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

More questions and feedback sent to The Board!

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

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

 

A:  Jill Bernard writes

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

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

 

Q:

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

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

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

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

A:  Molly Chase writes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HUGE’s mission means:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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