Producing Your Own Improv Show

Hey you. Congrats on producing your own improv or sketch show!  Welcome to the wonderful and thankless world of production. Everything is almost solely on your shoulders!  Nope, don’t run… you’re in it now.  And there’s no escaping.

When producing your own improv or sketch show, you’ll want to focus on five main areas. These will ensure that your show runs smoothly from the initial planning stages to counting all your money as your limo drives you to the bank.

Choosing Location

You’ve heard the saying “Location, location, location!” right?  Well they were talking about producing shows!  I can’t actually guarantee that they were. But let’s just pretend that they were because the economy is rough right now and I can’t afford a fact-checker.

Where you hold your show is going to affect a lot of your future decisions.  For example, if you hold your show at a theater that has its own programming, they might offer you tech personnel, help with ticketing, and might even have a dedicated parking space that you can use!

The location is going to affect the number of seats. Location is often the most expensive cost in producing a show.  Your first show probably doesn’t need a 500 seat theater. Definitely don’t spend money on seats that you can’t fill. You can always book a bigger theater later when the show is a massive success (which it will be).

Also, shows can be held online. This makes your show more accessible.  This means that your audience can just shift themselves upright on the couch and tune into your show. This will also be the cheapest option. So don’t forget this as a possibility. 

Producing Tech

The more complicated your show is, the more tech you’ll need.  Additionally, the more likely it is you’ll have technical issues during a show.  We’ll talk about rehearsal in a bit. But, you definitely want to set your tech person up for success. 

First of all, make sure your tech has the experience of having run previous improv or sketch shows before.  Unless you have a stage manager, coach, or director helping them call the cues, they will have to use their best judgment if something goes awry. For example, if someone changes the out-line of a scene, your tech has to determine the best moment to black out.

Someone with good comedic sensibilities will make you look great, even if a mistake happens.

Secondly, make sure your directions to the tech person are clear.  I’ve teched for shows where they don’t give me a full copy of their script. Then they’ll tell me that I’m supposed to blackout the scene when someone says “Watch Out!”  Would you believe me if I told you that the phrase “Watch Out!” is said three different times in the sketch?

Just like you would (or at least should) proofread your script for formatting and spelling errors before sending it to your actors, check for issues in your tech sheet.

Obviously, this is less complicated with improv. But you still want to be clear about how you expect the show to end and how transitions during the show should be handled.

Producing Marketing

A few months ago, I wrote an article about “Marketing Your Improv Show.”  I won’t go in-depth into anything that was discussed at-length in the article.  However, marketing, as you might assume, is an important part of production.  Think about how you’re going to get people to the show. Remember, most people don’t buy their tickets until a day or two before the show (sometimes even the day of).  So it always feels a little stressful.

Make sure your audience knows all of the key details: how much the show is going to cost, who will be a part of the show, the location of the show, and any important details on parking and buying tickets.  For example, if you don’t have a credit card reader, you should very clearly state that the door only accepts cash.

Post as early as possible to gather some awareness of the show. Then, really do a stronger push a week or two before the show. this is where people will start making a committed decision about whether they want to attend.

Setting Up Ticketing and Finances

You’ll want to figure out how you’ll keep track of people who are ticketed and who are not.  Some theaters have this system in place, and it makes your life so much easier.  But others might not.

How are you going to keep track of people who’s tickets you’ve taken, but left to go to the bathroom or to smoke a cigarette?  Will there be a stamp or a ticket stub?  Who will be keeping track and checking your list of pre-purchased tickets?

Also, once the show is over, where does the money go?  Does one member of your team hold on to it?  If there were credit card transactions (or Venmo, or CashApp, or PayPal transactions), does it go into one team member’s bank account?

Being clear about how you handle money at the beginning will save you a lot of headache at the end.

Scheduling Rehearsal

Last but not least, rehearsal!  Never assume that you can use the space before the show unless you have it in writing from your location.  Some theaters might program shows back-to-back. This means during the 30 minutes before your show, the theater might not be available because the previous show needs to end (and they always end late). Then, the staff needs to clean and start getting the audience into their seats so that your show starts on time (which it probably won’t).

Rehearsal gives you time to work out the logistical and technical kinks that you might not have realized were a problem.  What happens if the entrance you were going to bring a big prop through has a curtain over it?  Or what if the stage is smaller or wider than you realized it was in the pictures, and now your blocking is thrown off?

Getting into the space before you perform is key to having a great show because you’ll catch and fix any mishaps before they have the chance to affect the actual performance.  You might also want to check out my article on rehearsals. I’ll be posting it soon!

Final Thoughts on Producing

While this article is not exhaustive, it will provide you with the basic understanding that you’ll need to produce your own improv or sketch show.  However, nothing beats actual experience, so make sure that you get out there and try it for yourself!  It’s a lot of work, but it’s fulfilling in the end.

Happy producing!

Jeff ThompsonJeff has been an improviser since 2002 and currently performs and teaches at the Westside Comedy Theatre, Ruby LA, and Impro Theatre.
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