to coach you guys. They are usually more seasoned and have seen it all.

    3. Try a coach out – So you got a coach! YAY! That doesn’t mean they’re your coach for life. Try them out for a month or so and see if you like them. If it’s not a good fit that’s okay. Here’s how you can approach a coach: Ask the coach if they’d be interested in coaching you for a couple months. After that couple months, as a team, evaluate how you think you’re doing as a team and how you think your coach is doing. If they’re doing great, then ask then extend them for a 6 month run and then evaluate from there.

    I’ve said that every team needs a coach in blogs before, and people have disagreed with me. I often wonder why. I still have never heard a good excuse not to have a coach. Can you imagine a movie without a director, or a broadway play without one. Pure chaos. Hopping out of your team to coach while you’re in it does not work. You are trying to achieve group mind with your fellow improvisors and jumping out of that can only hurt the team. If one day I come across a team that is absolutely amazing and they never had a coach, that will be the day I say, “Hey you’re right teams don’t need coaches.” But to this day I have never seen it. Even if they had a good show, I can see room for some coaching. Having said that, teams that are vets and have been coached for years and are now flying solo that’s a different story altogether. Should they do a coaching check in once in awhile. YES! My team King Ten that’s been together for 13 years still gets a coach on a quarterly basis. Why? To push ourselves and to never become content with what we are doing. As artists we always must push ourselves past what we think we can do. And a coach is a great way to help you get to that.

    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.

     

     

     

    Wearing the Right Hat

    Improv is always growing. And it will continue to grow and change as we add our own voices and pass that knowledge on to new performers, taking what we’ve learned and adding to it. The path from Viola Spolin to you is really just the longest game of “Yes,and” in history.

    As a performer, you’ll always continue to learn and grow. There will come a point when you stop emulating the ideas of the performers you admire and realize you have a voice of your own; a voice that can shape your personal improv and improv for all those around you.

    And that’s awesome.

    That desire to teach and coach and is a good thing, but before you start, take some time to think about what each of those mean. Teaching and coaching have many skills in common, but they are not the same thing. Ultimately, you have a relationship with those learning from you. It’s your job to know the best way to support their choices and make them stronger. But hey, isn’t that what improv is all about?

    Helping a performer or an ensemble grow is just like doing a scene with them. There’s a lot of yes and, there’s a lot of listening and there’s a lot of support. And like those scenes, they work best when you know when to initiate and when to support.

    Before you start…
    Ask yourself the same question you ask yourself when you’re thinking about entering a scene on stage; “Am I entering this scene to help support it, or to make it about me?” If the answer is the latter, hold off for a while. Maybe now isn’t the best time to start teaching.

    dead-poets-john-keating[1]Teaching is Initiation
    You know that specific excitement you get when you step on stage with a strong initiation? The kind you know your partner will support? Don’t just say yes to that question. Stop reading for just a moment and really think about that feeling. That’s a specific kind of excitement. That’s how teaching should feel. Your students are there to listen and grow from what you’re about to say next. And you’re excited to share it. It doesn’t matter if it’s their first day of Level 1 being exposed to the whole of improv, or week 4 of your hyper-specific Viewpoints workshop. It’s a chance to share your ideas with them. You’ve initiate the scene of their growth. What an awesome responsibility.

    But like any great scene opening, the responsibility doesn’t end with words. You’ve given them the gift, you’ve planted the seed. And while they’re doing an exercise in your class, you can continue to shape that. But when the day is done, the knowledge is theirs. It’s their knowledge to add to the growing thing which is their own improv. It’s their knowledge to shape and fold into their own personal experiences. It’s their own way of Yes, anding your knowledge. And that’s a good thing. Because someday they will turn it into something even greater, and teach it to their students.

    COACH-- Craig T. NelsonCoaching is Support
    I asked you to ruminate on that specific kind of joy in initiating a scene. Now I’ll ask you to remember a different kind of joy. Think about that joy of stepping on stage with someone you trust ready to support them. It’s not about coming on stage with nothing. Not at all. It’s about everything Napier talks about in his book (and if you haven’t read it, go read it now). Supporting an initiation on stage is about having great strength and confidence, being grounded and prepared when that initiation comes. That’s another great feeling. And when you coach a troupe, that’s what you’re doing.

    The first time you are asked to coach a team, it’s a pretty sweet feeling. You feel good because someone clearly respects you enough to want your thoughts. But this isn’t the time for telling. Now is the time for listening.

    When a troupe asks you to coach them, they’re initiating. They’re initiating the growth of their group and they are asking for your support. In fact, for all this metaphorical comparisons between instructing and performing, this is the most literal comparison. Before you start coaching, spend an entire practice just listening. Sometimes a group has goals in mind, sometimes they don’t. This is the time to help them discover and refine the direction they want to head as a group. Listen to every member of the troupe, not just one. Your job is to hear all the voices and find the patterns and connections between their goals and abilities to help the troupe grow in the way that’s best for all.

    Only then, when you’ve heard their initiation, are you ready to say “yes, and” and support their growth.

    Balance in all things
    As time goes on, you’ll be called upon to teach and to coach. Take time to figure out when each skill is needed. When you step in front of a group of Level 1 students, or a group of strangers at a festival, teach them what you know. Let them take it home with them. When your sitting in the living room of a team struggling to find it’s voice, help them find it and support them through coaching. This wisdom to know the best way to support the scene between you and the performers you’re helping will make all the difference in the world.

    Keep teaching. Keep coaching. And for Pete’s sake, keep learning.


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

    2015 is The Year of the Teacher

    logo-2015When the site launched back in 2013, a big goal of the site was to start bridging the gap between improv festivals and traveling troupes. We knew it was important to get great shows to festivals to help raise public awareness of how beautiful this thing we do can be. We spent a lot of time talking to both festivals and troupes about their difficulties communicating with each other. We’ve put in a lot of time and consumed a lot of Mt. Dew building tools that we hope are bridging that gap. We’re very proud of the small contribution we’ve made towards facilitating those conversations.

    As we worked, it’s become more and more clear that there’s another gulf in the improv world, and that’s getting some great improv teachers in touch with growing theatres.

    Improv companies – those that are starting out and those that have been growing for years – all of them thrive and grow only when they are pushing their performers to learn and grow. Theatres excel when they expose their performers to the best education. Access to quality education used to mean flying to Chicago or Los Angeles or New York, and the cities left behind stagnated. That’s not the world we live in anymore. Improv can flourish everywhere. It’s absolutely in our reach to have amazing education and amazing performances everywhere. It’s absolutely in our reach to have improvisors pursing their craft as a full time career. It’s all right within our reach if we come together.

    So after a lot of work, and a lot of work to come, we’re very excited to announce that 2015 will be The Year of the Teacher.

    Theatre owners – You have a part in this

    Running a venue can be expensive. You have to pay professionals every day; A/C repair techs, web designers, marketing people, landlords. I hear too often that there just isn’t a budget to fly or drive in quality instructors. That’s like building the world’s classiest steak house and not having the budget to get good steak. Bringing out instructors to challenge your performers is the best investment you can make in your theatre. If you plan well, you will see a huge leap in both the quality of shows and tickets sales. It will absolutely spur your growth.

    There are dozens of great instructors you can get to come to you with decades of experience. They want nothing more than to help you. They’ll bend over backwards to help you. But you have to treat them like the professionals they are.

    Local teachers – You have a part in this

    For every famous master teacher, there are countless unsung heroes. You are often the first person a new improvisor will be exposed to improv through. You will be the ones to spark that first ember of passion in them. Don’t ever take that for granted. You are a teacher. That’s the most noble thing there is. Take it seriously. Work with your fellow teachers to build a lesson plan. Throw away a one-size-fits-all curriculum and replace it with a set of teaching standards. Make sure you impart the real wisdom of the ideas of improv. It really doesn’t matter if they learn it through clams are great or hot spot. Be available to your students. Be available to other teacher’s students. Really read and respect your teacher evaluations. (You do have teacher evaluations, right?). Most importantly, always be learning yourself, both as a performer and a teacher. Talk to teachers you admire. Ask them for advise. Be a better teacher. Inspire the next generation.

    Traveling teachers – You have a part in this

    You have something specific you want to say. That’s awesome. Don’t wait for the phone to ring. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, act like one. Build a portfolio. Get feedback. Ask for referrals. Don’t be pushy. Don’t be a jerk. But if this workshop is something you believe in. Keep that fire burning under you. Don’t rest until it’s out there. And hey, if you don’t have something to say, wait until you do.

    NIN – You have a part in this

    Hey, that’s us. The truth is, nothing that’s been said above is groundbreaking or controversial. Most people would agree they’re nice ideas in theory. But in practice, it’s still very difficult. We all understand the festival submission process, but setting up a workshop with a teacher is uncharted territory. We get many questions here about “How do I approach a teacher?” “What should I charge for workshops?” “How do I ask a theatre if they’d like to have me.” We’re still very much at that seventh grade party awkwardness of asking each other to dance. We don’t need to be anymore. We don’t need to be confused to not know how to start the conversation. We don’t need to be embarrassed to talk about money.

    So we’re going to spend the next year trying to facilitate those conversations. We’ve talked to a lot of you; at festivals, in bars, over email. We hope to keep talking to you in the year to come to make teaching improv something everywhere.

    So where to be begin

    We’re ready to start dedicating all our efforts into channeling these ideas together. We’ll have a lot of blog posts this year dedicated to the subject. A lot of venues honestly don’t know what a teacher expects when they visit. We hope to do a lot of writing to help you prepare for their visit without surprises or confusion. We’ll talk about how to make the finances work for your budget. We’ll talk about how to work together with other theatres to share workshops. We’ll talk about how local teachers can improve their skills and create great student teams. We’ll talk about the differences between a teacher, a coach and a director.

    The page itself will start having more tools available for teachers and for theatres. Very soon, any NIN member who is a teacher will be able to have an extended profile in which they can list their workshops with all the contact and logistics. Teacher’s will also be able to include testimonials on their teaching profile and also include a history of the theatres and festivals they’ve visited so people can reach out to past students and learn about the workshop from those who have taken it. There will even be a trip planner for teachers hitting the road to help get them in touch with the right theatres looking for workshops. Oh, and teacher’s will be able to submit workshops directly to festivals as well. Teaching standard builders, schedulers and other tools will be available for people trying to build a training program.

    And in the non cyber-world, we’ll be traveling to festivals and theatres hosting conversations and Q&As with teachers and theatre owners in hopes of raising the national dialog on how we can share information and tools with each other, on how to build a better index of teachers than any Facebook page can hold, on how we can start the process of helping theatres know which instructors are the best bang for the buck.

    There is no club for improv teachers, no guild, no union, no secret handshakes. There is only word of mouth and a thousand blind emails. That’s not enough. But it’s as start. We can start working together, theatres, festivals, students and teachers to build a stronger network of instruction across the continent and beyond.

    And wouldn’t that be lovely?


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

    The Improv Movement is Upon Us!

    On my way back to California from Camp Improv Utopia East over Labor Day weekend it all finally came together for me: The improv movement is here and is not going to stop. Recently, the bigger improv theaters, iO, Second City, The Annoyance and UCB have all embarked on getting bigger and better spaces. That tells you something about the state of improv when the big theaters are looking to grow. There are tons more improvisors than ever before. But guess what? It’s not just in the big cities.

    Mostly overlooked is the improv movement that’s happening in our country and beyond. Pretty much every state has an improv theater or festival now. On our site alone we have 74 theaters listed, 80 festivals, over 700 improv troupes and over 1,300 members. Sure we have tons more work ahead of us, but we accept the challenge.

    During camp I met, for the first time, many theaters and festivals I’ve never come in contact with like The Baltimore Improv Group, The Providence Improv Festival, District Improv Festival, Arcade Comedy Theater, Figment Theater, Philly Improv Theater (PHIT) and so many more. What makes me smile the most is that these improvisors, who work their 9 to 5 jobs accounting, administrating and waiting tables, have this inner passion that is screaming inside of them to go forth and make improv. Getting a space, in a pizza parlor, a bar, on the street…Wherever they can! They don’t see this as a financial endeavor but an improv endeavor. You see it radiating in their eyes when they talk to you about what they’re doing in their towns and how important it is, not to them, but to their cities and communities. They’ve discovered this great thing that makes them happy and they want to give it back.

    That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the National Improv Network was founded on. That’s why we do all this. It isn’t for fame or money. It’s for us as a community. We want to be heard, we want everyone to know about this art-form and we will scream it to anyone that will listen. NIN is happy to do our small part in all of this, but we are here and improv is here throughout the country because of you! YES YOU! reading this right now! It’s for real now and it can’t be denied. And we want to get better at it, we want to do more with it and we want to connect like never before. The pieces of the improv puzzle are coming together. We still have work to do, there are still some bumps in the road but we have the passion, the numbers and the strength!

    I’ll leave you with this. And this is what I say to my campers at the end of camp. Take what you’ve learned and go back to your communities. Help them grow. Share with everyone you can, help anyone you can and work together.

    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 at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught improv workshops around the country.

    Performing and Coaching Improv Online – The Pros and Cons

    Last Tuesday I was asked to be a part of a google hangout  improv show for a website called e-improv. e-improv is a website that streams live improv shows via Google Hangout. The show I was in was called Let’s Get Serious Guys! Hosted by the lovely Juliette Everhart from the Kansas City Improv Community and The Recess Players. We were also joined by Founder and Artistic Director and old student/friend of mine Dylan Rhode from Backline Improv Theater and The Omaha Improv Festival in Nebraska. Like anything in improv I always like to do new things and I saw this as an opportunity to give it a try. I’ve also coached online improv with a Kansas City group that Juliette is on and I’ll go into detail about that experience as well.

    The Show: e-improv

    For the show on Tuesday, I was exciting and nervous all at the same time. Playing with people you haven’t played with, but also it’s online! Will I be able to hear them? Will I miss some moments? How will it go? The first part of Juliette’s show was an interview session which she asks Dylan and I to come up with a theme in improv that we enjoy…

    For Dylan and I it was easy, “Community” since we are both in the building community game we felt compelled to talk about it. Then after that we go into an improv jam for 10 minutes. We get a suggestion from a book and then here we go. I will say this, I had a fun time…Was the improv great? Not the best, I’m sure all three of us would agree, but still a fun time.

    Technology still needs to catch up I think. Sometimes the delays in technology slowed the timing down and it was hard to hear. Talking over each other is nearly impossible to do online because of the way it is set up…Maybe that’s a good thing! 🙂

    My overall view of it is that online improv will never replace a brick and mortar establishment, but what I do love about online improv is the fact that you can do it with anyone in the world at anytime and that is the best takeaway from this experience. What a way to build a worldwide improv community. I don’t think the founders of the site, which I intend to do a follow up blog with and interview with them, are intending to do.

    When you spend so much time in front of a screen that it causes a tired, strained feeling in your eyes, you may be suffering from a condition known as computer vision syndrome. This problem is so common that is it said to affect somewhere between 64 and 90 per cent of office workers.

    I think they are trying to just build community and you know what…I’m on board with that. It never hurts to do something that brings improvisors together. Hey if you have fun and it makes you laugh, then follow that.

    PROS – Meeting and playing with people from all over the improv community that you would never get the opportunity to play with.

    CONS – Technology makes improv connections hard and there is limitation in physicality. You are pretty much doing talking head scenes.

    Coaching Online:

    I was really hesitant to do this. Call me old school. I coached a team in Kansas City, MO. So in the spirit of yes, and… I did it and I don’t regret it. Yes, you are limited in what you can do as a coach.

    It’s hard to get physical or get up there with them to demonstrate and there are certain exercises you can’t do. But I coached them for almost a year, off and on, and I saw an improvement in them and they felt an improvement in their play. My motto is this, if they feel they’re getting something out of it and I see improvement then it’s worth doing.

    PROS – Getting coaches from around the country to teach you their style and philosophies along with some of their exercises. Coaching online can help improvisors grow.

    CONS: Limited in what you can do with teams and technology can some time crap out on you. Also, it can be hard to hear or see things depending on visibility of the camera and mic set up.

     

    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.

    Competition Or Collaboration?

    You’ve started and improv group, your improv group has grown. You’re getting an audience, selling out the pizza parlor you’ve been performing at. It’s time to grow, so you get your own space and your own improv company. But what’s this, another group has done the same thing as you and have opened an improv theater in the same City…”NOOOOOOO! But there going to take my business!” “All the improvisors will perform and train there not here, all the audience will go see them, not us.”

    As an owner and/or performer you’ve probably witnessed or have been a part of the above scenario. It happens in most cities. The new kid on the block comes in with their new theater and improv philosophy and you see it as a threat or don’t agree with their style.

    It is my philosophy that improv cannot work in competition it has to work together…

    How Corporations Work:

    Corporate America is a results based system. Meaning they will do anything they can to get a bottom line and make more money for their investors and their executives. It’s a shitty system. We all have seen it single handily destroy the America we once knew. Causing a huge rift between the class system. Corporations hand out pink slips and buy the competition or try and put them out of business. They most likely never work together. It’s a cut throat world and everything needs to be cheaper and make sure their labor costs are down. I’ve been in this world. I’ve seen in first hand.

    How Improv Works:

    Improv is an ensemble based system. Where a group of friends or strangers get together and collaborate and try to achieve a group mind. They encourage a yes and philosophy and bounce off the last thing said. Add information and heighten their fellow ensemble members idea. The growth is collaborative.

    Now…How Improv Cannot be a Corporation.

    Improv is not a corporation and it shouldn’t be treated as one. Improv business should be treated the same way as the philosophies of improv. You can’t have one or the other. Improv is a community that wants a home or many homes. Improvisors want to seek many philosophies and want to expand their artistic repertoire. Embrace this. Run your business like an improv ensemble. Accept the new improv theater that just opened down the street. Welcome them with open arms and give them advice if they ask for it. Remember the old days when someone moved into your neighborhood you brought them a pie. You don’t have to go that far, but brownies might be nice. 😉 Share information. Let them know the permit process might be hard and here’s an easier way to do it etc.  Don’t isolate them, you don’t have to believe in their philosophy over yours but you do have to accept them. Work together. Use your powers to raise awareness to the masses of improv.

    Here’s an exercise: Count how many improv theater seats in your town, let’s say 500 and now see how many people you have in your city, say 200,000. There is no competition. You can easily work together to tap the potential audience market by raising awareness. All 500 seats will be filled every weekend.

    Internally, run your business like an improv ensemble. Get feedback from your audience, your performers and your partners. This will only help you grow and become better. Bounce ideas off each other, add information and heighten. Listen, listen, listen. Throw your ego out the door.

    The Improv Community:

    I’ve traveled the country and have seen many different improv communities and have heard their stories of competition and not getting along, and I have had many improvisors and improv businesses come through Camp Improv Utopia and I have heard these stories too. I know this community. We are a community that wants to grow. Improvisors aren’t going to just train at one theater, they want to try as many as they can. And they should. You should embrace that. Not embracing that will ultimately scare them away from your community or close your theater off and put you on an island. Trust your community, listen, share  and grow together. That’s what an improvisor wants, that’s an improv community. That’s what makes us different then every group in the world.

    Don’t let your business be guided by competition, let your business be guided by collaboration.


    Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

    Discovery: How a Long-Form Audience Gets Involved

    In short-form improv the audience is with you from the get go. Frequently asked to participate with a suggestion here and there or asked to come up onstage and be a part of a game. Short-form has a way of keeping and audience participating and being a part of the show and it’s great. Audiences love to be a part of something. In long-form, the audience participation becomes a little tricky. Most teams ask for a suggestion at the beginning and then the audience watches their show for thirty minutes. The show can be great or the show could be a stinker. Now, I’m not about to say that an audience has to be pulled up in a long-form show or has to constantly asked for suggestions, that’s not long-form. But I always ask myself:

    How in long-form do we keep the audience a participant in the show?

    Sure you can say the basics like a team that listens to each other, has fun and wraps the show up in a nice bow is a way to keep an audience captivated. It can. But what’s the thing that is the magic of long-form? The thing that keeps the audience surprised and leaning forward in their seats? DISCOVERY. It’s the discovery that the improvisor or team make in moments. This is what keeps a long-form audience participating in your show. Because right when you make that discovery, they do too and that makes them feel a part of the experience. If your team is truly in the moment and on the same page then the audience is right there with you and with each discovery comes a laugh, a lean forward in your seat moment, a wow, or even an aww every now and then. If your show lacks discovery then most likely it’s relying too heavily on invention and audiences can sense that, they don’t know what it is, but it’s not real or funny to them. If your team is in invention mode, then the audience has a chance to get ahead of you  and most likely be disinterested or not care.

    Discovery vs. Invention:

    Discoveries are found in the true moment of a scene. It’s the discovery that your show has been in a pyramid the whole time, that the two of you are siblings, but didn’t know till the middle or end of the show, that Jane was actually the waitress from the first scene, but the girl buying groceries and falling in love with the checker in the last beat. The simple discovery of knowing your partners want. It’s a way a show magically comes together. Through a series of discoveries.

    On the other hand there’s invention. This is a dirty word in long-form improv. Invention is used when you have nothing and really just have to make something up, going for a joke or adding plot. John and Sue are in a scene and they are two students in a high school hallway. Sue gives John a glance and a wink, John then says, “I know you’re an alien.” Now, this could be a discovery if that was a lead on from another scenes, but pretend this is a first beat. It’s kind of out of left field and Sue was trying to give John the gift that she likes him. John doesn’t take it and invents a plot point instead. Now the scene is an uphill battle. In a moment of discovery, John takes the bait from Sue and adds information back. Then they continue to discover together building off the last thing said.

    So, what to do? Simple, don’t get ahead of yourself. Listen, really listen to your partners body language, tone of voice, what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. And then you can start to discover the true scene together. Don’t worry about getting it right in the first moments of the scene. Just stay true to your character and what they want and then have a fun time discovering the rest. Your audience will appreciate you more and so will your scene partner.

    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. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want.

    To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

     

    Why not IIN?

    Where We Came From, Where We're Going

    hIn just a couple weeks, we’ll be celebrating our first birthday. It’s an exciting time to look back at the growth we’ve had and the growth we’ll continue to see. I talk to many people all the time about what they’d like to see on the site. There are some fantastic technological ideas people have suggested. Hopefully many of them will be programmed into the site. There’s one question I hear often from folks that has less to do with technology and more to do with our scope.

    “Why National Improv Network? Why not include the whole world?” It’s a very valid question. And one that deserves a real honest thorough answer.

    The very short answer is, this site and the people on it aren’t trying to isolate The U.S.A. from the rest of the improv community, or only help improvisors here. Quite the opposite. The very idea of a global improv community, sharing ideas and traveling across oceans to play together is possibly the most exciting thing I can possibly imagine. I can’t wait to see the improv community of the very near future that shares a love of “yes, and” across international borders; a community that has honed it’s craft to incredible new places we can’t imagine through a global collaboration. I want to be part of that world.

    But if we’re going to accurately look into the future, we should start by looking into the past. Including – if you’ll forgive me – a bit of my personal history coming to NIN.

    10-12 years ago, the improv community was very different than it is today. There weren’t dozens of improv festivals around the country; certainly not major ones that brought in national acts. I would spend many nights in the bars I had performed in that night – a chalkboard behind the small makeshift stage that said “IMPROVE COMEDY TONITE!”. I had conversations with my friends about our joys and frustrations with the growing improv scene in Arizona. How could we make that next big step towards increasing our quality without access to new teachers? How could we increase our visibility in this town hungry for entertainment?

    Of course, that same conversation was happening in bars across the country. Probably around the world. People in Atlanta, and Boston and Detroit and Austin were asking those same questions. We didn’t know about each other. And even if we did, we didn’t have many answers to share. But little by little, we found small answers to those questions. We experimented and learned. Many of us learning the same answers in different ways. But it was frustratingly slow. And many great performers made the choice to move to Illinois, New York or California. A choice no one can blame them for, but it was another blow to anyone trying to build improv in their towns. They were fun, but hard times.

    Then sometime around 2004, things started to change. We had grown to the point where we were able to leave the nest a little and set out like explorers looking for new lands. A trip to another city was a very big deal back then, and probably only happened once or maybe twice a year. We started meeting each other for the first time and exposing each other to not only how improv had evolved in our respective cities, but how we’d started learning how to move towards making improv our livings. We were thrilled to hear new answers and perspectives on problems we’d faced individually, and also unpleasantly surprised when we found out other places hadn’t found those answers.

    POMP from Canada

    POMP from Canada

    One of those important moments for me was at a festival in 2004. I won’t name them because they’re lovely humans who have put on amazing festivals in the years that followed. But in 2004, they hadn’t really figured out how to handle out of town guests. I had only a small number of festivals under my belt at that time, but I had started noticing that each festival was run very differently and their oversight was different. In this festival’s case, the thing they forgot was to realize that out of towners don’t know anything about their city and as a result, many performers ended up at a very nice hotel two miles away… on the other side of the river. It took close to an hour to get from the hotel to the venue because they never thought to let us know that there are no roads that connect those parts of town easily.

    Being a producer of a very nascent festival myself that year, I learned two very important lessons on those very long, very expensive cab rides.

    1. Always remember that out of town performers need to be informed of things you take for granted
    2. Festival organizers need a means to share the things they’ve learned so we don’t all make the same mistakes.

    That second thought ignited something in me. I saw how important it was for my festival, but also for all festivals and ensembles and theatres to start sharing their successes and their failures. If we wanted our art form to be taken seriously by the public, we’d have to start taking ourselves seriously and that meant investing the time into learning how to do it right.

    I tried many ideas in the next two years, ideas using emerging technology to start raising the bar for everyone. I created HTML festival lists and calendars. I invited the festival producers I knew to a Yahoo Group (yeah, a Yahoo group). I was excited. The things I tried could at best be called “ambitious” and at worst be called “hopelessly naive”. As hard as I – and others – tried, it didn’t take hold. The simple truths of the matter were. A) The technology we needed simply didn’t exist. These were the dark days of MySpace. B) Technology alone wouldn’t solve these problems for us and we would be foolish to assume they would. At best, some of those early attempts got improvisors “talking” to each other. And with those conversations came the understanding that if we truly wanted to grow together, a Yahoo Group wouldn’t do it for us. We’d need to call each other for help. Visit each other. Ask for help, and embrace our disagreements.

    We grew. We became friends rather than just names we’ heard. The improv in our cities started to grow. The students of those theatres started their own theatres. Communities started exploding. Festivals popped up everywhere with stronger starts than those of years past. The technology grew as well, and we had more and more access to each other.

    In 2011, or thereabouts, the tone of the conversations at after-parties started to change. Just like those bar conversations of half a decade ago, the conversations started sounding the same. A tipping point had been reached. The ideas that many people tried to create in years past failed because we didn’t have the knowledge of each other to make them work, but that knowledge had come. It was time to reinvest in the idea of building more formal tools to help us develop as professional improvisors.

    I was very excited to hang out in a hotel conference room in 2012. A festival was happening with the producers of many festivals and theaters in attendance. Why waste that opportunity? Instead of talking at the bar that night, we spent all day talking about What’s next? Where do we go from here? It was the first time I personally had been involved with a dedicated conversation of that scope. Ideas came fast and free. We talked about a platform to share ideas on grant writing and building codes and building curriculum. We talked about a central location for festival listings that allowed each festival producer to maintain their own information. We talked about these ideas on a global scale.

    At best, those ideas could be called “ambitious”.

    Paris Tales from France

    Paris Tales from France

    We realized we were about to make the same mistake we had made many years before. Without naming it, we had built a national network. We knew a lot about things that would work across the country. But as soon as we started talking about giving advice to people in Europe we realized; none of us has ever spent any real time performing in Europe. None of us has ever dealt with building codes in Japan. None of us had ever tried to market a show in Australia. For us to claim we could offer any kind of resources to the world would be arrogant and laughably uninformed. There were simply too many things we just didn’t know. From the simple things (how does PayPal work for international submissions?) to the complex (what is the artistic culture of other countries?) we realized that we were not yet ready to pretend we were in a position to know what the needs of an international improv community would be.

    I am proud to be a part of this organization. I can speak with confidence about the ideas I share with people in many states. And we’re entering a new and very exciting place. Ten years ago, I was just beginning to meet amazing performers from New Orleans and Philadelphia. Now they are friends. And because of that growth I’m just starting to meet and learn from amazing performers from Ireland, Australia, Italy, Israel, France and Lebanon. Their stories are phenomenal and humbling. Their ideas are exciting and they remind me that there is a literal whole world of improv beyond my immediate line of sight.

    There are many people from all over the Earth on our website. I’m excited that they’re here. I hope “some” of the tools and blog posts have something helpful for them. But I know there is so much out there. Their being here is a constant motivator that where we are is not far enough. We’ll continue to grow. We’ll continue to expand into each other. Just as those conversations in different cities were beginning to intermingle ten years ago, our national conversations are starting to be aware of the larger global community in an amazing new way. I’m starting to hear that there are versions of NIN starting to form in other countries and that is exhilarating. I want to learn more about them. I want to meet them. I want to start moving towards that day when I can travel to other continents and invite performers to come play here. I don’t know what form or what technology we’ll be using in that time. But I know without doubt that there will be an itnernational network we can all be a part of, an international community of improvisors. And everyone here working on this site will be there to help build it in any way we can.

    Ten years from now, the world is going to be amazing. I feel that same excitement I felt ten years ago as I see that future. It’s a future that will take a lot of work. But it will be worth it. And I for one can’t wait to be a part of 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.

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