The State of HUGE – Spring 2012
I’ve been working on this post for so damn long, trying to get it done but there’s always something big we’re figuring out or something I’m just waiting to finish so I can include it, etc but here it is.
The short version is: Things are going very well at HUGE. But…
The trick with good news is always that we don’t want to make the same mistake I think we had fallen into last year when I/we may have people the impression that we were doing super and we didn’t need their donations so much any more.
There’s always a “but…” with things like this and as things are shaping up and going well I am trying to temper the excitement with some realism – that our street could be the next to get torn up, our air conditioner could break down, something unexpected and costly could be around the corner. We’re still a new company and we’ve had more than our share of good luck, so it may not always be natural for us to remind ourselves that things aren’t always going to go so well.
But as we make our way through this spring it’s been impossible not to make comparisons to last spring, especially last July when I posted a desperate plea for help – it should also be mentioned that help showed up in force and saved the day. For anyone just tuning in, we had just taken a couple big hits at the worst time and were at a very critical point in getting the theater on its feet. Jill showed me a screen shot from her computer that she took at the time – it showed our bank balance of $94 a week before rent was due for the next month – and just looking back on that time fills me with anxiety. It was difficult.
But we are still here – and lots of “this time last year” conversations that are very exciting and give a really great perspective, looking both forwards at the work ahead and backward at how far we’ve come.
End of 2011/Early 2012
At our One Year Anniversary Show we were able to announce that not only were we able to stay open but, in the space of one year, we were able to pay off all our institutional debt from the construction and opening. That’s incredible. We took on a very aggressive payment schedule with the loans we had and they came at the right time to get us through. Because we made the choice to run as all-volunteer and because our donors, members and supporters are SO aggressive, we were able to get the theater out of debt inside of Year One.
There are so many insane examples of the support we’ve received from the community, audience and performers – but a couple stand out in my mind as stories we should tell.
The Annual Silent Auction and Fundraiser :: Matt Donnelly joined us again for the annual show that is our biggest fundraiser, Justin Pierre was back to donate his time and talents and PUNY Animation Studio took part in bringing the night home. While a fundraising event by itself may not seem like a story, you have to remember that this is HUGE – I’ve done many a fundraiser on the crew side in my former life as a technician and I can tell you they’re usually very stodgy, proper affairs. Not us.
The show was a blast – Matt Donnelly may not live in Minneapolis but he is absolutely part of the HUGE family and I love any time we can have him here. Justin Pierre has always been so crazy supportive that he’s come to us with ideas of how he can throw his talent and music and his name behind what we’re doing – and that night he asked if he could get a few improvisers to sing the horn part of a song. PUNY partnered with us earlier in the year and asked at the last minute if they could throw money out in the crowd, rap video style.
Of course we said yes to both these things. Honestly, I didn’t understand either of the moments from their descriptions, but that’s not important. What was important was that Justin performed one of the most beautiful musical moments I have ever seen on any stage and PUNY went from “makin’ it rain” to “church collection plate” so fast it would make your neck snap – both were so totally well done and fun that it was shocking.
I found myself sitting in the tech booth, just watching these things unfold and thinking if we were anyone else, any other organization, this event would be serious and somber and here I was, at one of the most important moments in our calendar year, watching Shad and James throw money into the air and then collect it again, thanking everyone profusely for their generosity. I have said it several times before and it holds true at all times : Nobody has fun like we do.
Hangout auction :: The hangout auction is the other amazingly odd story in our growth right now.
Bree and Josh approached HUGE with this idea that I don’t think I even fully understood at the time – to auction social activities with improvisers to raise money for the theater. And it’s been a smashing success. We just saw the close of the 2nd Annual Hangout Auction and people bid on everything from performing with Jill to SkyZone with Lipkin and other. It was a brilliant way to address the fact that we are always approached by people that want to know how to help but may not have money to give.
There is ALWAYS something going on that people come up with to support HUGE theater – sometimes I don’t even know about them – but I think those two are really great examples of when people have blown us away and make great answers when things get hard and people ask why we do this crazy thing.
There is still a lot to cover – I will try to break it out by topic since it’s a lot to take in.
Education :: I will let Jill’s words sum it up since she is the heart of our Education program. Though I will add that I knew what we had to teach at HUGE was a major strength of ours, I didn’t realize how much interest there was until we had to add another room to the theater to accomodate all the students that enrolled!
In September 2010 we had 11 courageous students. Now we have 89, not counting the dozens that come to drop in class every Wednesday.
We’ve gotten to work with kids in some small summer programs here at the theater, plus workshops for SALT Alternative High School, Como Park Senior High School, the Arts-In Program at the MN State Fair, and Breck High School, for a total of 117 participants.
We’ve also taught private workshops for a variety of organizations: Intermedia Arts, University of MN, Americorps, Education Minnesota, Creative Community Leadership Institute, Majestic Shores (Camp Courage), and Twin Cities Public Allies. Feedback has been great, including: “You definitely got us working together in a new way and created a safe and positive environment for brainstorming. The day ended beautifully and we couldn’t have done it without you.” – Theresa Sweetland, Intermedia Arts.
Probably the most exciting part is we’ve gotten to use those tuition dollars to pay our teachers for their hard work, thus providing a little financial support for great local talent.
HUGE Shows and TCIF :: This is, of course, what we do. And we have more fun doing it than you know.
We’ve been able to work a little smarter as a company to better promote and produce improvised shows, and we’re still learning and developing better ways to do so – Finding or creating shows has never been an issue since there is a massive surplus of extremely talented improvisers, that’s why we exist. But over the last year we’ve gotten better at supporting them and are always looking at more ways to put more improv on stage more often.
Ticket price changes/Groupons – last year around this time we made the hard decision to raise ticket prices to keep the theater open and I’m happy to report that it was the right call and things have been looking better and better ever since. Raising prices is hard, and people will always tell you that you can lower prices but you can’t raise them – but we transitioned from all tickets being $5 to $10 weekend shows just fine – because there’s no disputing the quality.
We ran a successful Groupon that introduced a lot of new people to the theater – some of them refuse to believe that we’re really improvising. Because writing a new show every day seems simpler and easier… Anyway.
We also introduced the Final Friday of every month as a Pay What You Can Night and Rent Party in the same blog that begged for help last year. It may seem counter-intuitive to add a night every month when people can opt to pay nothing when we are struggling for every penny we can get – but running a theater will certainly give you a unique empathy for people that might not have $10 to afford something fun at the end of the week, as well as an appreciation for how much difference being able to go have a night of laughs can really make if that’s the position you’re in. Everyone should be able to enjoy what we do, otherwise we are doing something wrong.
Tonight just happens to be PWYC Night – you should join us, because there’s no place better.
The Twin Cities Improv Festival just ended this past Sunday and it is the biggest weekend of our year – groups came in from all over the country and local talent showed up with their A games and crushed it. Old friends like pH, TRIKE, SCRAM and Pimprov returned and we were able to bring in Susan Messing and Christina Gausas, Aphasia and Matt Naas (and more) to introduce them to this place we call home. My brain has not yet recovered from the levels of dopamine that you risk being that happy and laughing that hard for that long.
the Improv A Go Go turned 10 this May!
That is the show that started it all for me. There is a clear and direct path from the IAGG to the opening of HUGE theater as something we have always done to support improvisers and introduce audiences to what we love to do. We celebrated 10 years of Sunday madness by announcing that the IAGG will be Pay What You Can when we return from the Fringe Festival break – August 19th will be the first IAGG in a long time you can show up with whatever you can shake out of your couch cushions and take in some of the best improv you will find anywhere. It’s been too long.
Fringe Festival – we are proud and happy to be a Fringe venue again, which means from July 28th-August 15th they will have our building and we will get our annual 3 days of sleep. Fringe has been amazing to us and always fun to work with as an organization, just like we try to be.
If you’re worried about your improv fix, don’t. There is a ton of improv in the Fringe this year at various venues!
Memberships – Memberships have been doing alright BUT… we always need to stress how important they actually are and we will never be able to stop asking people to become Members. The increase in membership is what allows us to do things like make the IAGG tickets PWYC all the time, as Members provide the stable contributions that those ticket sales do not. If you aren’t a member, you should be. This isn’t a call for memberships by an organization that also has funding to fall back on, this is the place where your $20 per month makes a tangible difference.
Grants/Bassprov – We are always applying for grants. We get few of them. But the one we did get is bringing BASSPROV back to the Twin Cities this fall! Trust me, we will be making announcements and posting details as they roll in. If you don’t know why you should be excited about BASSPROV, come to a show and ask anyone that improvises. It’s going to be great.
Volunteers – Every time you walk into HUGE you will encounter our fantastic volunteers. That’s because everyone here is one. Carolyn took up the thankless role of doing scheduling and keeps our counter staffed at all times. Matt Pitner and Joe Rapp manage, train and schedule our bar staff. Molly Chase is our amazing volunteer Managing Director. The volunteers show up with energy and love for what we do and that same, slightly crazy, willingness to watch the shows on a little TV so they can help you go inside and watch the shows in comfort. Thank them when you’re here – I thank them as often as I can but I think it’s better coming from everyone.
The big news coming up this year is that we are finally rolling out payroll!
Starting after the Fringe Festival, for the first time, HUGE will be paying staff for their time and talents. Not much. But it’s long overdue - We can’t ever properly repay everyone for all the countless hours and efforts that got us here – but this weird, wonderful playground we all get to share is still here against all odds, predictions and common sense. We are no longer in the place of just trying to hang on my our fingertips to keep this place open one more month at a time. We’re building something together that is going to be around for a long time.
Meeting announcement :: August 23rd, 5pm-7:30
So you’ve heard far too much from me – this is one of the things I’m most excited about. We are having another public HUGE Happy Hour Meeting of the Board to give financial updates, news and plans for the upcoming months.
But we also want to hear from everyone else! If we are asking people to give and trust us with their money and efforts, we want people to be able to ask any questions they have, challenge us on ideas, contribute to the discussions on future plans and also get to see the space, have a beer with us and enjoy a Happy Hour at HUGE.
Mark your calendars. Skip out of work early.
I will keep saying it as long as I am lucky enough to be in this position – for what we have and are able to do, for everyone that brings this place to life, for all your help making this crazy dream a reality – my words seem so small but my thanks are so big.
I am the luckiest clown in the world.
Executive Director and humble servant.