These questions were submitted online in advance of the public meeting of the Board – we had the answers displayed on screen throughout the event.
Do you have plans to continue expanding the space(s)?
Nope! We can barely afford rent on the space we have. In fact, we just struck a really beautiful deal with the landlord where he’ll let us pay 1/12 of the August rent in each of the other 11 months so August doesn’t break us. We continue to improve the spaces we have as best we can rather than continue to sprawl into greater and greater expenses.
What are your dreams for HUGE? What are the plans for HUGE over the next 5 years?
I dream of a day when HUGE is fully staffed with people paid at market rate (budget of $800K-1.25M, up from about $525K now) and is able to further paid performance opportunities for artists.
As the education director, I dream of drawing in students who would never have traditionally taken an improv class. I also want to train up the next generation of great improv teachers by making our TA program even stronger and more educational.
PLANS: 1) Retain the Twin Cities’ top talent: Increase the viability of professional development locally, including financial support for artists 2) Develop new, local talent and attract performers to the Twin Cities: offer an open stage for excellence 3) Elevate the discipline of improv education: teach the students and the teachers 4) Build the human and financial capital needed: sustain the long-term health of the theater.
What are the challenges operating a theater with a specific focus (long form improv), as opposed to a more traditional performance space?
JILL: A funny thing happens because improv is so relatively new as an artform: often if someone sees an improv show they don’t like, they decide improv is bad. Almost no one leaves a movie and says, “That movie was bad, I don’t like movies.” So if we lose someone, we lose them entirely, we can’t lure them back with a different kind of offering. Keith Johnstone gives the advice that if your seats aren’t full, keep changing things until they are. We’re less able to keep drastically altering what we do to fill seats.
BUTCH: I tried to address this as clearly and concisely as possible at the meeting but here goes…one of the biggest challenges to being specific to long form improv is how the casts/groups/shows are so deeply interconnected, sometimes inseparably. Audiences may not know or understand the distinction, but it can be especially challenging when it comes to trying to improve the diversity of our theater.
Simply put: The Gay/Straight Alliance are those two guys. Ferrari McSpeedy are those two guys. Ladyfriend is those three women – so we don’t have all the options that a theater producing and casting scripted works might when it comes to making changes. Where the Jungle could decide to deliberately cast more people of color in the same show the next season, we cannot force changes on the groups in the community we serve and the identity of the groups themselves are changed by the addition/subtraction of people. So we can move toward putting more diverse groups on our stage but until more groups in the community opt to change their casts, we are facing incremental progress with limited options to speed it up.
If someone wants to apply to HUGE to work as either a House Manager or Bartender, what is the process?One of the updates we’re making is to make our hiring process more formal. Going forward, we’ll be posting positions as they come available.
Has HUGE explored ways to make it more accessible for more diverse audiences to experience watching improv?
By helping diversify the people performing it on our stage and being aware of programming that can be overwhelmingly, extraordinarily white. We hope our diversity efforts, headed up by John Gebretatose, while aimed at students, will spill over into audience as well.
As an arts nonprofit, does HUGE have a responsibility to engage in social justice matters?
In fact, we don’t. There are several different categories of non-profits. HUGE is an Arts & Culture organization rather than a Social Justice organization. It was very difficult to obtain our non-profit status, and as a result we’re very protective of it. Public charities are not permitted to intervene in political campaigns or legislative activities, and we steer very clear to stay in squeaky-clean compliance.
We have also found that because our resources are limited, if we don’t stay laser-focused on our mission, we do the improv community a great disservice.
We prefer to instead give support and resources to our partners, like T2P2, FairPlay, Blackout, Tiny Funny Women Fest, and the Black & Funny Improv Festival, to allow them to do critically important social justice work
What is HUGE’s policy on using deal-sites (GroupOn, LivingSocial, etc) to sell tickets?
We have worked with Groupon over the years and worked out some kinks to create a nice relationship. Our general principles are to make it 1) infrequent so it’s special, and 2) timed so that it expires as we hit the slow months (since they are most-often redeemed right after purchase and right before expiration)
And 3 ) we make sure that we let them do the legwork with marketing – we purposely don’t post about Groupons so we’re letting Groupon reach new people for us, not giving away tickets to people we already reach.
What about offering improv directing and producing workshops?
Great idea! We’ll put that in the Pods hopper!
How come you guys don’t return business phone calls?. Not only me, you have a bad rep for this, and have lost business gains….not good…
JILL: Most of the “business phone calls” we receive are from telemarkers. We do return customer phone calls daily, I sincerely apologize that we missed yours. Phone is honestly not the best way to reach us because we do not have enough money to hire an answering service or to have someone in the office at all times. All of our information is at hugetheater.com – most customers are able to access it by smart phone or home, office or public computer.
BUTCH: In my experience, the people that absolutely insist that business must be done over the phone are sales people that are counting on their personality to make the sale – if there is real benefit to your product, it should be easy to put in an email and that is often the test I use to see which I am dealing with.
How do you balance Huge’s emphasis on making it a safe and welcoming space for women, transgender, queer people AND keep an eye on political correctness/overreactions which may come from people being raw and and hurt by past crappy treatment? I’m a woman and I want to play and perform in a safe space AND I think sometimes comedy can go to dark/absurd/uncomfortable places which may inadvertently rub wounds made by others…
We have had several success stories working with groups that had content specific audience members found offensive. In some cases the groups choose to alter their behavior and avoid certain topics, in other cases groups choose to alter their marketing efforts and curtain speech to make sure audience members know what they’re in for.
I’m always pleasantly shocked by the amount of people that come into HUGE on a given night. This might be a trite question (or one that can be phrased better) but how do you encourage and successfully get people to come to HUGE (or better yet, how can we?) Like what works, what’s the marketing like? Where do you even start / Best tips and tricks that you have seen for marketing shows? Anything you’d wish to see producers and marketing people do?
JILL and MOLLY: Think about the people who would love your show: what are they doing with their evening instead? Go to that place to find them. For example, the perfect HUGE customer is already in Uptown doing something interactive like playing trivia. So, we reached out to Trivia Mafia and donate free passes to give to winners.
When you mention HUGE to people they might ask where it is and then you might hear, “Oh, I drive past that place all the time. I’ve been meaning to go.” That’s a great moment to mention your favorite show. Best to describe just one rather than overwhelm with many options.
For personal marketing (such as posts on Social Media) I recommend keeping it simple and personal — a sincere post that includes a photo or video can go a long way. I’ve noticed a lot of performers consolidate their shows into a single post, which can be a great way to not overwhelm your audience. Personally reaching out to people and inviting them to your show can be very effective. As always, though, use your judgement / don’t wear out your welcome..
For more general marketing/show description, don’t forget to include who specifically is in the show. Tag cast members in the post and make it public. Make sure your cast is on board with helping to promote the show.
Notice the innovative marketing techniques you like and find a way to do something that gets at the same idea.
One of my favorite techniques is what Leah at Brewprov does — she takes a picture of the audience from the stage, with everyone smiling and toasting the camera. Smart.
What is the best way for out-of-towners to stay engaged with Huge in a meaningful way? Donating to Improvathon/Hangout Auction/Membership are clear choices – also sharing the word about Huge can make a huge impact on national awareness of our awesome scene. But beyond word of mouth and financial assistance, how can those not living in Minnesota send our hearts, thoughts and actions back to this community?
DON’T GO, WE LOVE YOU! j/k, it’s good to go out and see the world.
To help, keep talking about HUGE everywhere you go. So many people who travel to Minneapolis stop by a show or Space Jam or the Wednesday Drop In Class, or even sign up for the Summer Intensive because a friend back home told them about us.
Another small way is to set up your smile.amazon.com account to give back to HUGE everytime you buy something on Amazon.
A third way is DON’T GO! j/k. j/k.