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Posts from the Producing Category

In this interconnected age it’s easy to believe anyone can find you. Like that creep from summer camp who keeps sending you friend requests.

But products are different. Just because you have a great product doesn’t mean people know to look for it. And in the case of improv, they may not even know what your product is.

With few exceptions, improvisation just don’t attract many outsiders (i.e. new customers). When the host says “Clap if you’ve never seen improv!” and someone claps, you can feel the amazement ripple through the crowd.

People aren’t coming out in droves to see improv. So what are they coming out for? Lots of things, it turns it out. Here are some tried-and-true ways to create a show that packs the house.

Have a party!

People like to party. Party Hard, Hard Party even sounds like an invitation. If you mention beer in the name, like BeerProv, they’ll get what the show is about. BeerProv is so successful, they’ve expanded beyond Canada to the U.S.

Non-improviser: Hey, you wanna go to this show? It’s a comedy show with beer.

Steal an existing following.

People like TV shows and board games and comic books. Shows like Holodeck Follies, Improv Against Humanity, and Riverdale: Improvised come with a built-in following. Facebook groups, online forums, festivals and conventions can help spread the word. Just don’t go there to spam them; interact with other fans. If they’ve been to your show and liked it, nothing beats word of mouth advertising.

Non-improviser: Hey, you know that TV show we like? You wanna go see a comedy show based on that? I hope they have beer.

Steal an existing style.

The Improvised Shakespeare Company made improv accessible to fans of the Bard, and vice versa. Anthony Atamnuik and Neil Casey’s Two-Man Movie uses film techniques to tell an improvised story. And Edmonton’s Die-Nasty is an improvised soap opera with recurring characters and a continuing storyline. (They even do a 50-hour soap-a-thon where performers go without sleep. Props.)

Show off your other talents.

Build a show around your other skills, like the singing sensations of Mansical and Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. There are improv shows based around puppetry, poetry, and true stories, to name a few.

Have a cause.

Laugh in the Face of Fear is a show where anxious people can enjoy a night of anxiety-themed comedy in a safe environment. They get a chance to perform, if they choose, and profits go to mental health charities. You could build a show to support your own favourite cause, charity, or non-profit.

Make it a competition.

Theatresports, Catch23 and Rap Battles use elimination as a hook to build an audience and keep ’em coming back. The audience tends to skew towards improvisers, but long-term shows like Cage Match and The World’s Biggest Improv Tournament round up family and friends to rig the votes…uh, cheer on the victors.

Have a POV.

People love to flout taboos, and Filthy: The No-Rules Improv Cabaret pushes boundaries to the limit. Other improv shows with attitude centre around feminism, politics, or specific cultures.

Make the audience the star.

Try involving your audience vs just entertaining them. Blast From The Past, Blind Date, Matt& and Neil +1 use audience members as an integral part of the show.

Non-improviser: You wanna go to a show where it’s about us? Hell yeah, I love us. Beer!

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You can probably think of more categories to explore. Whatever your premise, put in the time behind the scenes and make your show something the press could write about.

Two more thoughts:

Find a new space.

You may need to go beyond your community to get noticed. Think outside the theatre for ways to expose new people to your message; people who wouldn’t normally set foot in a theatre.

Look for potential partners or or sponsors. Let’s say you have a coffee-themed show. You could promote a local cafe on posters and during the show, serve their product, put up signage in their establishment, or even perform in their space.

When advertisers talk about “white space,” it means identifying potential gaps in existing markets. You can define a new white space in improv by taking some of the steps above.

A word about form.

Formats are fun, no question. You might get excited about doing a Deconstruction or Harold, but the truth is most audiences don’t care. (And unless they’re improvisers themselves, won’t have a clue what that means.) The form you do is pretty much window dressing to them. All anyone really cares at the end of the night is, did they enjoy it?

Don’t have a form, have a “thing.” If you don’t have a thing, you probably won’t have a following. When you have a thing you’ll not only find your audience, over time they’ll find you.

The audience is listening • Photo © Simon McCamus

You’ve trained. You’ve rehearsed. You’re ready to rock’n’roll. But where?

In the past, improvisers performed where they studied, or looked for existing shows to be part of. Now a new breed of players is getting creative in the ongoing pursuit of stage time.

Pop-Up Improv

Image © Countdown Theater

Image © Countdown Theater

Retailers have pop-up spaces, why not improvisers? The idea “popped” in my head last year. But while I was still musing, Kelly Buttermore was making it happen. Countdown Theater is a pop-up improv space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Could it be any cooler?) It opened February 1st this year, and closes April 1st. In her words, it’s “an ephemeral space for an ephemeral art form.”

Do what Kelly did: keep your eyes peeled for potential locations, then get in touch with the landlord or lease holder. Invite other teams, and maybe even collaborate with other artists in your community (musicians, dancers, painters, etc.) It’s a buzz-worthy way to showcase talent, and who knows where it could lead? To learn more about Countdown, click here.

Podcast Your Passion

There’s a podcast for practically everything nowadays, from modern love to mental health to mostly made-up movies. Most podcasts are two people and a mic in a basement, but why not do it in front of an audience? Here are three podcasts that do just that.

Improv Nerd is a show, a podcast, and an improv master class rolled into one. Host Jimmy Carrane has interviewed and performed with the cream of comedy, including Key & Peele, Scott Adsit, Rachel Dratch, TJ & Dave, and The Improvised Shakespeare Company to name a few of his over 200 guests. If you can’t make it out to a live show, you can listen on iTunes.

Comedy Bang! Bang! The show that launched a thousand catchphrases, Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang! has been making fans laugh with improvised nonsense since 2009. While it started on Earwolf and later aired on TV for five seasons, the core players have also performed live. Last year they toured North America, as well as four stops Down Under. Regular cast members include Paul F. Tompkins, Lauren Lapkus, Jason Mantzoukas, Andy Daly, Ben Schwartz, Matt Besser, and Bob Odenkirk. All joking a salad, we heart CBB. 

Illusionoid Nug Nahrgang, Paul Bates, and Lee Smart have been bringing their brand of sci-fi comedy to audiences for almost a decade. Past guests include Colin Mochrie, Sean Cullen, The Templeton Philharmonic, and Scott Thompson.

According to Nug, “The show is like Twlight Zone or Tales from the Crypt. There’s a host, and it’s this man from the future, the last surviving human, and he’s sending these stories backwards in time in hopes that we’ll prevent these horrible things from happening.” (We can think of something we’d like to prevent, Nug…)

They’ve just signed with Antica Productions, the folks behind Gord Downie’s Secret Path. If you can’t catch the show in person, subscribe here.

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Find A Sponsor, Create A Form

If you really want to think outside The Harold, go beyond improv and appeal to a whole new audience. Abra Cadaver met in the Second City Longform Conservatory program, and have gone on to perform for packed houses across the city. We asked them about their signature show, Bunz Live.

P&C: Your show is called Bunz Live. How did you come up with it?

Molly: Cameron Algie was our coach at the time–

P&C: Terrible.

Molly: (laughs) He was really encouraging us because we’re a very theatrical group, to kind of use our bodies because we’re all really comfortable “movers,” to try and find a form that would encapsulate that. And there’s also this burgeoning community called Bunz. It’s an online platform where you can trade items for anything. Like, if I have an extra shoe, I can trade it for some ramen noodles.

Robbie: Of all of the examples, that was not the most amazingly descriptive example, but…

Antonis: Let’s say this: someone can teach you piano, but they won’t ask for money, they’ll ask for a sofa because they really need a sofa.

P&C: That’s one of the things about Bunz, no cash is allowed, is that right?

Molly: Yes, exactly. No cash, only item for item.

Robbie: Side note: it ends up being a lot of people asking for tokens and beer, and subway tokens are kinda funny because it looks like money, people treat it like money, so why don’t they just give each other money?

Antonis: Plus it has an exact monetary value.

Robbie: Maybe they haven’t heard of this thing called “money.”

Dana: Another interesting thing in coming up with the form was that Cam kind of wanted to expand us to the idea of thinking outside of just the Conservatory. Thinking like, OK, if you’re gonna take the time and you want to explore something and make a show, really think about, “What’s something that hasn’t been explored in Toronto?”

That was something we weren’t necessarily thinking of when we were making our form. It [went from], “What hasn’t been done [in long form]?” to “What’s happening right now that hasn’t really been explored, that might have an audience?” And there’s a huge Bunz community.

Molly: I feel like we got lucky. In Toronto there was this online start-up company, and we were like this online improv company (laughs) no, live improv company. It just kind of worked; we were both coming up at the same time and a lot of people we knew were also involved in that community. And it was an audience outside of the comedy audience.

P&C: That’s what’s so interesting. As you know, improvisers often end up performing for other improvisers. We’re always asking “How do we get people from outside the community to come and see a show?” Especially when the players are at a certain level, performing to a handful of people, you think, “Aaaaahhh, if only more people could see this!” Get more people into the cult. (laughs) And I find the vibe in the room can be really great when there’s new people.

Molly: Absolutely. We’re just starting out, but even connecting with the Bunz team at their headquarters was so great to say, “We’ve got an idea, we’re trying something new. You’ve got an idea, you’re trying something new.” It’s awesome.

P&C: So how did you approach Bunz?

Molly: I’ve played in bands in Toronto, and I had played with Emily who started Bunz in a new year’s show at the Silver Dollar. She played in a band called Milk Lines. I was friends with her on Facebook and then noticed that she was starting Bunz. So when we started playing with the idea, I got in touch with her and it kinda went from there.

P&C: You said you’re a theatrical group. What do you mean by that?

Antonis: We all have differing backgrounds, in theatre, in film, in dance. I personally started in music theatre, I have a lot of dance background, and I try to bring that out in my comedy. I think that’s something about Abra Cadaver and Bunz Live that is really fun, is that we all have diverse talents and we all work hard to bring those talents out.

Dana: It’s all about becoming those objects or those people, so when we all started doing it together it was so wonderful to see other people jump into the form and really do it.

P&C: You’re a very physical team compared to “stand and talk” kind of shows that are more common. As an audience member it’s very cool to watch.

Robbie: All but one person have some kind of theatre background.

Antonis: That’s Jason, and he works at a museum, so that’s equally as fascinating, so I feel like his frame of reference is huge.

Robbie: And we need that difference. Also Jason’s a physical actor.

Antonis: He’s a very, very funny guy.

Molly: He’ll be an actor when we’re finished with him. (laughs)

Catch Abra Cadaver (Kate Fenton, Molly Flood, Robbie Grant, Ross Hammond, Leanne Miller, Dana Puddicombe, Samara Stern, Jason Voulgaris, and Antonis Varkaris) at Bunz Live, SoCap Theatre, Monday, March 13. Admission: $5, or bring an item to trade and enjoy the show for free! 

Photo © People & Chairs

Photo © People & Chairs

Click here for Parts One and Two of this series.

There’s a scene in 500 Days of Summer where we see a split screen of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character’s expectations, versus reality.

That’s how I felt the first year I produced The October 21st Greater Toronto Improv Festival.

For those who don’t know, the O21GTIF is a one-day festival. In other words, a show. A regular show. Except in my mind.

You wanna talk expectations?

I shit you not, I pictured (and believed) I’d need a velvet rope to control the crowds in the alley fighting to get in. I emailed the teams involved to warn them that they probably wouldn’t get seats to see the other teams perform. AND, and this is true, I fought with people at the venue because I wanted to knock down a wall to make more room for seating. I was, as they say, batshit crazy.

The show was stacked with amazing performers and more than anything I wanted the world to see them. I wanted the whole goddamn world to be there and experience the joy and love of improv and spread that love around the world.

The night of the event about 25 people showed up.

I was devastated. Where were the crowds? Where were the news cameras? Where were the ghosts of my grandparents proudly doing a slow clap? Where was the whole world?

To make matters worse, my team was the opening act. I struggled through the set with a broken heart and mind, handed over hosting duties to my teammate Isaac, and collapsed onto one of the many empty seats in the audience. Defeated.

Two things I learned that night:

1) It’s much worse in your mind than it actually is.

I remember going to the bar after, and the other performers were laughing and having a good time and talking about how fun the show was. Outside my devastated mind, a great show had happened. Wish I’d been there (mentally) to see it.

2) Know the difference between expectations and reality.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, and dreaming big. Just know that desperately wanting something to happen doesn’t guarantee it’ll happen. 500 “going” on facebook doesn’t quite translate to 500 actually showing up. Or 50.

This last year I took my own advice and went in with no expectations, and fucking loved it. So much fun. I was more relaxed and open to whatever, and enjoyed the shit out of it. And not surprisingly, when you’re not smacking of desperation for people to show up, more people show up.

I recommend everyone try and produce their own show at least once. You’ll grow as a performer, and as a person. And I guarantee you’ll appreciate producers a hell of a lot more.