COVID-19: How to Yes, And in 2020

COVID-19 has had a huge blow across the world. For performers, theatres, and festivals, social distancing can be both emotionally exhausting and financially worrying. It’s been amazing seeing the improv community sharing ideas and love with each other. The following isn’t intended as a definitive resource, but a gathering of some of the best ideas being shared out there. I’ll do my best to credit ideas wherever possible.

Hopefully, these things will help us all get through this safe and sound.

Communications about COVID closures

As theatres, there are a lot of people you need to communicate with to make sure that your message is clear. Some ways of communicating might slip through the cracks with all the other changes. Here are some quick things to remember.

  • Update your webpage to remove any cancelled shows or classes. Put a message on your front page.
  • Update your voicemail (thanks to Jessica Brown for reminding me about this one).
  • Update any automated email lists. Also, send an email to your mailing list.
  • Contact the local press about your closure. Take down any listings.
  • Take your tickets down from any place they’re available online.
  • Contact any business partners.
  • Contact any sponsors. Some sponsorships are based on advertising in your slideshows/programs. Be transparent with them. Most will understand and it will help maintain your relationships down the road.

Pirates of Tokyo Bay added a dedicated page for updates so patrons can gather all this info in one place.

Festivals have some additional concerns:

  • Contact hotels
  • Contact your venue if it’s not your regular venue
  • Obviously contact performers, but also be available to help them to get in touch with their airlines
  • Contact your designers / merchandise providers

Financial Resources During COVID Closures

Covid finances

Image by mohamed mahmoud hassan

For many theatres, after covering rent and utilities each month, they will just break even. Even with a nest egg, savings will deplete quickly.

Local art guilds exist in most places. They’re overwhelmed right now.

Local, state/province, and national governments all have their own programs. It couldn’t hurt to look at their specific relief offerings.

The Improv Stimulus Package is a fundraiser for improv spaces.

Improv Theatre Relief Fund is another fundraiser for improv spaces.

Performing, Watching, and Connecting During COVID Closures

covid performances

Image by mohamed mahmoud hassan

E-MPROV is still going strong.

Oozebear is a place to do online shows with very little technical knowledge needed.

For those with a little more know-how, there are many conferencing tools out there. Zoom seems to be the most commonly used by theatres right now to both improvise with their teams and teach, but experiment with others and see what works best for you and your needs.

P-Graph has always been one of the leading voices out there in playing with technology. They’ve already started streaming. Look to them for ideas (and buy their great book while you’re at it).

The Nursery/Maydays Online Drop-in Class is a great model on moving your classes online.

Tiny Improv Fest – ONLINE Edition is a great online place to share and watch videos set up by John Windmueller and other awesome folks.

Virtual Theatre Education Resources is a huge slew of other resources shared by Stefan Gearhart.

Teaching Theatre Online: COVID-19 A great resource for testing online teaching.

Elana Fishbein is teaching a course online on Sunday March 29th.

Quarantine Improv Facebook Group is not exactly a performance opportunity, but a place for us to share bits and keep each other sane.

Ways to still bring in income with these

Keep gift cards available on your site for future shows.

Leave donation tabs on your website and social media offerings

Sell tickets to your online shows. Be aware that these shows are still in development and people are also underemployed right now, so be more accommodating on ticket prices or sliding scales.

Alternatively, open a Patreon giving donors access to online shows

Don’t be aggressive. Remember, many of your patrons are worried about their own income. Put the ball in their court to make donation and ticket payment options in their hands.

Stay safe out there (and in there). We’re all learning how to cope with this, but improv has always been about adapting. Spolin, The Committee, The Compass, Neutrino – they all learned to reach audiences and celebrate the art in new ways. If we truly believe that a lack of a script is a gift, not an obstacle, then let’s treat COVID the same way. Let’s not view it as an obstacle that hinders our old ways of performing, but as a way to free us to find new ways to celebrate and share improv with people in these days. We hope you will keep supporting each other and sharing what is working for you. Maybe some of these methods will even stick around after theatres open up again, and they will continue to enhance our improv community so we may reach even more people.

Much love to all. Keep washing your hands.

Bill BinderCurrently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival.
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