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Anonymous Feedback Reply from the Board – the size of things

We received an anonymous message via our contact form:

“Is there a chance that TCIF [Twin Cities Improv Festival] would ever expand to multiple venues? I feel like that could be a good way to support an inclusive improv community outside of just HUGE, and a way to give more groups the opportunity to participate, but I could understand other theaters not necessarily liking the idea of putting their schedules on hold for the festival.”

This is Jill Bernard writing. Although I am not a member of Five Man Job, the improv team that produces TCIF, an annual improv festival now in its ninth year, I can answer in my capacity as a member of the HUGE staff, as TCIF’s former Director of Education, as an independent improvisor who has attended dozens of improv festivals around the country and the world, and as someone who has had a show or two not make it into TCIF over the years.

Thank you for your question. Let’s set aside the economics and pretend an angel investor made it possible to buy out several theaters around town, guaranteeing the rent, salaries, insurance, and marketing costs. Let’s pretend also that somehow we have the human resources to multiply the workload. We still would not add an additional venue or venues to TCIF. Here’s why.

A single-venue festival and a multi-venue festival are two very different beasts. What we love about TCIF is that everyone is all together all the time. I have been to improv festivals in other cities where no one really seems to notice or care that I have travelled hundreds of miles to be there. I see my friends’ Facebook photos of the same event and it looks like we were at two different improv festivals. Often adding more venues doesn’t mean increasing your audience numbers, it means giving some groups the shaft. I have travelled to a festival on the coast on my own dime to perform for eight people. It did not make me feel valued. There is a concept called “Dunbar’s Number” that Wikipedia describes as “a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.” That number is about 150 people (that’s one of the reasons why HUGE has 100 seats). We want everyone involved with TCIF to have a shared experience and forge an amazing connection to each other. We aren’t out to be the biggest improv festival in the world.

A misconception you have is that the festival supports only HUGE. The festival was created five years before there was a HUGE Theater and has always been an open application. Of the 25 local groups performing at this year’s festival, only HUGE is produced by us. Nine are groups that have proposed a show and produced it at HUGE1, 13 are independent teams2, and the other two are the Brave New Workshop and ComedySportz, which have their own theaters. The festival has always welcomed and taken applications from all local improvisors, and communicated application dates through all possible means.

The festival has about twice as many submissions as there are spaces in the Festival, and Five Man Job reviews them each several times based on their own merit, not in comparison to any other submissions. At the end of the review, they always have more groups that have unanimous “yes” votes than there are spaces, which means culling groups that would be fine additions to the festival. It has to happen, and Five Man Job does not take these decisions lightly or apply anything but the highest scrutiny. Butch Roy, the executive producer, writes: “In the end, making that final decision and finally clicking ‘publish’ feels like slamming the door in a lot of faces and it is a day that I dread intensely. But it’s one bad day that marks the beginning of putting on the most amazing weekend that I look forward to all year long, and that one job I hate seems like a small price for all that awesome.”

When Five Man Job started the festival, there were very few other opportunities for improv groups to perform regularly. You had to be scrappy and find a back room at a restaurant or a bar, or put your name into the Improv A Go Go lottery and hope for the best. Currently in the Twin Cities there are ample opportunities for groups to perform. There has never been a better time to be a rehearsing, performing group in Minneapolis. In a lot of ways running TCIF was our practice for opening HUGE Theater. When the theater opened I said, out loud, “Oh my god, it’s like having an improv festival every day.” That’s what we have now. Not being in the improv festival doesn’t mean you’re locked out of the improv scene, it just means you have to pursue a different opportunity and put together a really killer submission package for next year’s festival.

TCIF is the bait that gets audiences interested in local improv. It is the gateway. It is not intended to be a grocery store, it is just the sample lady at the end of each aisle sending audiences in the direction of the teams and shows they will fall in love with during the other 51 weeks of the year.

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 anonymous form.  Click HERE to go THERE.
 

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1 Bearded Men Improv, Clue, Horseface, Interplanetary Appeal, KINGS, Ladyfriend, Mayhem, The Away Team, The Mess


2 Drew & Matt, Feel Good About Yourself Orchestra, Ferrari McSpeedy, Foterson, Gay/Straight Alliance, Kiss Kiss Slap, License To Krill, Liv & Bradley, MN Snow Job, Polar Bear Centric, The Houlihans, The Painters, Where I Am Now

Solo Improv Advice from Jill Bernard

Jill Bernard here!  People often ask me how to do solo improv, which is one of those questions you have to answer yourself because solo improv is uniquely you, it doesn’t have to work like group improv. You have no obligation to do anything but weave together a piece that highlights everything you love about improv and life, everything you’re curious about, everything that makes you happy.  All your weaknesses become your strengths, all your strengths become your superpower. You have every permission in the world to build something just for you.  Take some time and 1) Write down three pieces of art or music or television shows or movies or books that you love and *why*.  2) Write down what you are a nerd about, and what your special and unspecial skills are. 3) Write down what your favorite thing to do in improv is.  4) Think about whether you want the audience involved and how. 5) Think about whether you want one long story or lots of little stories or maybe just a lecture.   6) Put the answers to 1-5 in your head and swish them around, start to think of images and templates and possibilities until something curious occurs to you that would be terrifying but incredible to try.

Please do not do anything in your solo show out of obligation.  Also, there may be things that feel like “cheating” or “crutches” for example, knowing there will always be a song in the middle or “only” playing one character.  None of that is cheating. Take super-good care of yourself and respond to any fussy little baby sounds from your psyche with compassion.

Q:  Isn’t it arrogant to do solo improv?  A: Oh hells yes. You are saying to the world I don’t need these other jerks. Own that little piece of naughtiness, it’s okay. You can be totally humble off-stage for marketing purposes but know in your heart that all human beings are interesting enough to be alone onstage, and you are compelling. It’s all right.

Find someplace to test your piece – a cabaret, a friendly open mic, in between some group improv pieces. Once you’ve done a small test, the piece will tell you what it wants to grow up to be. You have to just try it and see.

Other advice: *most* but not *all* solo improv pieces involve switching characters. There are unlimited ways to switch characters, but three easy ones are the CHARACTER SLIDE, the CHARACTER POP and the CHARACTER ABSENT. Whether you prefer the Character Slide or the Character Pop will depend on whether you’re more interested in preserving time or space – one of which has to be suspended for you to play more than one character.

· In the character slide, I play the character of Janey, then go neutral and walk over to another spot on the stage and play Ralph. Time is suspended – normally dialogue would continue without the dead space. The audience accepts the travel time as neutral and ignores it, if you can make it truly neutral – the expression in your face or body should not be Janey or Ralph.
· In the character pop, I play the character of Janey and then shift positions while staying in the same space. It works on a pivot. If we pretend I’m standing on a clock on the floor, when Janey’s talking I look at 11 o’clock, and when Ralph is talking I look at 1 o’clock. For some reason, we as viewers accept that the two are standing straight across from each other as you would be in an actual conversation, even though you’re portraying them at a 45 degree angle away from each other. A variation is the totem pole: I shift characters by changing my physicality and voice, but I stay looking in the same direction. The totem pole is nice for creating crowd scenes.
· In the character absent, I talk to the empty space where another character would be. If I choose, I can do a “fill” where eventually I run over there to fill in as that second character, often as a punchline. Leave space in your dialogue where that character would “answer” you.

All of these can be used in combination with each other, and there might be a fourth way that’s unique to you. Like anything in solo improv, you’re the expert.

Things you may want to watch for in playing multiple characters:
· Use realistic eye lines. If I’m playing a little kid talking to an adult, I should look up when I’m the kid and down when I’m the adult. This is especially tricky when using a chair, the temptation is to talk to the chair back, but a human’s eyes are about a foot and a half higher.
· Make your characters distinct in voice, physicality, tempo and emotion or you’ll lose track of who’s who. Especially when shifting characters, make sure the change is complete from head to toe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve switched characters and looked down to see I still have the other character’s feet. Or god forbid their wine glass.
· Audiences get boners for when you make physical contact with invisible characters. Fights, dances, even a simple shoulder touch are so pleasing because they define the imaginary.

There are some solo improv warm-ups I can teach you even though it makes me giggle. The first is a variation on WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Find two initials in the room you are, like L.B. Then just make little verb/object or adjective/verb combos out loud, i.e. Lighting Bridges, Losing Brian, Listening Boringly, Limiting Barry, Lightly Baking, Listlessly Burying, etc. The second is a one-word story where you blink to separate the thoughts for yourself. [Eyes open] “once” [eyes closed] “there” [eyes open] “was” [eyes closed] “a” [eyes open] “grandmother” [eyes closed] “who” etc. This is hard to sustain for long because your brain catches up and starts unifying your thoughts into one thinker. The third is to do four little mini character monologues with the same first line of dialogue, spreading out around the room and taking different physicalities – that one comes from Andy Eninger, the golden god of solo improv. The fourth is to put on your headphones and dance around to your favorite song completely unleashed and free of inhibition. The fifth is to think of a way to adapt your favorite group warm up. There are other great suggestions in the book “Improvise” by Mick Napier.

1-2-3 go do it!!

State of HUGE – Spring 2015

Once again I have been trying to put this together for way too long but kept waiting so I could include something that was coming up, once again that means posting the State of HUGE in the springtime.  Call it an annual thing.

There is always something big coming up that I can’t post about yet and springtime, when the weather finally gets warm and everyone wants to be outside,  is when things feel like they slow down a little bit  so we can have a recap and a look ahead.

This includes a lot of things across the different areas of HUGE but not everything – there are always more schemes being schemed.

McKnight Foundation grant

The biggest news of 2015 (so far) is that HUGE received a grant from the McKnight Foundation of General Operating funds totaling $60,000 over the next two years – I wrote a post about that a little while back but it would be really impossible to overstate how excited we are about it, how much HUGE Theater really needs and appreciates it and how hard Molly Chase worked on pushing that boulder the rest of the way up that very steep hill.

This grant allows us to start moving on some things – both much-needed investments in the space as well as repairs and upgrades we’ve known that we needed for quite some time – as well as gives us an extra boost going into the summer months that we have never had before.

Investments and Improvements

There are numerous smaller repairs and improvements being made around the theater – as there always have been ever since we opened, the space has continued to evolve and improve to suit the work, the shows, the classes and the audiences as best we can – here are a few of the bigger projects that may be more noticeable coming up:

Piano : Jack Barrett was actually assembling his own Kickstarter campaign to get a real, working piano for the theater when we found out about the grant and we were able to let him know in time to stop it and fund the purchase ourselves – it’s important to us that we don’t ask our donors to do things for us that we can do ourselves and when we do ask our donors they know the needs and reasons are real.

The new piano sounds amazing and the music Jack is able to create with it is always such an important addition to our shows.

Awning : This is something we’ve known we needed to do for a couple years but couldn’t make room in the budget until now – We’ve started work to replace our aging awning over our front door and windows,  the existing unit should be taken down and the replacement should be installed in the next couple weeks.

Exit Door / Bike parking : We’ve been making smaller changes and improvements to the space over the last few months to better serve anyone with special needs and while talking with our landlord about our side door, he proposed a really great improvement.

The side door to our lobby has always been our “extra” exit but the gravel outside makes it hard to shovel and maintain and the uneven ground makes it a more difficult proposition for anyone with special needs – When I spoke to Julius about it he not only volunteered to have a sidewalk put in from the door to the blacktop to make it a fully accessible exit, he proposed the addition of a bike parking area!

A 10 foot bike rack has been ordered and once it arrives, the work will begin to create the new bike parking area between the building and the blacktop, in addition to the sidewalk racks and the parking meter racks that HUGE sponsored.

Roof Offices : Ask Molly Chase.

 

Hangout Auction

On the heels of the McKnight Grant we had our annual Hangout Auction, which is not only one of the most fun parts of our fundraising calendar, it has also grown every time – both in number of fun auction ideas and funds raised.   The full list of items and winners is posted and the winners have already started hanging out with their favorite improvisers.

Thank you to Bree, Joshua, Bradley and Jane for creating and nurturing this weird thing over the years. Seriously.

Classes

Our education program continues to grow and evolve and the biggest change to it was the creation of our 401 “pods” in place of the existing 401 curriculum – which focuses on forms and structures and typically would mean spending 2-3 weeks on each structure – by grouping each structure in 3 week pods and allowing students to enroll to learn the forms they are most interested in.

As a teacher that has focused a lot on 401 classes, I’m really excited for this change – not only because it allows students to get right to the form that most interests them, but also because it brings together students over a common interest and I’m hoping we’ll see the formation of groups with a shared desire to perform Harold, Deconstruction and more.

Annex growth

Our Annex is a big part of growing the education program (as well as being able to offer rehearsal space during shows to improvisers) and our Annex Member program has expanded steadily – we are looking closely at the future of that space and will be rolling out some improvements to make it more comfortable as well as some ambitious changes over the next year.

Shows

Throwgram Series :  The second year of our Throwgram series is underway – starting with Throwback Night in January and February and continuing with each cast creating a brand new show. The March/April (The Reconstruction) and May/June (Zoom) shows have launched and work has started on the final installment to run July/August (Title TBA)

Monday Series :  Monday nights have featured Show X since we opened – this January, Jill Bernard did a short run of her solo show Drum Machine on Monday nights at 7pm and that began a conversation around shorter runs of shows that are made up of the cast of Show X.

It is a way to take some pressure off our weekend show proposals as well as a way to make those shows more possible for groups like Ferrari McSpeedy and Drum Machine that might take all year to schedule for a weekend show.   They are a limited run of one month and happen no more than every-other-month.

Happy Hour Show : Nimblicity is the other new time slot that has launched and I am so excited for it – they proposed a show centered around an office with a cast of improvisers that could represent your office….if your office was staffed with funny, talented people.

I have wanted to have a Happy Hour show at our theater since we opened and when I came back asking if they were willing to take on a new time slot they attacked the project.  A new show in a new time is no small endeavor and often means putting in a lot of work and to do great shows in front of small crowds while the new time grows (or sometimes doesn’t) and I am so grateful they are doing it.

Ongoing shows: One major change we made this year was to break up ongoing shows (shows without a set closing date) to make more room in our calendar for shows and to give groups like The Mess and Bearded Men some well-deserved time off during the year – people often ask about how their show can propose an ongoing run and the answer is “Are you ready to take on a 3rd job or run a small business?” because that is the level of effort and commitment that goes into one.

Each ongoing was asked to schedule out 2 blocks of 2 months each – making room for 4 additional shows on our stage this year.

2015 : We have been working constantly on booking shows to try and keep up with the numerous proposals that come to us – always trying to balance between scheduling too far out and working to give upcoming shows as much time to prepare and produce as they need – and I’m happy to announce that our weekend shows are almost completely booked for the rest of the year!

The upcoming weekend schedule includes Drew & Matt, Think Fast, Horsetown, more Off Book, Bearded Men and The Mess, a “Triple Double” of Kiss Kiss Slap/Liv&Bradley/Polar Bear Centric, The Painters, the traditional shows like Creature Feature, Survivors of the Undead Plague, Star Trek, Interplanetary Appeal’s “Choose Your Own Adventure” as well as the return of Family Dinner and Poivre – and more!

We are still scheduling Wednesday shows, which have become the best testing/proving ground for shows, as well as the ongoing Improv A Go Go on Sundays.

Neutrino : One title that is purposely missing from the list above is the Neutrino Video Project - it is an improvised movie that is performed outside the theater, shot and projected while the audience watches it happen.  HUGE was granted permission to produce the show but it is something we’ve had to delay due to a number of factors, not least of which was the need for new/upgraded equipment to make the show possible – which meant holding while we awaited word on things that have a large impact on our budget, like General Operating support – and then we had to look ahead at not only scheduling enough of a rehearsal process to launch the show, but also timing it so we weren’t launching a show that shot outdoors in the dead of winter.

When everything came together, the timing was wrong and we are going to do this right rather than rushed so we made the call to wait – which is as difficult for me as anyone – but I can announce that we are going to hold auditions for Neutrino this September.

Dates and specifics of Neutrino auditions and shows will be announced and posted on August 13th – the day of our annual Happy Hour with The Board after the Fringe Festival. 

IAGG Anniversary – May 17th

This May we celebrate THIRTEEN YEARS of the Improv A Go-Go with performances by Ferrari McSpeedy, Five Man Job, Horseface and Local Music Scene!

As always, our thanks go out to John Sweeney, Jenni Lilledahl and the Brave New Workshop for giving the IAGG a home on their stage and a place to grow. So many wonderful things have resulted from their amazingly generous gift.

Twin Cities Improv Festival (TCIF) – June 24-28th

The ninth annual Twin Cities Improv Festival is almost upon us – the final round of local selections is underway and will be posted this week!  The workshops were posted and began filling up in record time, there are still spaces left in two of the workshops but those will not last so do yourself a favor and register NOW

We are happy to announce that the TCIF drink specials, after parties and events are once again sponsored by the Minnesota Fringe Festival!

TCIF tickets will be on sale starting June 1st

Fringe Festival – July 30th-August 9th

(HUGE closes and tech begins July 25th) 

We are once again a venue for the MN Fringe Festival and love partnering with the Fringe – they take over the building on July 25th and we shut down for some much-needed rest until mid-August!

New Website

Our own Brian Smallbeck – who designed and built the existing website as well – has been working on a new website for HUGE that can better adapt our content to mobile devices, rid us of our nagging problems that affect our search results (yes, we know about it), help people write reviews of shows,  put our calendar front and center and add a search function.

Things should hopefully be launching soon.  Brian is busy custom-making the calendar functionality, which we’ve found to be the central thing that our customers use to purchase tickets, but allowed me to grab some screen shots of the new design (there will be show images and information as well – this is very much work in progress)

Front page

New Site Front Page

 

About us page

New HUGE site

 

Growing up

One last area – and it’s a weird one to try and sum up clearly – one I tried to talk about very briefly at our Anniversary Show in January as well.   We are growing up as a theater and as an organization.  This is not meant to say we’re getting boring or less fun but instead that just like the space has continued to grow and shape up to suit what we want to do, so has the company.

When we had our last strategic planning session, that was the phrase that kept coming back – we’d like to have a “grown up” plan for touring shows instead of scrambling every time, we would like our staff to have a “grown up” system for scheduling instead of a collection of haphazard, overlapping patches and fixes. That kind of stuff.

It is harder to see and doesn’t always get a reaction, since it doesn’t add a bike rack or anything to the building, but it’s the kind of things that our staff and volunteers and teachers and students and performers and donors deserve from us – and should demand from us.

We recently hired Adia Morris to help in a part-time administrative capacity – she is already going through our systems and manuals and creating some clearer training documents and helping with the multitude of things that would otherwise add up to “we wanted to do that but couldn’t” far too many times – all so we can do this better.

I know there’s fun in being the scrappy, irreverent upstart company that is too busy doing the impossible to answer the phone – there’s also plenty of time and energy lost along the way being far too busy to do even one thing more that we could be spending on doing the impossible even better.

If we are going to ask people to give time and talent and money to this place (and we are, in November – oh yes we are) then they should know that they are giving to a company that can be organized, use what people give to us wisely and respectfully, have a vision for the future, make ambitious plans, have the facilities and equipment to make it happen and give people the support and tools they need while they are doing it.

We can do that AND we can have more fun than anyone else at the same time – That’s what I love so much about this place and all the people here.


 

 

WHEW. That’s it…for now.

Thank you for reading this far – again, this isn’t everything, but it’s certainly more than enough to expect anyone to read through.  If you have any questions or concerns or comments, always feel free to email me at butch (at) hugetheater (dot) com.

 

Thank you all, for everything.

Butch Roy

Executive Director, HUGE Theater

Humble servant, Twin Cities improv community

Hangout Auction Winners

Complete list of Hangout Auction winners – this year the Hangout Auction raised just over $7,000 to support HUGE Theater and keep the fun going!

Thank you to everyone that participated in the Hangout Auction and to our amazing fans that make it happen, you are all awesome and we love you.

 

A Day at the Zoo with Cicely Robin Laing! Elizabeth Flomo
A Day at the Zoo with Squash Banana! Phillip Schramm
A Day of Chipper Happy Things with Breanna Cecile and Mary Kane! Abraham vanderBent
Apocalypse World with Alex Carlson & Adam McConnaughey Mark Jelinek
Appearance on Next At Bat! Adam Litz
Babysitting with Joe McGowan! Drew Kersten
Bad Headshots with Sally Foster! Heather Humphries
Bad Headshots with Sally Foster! Amy Zajack
Baking Time with Karina & Rosie! Sean Sittnick
Bass/Guitar Lessons with Will Roberts! Lauren Chesnut
Be Awkwardly Stared at by Richie and Bradley! Bree Dalager
Best First Date with Mary Kane! Chad Anderson
Blizzards with the Blizzard Wizards! Liv Anderson
Boozy Brunch with The Brunchy Bunch! David Lipkin
Breakdancing 101 with Joe McGowan! Amy Burge
Chasin’ Waterfalls with Blake Wanger! Heather Baldwin
Choose Your Own Donut Adventure! Jim DeSimone
Coffee and Records with Nathan Rouse! Douglas Cox
Color and Draw with Happily Ever After! David Hadley
Crafternoon Delight with Anna & Meghan! Erin Kennedy
Dining Experience with Bradley Machov! Thomas Cohen
Dinner and Theatre w/ Heather Baldwin: Peter Pan @ CTC – Performance date open! Cynthia Rodriguez
Dinner and Theatre with Heather Baldwin: Jungle Theater! Amy Zajack
Dinner and Theatre with Heather Baldwin: Peter Pan at CTC! Mary Strutzel
Dinosaur Nerd-Out with Sean Dillon! Liv Anderson
Double Date with Liv & Bradley! Drew Kersten
Drunken Milkshakes with Amy Zajack! Kathryn Walby
Eat a Vermonster with Ladyfriend! Dan Ruby
Fingerpainting and Hard Liquor with Horseface! Robert Wagner
Flojack Day of Fun! Nathan Bier
Fountain Tour with Mark Jelinek! Mary Strutzel
Fun French Tutoring with real live Frenchwoman Sophie Brossard! Matt McCloud
Get Your Ass Kicked on Playstation 1 Games with Sean Sittnick! James Magnuson
Ghost Hunting Adventure with Sally Foster & Lauren Chesnut! Debi Summers
Go to a Gas Station with Kiss Kiss Slap for a Treat! (not to buy gas) Kate Brown
Grand Slam with Lipkin and Tweet! Neil Hutson
Group Bad Headshots with Sally Foster! Amy Burge
Group Dance Lesson with Rhett Romsaas! Chad Anderson
Guest Star on Minimum Fare! James Satter
Happy Hour with Nick Rindo’s Downtown Happy Hour Group! Gurayn Sylte
Headshots with Clay Maccartney! Tamara Bredemus
Homebrew Hangout with Colin Ernst! Rachel Ernst
Horror Makeup Application with Carolyn Blomberg! Amy Zajack
Hudsucker River Valley’s NY-style Sausage Pepper & Onion with Cocktails! The Away Team
Hug From Clay Macartney! Eric Heiberg
HUGE Golden Ticket! Tamara Bredemus
HUGE Golden Ticket! Matt McCloud
HUGE Golden Ticket! Abraham vanderBent
Important Shopping with the Gay/Straight Alliance! Svetlana Green
Improv Duo with Jill Bernard! Anonymous Winner
Improv Duo with Mike DallaValle! James Satter
Instagram Adventure with Laura Posterick! Kate Novak
Jack Barrett Will Underscore Your LIFE! Joe McGowan
Juggling with Joshua Krauskopf! Rosie Malcolm
Khan’s Mongolian BBQ with Carolyn & Jill! Meghan Wolff
Learn to play Dwarf Fortress with Andy Turbes and Joe Halvarson! Will Roberts
LEGO Custom Design and “Block” Party with Block…er, Blake Wanger! Amy Burge
Lipkin’s Doodle of the Month Club! Emily Larkin
Math Tutoring with Amy Burge! Jeremy Olson
Mojo Kickball in YOUR Honor! Bree Dalager
Murder Mystery Dinner with Clue: The Improvised Murder Mystery! Jeff Gyllen
Northeast Taproom Bike Tour with Polar Bear Centric! Andrew Kerkow
Penpals with Lipkin! Kristin Warfield
Picnic and drawing with Cicely Robin Laing! Cicely Laing
Pilates with Karina! Jill Bernard
Pizza & Game Night for Horrible People with Cards Against Humanity – Improvised! Tamara Bredemus
Plastic Model Building with Mark Jelinek! Phillip Schramm
Private Dance Lesson with Rhett Romsaas! Elizabeth Flomo
Record Music with Erik Ostrom! Barry Hayes
Red Lobster Feast with License to Krill! Erik Nielsen
Road Trip with Mayhem! Breanna Wilczek
ROCKETS with Jelinek & Halvarson! Rosie Malcolm
Running Coaching with Adam Iverson! Amy Napleton
S’Mores and More with (Un)Happy Campers! Nicholas Muellerleile
Shadowrun Roleplaying Night! Mike DallaValle
Silent Donut Eating with Mike Fotis! Zach Curtis
Skype Date From Home with Emily Larkin’s “Maleias” Emíl! Abraham vanderBent
Snack time with Snack Time! Joe McGowan
Soccer and Drinking with Bree Dalager! Mark Abbott
Storytime with Kristi Kremers! Amy Burge
Sunday Funday with Drew & Matt! Patrick Tracy
Superhero Night with Dilly Dally! Jeff Gyllen
Tabletop Game Night with Matt, Erik, Abe, and Will! Tom Ferrara
Tacos with The Away Team! Joseph Kapper
Tea Time with the Beards! Paul Barrett
Terrible T-shirt Deezign with Terrible Origami! Nate Morse
Theme Park Experience with Bryan Pierce! Amy Burge
Visit the Walker Art Center with The Painters! Rosie Malcolm
Weird Portraits with Adam Iverson! Matt McCloud
Worst First Date with Erin Kennedy! Trent Hanson
Zombie Pub Crawl/Halloween Makeup Application with Carolyn Blomberg! Mike Trost

Big news for the future of HUGE

This post proved surprisingly difficult to begin as I think we’re all still reeling a bit from the news ourselves, even though it’s something we have always included in our strategic vision, took deliberate steps to make possible, worked for years to achieve and never had any doubt that we should be doing….things like this can still be overwhelming when they arrive.

One of the things we did early on when we first secured a space was begin a conversation with The McKnight Foundation to discuss our future and make sure we had some guidance on how best to grow into the kind of organization we really wanted HUGE to be.

That conversation has continued over the years as we pass big milestones and I’m proud of how we’ve attacked some of the more difficult aspects of maturing into that theater — usually the invisible, unglamorous work like growing an infrastructure that works both now and in the future as well as committing to paying artists in a way that can still allow us to grow without putting the work of that growth on the backs of artists any more or longer than needed.

For the working board of a young theater with big, big plans, having a foundation like McKnight that can help us see further ahead has been incredible – and now I’m excited to be able to announce that The McKnight Foundation is helping to support the next steps in the growth of our theater with a grant of general operating funds!

Molly Chase worked tirelessly to prepare and distill all of our big ideas and future plans and dreams into a cohesive vision — we submitted our application and waited nervously but hopefully — and recently got the official word that The McKnight Foundation is granting HUGE Theater sixty thousand dollars in general operating support over the next two years.

I still struggle to put words around “what this means to HUGE theater” but the simplest impact to understand is obviously the numbers themselves. Know that HUGE really does need, feel and appreciate every $30 per month membership donation – and that continues to be true. So having $30,000 per year in general operating support for two years gives us the ability to make small investments in things we really need. This is extraordinary.

But the support of the McKnight Foundation also means so much more to us – including a measure of validation to the very idea that HUGE Theater is built around, something we’ve known all along. The people we are serving are artists and what they create is art.

Ultimately, that is what makes this announcement so exciting for me – knowing how much it will help HUGE Theater to continue to support this art form and the amazing artists that call HUGE Theater their home.

Thank you all – for all your time, energy, support and patience – it means everything.

You make all this possible.

– Butch Roy

Executive Director & Humble Servant


 

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The McKnight Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life for present and future generations through grantmaking, collaboration, and encouragement of strategic policy reform. Founded in 1953 and independently endowed by William and Maude McKnight, the Minnesota-based family foundation had assets of approximately $2 billion and granted about $86 million in 2013. We invest in people, place, and possibility through our support for the arts, education and learning, the Mississippi River, regional economic and community development, Midwest climate and energy, international collaborative crop research, and neuroscience research. Our primary geographic focus is the state of Minnesota, with significant support also directed to strategies throughout the U.S. and in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Learn more atmcknight.org, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Whistleblower Policy

HUGE Theater requires board members and employees to observe high standards of business and personal ethics in the conduct of their duties and responsibilities. As employees and representatives of the HUGE Theater, we must practice honesty and integrity in fulfilling our responsibilities and comply with all applicable laws and regulations.

Reporting Responsibility

It is the responsibility of all board members and employees to report ethics violations or suspected violations in accordance with this Whistleblower Policy.

HUGE Theater has an anonymous feedback form available publicly on the website. Any member of the community, staff, or the board may enter a complaint via this form.

In addition, HUGE Theater has an open door policy and suggests that employees share their questions, concerns, suggestions or complaints with someone who can address them properly. If an employee has a reasonable belief that an employee of HUGE Theater has engaged in any action that violates any applicable law, or regulation, including those concerning accounting and auditing, or constitutes a fraudulent practice, the employee is expected to immediately report such information to any member of the Board of Directors with whom they feel comfortable.

However, if you are not comfortable speaking with a member of the board, or you are not satisfied with that person’s response, you are encouraged to report suspected ethics violations to the HUGE Theater’s Compliance Officer, who has specific and exclusive responsibility to investigate all reported violations. For suspected fraud, or when you are not satisfied or uncomfortable with following HUGE Theater’s open door policy, individuals should contact HUGE Theater’s Compliance Officer directly.

 

Compliance Officer

The HUGE Theater’s Compliance Officer is responsible for investigating and resolving all reported complaints and allegations concerning violations and, at his/her discretion, shall advise the Executive Director and/or the board. The Compliance Officer has direct access to the board of directors and is required to report to the board at least annually on compliance activity. The HUGE Theater’s Compliance Officer is Jack Reuler.

Acting in Good Faith

Anyone filing a complaint concerning a violation or suspected violation must be acting in good faith and have reasonable grounds for believing the information disclosed indicates a violation. Any allegations that prove not to be substantiated and which prove to have been made maliciously or knowingly to be false will be viewed as a serious disciplinary offense.

Confidentiality and Handling of Reported Violations

All reports will be followed up promptly, and an investigation conducted. In conducting its investigations, HUGE Theater will strive to keep the identity of the complaining individual as confidential as possible, while conducting an adequate review and investigation.

The person who is notified, whether it is a member of the board or the Compliance Officer, will notify the sender and acknowledge receipt of the reported violation or suspected violation within five business days. All reports will be promptly investigated and appropriate corrective action will be taken if warranted by the investigation.

Compliance Officer:

Jack Rueler,  Artistic Director Mixed Blood Theatre
junior@mixedblood.com, (612) 338-2155

WORKSHOP: The Game of the Scene with Emily Schmidt

Sunday April 12 3-5PM, $40
At HUGE Theater, 3037 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408
This workshop will focus on discovering and playing the “game of the scene” through grounded, two-person scenework — often, the game is there, waiting to be played, and we miss it! We’ll also explore ways to make group scenes simpler and more fun using the concept of “game.” Whether you’ve taken a workshop from me in the past or not, you can expect to learn new skills and hone old ones. Simplify and ground your scenes to take them to new heights!Emily Schmidt has been improvising for over ten years in Minneapolis, New York and Los Angeles. She currently lives in LA, where she is on an Upright Citizens Brigade Mess Hall team. They perform game-based Harolds. Learning “game” after improvising from a more relationship-based place is a challenge, but Emily believes different approaches to longform are like tools in a toolbelt, and you should figure out which work best for you. She has studied under some UCB greats and Minneapolis greats and attempts to combine it all.

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Payment of $40 due the day of the class, cash or check preferred.

REGISTER HERE!

 

 

 

Coming Soon at HUGE – March-April 2015

We are very excited to officially announce the weekend lineup of shows for March/April 2015!

Friday Nights

8pm - The first in our “Throwgram” series begins with the Deconstruction cast performing their As-Yet-Untitled show based on the Deconstruction.

9:30pm – Winners of last year’s TROIKA competition, Murmur is going to perform THE perfect scene and you are going to help them get there!

10:30pm – A double-bill too good not to happen, proving this is the best of all possible universes, it’s Ladyfriend AND The Adventures of Tim, Troy and Damian!

 

Saturday Nights

8pm - Yes Anderson presents : Darjeeling Unscripted  the smash hit improvised “movie” in the style of the great rail-riding Wes Anderson returns!

9:30pmThe Mess present a new improvised masterpiece every week.

10:30pm – Deal the cards, press your tux and bring an extra candlestick for CLUE: The Improvised Murder Mystery!

HUGE’s 4 Year Anniversary Show – January 31, 2015

3Years

Join us as we celebrate FOUR YEARS of hard work and laughter at HUGE Theater – Saturday, January 31st at 8pm we will have an amazing show featuring as many improvisers as we can fit on the stage (and take our annual photo-within-a-photo photo), we will say thank you, we will laugh a lot and probably cry a bit.

Tickets – $20 or FREE for Members of HUGE Theater

Members will have early access to tickets, this show WILL sell out.

Featuring:

Adam Iverson
Aric McKeown
Becky Hauser
Beth Gibbs
Bradley Machov
Butch Roy
Carolyn Blomberg
Casey Haeg
Chris Hill
Dan Linden
Daniel Jaquette
Ellen Jaquette
Eric Knobel
Erin Sheppard
Hannah Wydeven
Jake Scott
James Moore
James Rone
Jane White
Janelle Blasdel
Jen Scott
Jen Van Kaam
Joe Bozic
Joe Rapp
Josh Kaplan
Josh Kuehn
Katie Vannelli
Katy Kessler
Kevin Albertson
Maria Bartholdi
Matt Prindle
Meghan Wolff
Michael Ritchie
Mike DallaValle
MJ Marsh
Molly Chase
Nate Morse
Nels Lennes
Patrick Tracy
Rita Boersma
Sean Dillon
Sid Oxborough
Troy Zimmerman

 

“Ask Jill” Archives for 2014

Would you like to read the 2014 archives of all of the “Ask Jill” answers from the HUGE Newsletter? Here they are!

JANUARY

Sean D asks, “What’s your favorite animal and why? Also, any tips for duo performance?”
1) Numbat because OMG 2) Take some or all of the MICHAEL KEATON WORKSHOPS Mondays Feb 3, 10, 17, 24   – Hannah Wydeven and Butch Roy will guide you through some absolute essentials that will make you a strong duo.

Hannah W asks, “Hey Jill, what exercises do you recommend to get an improviser to explore their silliest side?”
Take everyone to a private karaoke room and just sing like crazy with each other, sing songs that you don’t know at a way-too-fast tempo. Have a snowball fight or a tickle fight or a paper airplane attack. Make sugar cookies together. Borrow some kid’s Duplo blocks to play with. Go ice skating and fall down a lot. These aren’t really improv exercises, but they trick people who’ve gotten to serious about improv into being human animals again. A classroom exercise to do is to make everyone do the worst possible improv scenes in the world on purpose.

Alex C asks, “How important is having fun on stage? Can you go too far, or is it ok as long as the audience enjoys it?”
I am scared to answer this question because improv bullies use the phrase, “C’mon, I was just having fun!” as a way to rationalize steamrolling their partners, ignoring offers, rejecting the director’s notes and the team’s goals; or being sexist, racist or generally awful. But assuming we are not using the phrase “having fun” in that sense, there is a question to ask as a litmus test: Are “we” having fun, or are “you” having fun? There’s the rub. This is about “us” and us includes everyone in the room, on and off stage. Make it fun for all of us and no one will ever really be mad.

Jen K asks,  “How do you deal with body image or any pressures to appear a certain way as a performer?”
Unlike movies or TV, in improv anyone can play any part no matter what they look like – that’s one of the most beautiful things about it. As a result, if anyone ever pressures you to appear a certain way as a performer, you can ignore them completely because they don’t get it. (Unless we’re talking about a troupe dress code. I’m a big fan of improvisors that put on clean and similar clothing to create an impression of ensemble and professionalism.) I read a great tweet the night of the Golden Globes. The actress Gabourey Sidibe wrote: “To people making mean comments about my GG pics, I mos def cried about it on that private jet on my way to my dream job last night. #JK”. Improv is my dream job, and although I don’t have a private jet or even a car, I for sure am only #JK crying about anything anyone has to say about my body.

Kelvin H asks, “How would you go about communicating establishing a location that isn’t modern day? Like, say you were initiating a scene that was set in 1957, but the whole concept of ‘the past’ wasn’t immediately obvious from the suggestion or structure. How would you make sure it was a scene set in 1957 and not about some crazy guy who uses old-fashioned stuff, is a technophone, has Alzheimer’s, etc?”
The way I’ve seen the improv troupe Splendid Things handle it is that the three of them are incredible improvisors well-versed in genre and history, who pay acute attention to their partners’ every move and play the genre proposed because they’re sensitive enough to detect it. Clues will be in the language, word choice, posture and references. Barring THAT, I would say propose it as a goal with your team. “Hey, I’ve noticed all our scenes are modern-day, could we get a little flexible with that?”

Christian U asks, “How do you balance the ‘rules’ of improv with trying to be in the moment and spontaneous? I know it’s a basic question but it’s my biggest hurdle. The reality is that you CAN make a ‘mistake’ in improv and not everything can be spun into gold. I’ve watched those mistakes completely derail sets before.”  
Walt Whitman said, “Be curious, not judgmental.” It’s hard for people in various professions to wrap their heads around how improv works; if they spend all day making something run perfectly and there’s a specific outcome expected and desired, it is really hard to convince them there’s an entirely separate paradigm under which to operate. The truth about improv is this: if there was something specific we needed to have happen we would write a script. All the best scripts, particularly in comedy, are being written by improvisors right now. We are more than capable of writing scripts if that’s what the situation called for. But we’re not writing scripts because we’ve decided something else is important. The “rules” of improv are a series of derived ideas that make for some lovely moments, but a moth can upstage you if it finds its way in front of the lights, no matter how many rules of improv you are nailing. e.e. cummings wrote: “since feeling is first who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you.”  The reason the sets you are referring to derailed is because the participants lost faith or hope or courage and didn’t play the hand they’d dealt themselves like the winner it could be. It’s already gold, no spinning needed.

I can tell you these words but I don’t know how to tell them to your heart and not your head.  I can only hope that maybe someday you get off a train at the wrong stop and there’s no train back for hours and instead of being upset you wander through the village and discover a small shop where they make a sweet candy in a small shop \more delicious than you’ve ever had, and the old man behind the counter tells you a story like you’ve never heard before, and there just happens to be a small string band playing in the gazebo in the square where people are dancing badly but with passion; and then when you finally get on the train it turns out they were fine without you all day long at your original destination.

FEBRUARY

This month I chose to do a JILL ASKS column instead of an ASK JILL column. Here are just some of the great answers:

What is the best way to get to sleep after a show when your brain is thinking improv improv improv! but your body is thinking s-l-e-e-p?
Casey H. recommended: “Concentrate on your breathing. Lay on your left and count 8 deep breathes, repeat on the right. Continue this pattern but adding 8 more breathes on each side until you fall asleep.” Several people recommended meditation, reading or writing. One person recommended listening to the sound of the Star Trek Enterprise engine on idle (*cough cough* Maria).

When you’re intimidated by the size of a task before you, what do you do to get started?
Butch R. said, “I usually start with ‘Oh yeah?!? We’ll see about that.'” And that’s why he’s the HUGE President. Several people recommended breaking it into smaller tasks. Amanda U. said, “I sit down with a notebook and pen and write down every single thing that occurs to me that will need to happen to complete the huge task. I give my brain time to make connections and inevitably new things come up I haven’t thought of yet. After that, if it’s relevant, you can divide up the tasks into categories on different lists. I have been known to make myself a cover sheet that says ‘don’t panic.’ After I get it all out of my brain and into paper, I can give myself permission to take it one step at a time because I’m no longer worried about forgetting something important.” Pat S. quoted, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time?”

Teachers across the country notice that the students who hang out together are the ones who stick with improv. How can I as an improv teacher make sure my students socialize with each other even though I am too introverted and sleepy to go out with them?
Erin S. said, “HUGE classes have a nice advantage since students can see shows for free — so if going out somewhere is prohibitive (cost, too late for week night classes, etc.), you could recommend that students attend the same show and then chat about it afterwards — sort of like a book club, but with an improv show (or showsssss).” This is why Ben G. nominated Erin for “Social Chair” in his answer. Danny S. said, “Up front, on the first day, explain that improv works better if you know and trust your scene partners. The fastest and easiest way to do this is to get to know each other outside of class.”  Blake W. added: “Every improv teacher I’ve ever had has stressed the importance of hanging out outside of class, yet only one or two of those teachers ever actually did that with us. The best way to get students of any age and discipline to do something is to model that behavior, even if doing so makes you a little uncomfortable. And I say all of this as a very introverted (and often sleepy) person.”

What’s a good dinner to pack for long improv days that doesn’t need refrigeration?
Bryan P. and Joden K. suggest peanut butter sandwiches. Bryan says: “Peanut butter is magical. Bring that with things like bread, graham crackers, bananas, whatever and just snack all day. The protein will help keep you going too.”  Maria B suggests, “Meat sticks.”

MARCH

This month HUGE Executive Producer and veteran improvisor Butch Roy answered questions:

Casey asked : How do you personally continue to grow and improve in improv?
Keep looking for that feeling of fear and discomfort, which keeps me looking for people that push me.

Avoid the comfortable and familiar. Keep asking yourself the questions that make you uneasy instead of telling yourself that everything is great

It all demands a high degree of honesty — to keep honestly asking yourself if you’re still challenging yourself or if you’ve found something you’re good at and are comfortable with, if you’ve found people willing to push you or just someone that complements your style and you get laughs together, if you really did your best work or if you just got big laughs. It’s hard. And, as humans, we tell ourselves all kinds of things to avoid facing those questions.

I saw a long thread on Facebook about how to handle criticism and the overwhelming majority of the replies focused on the person giving the negative feedback or the situation in which it was given — all of which feels like avoiding the question we’re all scared of, which is “Was the person that said we weren’t good at something RIGHT?” I would say the best place to start would be to grapple with the possibility that they were right and we’re not as good as we think at what we’re doing. To accept, in advance, that we might not be good enough . . . yet.  It’s not a process so much as a motivation to keep trying, to ask harder questions of ourselves than our critics will, which ultimately results in always having a higher standard to pursue.

MJ asked: Any advice for future Tech Savvy Improvisors?
Get in there and push buttons and twist knobs — find out what they do by taking risks instead of playing it safe. That’s the same way you have to learn improv but at least improvising on stage you know your tools. You have to know what the keys do in order to play music.

Jen asked: I’d like to know how to properly share your improv successes with fellow performers. For example, as we all audition for the same shows, some of us will get in and some won’t. Some will be asked to teach classes or perform in special shows. How do you approach sharing this news with fellow performers without ruffling feathers or making them feel inferior?
That’s a tough one for a couple reasons — mostly because I am rarely asked to be in shows, I usually make my own instead. Maybe that helps, because then your success is your own and you get used to looking at it in terms of something you’ve created instead of something you’ve taken from someone else (like a spot you both auditioned for).

All you can really do is know that you only control yourself — you can’t control if someone is going to feel bad for your success, why you might have success where others don’t or any number of other things.

Not only that but you have to practice keeping that in mind no matter which side of it you’re on — it’s just as crucial when someone else succeeds to know that you haven’t failed because of it and there’s no reason not to be happy for them.

Jeremiah asked : Exactly what color IS that?
Nuclear Red by Special Effects

Mirabeau asked: Just how awesome are mohawks?
Pretty fun but they require a lot of upkeep, which can be a hassle unless you get good at shaving your own head or know someone really patient and willing to do it for you every couple weeks.

Alex asked : This is a quote from you from a video of the first HUGE Fundraiser: “We really want to find a home for all the disparate improv elements in the cities that want to have a common stage and really represent the whole spectrum of what improv can do on stage . . .” – What did you mean by “disparate” and do you think that HUGE represents this spectrum now, 3 years in?
Just that the only thing they need to have in common for us to be their home is that they are improvised. We wanted to be really clear that it wasn’t just our style or any one style that would be welcome and I think it was also really important to know that not everyone will want to be on one stage and might want to build their own thing, and that’s awesome. I think we really do represent that spectrum as best we can, still. I feel it’s fair to say that HUGE has been consistent with that goal all along. We might lean toward genre here or some other style there but there is no favorite style or kind of show that will get you on the stage at HUGE.

I say “as best we can” because it would be foolish to say that it’s even possible for us to represent the whole spectrum at any given time. We are only a place, in the end. And only one place. We can only put up a small fraction of the ideas that come in the door and for all the shows on our stage there are so many more that should still be on a stage AND even more beyond those that don’t come in our door at all.

I think one thing that I might not say enough that I meant in that quote is that it’s incredibly important to me to support improv theater, not just improv comedy. When I say “what improv can do,” I mean that it’s so much more than just funny and we should never stop pursuing the rest of the possibilities. Improv can be beautiful and touching, smart and thought-provoking and everything that we expect from other forms of theater. It just happens to be so funny that we have to keep reminding ourselves about the rest.

APRIL

This month HUGE Director of Education Jill Bernard answered questions:

Blake W asks “When you are teaching a short, one time workshop with a group of students you might never have again, how do you choose which few bits of your vast improv wisdom to share with them?”
Great question, Blake! I ask them what they are working on, how well they know each other, what prompted this workshop request, and what they envision the ideal feedback after the workshop will be. There are usually a couple hints in there that let me know what direction to head.

David L asks, “As a performer on stage, what is the most effective way of dealing with a heckler?”
I am very fortunate that the places I perform most often, HUGE and ComedySportz, are very heckler-light. It almost never happens. Ideally, someone from the theater’s house staff will deal with a heckler. If by circumstance it falls to the performers, it is best if someone not in the scene slips offstage and speaks to the heckler as privately as possible. I personally use the improv skill of low status, I whisper to the heckler, “I really need your help, we’re trying to have an improv show but your yelling is very disruptive, can you keep quiet? Thank you so much.” Other people have different approaches that work for them. If the heckler is belligerent beyond that, I take them out of the room and ask them to leave the theater, issuing a refund because I think issuing refunds is a smooth move for anyone who finds out our show is not what they expected. If it has to be dealt with from the stage because there is no one in the cast to slip off discretely, there are numerous ways to handle it, and it depends on having a good read of what this particular heckler is demanding. Do they just need a moment of attention and then we can move on? Do they think they’re helping (e.g. they misunderstood what yelling suggestions is) and it would be best to explain to them that they are not helping? Are they so awful that only appealing to their friends seated nearby to remove them would help? It is all your best judgement in the moment.

Joden K asks, “Are oil changes really necessary every 3,000 miles?”
Yo, brother, obey the sticker.

MAY

Adam asks “Why do people laugh?”
There’s a lot of great theory on this, from Plato, Aristotle, Bergson, Freud, Hobbes, all the big names. Local improv legend Stevie Ray discusses this question in his book, What We Laugh at and Why: Stevie Ray’s Medium Sized Book of Comedy.  He has some excerpts here: www.stevierays.org/bookofcomedy_excerpts.html.  He lists Laughter of the Unexpected, Laughter of Recognition, Laughter of Superiority, Laughter of Delight as the types of laughter you’re likely to encounter.  People also laugh as a signal to play, and they laugh when tension is broken. You can delve even further than that, the University of Minnesota has a wonderful class called “Comedy Text and Theory” that was a great source of insight for me and other local comedians, most notably the Scrimshaw Brothers.

Max asks, “Who am I?”
Well, this destroys the relative anonymity of “Ask Jill”, but you’re Max Maliga, one of the four members of Positive TERI who lights up the stage every Saturday night at 10:30pm, $5!  If you look around and you see Bradley, Dustin and Matt, you’re the other one.

Jeremiah asks, “Can you suggest some comedy/improv podcasts or YouTube channels you enjoy?”
I can’t think of any YouTube channels offhand, but I have some podcast recommendations. Nationally, a good listen is. A.D.D. with Dave Razowsky and Ian Foley. I’ve recorded a podcast myself, here are the episodes.  Locally, two fun improv podcasts are The Mustache Rangers, who also have a live show at HUGE with even more adventures Fridays at 9:30; and Next At Bat with Matt McCloud and Philip Simondet, they interview improvisors and other guests, and then do some improv.

JUNE
Drew K asks, “What are the best post-improv hangout bars in town (both now and back in the day)?”
Oh man, I still miss The Poodle Club on East Lake Street. We’d all go sing karaoke and sometimes win drink tickets or breakfast tickets for our hilarious stylings. Eric Knobel was so young he had to hide between us. The Green Mill is always and forever an improv bar. What’s funny about it is I know that ComedySportz and the Brave New Workshop performers and students used to both hang out there before any of us really knew each other. How many nights must we have spent at adjacent tables never challenging each other to a sweet game of Arkanoid? Now The Herkimer (TCIF party sponsor) and Moto-I (another TCIF party sponsor) are very popular, as is the VFW.

Michael K asks, “How do you deal with waiting to hear back from a festival? Is there an appropriate amount of time to wait after the ‘we’ll let you know’ date, before enquiring?”
Take a quick peek at their homepage, Facebook and Twitter to make sure no delays have been announced, then go for it. A politely worded email is completely warranted.

Alex C asks, “Do you have any ‘big ideas’ in regards to HUGE that were either too expensive, didn’t have support, or that you never even bothered to share that still excite you?”
I dug into the first note we wrote when we only just met Molly Chase who thought she was just going to help us write a Strategic Plan about this time in 2011 – but then she fell in love with HUGE and stayed. Highlights of that list that never came to fruition are:

  • “Start having universal auditions, both for HUGE but also for improvisers looking to cast/be cast” – we gave it a shot, maybe we’ll bring it back some day.
  • “College outreach” – boy, the colleges are just really far away and it’s hard for them to get here.
  • My favorite – “Rooftop space with grass for outdoor meetings/rehearsals” – structurally impossible, but still sounds really awesome.

Jeremiah Z asks “What other art form is most similar to long-form improv? My metaphors always fall flat.”
Jazz. Gotta be jazz.

JULY
Alex asks, “How Will Positive TERI End?!”
The improv groups that you really love never end. They’re a piece of the improv that you do til you die.

Jeff asks, “Do you find it more valuable to improvise with a wide variety of people in different transient groups, or to concentrate on working long-term with a few groups?”
EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME! Which is to say, I like at least one of each.

Joanna asks, “How do you surrender control (in a scene, a group, a relationship)?”
I do not know, but I just thought of six pithy pieces of advice on the subject. Improvise faster than your brain can fix what is not broken. Love your partner’s choice harder than you can judge it. Honor an idea that is not your own. Breathe instead of boss. Put yourself deliberately off-balance. Chase joy rather than perfection.

Breanna asks, “Do you have any advice for a bunch of new improvisors feeling lost when they practice outside of a class?”
Hire a coach! There’s a list at http://giveusnotes.com. Alternately you can just ask someone you admire. Barring that, it is fun to work through a book together, like Improvising Better (Carrane/Allen) or the Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual (Walsh/Roberts/Besser) or The Viewpoints Book (Bogart/Landau) — depending on what kind of work you would like to do. If you are self-coaching, it is more important to focus on what you like about each other’s work. Criticizing each other teaches you to play in judgement, which is a difficult mindset from which to play.

Daniel asks, “You ever think about getting a pet? You seem to like animals a lot.”
Sometimes the neighbor cat comes over to inspect me. His Yelp review is scathing.

SEPTEMBER
Alex asks, “What’s the worst landlord situation you’ve had to deal with? How did you handle it?”
One time the sink was leaking, but I had both a live-in boyfriend and an extra cat the landlord didn’t know about. So the landlord came and fixed the sink, meanwhile the boyfriend and the cat spent the whole time wrapped up together in a blanket like a burrito. A large squirming blanket burrito.

Anonymous asks: “I find myself, and dear lord I hope others, having this internal struggle constantly: my dear friends are in amazing shows and I sit there fighting with myself, going back and forth between feeling super happy for them and then feeling incredibly jealous that I am NOT in those shows. How do I leave the jealousy behind and truly appreciate the amazing work my friends are doing? And how come I don’t get asked to be in the things???”
You don’t get asked to be in things because you haven’t been in the exact right place when someone else thought of a great idea you’d be perfect for, or your brief audition did not contain the incredibly specific elements the director was looking for; it’s not personal, it’s very slim odds. I know how you feel, I was not asked to be in ANY of the hot improv groups of the early ’90s; Vortex, Jump Up And Run, True North, Bad Mamma Jammas, and others I’m sure I’m forgetting. I do remember feeling pretty pouty about it. By the time I was finally asked to be in The Impossibles it felt, well, impossible. I have three strategies to offer, one of which may resonate for you: 1) What I learned from auditioning for commercials is that there are a lot of jobs I would be fine for that someone else would be equally fine for. Really it’s nothing against me, I am nearly identical in talent and likability to lots of other people — when set against each other, the odds will be in their favor at least some of the time. 2) According to Deepak Chopra, at the atomic level we are all composed of the same parts. We are all the same thing. So your success is my success and your failures are my failures. I can be as happy or sad for you as if you were myself, we’re one thing. 3) Alternately, you can check your ego and take it as a wake-up call. The message you give yourself should be “Oh #$%!, I better up my game.” That means create a project that is at least as interesting to you as the projects you are not in, and build your skills to be even more of a powerhouse than you are. If you are not a creator, it means find a teammate who is a creator who can make a project for you. Soon you will be so busy that you would not have had time to be in that other cool project anyway.

Heather asks, “Say I’m moving to another part of the country, perhaps even a part of the country with a weak, small, or devoid of life improv community, what one skill/word of wisdom/quirk/piece of advice/other part of the Minneapolis improv community should I bring with me?”
First of all, noooooooooooooooo don’t goooooooooo!!! Second of all, you don’t need to consciously bring anything, we buried it in you. We wormed it into your heart and your smile, and your positive outlook. We found a way to be part who you are for the rest of your life. Whenever you need us, just make yourself a hot dish and we’ll be there. If that’s too squishy an answer, I leave you with a bit of wisdom from Dudley Riggs, the founding father of Minneapolis improv: “When I left New York fifty years ago, my agent said, ‘If you’re not in New York, you don’t count.’ I never agreed with that because what counts is the work.”

OCTOBER
Sarah asks, “I am going to school and improv has naturally taken a back seat in my priorities. Any advice on how to keep from rusting over?”
Keep looking for the connections. What are you learning in school that is really a metaphor for improv? In a more hands-on way, I have a list of exercises you can do by yourself. They’re intended for anyone but they’d be fun for improvisors keeping their hand in the game too: http://www.hugetheater.com/2014/some-improv-exercises-to-do-by-your-onlies-to-make-a-more-creative-life/

Find a once-a-week chance to hit up Space Jam or the Wednesday Drop In Class, (5-7PM, $10) at HUGE.  Alternately you can set up a lunchtime improv get-together like the “Lunchprov” Blake Wanger founded — you can invite your classmates to do some simple improv exercises over a lunch break and everyone will have fun.

Jane asks, “Improv philosophies tend to mirror life philosophies, in my experience. How do you advise improvising with people who do not share your life/world view?”
Here is an essay by Andrew W.K. that explains it much better than I can: http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2014/08/ask_andrew_wk_right_wing_dad.php

Sean D asks, “Is there anything — other than improv itself — that you’d specifically like to see more improvisers studying or learning about?”
I wish more improvisors knew theater arts: how to find their light, how to speak loud enough to be heard, how to make a stage picture that looks as beautiful as a painting. It is one of the things that holds improv back from being accepted as theater. It doesn’t always look or sound as good as theater. Few improv groups — The Bearded Men being a notable exception — understand the power of theater as art.

Mary K asks, “What do you do when you have a ‘I just went over the line’ moment in a scene?”
There are lots of strategies, of course. If it is really terrible, I’ve stepped out of the scene and apologized at that moment, which has gotten a laugh. I have also done an “apology” scene where I play a character appalled what just happened. But the best option in my opinion is to accept that “over the line” is a thing that can happen, and I play it through. I support my own choice as if it were an offer someone else had made, even though I’ve skeeved myself out, and I make a mental note not to go there again.

NOVEMBER
Q: Jonathan asked: “How does one find the balance between asserting one’s needs and character in a scene without plowing through others’ gifts? I can’t seem to find that balance yet, and I’m often feeling lost as to what I ‘should’ be doing.”
A: I wish I could teach you an exercise from The Physical Comedy Handbook by Davis Rider Robinson. You need a partner. You throw them a sound and motion. They take it in, really take it in, absorb it and are impacted. Then they throw back their reaction. You take it in, then send back your reaction. It is important not to skip either of those steps 1) take in 2) respond. It is paying attention to both of those steps that shows you the balance you seek. Then of course to take it from the tidy metaphor of an exercise into actual practice, as Matthew asks about below…

Q: Matthew asked: “What are some of the more effective ways you have bridged the gap between understanding techniques intellectually and implementing them into your improvisationals? (Or one – maybe “some” is being greedy)”
A: Psychological change takes six months, and improv adjustments often are psychological. You’ve just got to wait it out. The only shortcut I know is to get a bunch of improv nerds to workshop the ideas with you.

Q: Al asked: “How To Improvise With Anyone! – What clarity can you condense for less experienced improvisers to focus and accelerate our ability to play well with a wider range of players?”
A: There’s a little bit of the answer in my answer to Jonathan above, but the real key is to love everything your partner is offering you and treat it as if it is exactly right. Every move they make is the absolute correct answer and they are a genius. Let everything they do be incredibly important. Whatever you think it means, it means; whatever it looks like it is, it is. Be curious and assumptive and suspicious and invested.

Q: Alex asked: “Lions: scary?”
A: So scary.

DECEMBER
Q: Sean asks “Playing at the top of your intelligence” is a concept I’ve encountered several times in improv training, but it seems like different teachers have different interpretations of what that means. What’s your take?”
A: It does have different interpretations! All of them have utility. Here are two: 1) Your brain tries to protect you from the unknown, and that gets in the way of doing your best improv. One of the ways your brain tries to protect you is by making the character choice to not know things. One of our favorite old scenes featured one improvisor as a carrier pigeon. The pigeon said, “I have a letter for you!” The other improvisor said, “Why don’t you read it to me?”  And the pigeon said, “I can’t read,” and they both giggled because the scene was just stuck there. One useful version of “Play to the top of your intelligence” is just to go ahead and know what the letter says and read it. Know how to crack a safe and fly a space shuttle. 2) A second really useful application of the idea is to do intelligent work, create sophisticated pieces that are worth watching.

Q: Alex asks “Have you seen Bob Odenkirk’s recent opinions on sketch and improv comedy? He says that young people should get out while they can as both forms are about to collapse, making way for the now burgeoning storytelling scene. Do you feel the same or different and why? WHATS HAPPENING I AM SCARED?!”
A: The quote is, ““I honestly would tell anyone young to start looking at stories and learning story, because I think that’s the next step after people go, ‘Okay, I’ve had enough of that improvisation, I’ve had enough of those short comedy bits. Tell me a story, tell me a more complex story, something that lasts and maybe has a little more meaning to it.’”  Which, fortunately, is what the best improv does. The best improv is very rich with meaning, so we have nothing to fear from the improv comedy discipline being any more unstable than it inherently is.

Q: Tane asks “I got this question from a foreign exchange student in theater class at a local college. He came to The Unscripted Minnesota Holiday show and after the performance asked me what I found to be one of the best questions of an improv comedy show ever: ‘What is the point?’ How would Jill answer a question like that?”
A: To take a step back, there is no point to anything.  There is no reason we’re alive, there is no reason hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen joined together to make a breathable atmosphere and no reason that first tetrapod climbed out of the sea. But it happened, and we somehow were each born and have survived despite the odds. Rather than succumb to the meaninglessness of existence, we find ways to entertain ourselves, like making music or adopting poodles or – in this case – creating theater. The further choice to create unscripted rather than scripted theater is a salute to the ephemeral and arbitrary nature of existence. We have chosen to create comedy with the same air we use to breathe because it is the most alive a theatrical production can be. We have so many entertainment options at this point in history, the significance of live theater in 2014 is that it’s live, we are sharing a moment of being truly alive. Also it is really funny. That’s a good side effect.