Our First Webpage

Part I: Content is King

Stake your claim

Stake your claim

You just formed one of the first improv troupes in your city. It’s an exciting time. You don’t have the name rec yet, but you’ve got the enthusiasm and a pretty good show. Of course you’re going to throw up a Facebook page and invite your friends. That first weekend will be great. If you want to continue however, you’re going to need a webpage. That’s not to say your Facebook page isn’t a wonderful and powerful tool that you should maintain – Facebook allows you to nurture a relationship with your audience and your community. But they have to find you first. Web pages may seem a bit old-fashioned, but they’re still the best way for people to find you if you do one well. Facebook is great for people who already know who you are. Your web page is great for everyone else.

In those early days, you may not have the facilities, knowledge or funds to create a robust and full web page. As you grow, it should become a priority. But creating that first web page – especially with little knowledge can be a large task. In the next two week’s I’ll be posting some basic information for using those small resources wisely , so even if your page is modest, it will be effective. Future installments will tackle understanding the technology and bringing people to your page. Today the discussion will be on what they’ll see when they get there.

Content. It’s a word you hear pretty frequently. For many people, your webpage will be their first exposure to you, and they’ll likely be only half paying attention. Best to make the best use of that first impression. With any website. It’s important to ask three questions.

  1. Who is the audience for my website?
  2. What information do I need to get to them
  3. How can I make that information as easy for them to access as possible

Too often, those questions aren’t given their proper due. While the specifics of your troupe or theatre may be special cases, it’s pretty likely that your initial target viewership will be two groups: audience members, and press.

Let’s consider audience members first. If they found your page, they’re likely looking for some kind of entertainment tonight or soon. Right now, that’s all they care about. So let’s cater to that need. For more people to find your page, product, or service, get SEO services from joelhouse.com.au. For more details, reach them at 1300 891 826.

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What to include

Where and When Are Shows? And how much do they cost?
This seems obvious. But I’d be ashamed to tell you how many improv web pages don’t have this information at all, or if they have it, it’s very difficult to find. At most, a visitor should be able to get to this information with 1 click of their mouse. Any more than that, and your chances of getting them to come will plummet. Make this info simple and easy to read. Do you have an intricate description of your show? Great. There’s a place for that – just not here. Remember, most audience members don’t know what a Harold is, so they don’t need a description here of how you emphasize second beats. They want a time and a place and a price. Maybe a title for the show.

When was this info relevant?
There are plenty of websites that have existed before yours. And plenty of them still say “Shows every Friday” even if that show ended in 2007. It’s difficult to tell when a webpage was last active if you aren’t maintaining it. Be specific with your dates. “April 17th, 2014” gives viewers a little more confidence that a show is actually going to happen that day.

Be available

Be available

Contact Info
People have questions. Be available to answer them. A phone number and an email address make sure people can reach you. But get a dedicated email – and if possible phone number – for your organization. You’re asking people to spend money to see your show, they don’t reach your mom on the phone and have her take a message.

What am I going to see?
You know that “About Us” section of your webpage? That’s great. We’re going to talk about it soon. But that’s not for your audience. They don’t care. They don’t care about who you are. That care about what your show is. Not understanding the difference between the two can lose you a lot of visitors. Many of your site’s visitors don’t even know what improv is. Some do. The front page of your web page is not the place to explain the history of improv to them. Here’s what they want to know: Is it family friendly? Is it in a bar? a theatre? a comedy club? Is there food? Is it good for a date? Is this a professional company, or some high school kids playing for their buddies? These are all valid questions. Answer them honestly. Don’t burden the reader, but give them a quick outline of what their in store for if they come on down. Have a picture? Great.

What not to include

This won't help you

This won’t help you

Clip art of a guy laughing hysterically
People want to have fun when they’re watching your show. When they’re visiting your web page, they want to know you know what you’re doing. Make your page clean and professional looking as much as possible. Silly clip art doesn’t breed confidence. The same goes for zany fake quotes (“I cannot lie The Ga’Hooligans are the best.” -George Washington), Photoshopped pics of the cast driving a racecar, or a dancing banana.

Anything “Coming Soon”
The same idea applies here. If there’s something not quite ready for publication, don’t mention it. Put it up when it’s ready. Don’t leave a “Coming Soon” page. And so help me, if you put up a little construction worker pic I will never ever come to your show. “Coming Soon” diminishes the package of your website.


Don’t include pictures of text. For starters, you’re probably not a graphic designer and it might look kind of awful. But far more importantly, including pictures in place of text means that it can’t be copied, it can’t be pasted and it can’t be searched. If the word “improv” or “comedy” or “theatre” or “entertainment” never actually appear on your page as text, Google isn’t going to list them when people search for those words. And that would be a shame.

What really doesn’t matter

Meet the Cast
Sorry. No one cares yet. Years down the road, people will want to see this, but if you’re just starting out, no one knows who you are. So they don’t care who you’re playing with. It doesn’t hurt to have one, but it’s not needed. That said, if you do include a cast page, be consistent. One professional head-shot of Chet, one picture of Charles at the beach and a giant drawing of Mikey doesn’t look good together. Same goes for text. If you’re serious, be serious. If you’re silly, be silly. But do it across the board. And please – I beg you – don’t think you’re the first person to use your bio to talk about the act of writing your own bio or make a joke about writing about yourself in the third person. That stopped being funny long before you were born. The same goes for photo galleries or other pages really designed for you more than the audience. If you want to add them, have fun. But focus on the other pages first. If you are looking for a good website design company then I recommend web designers joondalup.

This is the content a potential audience member needs. Having this info readily available to them is going to increase the chances they’ll see your show. So what about press? They’re also vising your page. Their requirements are much more straightforward.

What to include

About Us
This is the place to talk about yourself. Do so wisely. This is a page to be declarative and indicative, not exclamatory. One or two paragraphs are great. More than that won’t be read. Don’t self-congratulate. Of course you think you’re hilarious. Otherwise you wouldn’t be doing your show. You don’t need to put that down. When did you start? Why did you start? What do you offer that is unique. This is your elevator pitch. Make it count.

Put up at least one picture. A cast photo or an “in action shot” are usually what the press wants. Make sure it is at least 300dpi and 1024×768. Larger if possible. Tiny grainy pictures are useless to press. Give photo credit to the photographer.

Press Kit
If you have a press kit, make it available as a download. Save it as a PDF, not as a Word Document.

Do you have actual, legitimate quotes from other news sources? Include them here. This is subjective information on your troupe from a credible source. This will carry more weight than calling yourself hilarious.

Contact Info
Even if it is the same contact info on your front page. You want press inquiries to find your ears.

These tips alone won’t last you forever. You’ll need to eventually invest in a larger web page. Hire someone. It’s an investment that will pay off. But in the early days, you can at least do something. These pieces of information will make your web page more effective. Your page doesn’t need to be dazzling, but here’s the simple goal, make your webpage look “not terrible”. If it looks “not terrible” you’re ahead of the game already. Be smart with your webpage.

So that’s what info to put on your webpage. The questions that remain are how to get people to see it and how to get that info from your brain onto a computer. Stay tuned for the next two sections of this blog.

Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America. He hates writing bios about himself in the third person. Isn’t that craaazy?

When A Stoppable Force Meets A Movable Object – Not by a Long Shot

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Brussels and teach some improv workshops, and coach one the resident English speaking troupes there. Here’s what I discovered: just because I studied improv in New York does not mean that I am some sort of improv guru. Not by a long shot.

Now, for those of you reading this thinking to yourselves, “What a pretentious asshole!”, allow me to clarify. Yes. I am a pretentious asshole. I also happen to be a nice, genuine, see-the-forest-for-the-trees type of person. In order to get gigs, one must “sell” themselves, because no one is going to do it for you.

So anyway, yeah. I traveled across an ocean for the express purpose of teaching some workshops, and performing in some shows. I was supposed to be “the guy from New York” (insert ooo’ing and ahhh’ing). I was supposed to be “the expert”. I wasn’t. Not by a long shot. A lot of the people there came with a more extensive improv background than myself. I felt like a small dog in a big pond (I think that’s how the analogy goes). But I was there to do a job, so I was going to do the best job I knew how to do.

We began by running a lot of emotional response exercises like “It’s Tuesday” and “Emotional Rollercoaster”. Then we worked on scene work. Slow paced, take your time, ground your scene work in something real. That’s where the emotional exercises came into play. React and listen to your scene partner. React and listen. Use your emotions. Have real responses. That kind of stuff.

It wasn’t anything new. It wasn’t anything that they haven’t already done before. It was simply the basics. That’s it. And that’s when I realized that we did some amazing work together. One girl even did a 10 minute solo improv set while the rest of her team sat in amazement at her skill and attention to detail she brought with her to the stage. Her scene was about a girl who was waiting on a park bench for her blind date to arrive. When “he” finally showed up, he couldn’t stop talking about his ex which made the main character incredibly uncomfortable. It was a masterful scene that exchanged loud belly laughs for beautiful, tender, delicate moments. And it wasn’t the only one.

The rest of the troupe ended up performing longer dramatic scenes versus comedic scenes as well! I think I speak for everyone in that room when I say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. They were so interesting and engaging, and REAL! Everyone was expressing real emotions and turning their scene work into something that meant something. And it was glorious!

But it wasn’t because of me. Not by a long shot. The improv was already IN them. I didn’t teach them anything. All I did was rehash the basics. That’s it. The basics. Focus on grounded scene work with real emotional responses and your scenes will flourish in a way that you never imagined! I promise!

Mike Brown

Mike is a blog contributor to the National Improv Network. If you would like to contribute please contact us at nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com to consider you.

Spotlight On: Omaha Improv Festival

DSC_0807The first time I heard about The Omaha Improv Festival I was excited to submit and perhaps perform in a place I’d never played before, until I realized I was already set to play in Del Close Marathon. I know I’m not the only one. There’s a lot of curiosity about the sophomore festival. I got to talk with Dylan Rohde about the festival and the city. The festival is coming together quickly and it could be a great place to go experience something new.

Omaha is a bit of a mystery to many performers from outside the region. Many performers have never visited to perform before. What’s the scene like? What are some of the things you celebrate in your improv?

The scene started 3 years ago, and most weekly performers have been doing it 1-2 years right now. We have about 40 people who perform regularly, and they are very dedicated to helping make the community thrive. There is a little bit of a mix between stand-up and theatre, but we’re mostly our own entity. Characteristics of our style is that we play a little slower, average scene is 2-4 minutes, but they are fairly focused on game, while still have solid relationships. Above all else, we strive to have fun in every scene.

The Backline

The Backline

Backline is the main venue. What’s the venue like? What kind of audiences generally come on down for shows there?

The venue is sharp, and fairly large. The entire space consists of a large lobby, performance area, green room, costume and props room, warm-up room, and small rehearsal/sketch room. It’s downtown, just outside of the historic Old Market. Our audience is generally 24-34 and a mix between small groups of friends or dates.

Last year you had some great coaches and surprises. Outside of a performance slot, what can visitors expect to get out of the weekend?

You can still expect some amazing shows performed by both our great coaches, and some good teams visiting. We are bringing in a very heavy UCB list of coaches this time around, but their individual styles are very different. This time around, we have everything located downtown. The hotel is 1 block away, and will also be the location for one of the workshops. This should make it very convenient to get around. If you fly here, you shouldn’t even need to rent a car. The furthest anyone will travel for a show is 5 blocks. This should also give them a chance to go explore our city. May is also the most beautiful month in Omaha, before it gets too hot, just after it was too cold. The city is completely covered in green and the temperature is perfect.

Your festival this year runs from Wednesday until Sunday. Many performers sometimes shy away from festivals if they’re likely to be scheduled on days they can’t get away from their day jobs. How will the scheduling of local and out of town groups be set up this year on weekdays?

The weekday slots are more designed for our new local teams to get a chance to be a part of this. We try an be as inclusive as we can, and this is the best way for us to do this, and still maintain a killer line-up during the weekend. We don’t really expect outsiders to be here for the Wednesday night show, or probably even Thursday.

Who wouldn't want to ride this?

Who wouldn’t want to ride this?

The show is going to be near the Old Market. Many visitors aren’t familiar with the area. What can they do during the day in Omaha? What are some of the best places to eat around the venue and hotel?

My favorite place for lunch in all of Omaha, or really any city I’ve been in, is Block 16. If you like burgers, gyros, or phillies, this place is for you. They also have great unique sandwiches like a buffalo burger with duck confit as their daily specials. Pretty much all the restaurants downtown have great food though, and are all within just a couple blocks. The Old Market is great for people who want to walk around old brick streets and check out a huge array of stores for blocks and blocks consisting of many antique shops along with fashion, music, and other ‘mall-type’ shops. We also suggest everyone check out the Henry Doorly Zoo while here, it’s one of the best in the nation. They can also easily walk down to see the Missouri river, or cross it and start gambling.

Every festival strives to showcase great improv to local audiences and each festival has different goals in that regard. What are you really hoping to showcase to your audience? What kind of shows are you looking for to come and perform?

Even more than our audience, we do this for our performers. We want them to see what else is out there in the world. See how other cities perform, learn from some of the best coaches out there, and above all else, have fun. We want people who want to have fun to come and perform.

Everything that’s been said of the 2013 festival is that it went off great. 2014 is an opportunity to grow and try new things. What are you really hoping to accomplish in this year’s festival?

Last year, one of the biggest downfalls was that performers stayed at a single venue all night because it was too much travel or hassle to bounce around. this year, we’re hoping people go from one venue to the next to see the shows they want to see. We also brought in over twice as many coaches, and half of them are female, compared to last year’s mostly all-male line-up.

When the festival’s done and people go home what do you hope people will be saying about the festival and the improv community in Nebraska?

I hope they say the same things they did last year, including that we aren’t jokey, we’re very accepting and friendly, and this is one of the most professionally put together mid-sized city improv festivals they’ve been to.

Submissions for Omaha Improv Festival 2014 are open right now, but won’t be for long. You can submit right now.

Photos courtesy of The Omaha Improv Festival and Schubox Photography

Train at as Many Places as Possible

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and after reading Mick Napier’s blog, which you should check out. When I was reading the blog I kept thinking to myself why you should train at as many places as you can. Two of those reasons are:

1: To see what theater’s philosophy you click with the most and…

2: To fill those improv gaps that theaters can’t fill.

In Mick’s blog he accurately points out the missing elements of each major improv theater, including his own. Does that mean they’re bad…Hell no. That just means they focus on different philosophies, which they all do really well. It’s just when you focus on a certain way of improv other things may get lost in the shuffle or slip in the cracks.

When I was going through acting school there was different methods you tried, Stanislavsky, Meisner, Chekov. But I, for some reason, gravitated toward Meisner. But again, I’m glad I had the others as training because even Meisner has some holes too and I was able to access the others to help me get through those moments. Meisner was my main focus that I connected to, but I was able to use the other methods if I needed them.

It never hurts to try iO, Second City, The Annoyance, Groundlings, ComedySportz, UCB or whatever theaters are in your hometown. There are usually more than one theater in each major city now. Go try them all! You’d do yourself a disservice if you didn’t. You don’t have to go to all of them but at least try two or three. Ask your friends what they think of each place and see if it’s something that interests you. Or go see a show at the theater and see if the work they are presenting is something you like. Then take a class.

I’ve  heard some theaters have Non-Compete clauses for their performers…Meaning they don’t allow their performers to play anywhere else. This always hurts when I see this, first off in most states it’s illegal unless you are a full-time paid employee of that theater. But more importantly it hurts the performer. A well rounded performer is a better performer and a better improvisor. If you look at the great improvisors, Craig Cackowski, Tina Fey, Tj and Dave, they have all had training at different theaters. And guess what they still perform at those theaters when they can.

I’d love to hear your experiences on this matter please feel free to drop a line and tell us your experiences, successes and failures of training at different theaters.

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. He has also taught 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

Inspiration Station!

I wanted to throw some inspiration out to you today. Often times we do this art for free, we do it because we love it. We succeed and we fail, we succeed and then fail, then we succeed and fail again. We torture ourselves for the love of something we love to do. We’ve spend many hours training, spend money to travel to festivals  and sacrifice so much. Why? Because that’s the kind of people we are. We are improvisors. Today this inspiration is for you.

Some great improv quotes to inspire you today…Go out there and be fearless today and everyday! Conquer the world and open yourself up to it and it will do amazing things for you:

Jump and the net will appear – Rich Talarico 

Your brain is a liar and an asshole – David Razowsky

Being an improvisor is being your best self onstage – Craig Cackowski

Know that it’s a really good thing that it’ll take awhile to get halfway decent at it. That you can’t rush it and don’t try to rush it. You’ll come along at the page you’re supposed to come along at. Don’t think of it as math. It’s music. It’s not a problem to be solved. It’s a song to be listened to. – TJ Jagadowski

You can’t surprise the audience if you cannot surprise yourself. They have a better seat than you. – Jill Bernard

Great improvisors never look worried onstage. It’s not that they became great and stopped worrying, they stopped worrying and then became great. – Miles Stroth

Fail, then figure out what to do on the way down – Del Close

Integrity is living up to what you declare, in an improv scene and in life. declare what you honestly want, and live that vision fearlessly. – Mick Napier

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

Book Highlight: Improv Wins

by Chris Trew and Tami Nelson

by Chris Trew and Tami Nelson

I met Chris Trew and Tami Nelson at the 2004 Southern Improv Festival. I immediately liked them. Their passion for improv wasn’t unique, but their drive to see improv continue to grow and change rather than rest on its successes was something very dear to me.

It was more than talk. In the ten years that followed, Chris and Tami have reshaped improv, not in one town, but in the entire Southeastern part of the country. They’re personal style can be seen in much of the improv in that region, but each city also grows in its own way making its own unique form of those ideas. That’s what’s great about Chris and Tami and everyone at The New Movement. I was excited to receive a copy of their book in the mail and more than pleased to share some thoughts on the book here.

Recently, a review of the UCB Manual of Improv appeared in these pages. In many ways this book is similar to that one. Both are structured more like textbooks than improv books of days past (although Improv Wins is presented in a slightly less linear fashion). Ideas are broken down with exercises for the reader to do at home. Both provide real world examples with discussions of the answers. Likewise, both can very clearly be seen as guides on performing in the style of their respective theatres. This book, in fact, has a very wonderful introduction that is very honest about this; that there are many ways to approach improv and this is but one of them. In these respects, both books are both similar.

But in what I believe to be a very important way, they are also quite different. The UCB Manual could be viewed as a definitive guide. I’m certain it will be sold at the UCB Theaters for years to come. Students reading that book may go on to eventually teach from the same book. Improv Wins is far more aware of the constant changing and growing nature of the craft. There is still great wisdom to be gleaned from Impro for Storytellers, but much of the content of that book is less applicable in a modern improv environment. Improv Wins is self-aware that it likewise is a snapshot of it’s time – a book for 2014, not 2036. Whereas the UCB Manual teaches how to solidify a current form of improv, Improv Wins encourages the reader to use this book as a starting point to reinvent and reshape improv in new ways going into the future. In fact, I would argue that while many of the exercises in this book may be considered quaint in fifteen years, the value of this book will still be in the ideas of continued reinvention.

Tami and Chris

Tami and Chris

For the many students of established improv theatres across the world, is this book a good resource? Sure. It’s a nice supplement to your existing teaching and perhaps offers a different take on ideas that may be easier to understand for the reader. It will be a very useful supplement to their learning, if not necessarily a revelation. But to the hundreds of performers in small towns across the country without access to professional teachers, this can be a huge benefit. This book not only presents exercises that might be presented in a classroom setting, but offers the insight and explanation a teacher might provide. This book shouldn’t be considered a replacement for formal training, but it’s an excellent substitute when that training is not available.

And that works on the flipside as well. I know many many performers who have been playing for a while and are now looking to begin teaching. Read this book. This book can be an example to follow on how to effectively communicate ideas and organize thoughts. Even if your specific focus is different than the teachings of The New Movement, this book can be a useful template for how to present information in a way students can understand.

Although not formally separated into two sections, the book does change focus about halfway through. The second half of this book is why I’m recommending this book to my personal students. After several chapters of how to work well onstage. The second portion of the book offers advice which has rarely seen written form on how to behave offstage; working with your ensemble in healthy ways, building relationships with other ensembles and theatres, good advice on traveling to festivals. (And a special thank you to the authors for the kind words spoken of the festival in my home town.) These ideas are not wholly new, but have existed for far too long as only oral traditions. Thanks to Chris and Tami for putting these thoughts together on paper for those performers looking to grow and sustain their troupes.

Overall this book is cleverly and very personally written. It’s a useful guide to performance as well as a genuinely entertaining read for any performer. But for the beginning troupes, this will be a tremendously useful book in growing. Not growing into The New Movement or The Reckoning or Baby Wants Candy, but growing into something new, something beyond those. This book will help the next generation of performers discover more and leave us in the dusty past. Highly, highly recommended.

You can get the book here.

Hooray books!

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

Happy Holidays from NIN!

Hey everyone, Nick and Bill here wishing you all a wonderful Holiday! When we launched in May we didn’t know what to expect, we created a resource for improvisors based on our passion and love for the art. Today, we have 800 members, 400 troupes, 62 Improv theaters listed and 66 festivals listed with 20 running submissions through us and more on the way. We want to thank everyone who has supported this great experiment especially our members. We are grateful for our wonderful improv community!

As 2013 comes to a close we look forward to bringing you even more resources for 2014. We look forward to showing you what we have planned!

We’ll be monitoring the site but we will not be releasing any new content till the New Year. If you have any questions you can PM us on NIN or e-mail at bill@nationalimprovnetwork.com and nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com.

Nick and Bill

When A Stoppable Force Meets A Movable Object – How Many Festivals?

Today I submitted to the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival; which got me to thinking. How many festivals HAVE I submitted to this year? By my count, this year alone I’ve submitted to 12 festivals, attended 8, performed in 7, and taught workshops (either during or as a result of attending) at 3. Wow! When you see the numbers before you it’s quite daunting.

So here’s how I make it work with the flight attendant gig: improv is (and always will be) my #1 love. If you truly love something, you’ll find time for it. That’s what I do with comedy. I submit, I book, I rearrange. I always make improv my priority. Now having said that, I also have to know my limits.

There was a time when I was flying over 100 hours a month (which doesn’t sound like a lot because that number only reflects my pay. Not the amount of hours I actually work. It’s messed up, I know), running my own improv team (Trapper John), taking classes (at The Magnet), figuring out how to do Solo Improv (with personal coach Alan Fessenden), and also dating a girl long-distance who lived outside of Detroit. Doing all of this just about killed me, so I had to learn the art of Time Management.
Long story long, I’m still learning how to effectively manage my time, but suffice it to say, I’ve learned how to mix classes, shows, and festivals into my time table. Here’s how:

1) I make a very general map in my head as to how I want the upcoming year to go down. Let’s take 2013 for example. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish levels 4 AND 5 at The PIT before 2012 was over, thus not making me eligible to audition for house teams come January 2013. I had also applied and was accepted to perform in the first ever Alaska State Improv Festival (ASIf!) in April as well as the LA Improv Festival in June.
2) My next step was to figure out my goals and then fit them around what I already had planned. I knew that I wanted to finish classes before the year was out. I had also recently become an intern at The PIT with a regular Tuesday night Box Office shift. The real trick for me was figuring out what days of the week I would be free to fill my schedule with non flight attendant stuff.
3) Now that I had a few specifics in mind, I could start the process of filling my schedule. As a flight attendant, I’m usually on-call 20 days out of the month. I know in advance when these days are going to be, as well as my days off, so that I can plan my schedule. Working in the international base, I know that all of my trips are going to be either 3 or 6-day trips. (ie. day 1, fly to London. Day 2, stay the day in London. Day 3, fly back from London. Days 4-6, repeat). So, I always knew that on days 3 and 6 that I’d always be back in New York. This way I can plan to take classes, work a shift as an intern, teach classes, or do a show. Plus, I had my days off to plan things.
4) Rearranging the schedule. I would always plan my improv stuff first and then rearrange my schedule to accommodate. Generally, it hasn’t been too difficult a task. I just know better than to plan things on the weekend. And if I do, I can only plan to do something one weekend a month, as weekends have proven murderous to try and get off.

Anyway, technical mumbo jumbo aside, I’ve been playing this game of planning and rearranging my schedule to accommodate the love of my life for seven years now, and has become so commonplace for me that I forget what it’s like to have a typical 9-5 where I know that every evening and every weekend is going to be free.
And as for the girlfriend outside of Detroit… Yeah, that didn’t last long.

So…this is my life. It gets daunting. A lot. Which is why I try to take the advice of Peter Gwinn in his book “Group Improvisation” and take some time to live and experience life (and in my case, sleep!)


Spotlight On: San Diego Improv Festival

San Diego is growing fast as an improv city. Different theatres, different styles, but plenty of people who are working towards making improv accessible to the people of San Diego.

Part of that growth means a new improv festival and a new chance for improvisors to visit a new place and share the love (on Valentine’s Day no less).

I’ve had the pleasure to know Chris George for a while now and I was excited to get to talk to him about the upcoming first San Diego Improv Festival and the growth of the city’s active improv scene.

Finest City just opened in December. And you’re putting up a festival in February; that’s a lot going on. Why did you decide to have a festival so close to the launch of the theatre? What kind of shared energy do you think will go into launching this first festival?

San Diego is in a real boom-time as far as improv goes. In the last three years, there has been a huge explosion in the number of theaters, groups, venues, showcases, classes, workshops, and people. In addition to Finest City opening, groups like Sidestage have seen enormous crowds and popular workshop series, and Lifeplay (which focues on using improv skills to help children and teens with bullying, but also does a lot of great traditional programming) has seen a large increase in demand and activity. Basically – San Diego is at a critical point for improv and we feel that it is time to both tie us in to the larger national community, and also celebrate just how wonderful improv is in San Diego right now. We hope to really capture the unbridled enthusiasm our community has right now, and also expand some horizons of some of our players that may have been a little isolated up to this point.

San Diego has a rich collection of improv, both longform and shortform. What are you hoping for visitors to learn and take away from being exposed to San Diego’s improv scene?

The improv community here is very vibrant and growing, but we’re still largely unknown to the greater San Diego community. We’re hoping that our festival can a celebration of just how much we’ve been able to accomplish in the last few years, and introduce the best of San Diego and beyond to our largely untapped audience. We do have some very talented and motivated local players, and getting the word out is still a high priority.

Outside of performances, what other events will be available for performers? Workshops? Parties?

We will have workshops; we have already confirmed iO’s Bill Arnett (3033, People of Earth) as a teacher at the festival and we plan on having on even more great teachers from our local and visiting teams. We are fortunate to have the venue at the same location as our host hotel, which means that we should have a large concentration of improvisers on site, and no one has to drive anywhere. The hotel has a pool and two bars, which I suspect may mean that the party may never stop. We are also planning some afternoon excursions to some of the local flavor.

San Diego is an amazing city. When the festival isn’t happening, what sights would you recommend for visitors? Where are some of the best places to eat around the festival?

The San Diego Zoo is probably the most well known landmark, and is a terrific exhibit, but the surrounding park (Balboa) has science and history museums, walking trails, and shops. The USS Midway exhibit is a decommissioned aircraft carrier that is a popular tourist destination, and is surrounded by the Embarcadero, which is a wonderful waterfront shopping area. The Gaslamp area downtown is a well known party area, packed with bars and restaurants, and the intersection of 30th & University was rated by several national publications as one of the best places to drink beer in the country, due to its high concentration of bars, nearly all of which have dozens of varieties of beer. Speaking of that, San Diego county is home to 40+ microbreweries, most of which have samplings and tours, making us one of the best places for a beer connoisseur. Our theater is located in the middle of the North Park neighborhood, home to hundreds of bars and restaurants, all within an easy walk or cab ride. There are amusement parks just an hour north in Carlsbad, CA, sunny beaches, surfing, sailing, and of course, improv.

What’s the venue like?

A nice place to chill before shows

A nice place to chill before shows

We’re very fortunate to be partnered with the Lafayette Hotel, which is a kitschy, newly remodeled hotel that used to be a favorite haunt of celebrities and actors in the 30’s-50’s. Our theater is brand new, with full lighting and sound equipment, projectors, and has a hand built stage, which is probably one of the best stages that could be built for improv.

To the best of my knowledge, this will be one of the first times San Diego audiences will be exposed to a large number of out-of-town performances. What are your hopes in exposing them to new kinds of improv?

We have had a few out of town guests in the past – Two Beer Queer, King Ten, The 313, Ice Tits to name a few, but this will be the first largest gathering of visiting teams. I think for a long time, San Diegans have only seen shortform improv, and audiences probably only associate improv with silly, gimmicky, or relatively unprofessional groups. We really want to show the wide variety of high quality teams we have available both in town and out. We would love our audiences to walk away that weekend with an appreciate of traditional longform, deconstructive forms (e.g. Armando), musical, narrative, genre, shortform, and maybe even some new, challenging, and unique improv. We hope that the audiences that come see our stuff will continue to check out new and different improv groups, and hopefully join us in exploring and performing.

What kind of shows are you looking for in your submissions this year?

We want about a 50/50 split between home and visiting teams, and we really want to showcase a large variety of shows. We want great teams, of course, but we also would love to get some shows that no one has really ever seen before.

California has seen an explosion of improv festivals in the last two years. What are some things you’ve learned from them and other festivals around the country? What are some things you’re hoping to emulate or change?

Finest City has been very lucky to have had the opportunity to talk to a lot of festival organizers and get some ideas for how to make the festival the kind of one you would want to come back to next year. We want to focus on making our guests feel welcome – we’re hoping to organize some airport and train station pickups to make the trip easier, and giving each team a local contact they can call if they have questions, or even just want to know a good place to get noodles at 2am (for the record, Jimmy Wong’s Golden Dragon Asian Bistro over in Hillcrest). We are aware that a trip to San Diego is a bit of trip for almost everyone, and we want to make that trip worthwhile.

Submissions are open right now. It’s a great chance to come out and be among the first to share improv from your home with the people of San Diego and to meet people like Chris.

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

Our Improv Family

The improv world lost a great improv legend. Mr. Jay Leggett. Last week at iO West in Hollywood they had a memorial for Jay, an amazing improvisor who I had the honor of seeing in Joel Murray and Friends at iO. Jay was on the legendary improv Harold team Blue Velveeta. Not only was he an amazing performer and coach he was just a warm and friendly person who would always stick around after shows that he coached or performed in and chat with you.

Being in the bar after the memorial was awe inspiring. Seeing a family come together for an amazing person. I say the word family because it dawned on me how this crazy thing we do called improv is more than just a stage, tag outs and make’em ups it’s really a family. No matter what theater or team you’re on, we are all a part of something bigger. I think Susan Messing said it best on her Facebook Page…

From Susan:

Last night, in the haze of sadness and joy in celebrating Jay, an overwhelming feeling came over me. It’s not until one of our comedy friends leave us that we really get to take stock of how fortunate we are to know each other, to have been able to grow up together, how privileged we are to be able/allowed to do comedy and to be members of this tribe. As someone who tries to always look forward, sometimes it is good to sit back and take stock of how long we have known each other- I am so grateful to be a member of this community, to have the opportunity to take such pride in your collective brilliance- and I look forward to the opportunity to play with you again. Infinite Love to You All.

Thank you Jay for your contributions to improv and everyone you made laugh, taught and inspired. The improv world has lost a great soul.


Blue Velveeta









Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

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