Some improv exercises to do by your onlies to make a more creative life

Here’s a little collection of exercises I’ve collected that you can do all by onlies to make a  more creative life.  Enjoy! – Jill Bernard


The brain you had when you were a kid was just a little bit softer than the brain you have now. Let’s take a step back and soften up your grown-up brain, to let more things in. Here are some practice exercises from various sources:

* Walk around your office naming things the wrong name, i.e. point at the chair and call it a soda fountain or a gleebeldy glook.
* Do a crossword puzzle or a Sudoku wrong. I recommend not limiting yourself to letters and numbers.
* Close your eyes and turn your head any direction you’d like. Open your eyes and look at what’s in front of you in the frame of your vision. Appreciate it like it’s a painting or a photograph someone deliberately composed in just this way. Try to analyze the symbolism, and the artist’s intent.
* Brush your teeth with the wrong hand.
* Make an art project out of the things in your desk drawer.
* Take the wrong route home from work.
* Draw a really terrible picture of a bunny and mail it to Jill Bernard, P.O. Box 2376 Minneapolis, MN 55402 U.S.A.
* Open a document on your computer, and just start typing. Type whatever comes, even if it’s just, “I don’t know what to type, I don’t know what to type.”
* Play one-word story with yourself by closing your eyes every other word. (
* Play Initials – find two letters, like DW and make up little activities as quickly as you can – drawing whistles, draining wolves, diabolically writing…

Your brain has pathways, and unless you find ways to get off those pathways, you’ll never have a new thought. See if you can surprise yourself today.

Acting for Improvisors with Seniz & Matt

In this class, students will learn techniques of classic stage presentation from instructors Seniz Yargici Lennes and Matthew McCloud. Students will work on improving vocal projection, understanding and implementing stage pictures, using visual dynamics to assist in storytelling and informing power dynamics, and building authentic emotions for their character work.

Three Saturdays: October 11, 18 and 25; noon-3PM
Cost: $90, payable by check, cash or card on the first day of class.

Register here:

THE DECONSTRUCTION – pay what you will fundraiser workshop

Saturday 9/27 10:00-1:00 – HUGE Theater, 3037 Lyndale Ave S Minneapolis MN 55408
This workshop is a refresher on The Deconstruction. Improvisors who are planning to audition for Throwback Night, and could use some brushing up on the base, themes, commentaries, and run of the form should find this one day workshop helpful. The instructor is Drew Kersten who has been improvising since 2002 and teaching improv since 2007. In the last year he has been a part of 4 different deconstruction based shows as part of Colossus and Speed Goat, and had taught the 400 level forms classes at HUGE. Prerequisite: 401 completion, equivalent training elsewhere, or instructor permission.

HUGE made it through the tough summer months, but could use a little financial boost. This workshop is PAY WHAT YOU WILL to help get HUGE back in shape.

Register here!

Special Guest Drop-In Class Instructor: Jen Oleniczak

Every Wednesday from 5-7PM we are pleased to host the Wednesday Drop-In Class, $10 suggested donation, free for members. No registration required, just drop in! At HUGE Theater, 3037 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis MN.

On September 17th we are EXTRA pleased to welcome Jen Oleniczak improv artist/art historian/founder of the Engaging Educator. She is in town as part of “Art Expanded, 1958–1978″ at the Walker Art Center and will dip over to spend a couple of hours with us.

The topic is “Improv for Educators and Professionals,” approaching improv as a best practice in the workplace and as a life skill that builds confidence, enhances listening and responding skills and encourages collaboration. Improv is all about the moment, the right now – essential to good teaching practice and communication.

This workshop will enhance your skills in public speaking, focused listening, responding and specificity. These will lead to not only greater confidence and lower inhibitions when teaching and speaking, allowing you to react and respond honestly and genuinely, but also a more flexible communication style.

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:

Go nuts!


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.


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:


Consider submitting your show to HUGE, via this form:


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)


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)

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

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 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

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

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


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( )

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 ( 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 ( to learn more about what they are up to now, and about any upcoming auditions.


Twin Cities Youth Improv Festival ( 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 ( and Youth Performance Company ( MNPlaylist ( 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…



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.



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 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, 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!


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.


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.


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.


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.

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