Posts tagged Improv Art

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Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

There are some fascinating and important discussions going on on the internets right now. One that’s very close to our hearts is artists getting paid what they’re worth.

A few years ago, I was talking with someone* in the improv community who expressed shock, even disdain for how much Second City paid its teachers. Not because it paid them too little, mind you, but because it paid them well.

I tried to process what I’d just heard. “Why the fuck wouldn’t they pay their instructors a decent wage?” I thought.

Was improv really held in such low regard – even by improvisers – that it wasn’t worth paying for?

After all, we’re talking about something that makes people feel good, helps them both professionally and personally, and dramatically changes lives. If improv were a pill, Big Pharma would be making billions off of it.

The line between art and commerce can be a murky one, as this open letter to Oprah reveals. In it, the author (a hula hoop performer named Revolva) talks about this whole notion of working for free, or very little.

I’m a big fan of “do what you love, and the money will follow.” And if you write or act or sing or dance or paint because it gives you joy, great. It’s when others profit from what you’re doing and don’t give something back that things can turn sour.

There’s a big difference between inviting friends to perform in your show at The Bishop & Belcher (now with hot and cold buffet!), and asking total strangers to do what they do professionally, for free.

A couple of years ago Standards & Practices did a St Patrick’s Day show. They wanted some Irish step dancers to open for them, so they called up a dance school, who suggested two of their students. Like most improvisers, S&P don’t have deep pockets, but they pooled together and offered the dancers $100 for five minutes.

The night of the show, the girls danced their hearts out. One of them played the fiddle at the same time, like something out of Riverdance. It was electrifying, the audience was thrilled, the dancers were happy, and S&P felt it was money well spent.

And that’s something I’ve noticed: it’s often struggling artists who make sure other artists get paid – perhaps because they’ve done so many “freebies” themselves.

They’re the ones who put $20 in the Pay What You Can jar. Or who donate to festivals and fundraisers, even if they get nothing in return. Not because they’re rich, but because they know that art makes us all richer.

Need a nice poster for your show? Throw your improviser buddy who does graphic design a few bucks.

Want to mix things up by hiring a stand-up to host? Ask them what their rate is; don’t just assume they’ll do it for beer.

It’s about respect for each other, and each other’s skills.

That’s why I’m hoping Revolva’s post won’t just get shared, but will shake things up, and help give more talented artists their due.

In the meantime – aside from teaching – doing improv will probably never pay a king’s ransom. And as long as no one’s taking advantage of performers, that’s fine. We do it because we love it, because it’s a privilege, and because it’s one of the few places you can fail in public, and laugh about it.

That, to me, is priceless.

*(I should point out that person is the only one who’s expressed such a view to me. It was their stature and tenure in the community that gave me pause.)

We love seeing the non-improv side of improvisers, be it art, dance, filmmaking, baking, tuning a bike, or knowing how to fix your Commodore 64. And when we saw Lara Johnson’s paintings, we were blown away by her talent.

“Movies were such an integral part to my childhood,” says Lara. “Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, Star Wars…I mean the list goes on. They shaped my sense of humour and are such a huge part of who I am. I love honouring them! My parents should have probably encouraged more books, but hey, you get what you get. No complaints here!

I am also just so inspired by how much my current work is touching people and getting them excited about art. There’s something about it that makes me feel more connected to who I am, what I love and the people around me, like its something/someone we all share love for, and have amazing memories of. We all know the story. It’s such a cool feeling.”

You can see more of Lara’s work at Fan Expo, Table A236, August 28 – 31 at the Metro Convention Centre, or visit her website at to stay updated on new works. There are prints available. Lara also does commissions.

Artwork © Lara Johnson

Artwork © Lara Johnson

Lara has been improvising for six years, studying at Second City and Bad Dog Toronto, UCBT New York, Artistic New Directions, The Stella Adler Studio, as well as Annoyance and iO in Chicago, and The School with Paola Coletto and Jet Eveelth and The Black Box Theatre.

You can see her perform at SoCap’s 200% Vodka show Monday nights with her aptly-named team, A Team Of Improv. She also co-produces and performs War Porsche with Hayley Kellett, now in its third year.

Images © David Kantrowitz

I’m always amazed at the depth of talent in improvisers, whether it’s guitar-playing, graphic design, filmmaking, or just Battlestar Galactica board game skills.

These graphics are the work of David Kantrowitz, an artist, illustrator, and improviser with sketch comedy group The Younger Statesmen based in L.A. You can see more of this series here.