Notes from the Annual Happy Hour with the Board

Sorry for the delay – you may have heard that things got a little crazy this fall!
There have been updates in some of these areas – especially programming for 2018 – but for the sake of clarity (and getting it posted) the information here is what was presented in August.

HUGE Happy Hour Meeting Notes :  August 17, 2017

Budgets and Operations – Molly Chase – Click on slides to see full size

Education – Jill Bernard
We may keep enrollment between 200-250 students per term going forward
We always have a waitlist and could add more classes, but we don’t have another space.
Also want students to have an excellent student experience and that gets harder to provide if we’re pushing our limits too much.

The 401 class has been redesigned. It was on the topic of Forms and now it is Ensemble Building. It is designed to answer questions that people had – e.g. What’s the best practice, how do you meet fellow players, and what kind of group should you have?

Jill is working on a new level between 201 and 301 to address the problem of steamrollers/not as generous improvisers who are too many scenes in a row, not listening to their scene partners, etc. Jill originally wrote the curriculum with shy people in mind.

Teen program ran classes and summer camp this year. We announced that we’re not continuing the teen program. Our mission statement is aimed at student and professional improvisers, and we can’t be all things to all people. Teen students might find a creative home at Stepping Stone and Brave New Institute or other great orgs.

Women –Trans – Femme – adding a second class taught by Hannah Wydeven for intermediate and advanced students. Very excited for this program to be expanding.

This year Jill introduced an expanded summer intensive – strengthened the weekday portion.


11% this year – We budget for up to 15%. Scholarships are based on financial need and artistic interest/potential.

We reserve a couple spots in each 101 class for scholarship students – so while we have openings for up to 18 people, we sell only up to 16 spots.

TCIF scholarships were an example of pay it forward – We say how many people need scholarships and people stepped up to fund them. We had more than double the number as previous years– 21 TCIF scholarships this year.

Word of mouth is overwhelmingly the reason that people sign up for classes

Diversity and Inclusion update – John Gebretatose

John went to a Toronto Improv Festival and met three Directors of Diversity and Inclusion from various improv theaters around North America. He wrote a proposal for HUGE and was hired.
He started work in November 2016 on a contract basis

John’s strategy was to go to artists in different art categories and to see if he could bring them in to HUGE for improv. Brought word of mouth and validity to improv.

John currently earns $300/month stipend, plus additional hourly pay during TCIF as a contractor. Molly is looking into grants to find more funds to support this work. Robin noted she’s doing some grant prospecting and will keep an eye out for a potential fit for HUGE.

Part of John’s work has been to not only get the word out about auditions and performance/learning opportunities, but to provide prep work and support for auditions. An example is this year’s ComedySportz auditions. John led the way on making sure POC performers felt ready for the auditions, and attended/joined the auditions to provide extra support.

Examples of additional programming include:
Coaching sessions with groups
Facebook group for people of color
POC-only workshops
Greg Parks recently taught a POC-only workshop, for which there is growing demand, since jams are a great start but participants expressed wanting to get more instruction.

Monthly POC jams have been an effective way for people of color to try improv.
Noted that greater clarification could be useful in terms of whether it is both performers and audience that need to be people of color to attend. (It is both – John updated the site yesterday to clarify.)

John is doing a lot of work cultivating relationships and encouraging participation. His work is inspiring others to do similar types of work. Since the POC jams started in Nov/Dec of 2016, other jams have been started:
Queer Jam – independently run and promoted by student and improviser Craig Corsi
Worn Treads – independently produced by a small group of improvisers. The jam is for people aged 40 and older. It is primarily for people who started improv later in life and have a different experience and family obligations than their student peers who are in their 20s and early 30s.

Progress in auditions:

  • Going forward:
    Working with Jill on scholarship program.
    Reviving Islamic Sisterhood workshop – Taj Ruler is going to teach.
    2nd ever Our Cities Our Stages event planned for October
    Brunches and/or field trips
    POC Showcases coming soon
    Working with Butch and HUGE to find ways to add more POCs in the staff.
    3rd-annual Black and Funny Festival in February 2018

Meanwhile, we continue to work on building relationships in larger arts community, e.g. Jill taught a workshop to the New Native Theater last summer and to teachers from MU Collective.

Artistic Update – Nels Lennes

Throwback program  – This program casts 3 teams (8-11 people each), so gives about 30 people a chance at 8 weeks of performance.  Throwback Night will run in January/February 2018.
This year, HUGE is discontinuing the second stage of the program – the “Throwgram” program in previous years – in which each team would have a second 8-week run of a new form they create based on their Throwback Night form.
HUGE shows and independent proposed shows will fill the Friday 8pm slots at are opened up – By discontinuing this part of the Throwback program, HUGE opens up 6 months on the calendar. An additional benefit is that having that much stage time for the 30-person cast helped further the impression that you see the same people on stage all the time.

Returning shows –  Many options have been discussed, the schedule is still taking shape and is always very fluid – potentially Family Funeral (which is complementary to Family Dinner)
Unique shows confirmed include Troubadour and Attenborough. These unique shows are essential for the improv community because they clearly represent an expression of improv not otherwise seen –  we don’t want to narrow focus. We want the community to learn, grow, and create the next amazing new thing – not just what they already see on stage and think is a successful format to copy or adapt to secure a run of shows.

The show calendar is programmed through the end of 2017 with confirmation that The Other Jeanie Retelle and Painters will be performing late Saturday nights in November/December – and some of 2018 has already taken shape.
HUGE shows Off Book and Kabaam are slated to return in 2018 so far

Directors and Assistant Directors – Taking a page from the TA and teaching the teachers initiative, Nels and Butch are using a similar template for directors in building up the assistant director program – every show HUGE has produced over the past year has included an Assistant Director position and we hope to transition several HUGE shows over to new direction with Nels in a more of a supper/oversight role in the coming year to keep that progress moving.

Another encouraging sign of growth: more auditions for upcoming shows – HUGE announced last year that auditions would be held for every HUGE production and not only did that result in changing casts for all HUGE shows, we have been seeing more independent show are having auditions.
Changing the way shows are created and cast – in the past shows have almost always come to us fully cast with/by the people that created it – this shift means more opportunities for more artists and a clearer path to the stage.

Q & A

What is max possible ticket sales for a month?
If we sold out every single show, with no days off, we would earn $291,200.

How does TCIF compare to previous festivals?
It was well-attended but we suffered some pretty serious setbacks and losses due to losing a major headliner after the lineup had been announced and workshop schedules had already been crafted and contracted around a group that could not come.

Is HUGE going to work to find ways to add more POCs in the staff?
Yes, this is in-progress – The primary focus has been on artistic opportunity, since that is our mission, and we don’t want to detour someone that is on their way to be on our stage to put them behind the bar. We’ve started cross training when possible and hiring more staff when able.

Question: Will there be pods coming up?
Yes! For example, Jill Bernard has a pod on stage picture coming up this fall!