When the Lights Come Up I Can’t See So Much – I Can Feel Almost Everything

HUGE celebrates five years

photo by Jen Van Kaam

photo by Jen Van Kaam

On the evening of January 30th we gathered on stage to perform together, laugh together and mark the fifth anniversary of our “official” opening night – Per tradition, we take some time to talk about the year in review and the year ahead – what follows is a summary and “State of HUGE” post.  For the sake of time and space, the millions of thank you’s that we owe everyone you see above (and plenty you don’t see) have been condensed as much as possible.  

The People That Make ‘This Building’ into ‘This Place’

We have so many people to thank for all the hard work that goes into HUGE theater on a daily basis and it’s rare (sometimes impossible) that we’re ever all in the same place at the same time. To our incredible Front of House volunteers, House Managers, Bartenders and Technicians – you are the face and the personality of this place that we love so much and the people that allow me to sleep at night knowing it could not be in better hands – Here’s to you.

To Mr. Kevin Albertson – who is the voice of HUGE Theater on social media every single day – Here’s to you, sir.

To Bradley, Cicely, Joe and Breanna – who go way above and beyond to handle the hundreds of little problems most people never even hear about – Here’s to you.

To Adia and Beth – for stepping in to help us, which often means untangling the weird ways we’ve been doing things to help us see a better way to get stuff done – Here’s to you.

To all the Members of HUGE Theater – for your generosity and for continuously supporting this place as it grows into the place it can be, the place the artists of the Twin Cities deserve. We’ve got a long way to go but we’ll get there, thanks to you – Here’s to you.

To Lauren – for always being the Man to our Five Job.

To John and Jenni, Doug and Doug and Mary, Stevie and Pamela – For so many years of hard work that we are lucky enough to have the chance to build upon and being the role models we get to look up to and try to be when we grow up.  I would not be sitting in an improv theater writing this update to our story if it were not for all of you. Thank you so much.

The Numbers

I won’t get into all of the numbers from 2015 – we’re non-profit so our financials are all publicly available online if you’re interested – but there are a few that I would like to highlight to celebrate how far we have come and because they are so critical to the work ahead.

HUGE is proud to be the recipient of a few major grants – The McKnight Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB), and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) have all awarded HUGE with funds to help make our continued existence slightly less impractical and our big schemes for the future slightly less implausible. Writing and applying for any one of those grants would be a large task but all three – for $78K in additional funding this year alone – required the one-and-only Molly Chase, whom we are lucky to have on our team.

Those grants are allowing us to expand our number of classroom/rehearsal spaces so we can offer more space and time to more artists more of the time AND more opportunities for artists to learn and/or teach new skills, which is such a fantastic gift.

:: We also announced on stage that when those classrooms are finished, they will be named in honor of Abe VanderBent and Samantha Pereira – both of whom brought us to tears this year ::

A couple of numbers that are such a great sign for our theater and our community and our mission as a theater ::  

Our fundraising once again reached a record number this year after our biggest Give to the Max Day for HUGE Theater ever. We cleared our ambitious fundraising goal of $50K thanks to the hard work of hundreds of supporters and volunteers plus a generous last-minute gift of $1,500 from the Machov Family Philanthropic Fund.This allowed us to have a year of programming unencumbered by continuous fundraising and still hit a record number of $77,165 in total individual donations for 2015.

One number that always makes me want to show slides (I have learned to resist that urge) to illustrate our mission to support the improv community in the Twin Cities. We began paying artists for performing improv as soon as we had the means to do so. We have continued to increase payments to artists  year after year at a pace that has matched (or at times outpaced) the growth in individual donations and grant support.

I am incredibly proud to say that thanks to receiving  operational grant support in 2015 we were able to lower the threshold at which we pay our some shows. We also expanded a paid teaching assistant program so artists can be paid while they learn to become teachers in their art form.  This year we were also able to connect more artists with more and better paying opportunities to perform and teach — and more — all of which means that HUGE Theater was able to pay artists more than $77K in 2015!

Paid opportunities for artists are important. We not only decline ANY  request for improvisers to work for free — or “for exposure” — we also let the person making the request know  how corrosive the practice is, and emphasize the value of art and artists.

Separately* we were able to pay out more than $107K in payroll in the year 2015!   Someone mentioned to me after the Anniversary show that this number made them glad that we were making something closer to a living wage for our work at HUGE. I neglected to point out that night that the full time staff (Jill, Nels, Molly and myself) are all salaried and our compensation has actually remained the same for years, and for a long time we’ve been able to keep staffing costs down by having our salaried staff working shows as Technicians or House Managers.This growth in payroll is because we have been able to give more and more paying hours to staff!

* Kind of, but not really, since our staff are almost entirely artists as well!

The Milestones and Grindstones

The numbers may be my favorite way to quantify our progress in some areas, but we are an organization dedicated to supporting an art form and a community of artists. This means there are lots of great signals that things are moving in the right direction that aren’t easily represented by integers – this community is constantly growing, collaborating and doing things that we want to support and celebrate. Here are only a couple examples.

The Tiny Funny Women Fest  and the Black And Funny Improv Fest  are two (of the many) forces for change and improvement in our community – working to address issues of disparity, inclusion and diversity in our community and art form, HUGE is proud to provide a home for these events. These festivals are the result of a lot of hard work — they inspire us all to do more and be more.

On Our Stage

There are so many incredible shows being produced by groups inside and outside of HUGE theater that we have been able to curate an unbelievable calendar of shows for 2016. I am super excited to announce them here. (Show info and pages will be added to the regular HUGE calendar soon.)

March/April :: For the third year running, Troika returns on Wednesday nights in March.  In March and April, Rated G on Saturday evenings is a special addition to our regular weekend schedule!

Fridays:  The first show in our Throwgram series features the cast ofClose Quarters at 8pm – KINGS at 9:30pm – The Bearded Men with Diorama at 10:30pm

Saturdays ::  The long-awaited (since 2007) reboot of the improvised film project Neutrino at 8pm – The Mess at 9:30pm – We Have Cats with Gary at 10:30pm

May/June ::  (10th Annual Twin Cities Improv Festival this June – more below)

Fridays:  Throwgram continues with the cast of Deconstruction at 8pm – More or Less at 9:30pm – The Bearded Men at 10:30pm

Saturdays:  Neutrino continues with a whole new cast at 8pm – The Mess at 9:30pm – Blackout Improv at 10:30pm

July/August ::  HUGE is once again a venue for the MN Fringe Festival, August! Also, education director Jill Bernard is designing three summer intensives for August — each will take place in a Friday-Sunday intensive format.

Fridays:  Throwgram concludes with the cast of LaRonde at 8pm – Ladyfriend at 9:30pm – Mayhem with Ricecakes at 10:30pm

Saturdays:  Off Book returns at 8pm – Second Wave Feminist Nightmare Enclave at 9:30pm – The Painters  at 10:30pm

September/October ::  (Some of these shows have working titles in place — stay tuned)

Fridays:  Creature Feature 8pm – Survivors of the Undead Plague at 9:30pm – The Bearded Men  at 10:30pm

Saturdays:  The Election Show at 8pm – Super Good at 9:30pm – Nature Documentary at 10:30pm


 

10th annual Twin Cities Improv Festival :: June 22-26, 2016

This year we are doing things a little differently to celebrate TCIF’s first decade. We did not have a submission process – instead we are inviting back headliners of TCIF’s past, including BASSPROV, 3 For All, FrankenMatt and Darby Lane!

Local performers will still be selected by Five Man Job but we wanted to hear from everyone we could. So instead of a submission process we posted a NOMINATION form to allow people to tell us who they want to see on stage this year. People have submitted  almost 100 nominations so far. We can already tell the selections will be more difficult than ever but we’re excited for this June and will have a couple more surprises to announce along the way — plus TCIF will have a mind-crushing array of workshops to offer.

Bookmark the TCIF home page for all the latest info on the Festival –and nominate your favorite group(s) while you’re there. Sign up fast when workshops are posted – they will sell out.

Inside Our Walls and Outside Our Doors – a closing note from the Executive Director

If you’ve read this far, chances are you already know HUGE fairly well.  I want to end on some thoughts that don’t fit well into a summary of last year or a plan for next year but are very much a part of all of the things we do here.  I know much of the audience for this post are performers and I know that looking at the schedule that is booked into next winter can be a daunting and disheartening thing. I want to address it.

First of all – I love that people want to put their shows on our stage. That is literally what this place is built for, and is the fulfillment of a lot of long days and sleepless nights.

We are always working on programming. We recently put our show proposal form on hiatus while we discuss and propose some changes we hope will allow us to bring more groups and shows to our stage. When we re-open the process there will be an announcement on the HUGE blog.

Not only are we programming further ahead than ever, this past year saw more auditions than ever for HUGE shows and shows being produced for the HUGE stage – all of which means giving a lot of bad news to a lot of extremely talented and deserving performers.

As a producer of the TCIF, I can tell you what an amazing luxury it is to have such an over-abundance of submissions that any producer would love to put on stage because it means knowing your festival will be absolutely the best it can be.

As one of the producers at HUGE, I can tell you that luxury is something we really appreciate and really worry about on a daily basis because it means having dozens (probably more) of conversations in which we give bad news and very frustrating answers to some extremely talented artists. We are always hoping that frustration doesn’t get in the way of their growth as performers or their relationship with this place.

Normally not getting into a show would mean getting some notes about what you didn’t quite hit or what you could do better next time. But more and more, that’s not what’s happening. Instead  we’re often giving notes like “we all agreed you were fantastic and could not have done anything better – the reason  you’re not in the show because we have more people we all agreed should be in the show than we can possibly cast.”
There just aren’t any satisfying answers to give or get.

Couple that with a proposal process that can take a long time and we have the potential to really upset some people and/or hurt some feelings.

I know this and I am always looking for a better solution but I don’t have one yet.

It is THE horrible part of my job.

The worst case is when we see performers get fed up and give up or just get angry or hurt — having great ideas wait around for months and months isn’t a terrific outcome either. The great news is that more and more we see performers opting to become producers, creating and mounting their shows at another venue rather than wait for HUGE to make it happen.

That is the BEST.

The truth is, I love it when people want to put in the work to put their show on any stage — the spread and growth of this art form is what this place was truly built for.

We want to be a home for improv, not the thing that slows it down or holds it back.  While we cannot create more days in the week or months in the year, we can support the hell out of those shows that are not inside our walls as vigorously as anything on our stage. That is what we can and will do AND we continue to look for better solutions and refine our proposal and production process as we are able.

“We don’t want you to see more improv because we opened a theater – we opened a theater because we want you to see more improv” has been the mantra for a long time.  The next sentence should read “not just the improv that you can see in our theater.”

 

Thank you for reading.  Thank you for everything. 

Butch Roy

Executive Director and your biggest fan.