Finest City is Growing

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The San Diego Reader

All eyes were on San Diego last weekend for Comic Con International, the annual event in the Gaslamp Quarter that sells out every hotel within 100 miles and sends every local store owner scrambling to find something Star Wars related to put in their front window. It’s one of the biggest – if not the biggest event in the city each year, so naturally one would assume it would grace the cover of the weekly San Diego Reader. But this year when thousands of visitors hit the streets of visitors walked the streets, it wasn’t The Avengers on the cover of the magazine seen at every street corner, it was Swim Team, a harold team out of Finest City Improv.

It’s not entirely surprising. In the last year Amy Lisewski and Chris George and a handful of very dedicated performers have been working tirelessly not just to launch an improv theatre, but to take the time at each step of the way to do it the right way. While many younger theatres rush to get shows up hastily without thinking of the long term, but the finest city folks are thoughtful. They book shows that will expose new audiences to quality improv in a comfortable environment. They promote their shows actively, but also accurately. They reach out to their community. This is why Finest City is going to explode in the next few years and should be a model for other young theatres.

One thing that kills a lot of new theatres is doing anything they can to get people in the doors, even if that means promising things that they are not. Those first shows are filled, but people don’t come back. And they leave with a bad taste in their mouth about missed expectations. A theatre has to respect the culture it’s in and Finest City did that exceptionally last weekend. The article certainly was a great boost, but a magazine article alone isn’t enough to lay all your promotion on, especially with a well intentioned, but slightly flawed article. The media in many cities still doesn’t fully understand improv and it will take time and care to properly build a strong healthy relationship with them.

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Get the word out

Finest City didn’t try to work against Comic Con, they worked with it. They promoted their show in places where it would be visible to visitors and also to locals. The question of course was, in the midst of everything Comic Con, what would motivate people to come to an improv show a few miles walk away? They reached out to that audience with respect. Which is not the same as pandering. These people came from across the country to celebrate genre. They loved comic books, Star Trek, Star Wars & He-Man (OK, maybe that was just my reason for coming). A genre-based show to promote would seem obvious on first glance, but we all know that a large percentage of genre improv in North America is more genre mocking that genre respecting (Start Trekkin NYC, On the Spot, Kind Strangers and a few others being wonderful exceptions) These people take their fandoms very seriously and some don’t take to kindly to seeing it poked fun at or mocked. So that’s not what they did. Instead they invited Drunkard and Dragons from Los Angeles to come on down. It’s a show with a touch of genre work without coming off as condescending. Did it work? You bet. It was the strangest improv audience assembled in a while. Han Solo came. So did Carmen Sandiego and Hello Kitty and… dragon..lady.. something. Comic Con came because they were promoted to well. And before D&D they got to see to fine local shows; Stage Monkeys and Red Squared. Assuring people saw good improv and hopefully left with a better appreciation for the art.

This was the final performance in the temporary space. Finest City Improv is moving to a permanent home and they’re making sure they do it right. Best of luck to them in their new space in the years to come.

Correction: The photo on the cover was of Swim Team performing at Sidestage Improv managed by Mike McFarland and Charles Webber who have been working hard to promote the San Diego scene for the last few years. They are great folks and certainly no disrespect was intended. – Bill

Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America. During Comic Con he picked up Stonedar for his impressive He-Man collection.

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