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?"