I've lost more sleep than I can say

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

STAGE TIME

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

Q:

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

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

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

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

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

A:

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

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

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

Criteria

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

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

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

The ultimate answer is that quality wins out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lack of a roadmap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

One other note we got this week was simply this:

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

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

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

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