If you stay in the improv community long enough, change will come. Sometimes it’s good (a new theatre opening, more shows featuring women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ community). And sometimes it’s not so good (a theatre closing, a beloved performer leaving, your favourite burrito place shutting down).
Last week Toronto was shaken by the news that Second City’s Longform Conservatory program is ending. That means fewer Longform classes, no more stage time for grad teams, and the loss of a home for a strong and growing improv community.
There’s no way to sugar coat it: this is tough for a city with few outlets for long form, especially compared to Chicago, New York, or L.A.
When stuff like this happens, it’s common to feel the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, finding a new burrito place. But having been through upheaval ourselves a few times, here’s what we’ve learned.
Whatever is happening in your community has already happened before. Institutions from Second City to iO to Annoyance to UCB have been threatened with eviction, lost their lease, teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, or worse.
Artistic Directors come and go, curriculums morph, and shows evolve. But as long as there’s a passionate group of people willing to play for the sheer joy of it, there will always be long-form nights.
“But how?” you might be asking if you’re in this situation. “Where do I start?”
Let’s begin with the basics: education. There are so many different approaches to long-form, you could spend years just learning them all. Ask your network for recommendations. Chances are there are some great long-form teachers who want to share their knowledge as much as you want to learn. (And could use the work!)
Don’t be afraid to look outside your home town for specialty classes. iO, Annoyance, UCB, Magnet and others have intensives year round from one to five weeks long. If you can’t get away, see if you can bring an instructor to you.
Isaac Kessler, Rob Chodos, and Mark Cotoia brought many A-listers to Toronto, exposing the community to a wealth of technique, forms, and viewpoints that enriched not only the students, but everyone they’ve since gone on to teach. Some of Cameron’s favourite exercises came from workshops he took with Jet Eveleth, Todd Stashwick, TJ and Dave, and David Razowsky.
If you don’t have an improv impresario in your town, maybe you’re that person. Ask your community who they’d like to learn from. Once you have a short list, contact them to discuss availability and rates. You’ll need to cover the instructor’s fee, plus transportation and accommodation. (Fortunately Airb’n’b has made the latter much easier.) And don’t forget to factor in renting a space for the class.
Calculate how many students you’ll need at what price to break even, and be sure to get payment in full up front. You don’t want to be left holding the bag because 20 people were interested and only four people showed up.
Finally, don’t limit yourself to improv. Acting, singing, clown, and mask are great ways to round out your theatre skills, so stretch yourself by trying something new.
Next, we’ll look at rehearsals and stage time, because you’ll need a place to perform. Before you book your parents’ basement, stay tuned for Part Two.
Photo © Kevin Thom