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Dane Stauffer Series – part two!

Sundays: Aug 10th, 17th and 24th
2-5 pm, $100 ( *Possible discount, see below….)
To Register click here!

The first Dane Stauffer Series was so beloved, his students begged for a continuation! This class is a special 3-week session with Dane Stauffer – legendary Brave New Workshop/Children’s Theater/Tisch School/Disney Magic alum. Rediscover the art of PLAY through imaginative stagecraft, learning to make choices that are more than just verbal. In this course you will learn to transform the stage into a fully realized world through group agreement, physical embodiment” and more than a few laughs. Learn how writers of stage and screen use “beats” and how knowing this dramatic structure will clarify the scene’s “Emotional Hook,” and sharpen your scene work. Through mastering beats and stagecraft, you will connect your inside improv game to your spontaneous actions, learning to work your scenes like an athlete and the stage like a pro.

Prerequisite: Must have Level 3, 301 or Advanced experience at any of the improv theaters.

Opportunity from NBC Universal

I was contacted by NBC Universal regarding a search for sketch comedy talent.  If this is something you are interested in, please put yourself on tape and get in contact with them.  Info below:

We’re doing a nationwide search for sketch performers who write and perform their own characters, and we’d love it if you could share this request with your sketch performers and have them put themselves on tape for us. We’ll be visiting various cities around the country in the coming weeks, and will use these tapes to decide who we can meet in person – since time will obviously be limited.
What we’d like:

A short intro of yourself, where you’re from, where you’ve performed sketch, what general types of characters you do, etc. And then you can give us 3 or 4 characters – just a taste (a minute or so) of each. The whole thing should be 5 minutes or less.

Ideally, we would appreciate audition tapes asap this week.
Please let us know if you have any questions – and thanks!
Downloadable files (along with a photo & resume) should be sent to the following address:

alternative.casting@nbcuni.com

Go nuts!

-Nels

Welcome to the Twin Cities Improv Community!

Welcome to the Twin Cities Improv Community

Are you an improviser new to Minneapolis or St. Paul? Wondering about the local improv scene? You’re in luck – you’ve arrived at a place filled with opportunity and creativity. We’re glad you’re here.

 

How can I get involved in the Twin Cities improv community?

Sign up for a class, drop-in, or workshop - There are several wonderful improv theaters/schools in the Twin Cities area. Check out the full list of theaters below. Some schools require students to start with at 101, others don’t. Also, workshops are offered fairly frequently around town, and there’s a drop-in class every Wednesday from 5-7 PM. The drop-in classes are taught at HUGE Theater by a different local improviser each week; $10 suggested donation.

If you have an improv topic on which you’d like to teach a drop-in class or workshop, email Jill Bernard at HUGE.

Get connected – Join the Twin Cities Comedy Network group on Facebook. This is the online hub for the Twin Cities improv community, and a great place to find out about classes, auditions, and performances, as well as discuss improv and get to know your fellow players. You may also be interested in the Facebook groups for Tiny Funny Women Fest, Twin Cities Theater People, and the pages for the various local theaters. Also, subscribe to the Twin Cities Improv Google Group. It’s less used than the Facebook group, but its posts often have much more to do with auditions and other performance opportunities.

Audition – There are auditions for various shows throughout the year. Most are announced via Facebook (see Facebook recommended pages, above) and/or via the Google group. Auditions also often attract other new-to-town improvisers, so a double bonus for meeting people who are also navigating their way through the scene.

Volunteer or intern at a theater as box office or an usher. Contact individual theaters for details.

Go to shows – This probably sounds really obvious. But most people we talk to found that was one of the best ways they got to know people and started to feel like part of the community. Students at HUGE Theater and the Brave New Workshop Student Union get into most shows at their respective theaters for free during their weeks of class, and other theaters may have similar offers.

It might be helpful to know that local improvisers are typically glad to chat during intermission and/or after the show. In Minnesota, people tend to gravitate to people they know, and assume if you’re by yourself you want to be left alone. People want you to feel welcome – it’s just a fact of Minnesota life that you’ll probably have to make the first offer at conversation, and then of course be conscientious about not dominating anyone’s time. That said, people commonly hang out after shows and are very excited to welcome new improvisers.

 

Space Jam at HUGE Theater - Your chance to jam on the HUGE stage everyThursday night. Sign-up starts at 8PM, show starts at 9PM. Space Jam features a special guest and an open, supportive environment. There are literally no requirements for getting on stage (other than being one of the first 28 to sign-up) – everyone is welcome regardless of experience level. It’s free to play, but costs $5 if you just watch the show.

Troika - Troika is an annual tournament featuring improvisors drawn at random and split into trios of improvisors who have never performed together before. Knowing less people increases your odds! Follow the Troika Mpls Facebook page to stay up to date.

 

Friday Night Stage Match – Open to students and alumni of the Brave New Workshop Student Union’s Performance Track classes, with a cast chosen by lottery. At every show (Friday nights at 8PM, $5), the cast is divided up into different teams, performing together for the first time. It is a wonderful way to meet and play with lots of improvisers, including many long-time Twin Cities performers. There is a coaching fee paid by all performers in Stage Match, to cover costs.

 

Lunchprov - A lunch-time jam held weekly either in Downtown Minneapolis or at HUGE Theater in Uptown. Follow the Lunchprov Facebook page for details.

Listen to Podcasts –  “Next at Bat” is a podcast dedicated to the Twin Cities improv scene. There are a number of other podcasts by local improvisers, sketch writers, and storytellers.

 

Play Mojo Kickball - The unofficial sport of the Twin Cities improv community. Invented by local improviser Eric Heiberg, it is a mix of kickball, dodgeball, and tag. It is the perfect sport for people who hate sports, and newcomers are always welcome. Not actually improv, but a great way to meet some fellow improvisers. In the spring and summer months, check the Mojokickball Minneapolis Facebook page for upcoming games. http://mojokickball.com

 

I’ve formed an improv group (or am a solo improviser or moved here with my group). What do I do to find a place to perform?

 

Talk to producers of independently produced shows, such as Monsters of Improv, a monthly show at Honey. To figure out who to talk to and what’s going on, try the Twin Cities Comedy Network Facebook page.

Produce and market your own show.  Bryant Lake Bowl and Honey in Minneapolis are popular venues, as is Bedlam Theatre in St. Paul. Improvisers have also had luck branching out to theaters, bars and cafes around the cities.

Enter the Improv A Go Go lottery. Improv A Go Go is a show that features 4 groups every Sunday. The groups are selected by random lottery and receive a three-week/three-show run at HUGE. Drawings are quarterly. To enter, go to this page and scroll waaay down: http://www.hugetheater.com/shows/improv-a-go-go.

 

Consider submitting your show to HUGE, via this form: http://www.hugetheater.com/propose-a-show

 

Do a 5-minute performance at BALLS Cabaret. Every Saturday at midnight, there’s a sign up/open show that offers 5-minute slots to artists of all kinds. There’s really nothing quite like this as an experience. There are some requirements before you get stage time, such as you need to attend the show the week before you sign up. There are a variety of acts. At the Southern Theater in Minneapolis (1420 S Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55454)  https://www.facebook.com/ballscabaret

 

What are the theaters in town? Where can I see shows and take classes?

In the Twin Cities, there’s generally a cooperative and mutually supportive environment where people aren’t particularly territorial about who studies or performs where. Improvisers tend to perform and/or study at multiple theaters.

In alphabetical order, here’s list of local improv theaters:

Brave New Workshop Comedy Theater (Downtown Minneapolis)

& BNW Student Union (Uptown Minneapolis)

http://www.bravenewworkshop.com

Performance: Original social and political satire, sketch and improvisation

Classes: Sketch Writing, Improvisation (Every Day and Performance Tracks), Youth/Teen Improvisation and Sketch, Musical Improvisation, Intensives, Teacher Training, Community and Outreach Programs

Auditions: Every few months for Performance Track classes, August for Teen Program and by invitation for main stage paid positions

House Teams: Yes. House Teams for BNW Student Union by audition and invitation. Teams perform primarily at BNW Student Union.

About this theater: The Brave New Workshop is a national institution. It is the longest running satirical sketch comedy theatre in the U.S. established more than 55 years ago by Dudley Riggs. The Student Union and the Theatre have different locations, so double check your directions!

- The Brave New Workshop (BNW) Comedy Theatre is located in a beautiful building downtown. There they run a world-class sketch show every week of the year. The sketch shows are followed by improv performed by the cast.

- BNW Student Union (BNW SU) is in the former main stage location. The building is historic and charming and probably haunted maybe. Weekend and weekday shows include a mix of sketch and improv.

 

ComedySportz Twin Cities

http://www.comedysportztc.com

Performance: Short-form competitive improv

Offers classes: Adult classes in improv and also classes for business people. For teens, there is a High School League.

Auditions: Once a year. Usually winter. Auditions consist of an initial audition, a callback, and then a stint in the “minor league” which is essentially a free short-form intensive followed by a showcase performance, after which some performers are selected to join the mainstage cast.

Cast: There is a mainstage cast of about 30 people, as well as a rec league where people sign up to play for fun. Contact info@comedysportztc.com for information.

About this theater: ComedySportz Twin Cities is part of the ComedySportz network of theaters around the country. It has been open for more than 20 years and holds two national championship titles.

 

HUGE Improv Theater

http://www.hugetheater.com

Performance: Scenic/long-form improv

Offers classes in: Scenic/long-form improv. Classes are primarily for adults and are structured by topic — Basics, Characters, Scenework, Forms, Advanced Forms, Diagnostics, etc. Students are invited to self-determine which class(es) they should take and in what order. Teen classes for ages 13-17 are also offered. Payment plans are available.

House Teams: None.

Auditions: HUGE casts for shows that are produced in-house. Of note is Throwback Night, which auditions annually — usually in the fall. Three teams work on a form from the long-form improv canon, e.g. Harold, Close Quarters, Deconstruction, and later work with the artistic director to create their own form.

About this theater: HUGE is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the improv community. The theater has shows 6 nights a week, and presents about 550-600 shows a year. HUGE hosts the Twin Cities Improv Festival annually (end of June).

 

Stevie Ray’s

http://www.stevierays.org

Performance: Short-form improv. Specializes in fast-paced, funny shows.  Founded in 1989 by Stevie Ray, an comedian, author, public speaker, beekeeper, and black belt.

Offers classes in: Adult and youth improv classes. Check the site for scholarship info.

Auditions: Stevie says, “The best way to get involved with us is to take classes. Everything starts there. We do hold auditions, and those are open to everyone in the world, but our troupe has been so stable we haven’t held an audition in a while.”

House Teams: Rather, a mainstage cast.

About this theater: Stevie Ray’s has been an important part of the improv community for over twenty years. Performances are in Chanhassen, MN but many of their classes are at 901 W Lake Street in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood.

 

Improv companies/groups that don’t have a physical building but hire improvisers, perform regularly, and have great reputations:

Jesters – Short form improv comedy show performed every Saturday night at Ol’ Mexico Restaurante and Cantina. Jesters players have typically taken classes and/or performed at ComedySportz or Stevie Ray’s. Jesters has auditions about once a year. If you’re interested, Jesters director Larry Bieza suggests coming to a show to see if it might be the right fit for you. Or show up early, and Larry would be happy to talk to you about Jesters.

T2P2/Theater of Public Policy – Combines improv with public policy discussion/interviews, performs at a variety of locations in the Twin Cities and travels around the state as well. If you’re interested in T2P2, go see a show and stick around to talk to the show’s creators Tane Danger and Brandon Boat of Danger Boat Productions.

 

Venues improvisers sometimes book:

Bryant Lake Bowl

Honey

Bedlam Theatre

Lowry Lab

 

I’m a teen. Anything else I should know about improv opportunities in Twin Cities?

You’ve come to a great place. There are teen classes at most theaters, and some have teen house teams, such as High School League at ComedySportz. See below for more information, listed in alphabetical order.

 

Brave New Workshop Student Union(http://studentunion.bravenewworkshop.com/YouthImprov.aspx) )

For teens new to improv, BNW SU offers Pizza Jams every other month during the school year. Auditions for experienced teen improvisers take place in the fall. Teams rehearse weekly and perform monthly on the Student Union stage throughout the school year. BNW SU also offers summer camps that focus on improv and sketch writing along with youth programming outside of the theater in collaboration with schools and other organizations around Minnesota.

 

Harbor Theatre Group (http://harbortheatregroup.com/) is a free collaborative theater group in Minneapolis. Performers are between the ages of 15 and 19, and are challenged to grow as performing artists. Harbor members learn improv both as an end in itself and as a means of creating amazing scripted and semi-scripted theater. Harbor has performed at Intermedia Arts, HUGE, and many other locations in the Twin Cities. Harbor auditions and welcome folks year-round, although they generally add Company Members at the beginning of the school year. Visit Harbor’s facebook page, site, and blog (written by teens) to get more information.

 

The Wunder Kidz – A group of teens from all over the city who auditioned to be part of Wunder Kidz. They have had runs at BNW SU, HUGE, and Bryant Lake Bowl, as well as performed at the Chicago Improv Festival and the Twin Cities Improv Festival. See their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TheWunderKidz) to learn more about what they are up to now, and about any upcoming auditions.

 

Twin Cities Youth Improv Festival (http://twincitiesyouthimprovfestival.com/) is an annual summer festival that brings together teens for performances, jams and workshops. TCYIF takes place in October during MEA weekend, which is in mid-October.

 

Beyond improv at BNW SU, ComedySportz, HUGE, and other theaters, there are a lot of general theater opportunities in the Twin Cities for youth, including SteppingStone Theater For Youth Development (http://www.steppingstonetheatre.org) and Youth Performance Company (http://youthperformanceco.org). MNPlaylist (http://mnplaylist.com) is a great resource to find audition notices and other information.

 

What else should I know about the arts in Minnesota?

You can find theater auditions and more information at: MN Playlist

The annual MN Fringe Festival creates a lot of opportunities: MN Fringe Festival

You can find services for artists, info on Minnesota arts and art-related jobs at: Springboard for the Arts

 

NOTE: Springboard for the Arts offers all kinds of support for artists — yes, improvisers are artists — including health care vouchers, one-on-one consultations, fiscal sponsorship, workshops, free and sliding scale fee consultations with lawyers, resource centers/computer lab, and more.

 

Any other thoughts about what the improv community and the arts are like in Minnesota?

You might be interested to know that Minneapolis and St. Paul are theater towns. The Twin Cities sells more tickets per capita than Chicago or Seattle, and performing artists make up a 30% larger share of the workforce in the Twin Cities than they do nationally. It is hard to overstate how central the arts are in Minnesota — not just in terms of funding, but how Minnesotans commonly seek out the arts and festivals as their primary activity. That enthusiasm and willingness to buy tickets to live performance fuels the arts, and is part of a greater ecosystem that includes local private funders, generous government funding (as voted for by Minnesotans), and arts services organizations.

Of course a rich environment for the arts is not the same as a great environment for landing roles in TV or film. That’s what makes cities like NY, LA and Chicago great. A lot of talented performers bank stage time and experience here that they take with them to one of those cities; and a lot of people come to the Twin Cities to continue a great career they started in another city. The upshot is that Twin Cities improv is generally not a path to TV or film. It’s improv for improv sake.

We think improv for improv sake is an incredible opportunity. Here we have everything we need to take advantage of creative freedom — including exceptional teachers and coaches, access to stage time, and a supportive community.

This is an exciting time to be exploring the emerging art form of improv. We think the Twin Cities is a pretty great place to do that.

 

- The Away Team

 

p.s. Many thanks to the Twin Cities improv community for clarifications and contributions to this post. And many thanks for welcoming us to the Twin Cities!

 

Throwback Program 2013-2014

I am immensely proud and pleased with the 2013-2014 Throwback Program (which I refer to as The Throwgram due to my love of portmanteaus). We had 30 talented improvisers cast in 3 different teams, and they came together and created some of the year’s best improv.

Casting began in September of 2013, and we closed our final show at the end of June 2014. It’s been a long road, but the outcome has been tremendous.

In the fall, the teams were created and assigned a classic improv form.  The Juice Tigers took on the Harold, Colossus did the Deconstruction, and He/She/Them did Close Quarters. In part 2 of The Throwgram, teams were tasked to work with me and create a brand new form from scratch.  Colossus had #hashtag, He/She/Them did Us/Them/Here (confusing I know), and Juice Tigers had Dr. Harold.

The creation process for these new forms included recognizing what it is each team did best, and combined that with what they worked on in their original Throwback forms. It has been a process that has lasted nearly an entire year, and it has paid off handsomely.

With #hashtag, Colossus took their innate natural organic tendencies, and used that to explore a trending topic picked out from a random Twitter feed. The hashtag was deconstructed in the first half using the classic Deconstruction form, and then the rules were thrown out in the second. Using their organic energies, they explored everything that came out in the first half, using an organic form that eschewed all the “rules” of improv. The forest for the trees here was what patterns can we explore, and how can we do it without any boundaries.

He/She/Them took their love of exploring slices of life and having stories inspire and intersect with each other, while literally traversing time and space, and created Us/Them/Here. It was a location and time based form that allowed them to explore interpersonal relationships while revolving around specific points in space and time.

The Juice Tigers had a mad energy when it came to group interactions and games, so it was only natural that they went from The Harold to Dr. Harold. A form that explored the various “elephants in the room” of personal relationships, culminates in a 12 Angry Men/Breakfast Club type cagematch of emotional honesty.

I am in love with the work these 3 groups have done, and the effect it has had on our community. I’ve always been a big fan of things that have weight and meaning, no matter how seemingly trivial. When I was a student, I once had a teacher tell me “Just because the audience is laughing, doesn’t mean you are doing the right thing.” This has stuck with me throughout the years. I found it to be an incredibly profound thing to think about, specifically in this arena of improvisation. What we are doing is comedy, no doubt… but comedy is nothing unless it has a base to stand on. The stronger the base, the more rewarding the shows. I have said many times in classes and rehearsals that the best improv shows I have ever seen were not ones that made me simply laugh really hard, but made me laugh while simultaneously thinking “holy shit, that was amazing”.

All 3 Throwback groups embodied this philosophy, and resulted in many performances that hopefully remind the audience that while funny, improv is also an art form capable of more than just laughs.  I can’t wait for the next Throwgram!  Stay tuned for audition dates…

 

-Nels

Just because you’re going forwards doesn’t mean I’m going backwards

More questions and feedback sent to The Board!

Q:  I love HUGE! So many great shows. Huge talent in such a tiny space.

A question I’ve wondered about improv in general and Huge specifically: Does improv always HAVE to be comedic? Why is straight-up drama so rare in an improv setting? Is it because it doesn’t appeal to performers? To audiences? Or is it something that the form of improv isn’t set up to do?

 

A:  Jill Bernard writes

Improv does not always have to be comedic, Spectrum is a recent example of a HUGE Wednesday group that presented more dramatic work. There are several challenges to doing dramatic improv. The first is that the audience laughs when they’re surprised, and improv is always surprising by its nature. Thus, as a result, there are some scenes where if you looked at a written transcript, you would say, “what were those people laughing at?” Another challenge is that improv is associated with comedy in people’s minds. If they saw dramatic improv they might consider it a failure — the marketing for a dramatic improv show is a particular challenge.

Many improv shows walk a delicate line where there are serious moments woven into the fabric but the overall effect is comedic. Family Funeral is an example, where a very serious well-acted moment can be surrounded by humor, so the audience leaves with the general impression that is was a comedy show.

 

Q:

Around two years ago I attend Huge’s State of Huge. At that State of Huge the mission statement was brought up. To serve the improv community. A suggestion was made to change the mission statement to serve the community through improv. The board rejected that premise. It made me fall in love with Huge all over again. It made me believe this was a place to try new things. To be daring. To fail.

Recently, it came to my attention that a show, a show I very much enjoyed watching multiple times, was essentially told they wouldn’t get additional stage time at Huge because of their style. They were informed it was too cocky, too condescending, too outside of what Huge wanted to present to an audience. This was after I watched their Improv-a-Go-Go sets and felt it was a breath of fresh air in the improv community. Something that was personal, immediate, and played perfectly to subvert an audience’s expectations of what they might see at Huge. It broke rules, but it broke them in a knowing way. They understood the rules and chose to break them to heighten audience participation. To heighten the immediacy of what they presented. To truly react in real time to how the audience responded to them. They presented something that could have failed horribly and it didn’t. Huge told them they weren’t welcome because it was too far outside the realm of what Huge wanted to present on stage. That is my understanding anyway.

If Huge is still committed to that mission statement, to serve the improv community, then how can it deny these people? How can it both serve its mission and tell improvisers that their show, a show they’ve put time and effort into, a show where they were coached, where they went through the struggle of finding their identity, where they did nothing but find a way to bring a unique presentation of improv, something that hasn’t been seen in our community before, that it wasn’t what Huge wanted improvisers to try?

Huge was founded on serving the improv community, not to serve the community through improv. What changed?

A:  Molly Chase writes

Just in case you don’t know me, my name is Molly Chase, I’m the managing director at HUGE, and I am excited to answer your question.

A lot of mission statements are pretty forgettable, so it means a lot that HUGE’s mission made an impression, and that the distinction of supporting the Twin Cities improv community resonated.

I’m going to take this chance to underscore the mission and vision are both about Twin Cities — not just HUGE. Our vision is to: Raise the visibility of unscripted theater as a legitimate, viable and thriving segment of the Twin Cities’ rich, nationally recognized theater scene.

Put another way, we work to advance the Twin Cities’ as an exceptional home for developing improv as an artform, and encouraging artists in that pursuit. That’s why we’re so openly and enthusiastically supportive of improv in all its forms, and at all venues. For example, we actively encourage independent producers. Even at times that directly compete with HUGE show times, we enthusiastically support those efforts as a theater and as individuals through our attendance, participation and promotion.

The groups I admire most work very hard whether that’s inside or outside the confines of HUGE. I am most impressed by people who handle rejection with grace and determination, especially actors, who face it all the time by the very nature of what they/we do.

I noticed that you saw this group at multiple venues, including HUGE during Improv A Go Go. That is a sign of a healthy Twin Cities improv scene.

Not every show will be on the HUGE stage. I think Butch did a pretty comprehensive job http://www.hugetheater.com/2014/ive-lost-more-sleep-than-i-can-say/ describing how HUGE takes on selecting and scheduling shows.

Beyond that, I defend that HUGE has a role in the artistic direction and life of the theater. It’s the right and responsibility of the theater to develop and showcase high-quality artistic work. HUGE most certainly does take risks on artists, shows, and new directors.

Clearly you loved the group you saw, and you disagree with HUGE’s choice. We would never expect everyone to agree with all our choices. But having some artistic point of view is part of the creative life of our theater — any theater — and I hope you’ll agree that is not the same as going back on our mission.

Please know we want not just HUGE to succeed, but for the Twin Cities to be fertile ground for the advancement of improv. I hope in this context you’ll see our mission in a different light. I can say with certainty that HUGE is not run like a regular business. It is a nonprofit where the mission dictates all — what we do, and how we do it. That has not changed.

HUGE’s mission means:

- Classes, workshops, shows, and rehearsal space are affordable via low starting prices, payment plans, scholarships and work trades. (Not only do these practices reduce income, they increases administrative costs for an already lean organization. For example, to make work trades possible, we train many people on a rotating basis, rather than training just a few people who work for the long term. Same for tracking small payments over time, offering full and partial scholarships for workshops, and so on.)

- Hosting a number of events for free including shows and showcases from teen groups who learn throughout the community, not just at HUGE.

- Consistently providing open stage time for free through Space Jam, and offering an unjuried chance at stage time for every conceivable improv form via Improv A Go Go.

- Creating opportunities for people to learn new skills related to improv, from learning to be a technical improviser to teaching Drop In classes.

- Holding open auditions at least once a year and encourages the audition process for independently produced shows, as applicable.

- Taking chances on new directors and show producers, as well as offers mentorship.

- Prioritizing payment of performers for their work on stage and for technical improvisers who work behind the scenes. Prioritized payment of performers and staff over payment of employees.

- Evaluating corporate workshop and other employment offers through the lens of connecting artists with paid opportunities.

- Providing all practical supports that the physical theater and our expertise can offer: rehearsal and casting call space, connection to professionals (casting agents, headshot photographers, advanced coaches), mentorship, assistance with festival videotaping and submissions, workshop curriculum and performance resume advice.

If you have more questions, I encourage you to please feel free to follow up via this form, by contacting me at molly@hugetheater.com, and/or by coming to the Open House / Meeting on Thursday, August 14, from 5:00-7:00pm.

I’ve lost more sleep than I can say

In the recent State of HUGE Blog I announced the addition of an anonymous portal for people to ask questions of the Board of Directors – I’m happy that it’s already being used and I have answers to post, hopefully this is the first of many!

STAGE TIME

There were two very similar questions submitted – one asked “How do shows get picked for stage time?” and the other asked roughly the same question with far more detail, so I wanted to answer them together.

Q:

Who decides how stage time will be allocated and what criteria do they use?

Is it merit based? Based on who the board thinks will put on the best show? Or sell the most tickets?

Or is it given based on effort? Who volunteers the most? Who donates the most? Who are active members in other capacities?

Or is it given out based on who needs the stage time in order to grow as improvisors and broaden the community’s experience? Or some combination?

I’ve talked to several community members who are not clear about how stage time is allocated and feel like the don’t know what they should be working on if more stage time is their goal. Inevitably there will be people who think the allocation is not “fair” but we could at least be more clear about why the decisions are made the way they are.

A:

First of all, welcome to the worst part of my job – this is the one part of running the theater that will hurt the feelings of the people that are some of the most giving and supportive of HUGE theater.  But this is the job, really.  Anyone can say yes to their friends and have fun doing it. It’s saying no to shows or performers that is the difficult job, make no mistake. It’s the job I like the least of anything I have to do — for HUGE or the improv festival — but I know that doing it well is extremely important.

I also know that there are more amazing shows and performers than we could possibly fit on the schedule of our one weird little theater – none of this is to say that the shows at HUGE are the great ones and the rest are not. There are many great shows and groups not performing at HUGE due simply to the laws of physics – time and space will always be the biggest limitations we have.

You’re totally right that we have been very unclear in this area – some of it intentionally, some of it unintentionally. The programming process is really the one thing we aren’t completely transparent about and there will always be part of that process that is not transparent and we make no promises that it will be – In fact I can tell you that it will not ever be completely transparent because that is how it needs to be to function, but I can clarify some of the things you asked as well as some of how it functions and why.

Criteria

There are things that will not ever get your show on our stage and I’ve always hoped that we’re very clear on these points since we will never lead people on with the carrot of “help us out now and we’ll help you later.”

I want people to support us because they want to support us – you cannot buy your way onto our stage with volunteer hours or monetary donations and that will always be the case.

If you could pay to be added to our regular programming, then it wouldn’t mean anything. We opened this place to showcase the amazing talent in the Twin Cities improv community and that is always the goal, even if you don’t have money to give or extra time to volunteer. And the shows on our stage know that we think they have amazing talent and amazing potential, there should never be a question how they got there.

The ultimate answer is that quality wins out.

Selections are ultimately based on the merits of the shows, even if those shows may not sell the most tickets. Ticket sales are not a measure of excellence. And we also try to promote the growth of excellence as well, so it’s not just who is doing really well right now but also who is really working hard to develop something new and cool and high quality and will keep working and growing on our stage.

The potential for excellence as a “professional” improviser is also important to us, since our long term goal is to make become a professional improviser a viable option in the future. That means there may be times when we have to choose between two equally great shows – one of which is driven to do things like teach workshops, travel to festivals and really achieve excellence as performers, and the other wants nothing more than to do their show.

There’s nothing wrong with just wanting to perform but we have to also support growth beyond just getting a show on stage and getting laughs.

When we’re booking, how far out we’re booking, what we’re looking for

One of the reasons we are not transparent about our programming process is that it’s so incredibly fluid and we’re basically always working on it.

We’ve developed a system to take proposals, but matching those proposals that would be a great fit for our stage with a couple other shows that would also be a great fit to create a really cohesive night of theater together is no small thing given all the schedules involved. A lot of our delays come from just waiting to hear back from everyone involved in the schedule we’re programming, which can take long enough that peoples’ availability changes while we’re still working on it –  it can be very slippery to nail down.

Combined with plotting shows that have a regular place in the calendar – like Throwback Night, Creature Feature and Family Dinner – as well as shows that are a more seasonal fit, trying to make sure we don’t have too much genre improv at once /for too long and many other factors.

We have tried hard to balance programming our vision for an overall calendar well in advance to allow directors and casts time to prepare and produce, but not to program too far out so we have some flexibility to say yes to great new ideas as they come up, rather than having to tell everyone it will be six months to a year before we have an opening.

And for that to happen we need people to develop their great ideas and bring us the ones they want to put on our stage – It would be much easier if we were creating all the shows at HUGE, then we could just tell people what we were looking for and there are several talented groups that could deliver – but that would only represent our ideas.

We don’t want people bending to what they think we are looking for – we want them to pursue what they are really passionate about and inspired by – which means we don’t often tell people when the next openings in the calendar would be or what shows have been booked for when, to avoid people trying to make something into an appealing fit or chasing stage time instead of great ideas.

The lack of a roadmap

We have tried to develop a more concise answer to what I hope is obviously a very complex issue that we take very seriously – and I know it can be baffling when there is no one good answer to “how can I get my show on HUGE’s stage?” because there are so many factors that we look at when making these decisions – and I never, never wanted to lead people on with the idea of “Just do steps A, B and C and that’s it” only to find out their show isn’t being put up and feel like we promised them something.

While A, B and C may all be good steps that we feel strongly that every group should take – like getting an outside coach or director – it’s still true that you can do all the steps and still have a show that won’t be selected for a variety of reasons.

Nels and I work hard to make sure we’re looking at a number of factors and possibilities as well as evaluating results once shows are on HUGE’s stage – but we also bring in outside eyes when there are proposals that may not be the style of show we personally enjoy to make sure that we’re not just representing our own ideas of what would be a good show to put up.

When we ask for outside input, or even when we’re evaluating proposed shows ourselves, we don’t announce that we’re doing so or who is involved to keep the process as unbiased as possible but also as comfortable for everyone at HUGE – including students Nels and I (and others) are teaching, or groups we work with, that have a show proposal submitted – knowing that they’re being evaluated at that time may stifle their work in class or affect their choices on stage, which is the opposite of what we want.

I know it is unclear when we’re making the decisions and we’ve been asked how long it might take to get an answer but (as always) the answers are unclear since we might love a show but have no place for it in the schedule of shows we’ve already booked or have a night of shows that isn’t confirmed yet that might work so we put off saying no or looking further out in the calendar which results in a long silence from us.

We’ve tried to get better at responding to proposals to let them know when that is the case but admittedly that has been a problem in the past and for that we’re sorry and thankful for the patience everyone has shown.

I hope that I’ve at least made it clear that this is not a simple question and that we understand that some of it is going to remain unclear. While that may not be the easiest thing, I hope that this helps – I really do.

 

One other note we got this week was simply this:

You at Huge have done more to help me with my development as a person than I can express. I don’t really know you guys personally but I love you all so much for the great work you do.

A:  Thank you so much, this touched everyone when we read it at the meeting,  we’re all so happy to hear it and it brightened a very stressful week.

If you have questions, concerns, complaints or feedback of any kind for the Board of HUGE – please know that you can always talk to us or contact us directly, but if you prefer you can always use the form

Click HERE to Go THERE

Only thinking in dreams, only work for impossible things

State of HUGE – Spring 2014

I am going to be posting these more often in hopes that will make it easier to write them – the trick is that there’s always something else coming or “If I just wait a few more days, I can include ____” and hopefully more frequent posts can help with that and I can keep everyone more up to date.

The question I am most frequently asked is “How is HUGE doing?” and the answer is “Cautiously Great”

or   “We’ve still got a long way to go – but we’ll get there”

If you read no further just know that HUGE is doing OK (which means we are usually out of danger and trying to build reserves at all times) because of the tremendous support and hustle of our performers, teachers, staff, volunteers, Members, donors and audiences – and we thank you every day.

[ That's why I keep my nose to the stone - sharp 'til the hairs split ]

One of the biggest things this spring has been our run of Sold Out Saturdays – which actually began in November of 2013 with Family Dinner and just hit 32 weeks in a row.  That. Is. Unreal.  When we hit the 3 Year Anniversary show that was 12 weeks and we were all still astounded and now two more entire Saturday shows – Off Book and Darjeeling Unscripted – have opened and closed and sold out every ticket in between.

The funny thing is that somewhere along the way it tipped over from being this amazing thing that we were celebrating every week to a nerve-wracking thing the casts and directors are stressing about every week, because nobody wants to “break the streak” now – which is perfectly typical of the people on our stage, they don’t stop and take credit for selling out months of shows through what is ALWAYS our slowest time of the year, they are worried about owning the failure and haven’t bothered to own the success.

April and May have always been the worst months for ticket sales and eventually this streak will end because of one thing and one thing alone – SPRINGTIME.  Until it does we have to keep telling everyone to please PLEASE do yourselves a favor and buy your tickets in advance if you want to get in.

The most exciting thing about the run of Sold Out Saturdays (and Fridays have been amazing as well) is that our weekend shows pay the performing artists based on attendance – that means 32 weeks in a row that we get to write checks to artists for doing what they do best.

This is always the critical point between trumpeting our success saying “We are selling out shows in the springtime!” and trying to make sure people still hear the message that we still need your hustle, your help and your support – Why I am always cautious about saying things are great, because the truth is we’re still running very lean, being clever where we can and going without when we have to. But we do it for good reason.

We made the decision more than a year ago not to wait on paying artists until things were comfortable and the theater was sitting on a big cash reserve and that’s something I’m very proud of and stand by – even though it means it may take us longer to get to a place where we can relax and maybe pay our staff something closer to what they deserve.  The reality of running any theater is that we may never have “extra” funds and the reality of running our theater is that supporting improvisers isn’t an “extra” goal for when we have nothing else to worry about - it is why we exist and we’re working hard to move things in the right direction and the artists on our stage are why we do it.

[ Bet it all and win - Set it off and run ]

Speaking of things you will need to get tickets for – the eighth annual Twin Cities Improv Festival is just two weeks away!  Wednesday, June 25th – Sunday, June 29th is our biggest weekend of our year.

It’s improv Xmas and tickets are going fast (there are only 5 Ultra Passes left!) and I don’t say this to sell tickets – I say this because if you miss this, you miss out and you miss out big.  It’s going to be amazing.

So many special things happening this year – the 5 founding members of HUGE will be performing together Thursday night.  FrankenMatt, NBA Hall of Famer and Droppin Science are all returning and a handful of new groups will get to see what I mean when I tell everyone Minneapolis is the best.

Tickets and Multi-Passes available HERE

HUGE will once again be a venue for the MN Fringe Festival in August – we love working with the Fringe and they are always amazing partners to have – plus the Fringe gives us a couple weeks off to rest, regroup, re-introduce ourselves to our families and also roll out some changes, which can be tricky when you have a continuous schedule that never stops or even pauses.

Beginning this September we are making a change to our weekend tickets for the first time in a couple years – as of this fall you will be able to purchase tickets to the late shows at HUGE in advance, which means the early shows will be paired up so you can see the 8pm and 9:30 show for one $10 ticket and/or the expanded late shows for a $5 ticket.

More info on that as we roll it out with out ticketing system late this summer.

[ Got cracks in the armor, cracks in the ceiling ]

Our theater turned 3 this year and signed a 10 year lease on 3037 Lyndale to keep our home going through the next decade – we also learned a lot along the way about all the little things that go into longevity.

You learn the lifespan of things like toilet parts, vacuum cleaners, HVAC parts – all of which will break down and it’s not a matter of “when” but more like “how often” and we had a little bit of good news this year when our property taxes went down a little bit for the first time ever and even more good news is that we still keep that Depression-Era Mentality so we’re always saving for the bad days while investing to make both the good and bad days a little better all around with things like ceiling fans, LED lights and a new Annex space.

The Annex came to us as an offer from our landlord to lease space outside of the theater building – a space that allows us to hold classes and rehearsals and more even during show times – because time and space are still the biggest limitations this little theater runs into every week.

It isn’t free – it isn’t cheap – but it is an investment we think is needed and worthwhile to support all the amazing artists and allows us to offer more classes, workshops or just the space itself as a resource to them.  Groups that are interested in using the Annex and helping make it more affordable for us to maintain

CLICK HERE 

[ I give it up for those that are seeking the solutions ]

That concludes the part of the State of HUGE where I tell you how we’re doing – and now we’re adding something new where we ask you how we’re doing.

We have worked really hard as the Board of Directors to stay very accessible and approachable, to make sure people know they can come to us with concerns or questions or ideas – and that they can ALWAYS challenge us on things they think we’re doing wrong or complain about things we did poorly.  That’s great, in theory, but if we never actually hear from people then it doesn’t actually work.

I’ve heard from some people over the years around specific issues and I always appreciate it – but we’ve always also heard there are problems that we are not hearing about and we want to make sure we’re addressing that, so we have added an anonymous Complaint, Concerns, and Question form to the contact page on our site that the Board will address.

CLICK HERE to GO THERE

We will go through the input each Monday at our Board meetings and do our best to answer anything sent through the form in blog form when appropriate.  I still hope that everyone knows that we welcome ideas, challenges and questions the same way we hope people understand everything we do, even when we could do things better or we do things totally wrong – that it is all done with the best intentions to help us achieve our mission of supporting improv in the Twin Cities.

 

 

As always, thank you.

Butch

- Executive Director and humble servant

 

The HUGE Annex

We took a big risk and rented a space two doors down from HUGE.   We know that there are performers looking for regular times to practice and we don’t have room for everyone.   We’re offering co-op slots!  You get two hours a week just for you, and then dibs on flexible time as it is available.  Only $25 a week!

Here’s the application if that sounds like a sweet deal to you:

https://www.formstack.com/forms/?1716513-VK8bs1BGY4

—–

FAQ

Where is it?
At 3025 S Lyndale Ave, 55408, next to Saigon Restaurant.  Enter through the side door.

How will I get access?
You’ll have your own key.

How will I pay?
One monthly payment of $100.  Discounts available for members.

I don’t have a hundred dollars a month!
Divide it up among the participants in your rehearsal.

What about insurance and utilities?
Insurance and utilities are included.

 

 

WORKSHOP: MOVE FORWARD with Dave Kappelhoff & Tim Hellendrung

Sometimes you’re stuck and can’t move forward with your improv. These workshops explore the reasons why we get stuck and ways we can create new opportunities to begin scenes and move them forward with less effort. Character risks, game play, and story elements are explored–three critical areas that improvisers continually need to develop. Advice and struggles from improvisers within the local community are shared and will be used as starting points for each workshop. Exercises are also built off of student feedback and discussion as students are encouraged to bring their past show notes where they can be used as practical guides toward improvement. A great class for any improviser looking to renew their improv momentum. Sign up for one, two, or all three workshops.

Dates: Three Sundays: April 20, 27, and May 4
Time: 1-4pm
Where: HUGE Theater, 3037 Lyndale Ave S

Cost: $30/workshop

Tim Hellendrung is an experienced Twin Cities improvisor, having performed with ComedySportz since 2006. In addition to his training and performance with short-form, Tim can be seen on stage in Minneapolis with long-form groups Gay/Straight Alliance, The Adventures of Tim Troy & Damian, What If, For Better or For Worse and weekly at HUGE Theater’s Show X. Tim’s groups have been featured at both national and international improv festivals.

Dave Kappelhoff is a veteran improv instructor with 17 years of teaching experience with the Brave New Workshop. He has taught performance, sketch, youth, and everyday level classes and can be seen in various improv and sketch shows throughout the Twin Cities.

Register here!

Time to get out of your head!

The groups selected in the April 2014 IAGG lottery are
(in alphabetical order)  :

COLOSSUS

Good Grief

Happily Ever After

License To Krill

Liv & Bradley

Magellie

Mouth Trumpet

Opposable Mind

Piano Cat

Religiosity

Sheppard & Linden

Subject to Change Improv Troop

Swimming Pool

TBD Group (Nicholas Olson)

The Game

Two Dudes With First Names

ZapPonty