photo by Christian Unser
At the end of January we celebrated six years of our strange little theater – per tradition, we had brief updates, news and goals covering the past year and the year ahead and a lot of thanks. Link to the video included at the end of this post. This is a more complete version of what’s been happening at HUGE and what you can expect to see in the months ahead.
Our classes are still going strong – 221 students enrolled in 14 classes in the current term – and we’ve continued to make changes big and small along the way:
We added a class for Women/Femme/Gender Non-Binary/Trans – special thanks to Hannah Wydeven – to help more people discover (or return to) improv in a safe space!
We launched our re-tooled 401 level class with a focus on helping students transition from the more individual learning process to creating/being part of an ensemble
We awarded some scholarships we’re particularly proud of, with an emphasis on women and people of color to help with our diversity program. To highlight one of them, we partnered with T2P2 to recognize a really wonderful student and talented person, Janae Henry, with a full scholarship to a 101 class.
We are expanding our summer intensive in 2017, since out-of-town and out-of-country visitors often look for ways to make a longer trip, so we’ll run from Tuesday to Sunday. This year’s focus is on Music and Mindfulness, if you’re ready to learn more there’s already info on hugetheater.com/classes so take a peek.
As always – thank you to our amazing teachers: Tane Danger, Sean Dillon, Hannah Wydeven, Gubby Kubick, Erin Kennedy, Jill Bernard, Butch Roy, Michael Ritchie, John Gebretatose, MJ Marsh, Molly Chase, Adam Iverson, Liv Augusta Anderson, Lucas Vonasek
And our TA’s: Kelly Sheehy, Jeff Gyllen, Will Roberts, Erik Nielsen, Liz Council, Katie Novak, Denzel Belin, Ashawnti Ford, Breanna Cecile, Jackson Collins
In 2016 we announced some changes to our production process – including auditions for all roles in all HUGE productions and an Assistant Director role on all HUGE productions – to help include more people in the ever-growing community in our shows.
Since HUGE actually produces a small number of shows on our stage over the course of a year, these changes will be more visible later in the year when KaBaam!! and Creature Feature return in July and September, respectively and continue to be more visible as we grow.
This is yet another part of our focus on improving the diversity of performers represented on our stage – in the past, shows have been very slow to change compared to the community at large when shows kept the same casts year after year – and we’re hoping that independent shows on our stage follow suit as well, which is why we always encourage auditions as part of our show proposal process and give free use of the space to hold auditions.
The Assistant Director role is another important addition that we hope to see more of as we grow – both to give newer producers insight on our process of directing shows and to get more input from more artists when creating our shows.
If you are interested in being an Assistant Director for a HUGE production – please email Nels (at hugetheater dot com) and Butch (at hugetheater dot com) with your availability, experience and interest. As mentioned before, the majority of shows on our stage are not HUGE productions, but we can also help pair interested new directors with groups looking for an outside eye on their shows as well.
Scheduling of shows in the 2017 pipeline continues and we are very excited to announce some new and returning shows in the coming months – we just closed a Throwback Night season that featured a lot of new faces, are opening Neutrino that is mostly new cast and are heading into Troika season – which always means a lot of new groups and performers trying new things together. Stay tuned!
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
Many of the changes we are making are focused on doing better at making HUGE a safe and welcoming place for more and more people – as the head of an organization dedicated to serving the Twin Cities improv community, I can think of no better service to it than to help bring more people to the table so we may all benefit from their experience and insight and creativity.
And no better person to help HUGE in that effort than John Gebretatose.
John officially took on role as our head of Diversity and Inclusion in 2016 – in addition to his work with Blackout Improv and the Black and Funny Improv Festival – and his work has already made such an impact, we are lucky to have him and cannot thank him enough.
The first major addition was the POC Jams – which are now happening on the final Sunday of each month from 4-7pm – to invite people of color to try improv in a setting that is not one in which they are the only POC in a classroom, connect with one another, share experiences and help us as a theater find the best way forward.
John is such an incredible addition to HUGE Theater and it is a priority for us to grow his role as much as his time and our infrastructure allow and support his hard work both inside and outside of his role at HUGE.
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
For the first time in years, we have expanded our Board of Directors!
We were very excited to announce over the closing months of 2016 that Robin Gilette and Adia Morris have both joined our Board of Directors and we are already benefiting from their insight and guidance as well as finding more ways to make them perform on stage with us – our Board has always been more fun than any other Board.
TWIN CITIES IMPROV FESTIVAL
We are nearing the end of the selection process for the eleventh annual Twin Cities Improv Festival (TCIF11), which is always one of the most difficult things we do all year. The festival has always been produced by Five Man Job and an outside person in charge of the education division of the festival – Jill Bernard, Emily Schmidt and then Jill Bernard again – and this year we are announcing that we are opening the position of TCIF’s Education Director
The job description, details and more will be posted in a stand-alone blog on the HUGE site and TCIF site soon after selections are finished, confirmed and announced.
>> NEWS: Selections have been delayed as we just found out that Jet & Holly – who had previously been announced to headline and teach this year – are no longer able to attend the Festival. This has obviously been a setback but we hope to have selection emails sent by this weekend and selections announced by March 8th, one week late <<
BEHIND THE CURTAINS
There are always so many things happening at HUGE – some of which may not be big news or be obvious from the outside – but we’re always trying to adopt/adapt/improve as we go. Here are some things big and small:
Blue Sun Soda – If you’ve been through our lobby lately you may have noticed the addition of some strange brand names and new options, thanks to our friends at Blue Sun. We are very proud and happy to carry several of their products and support small and local business partners.
Two Bettys – if you’ve been through the theater or in the classrooms in the past year you have probably noticed that it is clean and tidy thanks to another small local business. Over the past year we were able to move from volunteer cleaning services to partial-trade to full service with Two Bettys (which makes a tremendous difference in a lot of our daily schedules) and they are taking great care of our home.
Paying artists – As part of our mission to support the Twin Cities improv community, we’ve also been able to engage several improvisers in a professional capacity as photographers and designers (yet another thing that make a massive difference in our day-to-day workload) and when we do so, we insist (we often have to insist because this community is so generous and people keep trying to volunteer) on paying for their services.
Over time, we’ve found that our side mission of “teach people the value and validity of this art – and why asking artists to work for free is corrosive and destructive” also means helping artists expect compensation by consistently being the place that pays for work in a landscape full of opportunities to get free “exposure”
New Equipment – this past year saw the almost-complete replacement of some sound equipment that was well beyond its last legs – AND – the anonymous donor that gave a substantial matching gift during Improvathon donated funds to purchase and install some cameras in our parking lots and outdoor spaces to improve safety and security and hopefully curb some of the vandalism at/around HUGE Theater as well!
We are working with our landlord this spring to get those installed and make other improvements to outdoor lighting as soon as we can – we hope that everyone is safe and they are never, ever needed. That would be the best unused piece of equipment EVER.
New ticketing system – the last change to announce is that HUGE has moved to a new online ticketing system beginning March 1st.
We have been trying to simplify and improve the online ticketing process for a long time and were able to move seamlessly over to Vendini – which is the parent company of our previous ticketing system – and their impressive suite of tools.
That means you’ll see some visible differences in your online shopping cart, some changes to online options (like adult/child pricing and being able to use gift cards to make online reservations!), an online “donation jar” in the checkout process for customers interested in giving, some more/different options coming soon for flexible ticket packages and possible “season ticket” options, as well as some smaller changes to the check-in experience when you arrive at the theater. We are still rolling out some of the tools and changes as we wanted to make the switch as painless as possible.
We’ve also had to make a small proactive change to our pricing – moving all our $7 shows to $8 – in order to keep pace with our growth and expenses.
As always, I end with thanks.
For our tireless (so far) staff of House Managers, Techs, Bartenders that make sure audiences coming to this place have a great time.
For John, Breanna and Kevin who are constantly working hard and bringing new ideas to keep things running and improving every day.
For Bradley and Cicely who handle so many invisible tasks.
For all our volunteers who take care of this place like it was their own (because it is)
For all our amazing teachers, TA’s and performers who take all that nervous energy and stress of the outside world and turn it into laughter.
For everyone that has supported this unlikely place – full of the most amazing people and indescribable moments – that I love so much. It is such an honor that I get to come in every day and do my best to serve this community. It means everything.
Thank you so much.
Executive Director, Humble Servant, Biggest Fan
[ LINK TO ANNIVERSARY VIDEO – WITH THE NUMBERS ]