[We asked some local experts for their top tips on promoting improv shows. This week's tips are from Hannah Kuhlmann, who has worked and performed with various Twin Cities improv troupes since 2003. She teaches and directs at Huge Theater, and can currently be seen in Creature Feature and Show X and with the other two members of Splendid Things, Saturday nights at 9:30 pm through the end of October. Hannah is also the mastermind behind many of our most exciting HUGE Theater postcard designs.]
Here are my top ten tips for promoting your improv. Do this stuff, do it early and do it right… so you can spend your time improvising instead.
1. Printed Promotional Materials. Get some nice, professionally printed postcards and/or posters for your show. Photocopies and desktop print outs work great when you’re getting the word out about your giant multi-family yard sale. But if you expect people to pay money to see your improv show, you need to make it look like something worth paying money for. gotprint.com is my favorite place to order postcards.
2. Aesthetic and Branding. Have a visual style that illustrates how awesome your group or show is. Make your promotional materials fun to look at and hold. If you’re not design savvy, make friends with someone who is. Create a visual identity for your group or an aesthetic for your show (it doesn’t have to be permanent, you can always switch it up over time). Give your audience something to be fans of beyond your performance. The Mustache Rangers do a fantastic job of this.
3. Press Releases. Improv doesn’t get a lot of press coverage on its own. If you want any chance at all of arts reviewers attending your show, you need to send out a press release or press packet with a photo and links to your show or group’s website. There are tons of online resources to help you write your press release. If your show runs for longer than a month, getting a press release out is a must. It’s just a basic step you need to take if you want your work to be viewed by local arts writers as professional and worth writing about.
4. Local Arts Calendars. This is one of the most important things you can do, and also one of the most frustrating things about publicizing shows. After you submit your show information to an arts & entertainment event calendar, it will take at least three weeks for that information to actually show up in print. When it shows up in print, it will be incorrect in some small but significant way. It just will. There are either gremlins or a curse or something that prevents 80% of Twin Cities calendar listings from being printed correctly. So double check the papers you submit to and make sure that your audience is getting the correct information.
5. Social Media. Nobody likes spam. Everybody likes interesting content.
6. Web Presence. Facebook is not enough of a web presence for a long term, professional improv group, especially one that produces content like videos and podcasts. If you have a website — even if it’s just a free wordpress blog — you’ve got a place to organize your artistic output and create some of that “beyond the performance” stuff that I mentioned in #2.
7. Time, Place and Price. Don’t do your show on Tuesdays at 5 in downtown St. Paul. Give your audience time to eat dinner before the show, choose a venue that’s popular, has convenient parking and has a chance of drawing extra audience members from random foot traffic and nearby businesses. A liquor license is also a big plus. Hey… Huge Theater meets all those criteria. Interesting. Make sure your ticket price reflects the type of show you’re doing — Fifteen bucks is too much to charge for an improv show. Two bucks is not enough. Your ticket price can send a powerful signal about the quality of your show, so be sure not to overcharge or undervalue.
8. Think About Your Ideal Crowd. We all know that the character of your audience can sometimes be more important than their number. How do you lure in the people who share your sense of humor, who want to spend their time and money on your comedy and will laugh at all the right moments? This is always a challenge for any group, and until you perform in one time slot for a while and develop a following, it can seem almost impossible to create a fan base who understands you. One trick is to make sure that your show is listed in the Comedy section of events calendars, rather than the Theater section. Theater audiences often come prepared to watch, think and applaud. You want a comedy audience who shows up ready to laugh.
9. Be An Improviser! And A Professional. Improvisers are spontaneous and creative. Duh. But many of us are attracted to improv because we don’t like to plan, prepare or organize. For some people it takes a lot of discipline to effectively promote and produce a show. So honestly evaluate what kind of a worker you are, and then find a good balance between punk and pro. You’re funny, you’re weird, you’re a ball of pure creative comic genius. Yay! But you still need to use spellcheck and meet deadlines. By the same token, remember that you’re publicizing an incredibly weird, cool comedic art form. Don’t let your writing become overly formal or stilted in an effort to be a perfect professional.
10. Do Good Improv. Make sure you’re producing something you’re proud to promote. It’s way easier to promote a show if you’re actually excited to share it, and it’s actually something people will enjoy watching. You could do everything right in terms of promotion, but if the show itself is shitty, people still aren’t going to come see it more than once. Take classes, get a coach, ask your friends for feedback… do whatever you need to do to so that you’re always learning and growing as an improviser. If your show is genuinely good, you’ll get some fans and they’ll bring their friends, and they’ll come back again and again to see you be hilarious. And isn’t that the whole point?