Monday, June 30, 2008

Behold


Behold, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

My evening view for the next two months.

I mean, it'll change. Sometimes, it'll be web copy instead of a press release. 

And sometimes there will be a big cat ass on the keyboard. 

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Yep...it's important

Naming your troupe, that is. To varying degrees.

It's easier and harder than it looks. So since I've already babbled about my opinion, here are some tips for finding one—and what to do after. 

BRAINSTORMING MADE SIMPLE
Put everything on index cards or slips of paper you can spread out and move around.

STARTING WITH YOUR BRAND
When Annoyance teachers talk about character, they say, "How you do what you do is who you are." It's a great way to approach naming. 
  • How you do (your attitude or style) 
  • what you do (a description of your show or approach)
  • is who you are (your name). 
Or even simpler: attitude + content = name.
  1. Start by brainstorming words that describe your attitude or style. Edgy? Playful? Wacky? Look for adjectives, nouns and verbs that fit.  
  2. Next, brainstorm your content or something specific about your show/troupe. Some directions that might work: Descriptions of groups, words that mean/signal comedy or improv. 
  3. Put the two together, and see what that sparks. 
Funny Outfit got to our name this way. Our naming strategy was simple: 
  • We wanted something that said clearly "comedy"
  • We wanted a name that started with one of the first five letters of the alphabet
We had "funny" on one card, and "outfit" in a stack of cards with different descriptors for groups. 

STARTING WITH YOUR AUDIENCE
Who are you playing for? Think demographics and psychographics. What do they want from you? 

Then think of ways you'd describe your troupe, the benefits you offer, the show you'll produce...and edit mercilessly until you have something short. 

(This is how Lighten Up came up. We knew a big part of our business would be corporate, and the benefit we offered was helping them lighten up in the workplace.)

PRACTICAL STUFF
There are lots of "rules" for naming. Decide which ones apply: 
  • The further up in the alphabet, the higher you are in listings. This may be important when you're in a big category that people search for in phone books and google. Whether it's critical when there are likely to be no more than three comedy listings in the Pitch on any given night...? Debatable. 
  • It should be intuitive enough for the audience to know immediately what it means. Again, depends on the context in which it will appear. If you can tag "comedy" or "improvisation" on the poster or listing somewhere, does it really have to be in the name?
  • No one else should have the same name. Again, depends. If you want to travel nationally, or apply to festivals, or franchise your name or show, you should probably run a check. A google search (name + improv) will give you a quick idea of any other troupes using the same name; there are several levels of federal trademark searches if you want to do more. You probably don't need to play for a registered trademark. 
PERSONAL OPINIONS AND RANDOM STUFF
Most of them based on years of reviewing dozens of festival tapes by troupes with different names:
  • I hate names and logos that incorporate rubber chickens and Groucho glasses. WTF do those things have to do with improv? 
  • I'm not a huge fan of incorporating "improv" into other words or phrases or ____prov. Mission Improvable. Kidprov. Stuff like that. (I know, I know, this includes Improv-abilities. Sorry. I like every single other thing about them.)
  • Currently, I'm a fan of bratty one-word names (Tantrum, Spite, Poke...see a pattern?). This may just be a phase. 
  • Names of shows I directed that I now feel deeply ashamed of: Commedia Del Harold (I let the cast name that one. It still makes me cringe.) and Corn Dog with a Reservoir Tip (The format was inspired by Reservoir Dogs. That is no excuse.).
Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Final festival fundraiser


Final festival fundraiser, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Timmy and Aron taught a kick-ass workshop today.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

After Thunderdome


After Thunderdome, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

...we had beer.

Also: Man, what a fun night of improv. The Trip Fives' show was a blast. Everyone had terrific moments...and seeing Jenny back in a full show was all about "YAY!"

At Thunderdome, all the teams brought it. Some Technical Difficulties, then Makeshift Militia, then Babel Fish did hilarious sets. Ed and Jared, as usual, put on a hell of a show. And Some Technical Difficulties won the vote. 

Am I crazy proud of the kids and Andrew? Yep. Now...I gotta say, I would love to get Scriptease and Burnin' Sternums into the finals. I love the idea of generations competing for the belt. 

But as usual, Thunderdome is more about the improv than the winner. Tonight was a blast to watch. 

Also, to keep track of what happened: Joe may wake up tomorrow and realize he asked Andrew and me to play with Babelfish at Fringe Fest. And Nathan and I decided it'd be really fun to get all the folks who were involved the the KC High School Improv League together in a show. That would be (as far as we can tell): me, Joe, Nathan, Patrick, Adam, Ed, Jared and Tommy.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Not what I am used to


Not what I am used to, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

I do a lot of presentations. The invite list, however, is rarely "all of marketing."

"All of marketing" doesn't show up. And I ended up knowing most of the people in the room. But I was a little more nervous about this one for a few reasons: 

  • It was the first time I've done a division-wide "lunch and learn," so the content actually had to be useful. 
  • Because of a combination of other projects and (let's be honest) procrastination and maybe a little overconfidence that the material would write itself, I started late. 
  • After spending two days working on presentation skills, I felt a little more pressure than usual not to suck. 

It went fine. I was, as I knew I'd be, completely comfortable with the material; making it interesting was the tough part. 

It's not always (OK: almost never) super-fascinating to talk about process. Showing the creative that results from the process usually makes it more interesting, but in this case, everybody's already seen the creative over and over. So at 5pm yesterday, I was wandering around the building with my camera phone, trying to capture images that would spark stories or demonstrate points in entertaining ways.

Which meant that though I knew the basics of the presentation, I wasn't putting the story I was going to tell together until this morning. I put it in the presentation notes and had about 75% of a run through before delivering it to a few dozen people in an overcrowded room without a functioning AC. And I couldn't figure out how to make the remote work (turns out I wasn't aiming it carefully enough at the 1 square mm spot I needed to hit) and needed to glance at my notes for some of the slides. So I felt a little tied to the computer. 

All of this to say: I dig presenting. But making shit up with my friends is more fun.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Naming an improv troupe


Naming an improv troupe, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Above—the way Lighten Up mini-focus-group tested and designed our logo (that's the original in the upper left, with some inspiration from a design annual in the middle). It's so...retro. Graph paper and Sharpies. Imagine.

Whether you need to put time and effort into your name depends entirely on what you’re doing.

(NOTE: Um, it might be that because I work in marketing for one of the most recognized brands around, I’m a teensy smidge biased.)

Companies pay writers big bucks to name products, programs and services. They have strategies—should names be descriptive? Or more evocative? Real or made-up words? They do trademark searches, focus-group test the crap out of the names and invest millions to sink them into the public consciousness.

Improv troupes…don’t.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. A name may be the only thing an audience member sees when he makes a decision about whether to see your show. Or what an event planner uses to decide if she’ll call you about the company holiday party. A name is a branded snapshot of what you’re selling. And if you’ve got long-term plans, your brand is your most valuable asset.

(ANOTHER NOTE: Turns out this is exactly where two things I’m pretty passionate about come smack up against each other.)

In my improv land, there are six categories (with examples I’ve been involved with):

  • Short-run shows: Chick*Show, Corn Dog, NightLight, Act Two Baby!
  • Temporary troupes (like Thunderdome teams): Burnin’ Sternums
  • Events: Spontaneous Combustion, KC Improv Festival, KC Improv Showcase
  • Open-run shows: Play It By Ear, On The Spot, Outside The Lines
  • Performing troupes: Funny Outfit, Tantrum, Spite, Straight Man
  • Theater, performing troupe, corporate consultants: Lighten Up

The first two categories can be named on a whim. Shows get descriptive names, troupes get fun names. Show names just have to get people in the door—they’ll be gone tomorrow. Thunderdome troupe names don’t matter much at all, because the names that draw the audience are Thunderdome (public) and the players (family, friends and fans).

But event and long-run show names—and troupes or theaters—matter a whole lot more.

OK. This is officially the KC improv blogger topic for Sunday. I should probably save some blowhard stuff for then.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Just to get out the door


Just to get out the door, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

The biggest difference between men and women improvisers has nothing to do with what they do on stage.

On the way to workshops on Sunday, Pete and I were discussing the great disparity in product usage between men and women. This is not a new discussion or  a radical observation...but it's something I've thought about more often as I've zipped through my last couple of birthdays. 

Improvisation is—especially in newer improv cities—a young person's game. If you haven't moved somewhere with the intent of making a living at it, having a life means moving rehearsals and shows down the priority list. So the great majority of folks on stage are in their 20s and early to mid-30s. 

I don't consider myself particularly vain, and—beyond practicing my next age out loud long before the digits change just so it doesn't freak me out when I say it for the first time—I've never been age obsessed (or age appropriate). As girls go, I'm one of the low maintenance ones.

But lately, it's occurred to me that I have at least a few years on almost everyone I do scenes with. The last thing I want is for audiences to think, "Man. Must be weird for those guys to do improv with their mom." I don't know that men have the same concerns. Just as there tend to be more men in improv troupes, they also seem to stay longer. 

It's the Hollywood cliche—men get distinguished, women get old. 

It's just weird that I feel the same thing creeping into my consciousness. And I live in Kansas City, for criminy's sake. 

So suddenly, moisturizer (specially formulated for different body parts) is a bigger part of my routine. I use five different volumizing products. Because of stupid rosacea, there are three different skin products (plus one for zits YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO FREAKIN' GET AT MY AGE), and no chance of going on stage without makeup. And the biggest benefit to working out besides my general health is that I look about 10 years younger than I did when I was heavier. 

I hate being the kind of person who thinks about this kind of thing. It's relatively new to me, so I feel like I obsess about it a little. It's not that I'm ashamed of or uncomfortable with my age. I'm happier, more confident and more comfortable with myself than I've ever been. 

But every now and then, I wonder how much longer I can get away with this life.  


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Behold

Behold, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

The kitchen. It is tidy. I say tidy instead of clean, because it's mostly about things being put away and surfaces wiped down. Also, the clean clothes are off the desk in the the hallway.

Why is this relevant? How is this possibly improv-related? 

I'm guessing I'm not the only procrastinator in the improv world. And at a certain point, things get so overwhelming I get a little immobilized. There doesn't seem to be an entry point to the to-do list—which starts looking more like a clustering exercise than a list.












So I don't get anything done. Except maybe catch up on DVRed episodes of Greek. And with the festival coming in a little over two months, this is not a good time to be non-functional. 

Now, the dishes are in the dishwasher, the clothes are put away, and the list seems manageable. Which leaves tomorrow night open for web writing and press releases. 

TOMORROW: A completely different take on girls v. boys in improv.

Monday, June 23, 2008

First Spite rehearsal


First Spite rehearsal, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Yay! It's all very exciting. 

Our first rehearsal back after a moral victory in Thunderdome (hey, we were totally OK with doing a killer set but not winning the popular vote) was to hang out at Megan's and watch recordings of our T-dome set and the Tantrum show from last Friday. 

It's nice when improv shows hold up on video—both were fun to watch. We looked for changes we'd make to our set (we've got some changes to the transition we'll try as we rehearse for our Fringe Fest shows), some patterns we'll try to break out of and—perhaps most important—some wardrobe choices we'll reconsider. 

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What it takes


What it takes, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

So Keith made a funny about getting me drunk enough to open a theater. (That photo up there is the page in my scrapbook with the mailer we used to find our first theater. We sent out between 50-100 of them...it's been so long I don't remember.)

There is not enough Gold Label Southern Comfort in the WORLD. 

I know a whole lot more about how not to run a theater than about how to make one work. Lighten Up's run was a lot of fun and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, but having an improv theater means that the last thing on your to-do list will always, always, always be improv. 

Here's some of the Running An Improv  Theater To-Do List (and this was a poorly run one—imagine how much more would be on the list for a successful one): 

  • Check voice mail and answer phones (all day).
  • Sell, sell, sell—your shows, your corporate workshops, your improv workshops, your private gigs. Send e-mails and direct mail, make cold calls, follow-up leads.
  • Send press releases and update calendar listings; keep website and online presence up to date.
  • Schedule and staff shows. 
  • Make sure all licenses and permits are up to date. 
  • Pay bills—rent, utilities, leasing (beverage cooler, copy machine, water dispenser), credit cards (Home Depot, CostCo), 
  • Keep books up to date—ticket sales, food and beverage, private/corporate gigs, paying players, bills. 
  • Inventory, purchase and stock concession stand—CostCo for food, 4-5 different distributors for beer, soda and coffee.
  • Make sure drawer has enough cash/change for shows. 
  • Clean theater, office, lobby and green room—sweep, mop, wipe down, dust, vacuum. 
  • Prep theater—arrange tables, chairs, set and booth. 
  • Maintain space—repaint, replace stage lights, decorate lobby, fix props/set pieces, clean curtains, etc. 
  • Plan, schedule and sell programs—workshops, high school leagues, shows. 
  • Plan and lead rehearsals; teach workshops. 
  • Work the bar, ticket office or booth or do notes when you can't find a full staff. 
During the periods of time when my business partner was off doing something else, I didn't do much stage time—unless we were short staffed. I would host, or sell tickets, but being in show was my lowest priority—and usually, I just couldn't get in the right frame of mind. 

Because here's what you worry about...
  • Will my cast continue to work without pay? 
  • How am I going to run a show when I'm 3 cast members short? 
  • Will an audience come? 
  • Will we make rent? 
  • Will the private show be good? 
  • Will I be able to figure out the permits and licenses we need to stay open? 
  • Will we pass the safety inspection? 
  • Will people take my classes?
  • Will the show be good? 
  • Will the players stop bickering? 
  • Can we afford to buy beer? 
  • Will we have to cancel? 
  • Blah, blah, blah...
So. If I were to give advice to someone who wanted to open an improv theater, it would be this: 
  • DO. NOT. BUY. A. SPACE. Rent. You do not need or want to own a building.
  • Even better, rent in a space with common services. If you can, find a place with a big load of common bathrooms you don't have to maintain and clean. 
  • Start off slow. Find a place or places—a theater, a restaurant with a party room, etc.—where you can pay for just show, workshop and rehearsal time on a regular schedule. Start with maybe one night or weekend of shows a month; throw in a weekly workshop. When you're selling out both, add another night. 
  • Figure out your expenses for leasing and running your own space. Double or triple that. When the money you're making in your temporary space equals that amount, it's time to open a theater.
  • Create a business plan, and get a successful non-improviser to look at it. Do not skip the boring parts you don't understand. If you don't understand something in a high-level strategic plan, you will hate or suck at it in real life. 
  • Sign contracts with your partners. You will think, "Hey! It's improv! We trust each other!" Fuck that. Sign a contract that details all responsibilities and expectations and what happens if  things fall apart. Get an attorney to look at it.
  • Have experience with and be good at the not-related-to-improv side of the business. My partner had managed a bar. I worked in PR for an arts organization, had corporate experience (for our gigs) and knew marketing. 
  • Make sure you have access to health insurance. At some point, you will suffer chronic stress, which will lead to clinical depression, and you will need to be medicated. 

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Megan is an excellent bartender

Ah, Southern Comfort...the likker Lighten Up was made of.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Inebriated?


Inebriated, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Kinda. You know, not debilitatingly so, but enjoying a post-show beer. So maybe it's just that. 

The Tantrum show was a blast. Playing with Scriptease was a blast. Man, it was fun to be on stage again. 

More later. Must sleep. Because it's after 1am, and that's super-late for me unless I'm at home watching Iron Chef.

Still too freakin' early

It's 5:24pm. 

Call time is 7. 6:30, if you're the early type. 

I'm dressed for the show, wearing makeup, and getting ready to walk out the door. One stop to pick up some festival fliers and another to grab some cough suppressant/antihistamine (is there such a combo?) and I'll be at the coffeehouse. 

Way to freakin' early. 

The benefit (and the only one I can think of) of not playing that often is that I still get that great stomach ache you only get when you're nervous and excited about doing a show. I got immune to them when I was playing four shows a weekend, and I'm glad they're back. I have to take vacation time on afternoons when I have shows after work, 'cause I'm almost completely useless after lunchtime. 

Tick. Tick. Tick. 

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A tiny taste of KC barbeque


A tiny taste of KC barbeque, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Last week at CIF, Mark mentioned he was heading to KC and Ed Goodman said he should have BBQ at Oklahoma Joe's. I had a delicate girly portion of the "Lean and Mean"—pulled turkey with cole slaw on top, 'cause that's how we do things down south. Above is Mark's sampler. 

Obviously, he chose wisely. 

So today was day one of our presentation class. It's interesting doing something like this with a group used to presenting—other classes I've taken were full of people with little or no experience. 

In a lot of ways, it's harder. I like presenting—and I'm typically very comfortable with it. In the environment at Hallmark, it's a bad thing to seem...present-y. Because you're typically working in a small room—maybe not even standing up—you have to be persuasive and enthusiastic and smooth, without being slick or aggressive. So you have to be a good presenter without seeming like you're working too hard at it. 

But it does take work. Mark had us playing with tone, inflection, style, physicality...sometimes naturally, sometimes in an exaggerated ways. I'm completely comfortable doing that in front of strangers, but in front of my team, I felt surprisingly vulnerable. 

It's hard to put into words. I had to really push myself to put 100% into some of the exercises, because laughing and holding back felt safer. I don't know if it was fear of looking stupid because of what I was doing or because I was doing it. It was a really alien feeling, because in my improv life, it's holding back that makes you look dumb.

Anyway, it was a great day. Five more hours of the same tomorrow. Then a Tantrum show I couldn't be looking more forward to at 8pm. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Before


Before, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

This is Mark sitting with part of Tantrum before rehearsal.

Yes, we rehearse in a boardroom. It actually works out quite well. Though we can't yell obscenitites too loudly, out of respect for the librariness of it all. 

Rehearsal was fabulous. We ran the piece we'll do Friday, got some notes, did some exercises, got some more notes, ran the piece again, then finished up at the Flying Saucer with notes and some personal feedback. 

The great thing about getting notes from Mark is the level of detail he hits in his feedback. Things like "play forward/back physically," "play the between characters" and "try sitting down so you can't kick back on one leg." 

For me, the big note was a "middle character" one—I can handle high and low status, but need to play more between. And find ways to show low status other than verbal hesitation. The low status, though, was progress from the last times he's seen me play, when I was most comfortable in bossy-land. (This is the benefit of working with an instructor a lot over the course of 15 years.)

Anyway, I didn't think I could be more excited about Friday, but I am. One of the best pieces of feedback was for the whole group. It's easy to talk yourself into projecting results—"this will be a great show." Instead, play moment to moment. Don't put the pressure on the show—put the focus on the moment. 

Good stuff.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ooof


Ooof, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

30 YEARS?!?!

Wow. That smarts a little. I saw Animal House in...6th grade? 7th? I had to convince all the seniors in our church youth group—which my parents led—to tell Mom and Dad it was TOTALLY appropriate for a 12 year old. 

There was a lot of stuff I didn't get. What I did get, and love: Pretty much everything John Belushi did. Hopping across campus like some kind of psycho ninja. Being a zit. The "nothing is over 'til we say it's over" speech. And, for some weird reason, the fact that he keeps saying "Holy shit-TH" after they accidentally kill the horse.

But wow. 30 years. That just sounds like a really long time. 

Monday, June 16, 2008

It's nice to have help


It's nice to have help, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

I've been working on delegating. You know, asking for support when I need it—maybe even before I start to get completely overwhelmed. This isn't exactly what I had in mind, although it's nice to have company when I'm working. 

I know at some point between now and the festival I'll hit a wall. But this week, the knowledge that I have a Tantrum rehearsal and two days of improv-based presentation training with Mark Sutton followed by a show Friday is making this week's schedule of meetings, creative briefs, managerial stuff, workouts, festival work and house cleaning seem totally doable. 

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The best kind of day for it


The best kind of day for it, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Parked at the Filling Station, where 95% of all KCiF activity is planned, to eat the World's Best Wrap (Ginger Wrap with Apple and Fresh Mozzarella) and crank out personalized to-do lists. 

I like gorgeous sunny days as much as the next person, but if I've got stuff to do on a computer, nothing beats sitting in this place next to a floor-to-ceiling window and not feeling like I'm wasting a chance to be outside by doing it.

Prepare for a deluge of e-mails. I'm not leaving 'til the rain lets up.

UPDATE: Have worked with only one break since lunchtime, and finally feel like I've got things under control. Man, it feels good. Temporary festival flier: Done. Communication with planning teams: Done. Thunderdome program: Done. Tantrum stuff: Done. 

Now: sleep.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The waterbed was her grandmother's.


Ryan is Corey and Nifer's marriage counselor. It was a blast to watch Corey play with the Imps. To summarize: 
—Drinking two cases of Bud Light Lime: A Bad Idea. 
—Tats and a leather vest on certain body types: Also A Bad Idea. 
—And a special message to Timmy: Have fun next weekend...?

Friday, June 13, 2008

All about the reaction


All about the reaction, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

I left work early (stupid, stupid cold...I'm MISSING HAPPY HOUR BECAUSE OF THIS, DAMMIT) and caught part of a Steve Carrell interview on NPR.

In talking about the scene in The 40 Year Old Virgin where he said, "You know how when you grab a woman's breast...it feels like...a bag of sand," and the chest waxing scene, he said what he really thought was funny was the reactions of the people in the scenes with him. 

I love the idea of approaching a scene with the idea of "I'm just going to give my partners big ol' fabulous gifts, because I can't wait to see how they react to them."

Also, I love the idea of having bigger, more playful, even extreme reactions. 

Something to mess with...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Good intentions

EXTREME CLOSEUP: My end-of-year gift from Exit 16

The kids gave me this, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

 Because they're convinced I am a cat hoarder.


LONG SHOT: What I really hoard

good intentions, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

I've read the majority of these. And feel kinda guilty about having not read all of them. 

I hit amazon.com every few months and browse for improv books (my recs get cluttered with various Star Wars books I have no interest in—as fascinating as the Jedi Reader series sounds, I've been reading at a third grade level since I was five, thank you). It's amazing how the numbers have picked up in the last few years...you used to have the big three: Something Wonderful Right Away, Improvisation for the Theater and Impro. There were a few game books, but mostly in the elementary or lame categories. Then Truth In Comedy opened the floodgates (I so don't feel like linking everything. Just go here.)

Now it's hard to keep up. 

(The ones up on top are various leadership and other-fleeting-hobby books.)


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gah


Gah, originally uploaded by tberrongkc.

Gah #1: Forgot to take a damn picture again.

So this is our fabulous, robot-y poster from Michael, who kicks ass. 

Gah #2: I've got that stupid, slightly sore throat edging up into my nose thing that tells me I'm looking at a full-blown cold in the next couple of days. 

Gah #3: So because of that, I lead rehearsal instead of playing. (What's the point, really, when if you end up in a make-out scene you can only go half-tongue? Seriously.) 

I had figured out some stuff to do as I felt progressively worse over the course of the day. We played around last week with different ways to deconstruct a scene or monologue, so this time we pushed that further. And it sounds like we spent a lot of the rehearsal up in our heads—starting with a pattern game warmup. 

We've been working a lot in a pseudo-Annoyance style, I think, and the work we did tonight brought in more iO philosophy. Some mapping, some thematic tangents, some pattern games...and you can really, really see why Del ranted so much against arguing. 

The emotion starts out feeling like you're getting somewhere, but in almost every case, saying "No" in any way, shape or form stopped the game cold. It destroyed the playfulness, thwarted the moves, blocked the action. I am NOT someone who believes saying no is always bad—sometimes it's absolutely called for—but it was interesting to watch it get so much in the way tonight.

Pete? Nikki? What'd you guys think? 

The main thought that kept going through my head (as I later texted to Nikki) was, "Who the hell am I to give these people notes?" Stepping into the critiquing role with my own troupe always feels weird to me—tonight was no exception. 


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What a pest

From a long-ago thread on yesand.com: 
Q: How can you tell improvisers broke into your house? 
A: They left fliers.

Improv has turned me into an obnoxious, show-plugging, e-mail sending, event-creating, friend-inviting ho-bag. Even when I started at ComedySportz—and wasn't technically in charge of drawing crowds—I volunteered to be the PR person because I hated that there didn't seem to be a normal schedule for sending press releases, calendar listings or fan newsletters.

Went straight from there to Lighten Up, then Funny Outfit, then a series of other independent troupes with no mailing lists and no audience base. The only time it's been easy to draw a crowd is to Exit 16 shows—there, less than 150 people in the crowd feels like failure. 

Here's what doesn't work—at least not to a lucrative degree: 
  • Running ads in the Pitch or Star
  • Getting into calendar listings
  • Hanging posters
  • Distributing coupons
  • Being written up in reviews and plugs
  • Facebook/Myspace events
  • E-mail blasts
  • Building a website
And what sucks? Is that you have to do it all anyway. It's cost of entry—part of getting your name out and accessible. 

The only thing that seems guaranteed to work is, over time, building a loyal following by: 
  • Performing consistently good shows
  • On a regular schedule
  • In a prime location
  • And attracting groups
  • Who spread word of mouth
  • And return with their friends
(Or do something that puts those six steps on a fast-track, like Thunderdome.)

It's a little unreal when improvisers think their competition is other improv troupes. Our collective competition is everything else—every established, comfortable, familiar form of entertainment people can choose over going to a little theater to see half a dozen people they've never heard of do material nobody's ever seen. 

To succeed, we can't compete as individual troupes—we have to compete together, as an option. We have to get improvisation into the consideration set, so that the question, when our prospective audience is looking at the calendar in the Pitch or Star is "Should we go see a play...or a band...or a movie...or an improv show?"