Saturday, December 27, 2008

Revamping

My nephew Adam, who (thanks to the Wiggles and frequent 
encouragement and applause from his groupies) has the 
performer bug something fierce.


Good grief, it's quiet in here. 

After four days of hanging out with my family, I'm back to an empty place—and their feelings wouldn't be hurt to know it feels good, because I'm certain they felt the same way as soon as they got home. I don't have to work for another week and plan to take things verrrrrry easy, but there are two shows to promote (Exit 16/Fakers/alums) at the Corbin  and Tantrum at the Coffeehouse

The Corbin show is due for a revamp. Since we killed the idea of putting up two shows—On The Spot and the late show—last spring and brought in Exit 16 to play with the Fakers, audiences have been consistently better. But since we're playing for friends and family, we've let the shows get a little sloppy. We're not entirely sure who'll be in them, or what they'll do, or who will be sitting in the box office. 

Not good. And against pretty much everything I believe about putting on a show. Five bucks a ticket or not, the audiences deserve better.

So I'm getting together with Fakers next week to figure out how to make the show better. I really want to look to them for ideas, but I've got some initial thoughts (besides staffing the stupid box office):
  • Consistent framework—everything from the show and each act's opening/closing music to a regular host.
  • An actual technical improviser—someone with an announcer's voice and an eye for beats. As long as I'm in there, we're in mom-n-pop land. (Though I'm stuck there for one more show.)
  • More planning—troupes will know who's in the cast and what they're going to play in advance, so we can sell it and it runs more smoothly. 
  • Tighter focus—because we're not putting on a show in someone's living room.
  • Branded marketing—a consistent look and feel for posters, fliers, web stuff, etc.
This is no-duh stuff. 

And now, back to watching Independence Day, which is the best bad movie on my shame list. Bill Pullman rocks.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Still funny



Aron-2009, Garrett-2010, Chris-2010, Ian-2008, Andrew B.-2004, James-2006, Tim-2009, Stephen-2000, Andrew K-2007, Mac-2006, Danny-2007, Tommy-2000, Brian-2004, Steven-2011, Allie-2009, Claire-2009, Kay-2011, Amy-2009, Laura-2010, Kristie-2009, Matt-2008, Clay-2005 (Plus Elizabeth-2010)

This was the 10th year of Exit 16 alumni shows (because it's the 11th year of Exit 16). It didn't start in a particularly formal way—Rich (the drama teacher who started it all) just asked kids who were home for Christmas to hop up on stage and play a few games. As the number of alumni grew, the show became a bigger deal. Numbers still vary from year to year—last year there were about 30 kids, this time a little more than 20. 

We started doing two shows to hold the crowds, but the first show (which we almost ditched this year—risking the wrath of kids for whom it's become tradition—for a chance to move to a bigger venue) has become a trial run. (Next year, we should probably charge less.) I learn something every year; this year, it was "don't kid yourself about maintaining any sense of control—roll with whatever happens." 

So the plan was a first half of games big enough to hold a bunch of players, and a second half of longform. When the first half ran long, I just moved the remaining games to the second half, and it timed out perfectly. I hosted the first round to see how things went, which meant no sound and lights; the kids handled the second show so I could tech. 

And it was a blast. Fun scenework, great teamwork, tons of physical and intellectual play, and solid performances by the old and new kids. (Kids. Right. The oldest ones are 27 now.) The early show was a great warm-up, and the second show worked perfectly from start to finish. It would be so easy for this show to be just a chance to screw around onstage with old friends, but every year the content gets stronger. The smallish group was nice, because they all got to play more. And watching them support and heighten each others' work was...well, it was what improv is all about. 

The Tantrum guys did a private show down the road tonight, and I'll admit the oldest child in me haaaaaaaated being left out—and it was as much (or more) about the chance to road-trip with the group as it was about doing the show (which apparently went great—thanks for the update, Nikki).  

But I got over that in the parking lot of the high school. The first "kid" I saw was Stephen Parish, one of the charter Exit 16 members. He heard about the show on Facebook, drove in from Manhattan wearing the second t-shirt the group ever made, and played as smart and funny and quirky as he ever did. Seeing and catching up with the older alums (which we can now do in a bar) is one of the best parts of the alumni show. 

Another is watching the newbies raise their game. There are two times during the year when the first-year members have growth spurts. The second is during auditions, where they go from being the n00bs to the experienced players. 

But the first is during the alumni show, when they stop being the new kids—they're just Exit 16 members. Which, as it turns out, is a pretty cool thing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We made puppets

Bottomish row: Rob, Michael, Josh, Kim, Megan.
Toppish row: Dennis, Trish, Nikki, Pete.

Also, we did a show. With the puppets. I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This one goes to 11

OK. It's a bit of a force fit: This is Exit 16's 11th year, and 10th alumni show. 

As usual, I have no freakin' clue who or how many will show up, which doesn't make planning a show the easiest thing in the world. The first half of each show will be short form—and I'll throw it together in the 45 minutes before the show starts while the kids warm up. For the second half, I'll probably do some version of the living room. I'm thinking I'll divide them into clumps—one clump will have a conversation, another clump will do the scenes, and we'll just rotate around. 

The current group hasn't had rehearsal in two weeks because of the weather. Not ideal, but it doesn't hurt this show as much as some. We worked on edits the last time we were together, so they should be montage-ready. 

Tantrum has our first holiday gathering tomorrow night at Megan's. On the agenda: Watch the last show, do a little wine tasting (Josh and the Red X have elevated our sophistication level), and draw names—then make a sock puppet of the person whose name you draw. (This last idea was conceived—and stoked—over a couple of beers after the last Pretty.Funny. show.) If there's anyone left in the group who doesn't think I'm a hopeless, helpless geek, the new-poster-inspired sugar cookies I made tonight will fix that. (They looked better in my head—I haven't quite perfected a good, shiny confectioner's sugar glaze.) 


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Good? Bad? Both?

There's always more to do. 

Marketing and PR for shows used to be pretty straightforward, because everything was printed—so it was finite. Once you copied and mailed your press releases, printed and distributed posters/postcards/coupons/whatever, and bought any advertising you could afford, you were done until the next round. 

Now you're never, ever finished. You're not limited by how many reams of paper you can afford to print, or how many stamps you can buy. You can always find another calendar to submit your event to, another web phenom to capitalize on (facebook? myspace? hell, how do you use twitter?), more people to e-mail to...and you could spend the rest of your life creating and maintaining a website. 

Because you don't have to decide, it seems like it makes it more important to. Right now, Tantrum uses blogspot to maintain its website. We've bought a domain name, but until we have time to come up with content, UI, wireframes and design, we feed it blog updates. Which for now is fine, because our readership seems to consist primarily of...us. Not surprising. So how much effort should we put into it?

It's amazing how even big companies have a hard time figuring out an online strategy. Pure content or commerce sites have it eaaaaasy. But what if you don't sell anything or offer information—or if you do both? Tantrumkc.com exists primarily because we used to not have a schedule, so we needed somewhere to send people until we figured out when our next show would be. It's purpose hasn't changed dramatically; it's there if people want to know more about us. 

The discipline comes in figuring out, bit by bit, how deep people really want to go. As we create our site, we can figure out where visitors spend their time (thank you, google analytics). Do we have stalkers? Then the bios get richer. Are they just checking the show calendar? Great—everything else is bare bones. If we add video, do we get more hits? Terrific—every show means we upload a new clip. 

It's tempting to do everything. You could spend your whole life promoting your show online (especially if your house is messy and you don't feel like dealing with that pile of laundry just yet). Ideally, this marketing plan we've come up with will help us prioritize. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting a head start

Michael and I—the appointed marketing people in Tantrum—got together tonight to hammer out a plan for next year. We start monthly shows January 9 (eep!), so there's just a LITTLE BIT OF A SENSE OF URGENCY, MAYBE, to get the marketing effort underway. 

(Can I just say how cool this divide and conquer thing is? We have a list. Everybody has jobs. And they're doing them, because we're grown-ups. It kicks some ass.)

Because we are Comfortable With Structure, we:
  • figured out our target audience, 
  • broke our mission into a couple of high-level objectives, 
  • blew those out into some smaller goals, 
  • then mapped out strategies and tactics for each one. 
I feel like we got to some ideas beyond the stuff we've been doing, and am pretty sure when the other guys see the plan they'll have more to add. 

During the course of our meeting at the Town Tavern (which I highly recommend if you need beers and stromboli), we ran into a friend of Michael's who gave us her e-mail address so we could tell her about shows, and my next-door neighbor (a regular audience member) who bought us a round. 

So we actually marketed the show from within the marketing meeting. This seems like a good start.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Too much

I woke up in a weird mood today—moody and angsty and annoyed. Which, thanks to The Wonderful World Of Modern Anti-Depressants, is fairly rare these days despite wicked SAD.  (Pissy, yes—pensive, not so much.)

Ever want/need to do so much it's immobilizing? 

On the list now: 
  • Be better at my job—the real, I-9-requiring, mortgage paying one. Put more insight into strategies, more passion into the creative, more empathy and compassion into the management part. 
  • Figure out how to take Exit 16 to the next level. Upcoming challenge—the biggest alumni show ever. Last year had 30 people. How the hell am I going to make sure they all look good and have fun and entertain the audience this year? 
  • Ditto with the Corbin shows. We've got the audience now—and it's nearly effortless. Exit 16 is in. Fakers are in. We played our first show with a third troupe—Rubber Biscuits—last night, and it worked. So what makes this a destination show for improvisers who don't know the kids on stage?
  • Help turn Tantrum into the troupe to see in KC. Yeah, it's an audacious goal. But this cast is crazy-experienced. Michael and I are heading up the marketing effort (everyone will be involved, but we're on point to organize it)—how do we go beyond the usual to not only keep our base but build a new crowd?
  • Forget about improv for the majority of the time and get better at being a real person. This pops up every now and then. Honestly, I think this is the one that gives me the most trouble. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Second- (and third- and fourth- and fifth-) guessing the work

So as much as I can shoehorn improv theory into my corporate life, there are times my 9-5:45 world exists on a completely different plane.

Nowhere is that more true than in the Wonderful World of Focus Groups.

It doesn’t matter what we’re testing—products, services, marketing campaigns—the intent, from the very beginning, is to second guess. You create something, squeeze it through layers of internal approvals, polish it until you can see yourself through it, and throw it in front of 4-8 groups of 6-8 consumers, who go from friendly, well-meaning civilians to jaded, ersatz marketers in less than 2 hours.

I’m not saying it’s not helpful—focus groups are great for disaster-proofing. You don’t want to let consumers do the creative work (and not just for the sake of job security), but getting gut reactions from people who’ve never seen the work before can tell you what resonates and what absolutely, positively should never, ever be printed, produced or packaged.

Kinda makes you appreciate the whole improv = toilet paper thing.

No matter how brilliant—or how shitty—a show is, it’s over when it’s over. Yeah, you can peck it to death in notes, replay it in your head, or obsess over a video. But your creation—good, bad or mediocre—exists only in the moment. Once you’re finished, there’s no changing it.

In my grown-up life, I’ve only worked as a “creative”—first as a greeting card writer, then an editor, then a copywriter, editorial director and creative director. I don’t know what it’s like in other fields, but creative jobs require a whiplash-inducing combination of zeal and dispassion. You have to love an idea enough to champion it and be coldly analytical enough to kill it. Sometimes in the same meeting. Sometimes in the space of 5 minutes.

So it’s nice to have one place where an idea is gone before you have to make a decision about whether to love it or hate it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Last show of the year

Dang, that was fun. 

Michael was missing, which meant there was a Junior-sized hole in the funny. But Friday's Tantrum+The Union was a fun show—and holds up on video, which always feels like a good sign. Tom was a fantastic monologist, and Corey & Mo's set was terrific—smart, funny and disturbing in a very good way.

I tend to watch videos of the shows kind of a lot. Like, sometimes more than a few times in a row. Over several days. To the point where I can parrot entire scenes. That way I can obsessively pick apart and second-guess my performance. (If I can get that far. I got so annoyed at the way I was standing at the beginning of the last library show—hunched over, with my arms folded—that I haven't gotten past the first few minutes yet. See? Obsessive.) So, from this show:

The good: 
  • MUCH better posture.
  • I mostly fulfilled my goal of coming in and just reacting to my partner—except for a couple of quick adds, which went fine. 
  • In the first scene, I remember very specifically letting go of my original idea for the scene and following Megan, who had a better one.
  • I had some good edits—without (I hope) being overly aggressive.
  • I played cancer as "sexy," and my scene partners could tell I was playing cancer as "sexy." I see both of these as major achievements. 
The bad: 
  • All my awareness of the Viewpoints stuff—gone. Shape? Topography? Spacial relationships? Duration? Repetition? GONE. I need to practice it more.
  • I tell my kids to cheat out. And yet, I directly face my scene partner and turn my butt to half the audience.
  • I treat "um" like it's an actual word.  
  • Two very unconvincing make-out scenes with Josh. I mean, not even good pretending. It's just...I've never been able to fake a make-out scene with a girlfriend, fiancee or wife in attendance. 
  • If I'm saying, "It's just that..." it's a very clear sign that I'm not letting the scene advance.
  • Am I seriously that whiny? Good GRIEF.
  • Would it kill me to play a fucking character every once in a while?
Yeah, yeah, yeah...I pay attention to (and learn from) the other players, too. I just don't spend as much time pulling them into tiny pieces.

(Jill, if you're reading this: The "bad" is not self-flagellating. I had fun and am mostly OK with my performance. But it can use refining.)