Sunday, February 3, 2008

Four things in five-hundred words

We had to cancel the On The Spot show up in Liberty last night. If I’m counting right, we’ve only done that twice in our run (which has been about two years).

It suuuuuuuucks. As producer, I felt awful. Six players drove to Liberty. Three people came to see them. Nobody got what they wanted. 

Had I done everything I possibly could to plug the show? I did a lot. But everything? No. Next time, I’ll try some new tactics.

As much as it sucked, I was glad there were only three people to send away. Three—especially when one was a comp and two are parents—made the “show or no show” decision fairly clear. If there were five—plus a Fakers cast willing to fill a table—it might have been a little tougher to call (and that's not even counting the fact that it would have covered half the rent).

There are
dozens of improv board discussions about calling shows. There are hundreds of stories about the call to do a show for two couples that left everyone in the theater feeling horribly uncomfortable. Or of shows for one person that turned him or her into a lifelong fan. (I’ve done both, including one of the latter that began, “Good evening, sir, and welcome to Outside the Lines.”)

Whenever you put players in front of a less-than-ideal house, there’s a chance they’re at an insurmountable disadvantage. For me, a “less-than-ideal house” has meant…
  • too small, 
  • too big,
  • too quiet, 
  • too rowdy,
  • too drunk, 
  • expecting stand-up at a short-form show, 
  • expecting short-form at a long-form show, 
  • wishing they were anywhere else but at a prom show, 
  • and distracted by the male stripper in buttless chaps sitting on the guest of honor in the middle of our set at a 50th birthday party. 
And sometimes the problem has in been the production instead of the audience. Like:
  • no place to warm up,
  • a tiny stage in the middle of an open field on a windy day,
  • an inexperienced host who can’t engage or control the crowd, 
  • an inexperienced technical improviser who blows every single cut,  
  • an understaffed theater where players are asked to sell tickets and play, 
  • an unreliable light or sound system, 
  • no light or sound system, 
  • or no light system, sound system, stage or chairs.
The point, finally: When is a less-than-spectacular show the fault of the performers—and when can you say, “there’s no way they could have put on a good show?”

What I believe until someone convinces me otherwise: If the audience is engaged, whatever happens between “can I get a suggestion” and the blackout is 100% on the cast and their director.

They can and will succeed if:
  1. They’ve rehearsed and prepared enough to be comfortable with what they're putting up. 
  2. Their heads are in the game—whatever it takes to get there.
  3. They trust each other enough to roll with whatever happens. 
  4. They’ve made the decision to have fun. 
If they’re talented and experienced…well, yeah. That increases their chances of putting up a show everyone feels good about. Duh.

But those four things can get you through almost anything. And they’re the responsibility of—
and completely within the control of—the cast and their director. No weird energy from the crowd, crappy set-up from the host or blown cut from the booth is going to hurt you.

Will you still have an off-night sometimes? Sure. But if those four things are true, you’ll know two more things: 
  1. No one else is to blame, and
  2. you did everything you could. 
On the other hand...if you can't say those four things are all true, guess what? It's all on you.


  1. Between our two shows at the Imp last night, we had under 10 people in the audience. I hate that.

    The good news is Thunderdome is this week, and likely will be sold out. :-)

  2. Can I get:
    1. A list of talking points?
    2. Another list of talking points?
    3. A pony?
    4. Trish to be less left-brained?

    Any arguments that you are not left-brained need to be presented in a power-point presentation along with supporting documentation.

  3. I was on the assless chaps remote! Holy crap I had forgotten that. Wow.

  4. Dear Scott:
    • It's my blog, and I'll play on whichever side of my brain I want to.
    • But since I've taken several tests that indicate I'm equally proficient at right- and left-brain thinking, I'll try to switch it up every now and then.
    • You're on your own for the pony.

    Dear Corey: I thought you'd like that. Crazy, right?


New rule: I'm not approving anonymous comments. If you want to sit at the grownup table, you have to sign your name.

Now c'mon. Pick a fight.