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?"


  1. I think there is a fine line between "competing against" and "competing with" other groups. I think they are both needed, in a sense. We should want to challenge ourselves to be the "best" troupe, better than the others out there. But also share with other troupes the secrets of the trade, like all the stuff you listed. We should all work together towards the same goal "audience awareness" but we should also challenge each other to be better than one another.

  2. Yep. We build loyalty the genre by all being good. We build loyalty to our troupes by being the best.

    Which is, of course, fairly—but not completely—subjective. (My parents, for example, will never think The Trip Fives are better than Tantrum...but my kids might.)

  3. You're mom loves us and you know it.

  4. Along the lines of a regular schedule is show frequency. I find that it's a lot easier to promote a show and bill it as something special when there are fewer shows to be promoted in the first place. My friends happen to be a bunch of procastinators, so they tend to say "I'll see you guys next time". Well, if next time isn't for three months, they're more likely to get motivated and show up. And splitting the bill is also effective, so the audience members feel they are getting more for their money.

  5. your mommy does love us.

    She sent me this.

    "I love you guys!"


  6. BTW, 20% Rule...you got your freebie. Any more comments must include an actual identity.


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.