How to Hire an Improv Instructor: Standard of Practice

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

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

Transportation:

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

Lodging: 

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

How much do I pay them: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Per Diem: 

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

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

Fundraising for this money:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Armstrong

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

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