Two years ago, we were handed the keys to this big concrete box that everyone has turned into a theater.
We have a very special weekend coming up while the casts of SPORT, Star Trek and Bearded Men are in Austin, Texas representing MN at the Out Of Bounds Festival. Time to break out some special mischief while everyone is away…
Friday – 8pm – Off Book : Fringe Edition
Off Book is the show that pairs an actor that has learned their half of a two-person scene with an improviser that has no idea what the scene (or even the play) is. Featuring scripts and cast from your favorite Fringe Festival shows of 2012.
Friday – 10:30 – Ferrari McSpeedy and Five Man Job
Mike Fotis and Joe Bozic are Ferrari McSpeedy, the two-man assault on the senses and the fabric of time and space. Nels Lennes, Butch Roy and Lauren Anderson make up Five Man Job, they will take you to such dark places – Two great insane tastes that taste insanely great together.
Saturday – 8pm – Ka-Baam!!
The improvised superhero comic returns to HUGE Theater!
You give us the names of three heroes that don’t yet exist and we’ll give you their origin stories and giant-action-packed-team-up-adventure, complete with cover art drawn during the show by our special guest artist.
Saturday – 10:30 – The Explorer’s Club Returns
Improv comedy meets Manifest Destiny. Come hear and see the tales of the greatest group of adventurers and explorers in this world or any other. Explorer’s Club is now part of the Saturday Late Night Mix, first Saturday of every month!
There was a piece in the Star Tribune that’s making its way around about how the Twin Cities theater scene does a bad job of self-critique. It got me musing about the difficulties of critiquing improv, for the audiences, journalists, and performers alike. These are incomplete and scattered thoughts but here goes:
More than once it’s happened that the first improv show an audience member has ever seen turns out to be bad, and from that experience they drew the conclusion “Improv sucks!” They never want to see another improv show again. The criticism extends beyond the company they saw to the entire discipline.
Years ago there was a website called improvreview.com, which has since been taken over by Japanese hacker spam. There were two problems. First, the reviewers wrote with an authoritative tone, as if their opinion were more than just an opinion. Second, improv is built on positivity, so a grumpy Andy-Rooney style clashes badly with the subject of the critique.
Mainstream reviewers have some major obstacles. They feel like they can’t review improv because it’s different every time. There’s also no budget for it – to cover improv, a newspaper would have to take away coverage from a scripted theater because they don’t have space for both. Reviewers also do not have the vocabulary and don’t know how to diagnose what makes improv good or bad. For example, they’ll say, “You couldn’t tell it was improvised!” as a negative critique or they’ll get upset if only one suggestion was taken and used in an indirect way. They’ll compare it to “Whose Line Is It Anyway” regardless of whether it in any way resembles it.
We wrote a nice piece about how to look at improv for the Fringe Festival last year, I think it helps some.
It’s hard for insiders to review improv because we don’t want to break each other’s spirits. Improv feels so personal. It’s you up there onstage, and the words and actions aren’t the fault of a director or playwright, that’s you too. Over the years I’ve gotten better at giving students the honest critiques they crave, finding ways to phrase them that are clear and make sense without hurting. Oddly, the students who beg me to give them a harsh critique are the first to pout and check out when it’s given. And so I proceed gently and thoughtfully and directly, and try to create a culture where it is damn clear we’re talking about the work and not the person. It’s still difficult terrain.
These are the challenges. I lay them before you.
– Jill Bernard
It feels like the beginning of something new and exciting and nerve-wracking.
I was also worried about the announcement – because I am always aware of how much I feel I owe people and I was afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings as we started paying out. Worried about the “what about me?” question I figured was so inevitable.
To my surprise, it hasn’t happened yet, in fact I was approach a few times by people asking “What about you?” – because their main concern was that HUGE pay me before themselves. Some of them got back to me to say they didn’t want to be paid and would like to continue to volunteer their hours to the theater as a way they can keep donating.
Small moments, maybe, but another way that our people continue to stagger me with how unselfish and wonderful and giving they are at every turn – As the guy in charge, I can tell you that it’s no small thing.
These are the things I stress about the most in running the business part of the theater – and these people manage to turn it into a joy. I will never not owe them for everything they have done and everything they continue to do, money can’t really capture what their contributions mean and can’t really give them what they deserve – but it’s a start and it’s about damn time.
Exciting times – new things on the horizon as we emerge from Fringe Festival madness
Everyone take a minute to rest, dust yourselves off and then we are going to get the Fall season rolling with a lot of cool new stuff – not least of which is the Improv A Go Go will be Pay What You Can starting on 8/19 when it starts back up. That means you can come any Sunday, name your price and enjoy some of the best, newest and strangest improv in the Cities.
This was made possible by our Members – we hear that our Membership program keeps ticket prices down all the time, but rarely do we get to see tangible results from it, normally it just means things stay the way they are. We have been very eager to get the ticket price of IAGG back down ever since we raised them out of financial need and our Members are indeed what allowed that to happen – if you’re a Member already, thank you.
If you’re not a member yet, sign up and see what other cool stuff we can do!
New Shows :: Sean & The Ladies, Class of ’94, Special Shows and GONE
Starting 8/16, Thursday nights are a lot more musical and a little more lady-like as Sean & The Ladies bring their improvised musical show straight into your ear and eye holes.
Beginning 8/17, class is in session at De Roma High as the angst and antics of the Class of ’94 hit Fridays at 9:30
Friday, 8/31 – One night only – Off Book, Fringe Edition!
Off Book, the show that pairs an actor that has memorized one half of a script with an improviser that has no idea what the script is, presents a special night of scenes pulled from your favorite Fringe Festival shows!
Saturday, 9/1 – One night only – KaBaam! the improvised comic book returns!
Three origin stories of heroes you name – one action packed team adventure – too many thrills for one stage in one night for one audience! Watch if you dare!!!
8pm Fridays in September – GONE
The improvised, mind-bending drama of a collection of “castaways” who are “trapped” on an “island” after they “crash” and have to “survive” any way they can.
8/23 – Happy Hour Board Meeting and Open House
Join us. Come take a look around, come ask questions of us. Come make suggestions. Give ideas. Get involved. Or just come have a beer, listen in and find out what HUGE is planning and how we’re doing.
That is all for now, hope to see you when you’ve all slept off your Fringe hangover
Just to clarify – The MN Fringe does not begin until August 2nd.
However we are closed 7/28-8/1 for Fringe tech week to allow the Fringe technicians to load in and all the shows time to prep in the space for opening on the 2nd.
The Minnesota Fringe Festival is upon us! Whoo hoo!
Schedule of Fringe shows at HUGE:
The first HUGE show after Fringe is Thursday August 16th
(8PM Sean and the Ladies followed by Space Jam.)
This doesn’t mean you’ll be improv deprived! The Minnesota Fringe is chock-full of improv, including work by Ferrari McSpeedy, Tim Hellendrung, Emily Schmidt, Joe Ye, Sean Hansberry, Laura Baller Mahler, Theatre of Public Policy and Le Cirque Rouge. August 2-12. Go to www.fringefestival.org for all the details!
Hey all – just an update on the HUGE Happy Hour Meeting
August 23rd we want to invite everyone to come with questions, ideas and whatever else they like – but we also want to open the theater up and invite everyone to come take a look. We’re adding “Open House” to the already very hyphenated Public-Meeting-of-the-Board-Happy-Hour session.
If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind those walls, I can assure you it isn’t nearly glamorous or magical – but now you can come see for yourself!
5pm – 7:30
ALL WILL BE REVEALED IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME
The State of HUGE – Spring 2012
I’ve been working on this post for so damn long, trying to get it done but there’s always something big we’re figuring out or something I’m just waiting to finish so I can include it, etc but here it is.
The short version is: Things are going very well at HUGE. But…
The trick with good news is always that we don’t want to make the same mistake I think we had fallen into last year when I/we may have people the impression that we were doing super and we didn’t need their donations so much any more.
There’s always a “but…” with things like this and as things are shaping up and going well I am trying to temper the excitement with some realism – that our street could be the next to get torn up, our air conditioner could break down, something unexpected and costly could be around the corner. We’re still a new company and we’ve had more than our share of good luck, so it may not always be natural for us to remind ourselves that things aren’t always going to go so well.
But as we make our way through this spring it’s been impossible not to make comparisons to last spring, especially last July when I posted a desperate plea for help – it should also be mentioned that help showed up in force and saved the day. For anyone just tuning in, we had just taken a couple big hits at the worst time and were at a very critical point in getting the theater on its feet. Jill showed me a screen shot from her computer that she took at the time – it showed our bank balance of $94 a week before rent was due for the next month – and just looking back on that time fills me with anxiety. It was difficult.
But we are still here – and lots of “this time last year” conversations that are very exciting and give a really great perspective, looking both forwards at the work ahead and backward at how far we’ve come.
End of 2011/Early 2012
At our One Year Anniversary Show we were able to announce that not only were we able to stay open but, in the space of one year, we were able to pay off all our institutional debt from the construction and opening. That’s incredible. We took on a very aggressive payment schedule with the loans we had and they came at the right time to get us through. Because we made the choice to run as all-volunteer and because our donors, members and supporters are SO aggressive, we were able to get the theater out of debt inside of Year One.
There are so many insane examples of the support we’ve received from the community, audience and performers – but a couple stand out in my mind as stories we should tell.
The Annual Silent Auction and Fundraiser :: Matt Donnelly joined us again for the annual show that is our biggest fundraiser, Justin Pierre was back to donate his time and talents and PUNY Animation Studio took part in bringing the night home. While a fundraising event by itself may not seem like a story, you have to remember that this is HUGE – I’ve done many a fundraiser on the crew side in my former life as a technician and I can tell you they’re usually very stodgy, proper affairs. Not us.
The show was a blast – Matt Donnelly may not live in Minneapolis but he is absolutely part of the HUGE family and I love any time we can have him here. Justin Pierre has always been so crazy supportive that he’s come to us with ideas of how he can throw his talent and music and his name behind what we’re doing – and that night he asked if he could get a few improvisers to sing the horn part of a song. PUNY partnered with us earlier in the year and asked at the last minute if they could throw money out in the crowd, rap video style.
Of course we said yes to both these things. Honestly, I didn’t understand either of the moments from their descriptions, but that’s not important. What was important was that Justin performed one of the most beautiful musical moments I have ever seen on any stage and PUNY went from “makin’ it rain” to “church collection plate” so fast it would make your neck snap – both were so totally well done and fun that it was shocking.
I found myself sitting in the tech booth, just watching these things unfold and thinking if we were anyone else, any other organization, this event would be serious and somber and here I was, at one of the most important moments in our calendar year, watching Shad and James throw money into the air and then collect it again, thanking everyone profusely for their generosity. I have said it several times before and it holds true at all times : Nobody has fun like we do.
Hangout auction :: The hangout auction is the other amazingly odd story in our growth right now.
Bree and Josh approached HUGE with this idea that I don’t think I even fully understood at the time – to auction social activities with improvisers to raise money for the theater. And it’s been a smashing success. We just saw the close of the 2nd Annual Hangout Auction and people bid on everything from performing with Jill to SkyZone with Lipkin and other. It was a brilliant way to address the fact that we are always approached by people that want to know how to help but may not have money to give.
There is ALWAYS something going on that people come up with to support HUGE theater – sometimes I don’t even know about them – but I think those two are really great examples of when people have blown us away and make great answers when things get hard and people ask why we do this crazy thing.
There is still a lot to cover – I will try to break it out by topic since it’s a lot to take in.
Education :: I will let Jill’s words sum it up since she is the heart of our Education program. Though I will add that I knew what we had to teach at HUGE was a major strength of ours, I didn’t realize how much interest there was until we had to add another room to the theater to accomodate all the students that enrolled!
In September 2010 we had 11 courageous students. Now we have 89, not counting the dozens that come to drop in class every Wednesday.
We’ve gotten to work with kids in some small summer programs here at the theater, plus workshops for SALT Alternative High School, Como Park Senior High School, the Arts-In Program at the MN State Fair, and Breck High School, for a total of 117 participants.
We’ve also taught private workshops for a variety of organizations: Intermedia Arts, University of MN, Americorps, Education Minnesota, Creative Community Leadership Institute, Majestic Shores (Camp Courage), and Twin Cities Public Allies. Feedback has been great, including: “You definitely got us working together in a new way and created a safe and positive environment for brainstorming. The day ended beautifully and we couldn’t have done it without you.” – Theresa Sweetland, Intermedia Arts.
Probably the most exciting part is we’ve gotten to use those tuition dollars to pay our teachers for their hard work, thus providing a little financial support for great local talent.
HUGE Shows and TCIF :: This is, of course, what we do. And we have more fun doing it than you know.
We’ve been able to work a little smarter as a company to better promote and produce improvised shows, and we’re still learning and developing better ways to do so – Finding or creating shows has never been an issue since there is a massive surplus of extremely talented improvisers, that’s why we exist. But over the last year we’ve gotten better at supporting them and are always looking at more ways to put more improv on stage more often.
Ticket price changes/Groupons – last year around this time we made the hard decision to raise ticket prices to keep the theater open and I’m happy to report that it was the right call and things have been looking better and better ever since. Raising prices is hard, and people will always tell you that you can lower prices but you can’t raise them – but we transitioned from all tickets being $5 to $10 weekend shows just fine – because there’s no disputing the quality.
We ran a successful Groupon that introduced a lot of new people to the theater – some of them refuse to believe that we’re really improvising. Because writing a new show every day seems simpler and easier… Anyway.
We also introduced the Final Friday of every month as a Pay What You Can Night and Rent Party in the same blog that begged for help last year. It may seem counter-intuitive to add a night every month when people can opt to pay nothing when we are struggling for every penny we can get – but running a theater will certainly give you a unique empathy for people that might not have $10 to afford something fun at the end of the week, as well as an appreciation for how much difference being able to go have a night of laughs can really make if that’s the position you’re in. Everyone should be able to enjoy what we do, otherwise we are doing something wrong.
Tonight just happens to be PWYC Night – you should join us, because there’s no place better.
The Twin Cities Improv Festival just ended this past Sunday and it is the biggest weekend of our year – groups came in from all over the country and local talent showed up with their A games and crushed it. Old friends like pH, TRIKE, SCRAM and Pimprov returned and we were able to bring in Susan Messing and Christina Gausas, Aphasia and Matt Naas (and more) to introduce them to this place we call home. My brain has not yet recovered from the levels of dopamine that you risk being that happy and laughing that hard for that long.
the Improv A Go Go turned 10 this May!
That is the show that started it all for me. There is a clear and direct path from the IAGG to the opening of HUGE theater as something we have always done to support improvisers and introduce audiences to what we love to do. We celebrated 10 years of Sunday madness by announcing that the IAGG will be Pay What You Can when we return from the Fringe Festival break – August 19th will be the first IAGG in a long time you can show up with whatever you can shake out of your couch cushions and take in some of the best improv you will find anywhere. It’s been too long.
Fringe Festival – we are proud and happy to be a Fringe venue again, which means from July 28th-August 15th they will have our building and we will get our annual 3 days of sleep. Fringe has been amazing to us and always fun to work with as an organization, just like we try to be.
If you’re worried about your improv fix, don’t. There is a ton of improv in the Fringe this year at various venues!
Memberships – Memberships have been doing alright BUT… we always need to stress how important they actually are and we will never be able to stop asking people to become Members. The increase in membership is what allows us to do things like make the IAGG tickets PWYC all the time, as Members provide the stable contributions that those ticket sales do not. If you aren’t a member, you should be. This isn’t a call for memberships by an organization that also has funding to fall back on, this is the place where your $20 per month makes a tangible difference.
Grants/Bassprov – We are always applying for grants. We get few of them. But the one we did get is bringing BASSPROV back to the Twin Cities this fall! Trust me, we will be making announcements and posting details as they roll in. If you don’t know why you should be excited about BASSPROV, come to a show and ask anyone that improvises. It’s going to be great.
Volunteers – Every time you walk into HUGE you will encounter our fantastic volunteers. That’s because everyone here is one. Carolyn took up the thankless role of doing scheduling and keeps our counter staffed at all times. Matt Pitner and Joe Rapp manage, train and schedule our bar staff. Molly Chase is our amazing volunteer Managing Director. The volunteers show up with energy and love for what we do and that same, slightly crazy, willingness to watch the shows on a little TV so they can help you go inside and watch the shows in comfort. Thank them when you’re here – I thank them as often as I can but I think it’s better coming from everyone.
The big news coming up this year is that we are finally rolling out payroll!
Starting after the Fringe Festival, for the first time, HUGE will be paying staff for their time and talents. Not much. But it’s long overdue – We can’t ever properly repay everyone for all the countless hours and efforts that got us here – but this weird, wonderful playground we all get to share is still here against all odds, predictions and common sense. We are no longer in the place of just trying to hang on my our fingertips to keep this place open one more month at a time. We’re building something together that is going to be around for a long time.
Meeting announcement :: August 23rd, 5pm-7:30
So you’ve heard far too much from me – this is one of the things I’m most excited about. We are having another public HUGE Happy Hour Meeting of the Board to give financial updates, news and plans for the upcoming months.
But we also want to hear from everyone else! If we are asking people to give and trust us with their money and efforts, we want people to be able to ask any questions they have, challenge us on ideas, contribute to the discussions on future plans and also get to see the space, have a beer with us and enjoy a Happy Hour at HUGE.
Mark your calendars. Skip out of work early.
I will keep saying it as long as I am lucky enough to be in this position – for what we have and are able to do, for everyone that brings this place to life, for all your help making this crazy dream a reality – my words seem so small but my thanks are so big.
I am the luckiest clown in the world.
Executive Director and humble servant.
Saturday, July 7, 2012 at HUGE Improv Theater
Casting agents ask us all the time if we can send them improvisors to audition for commercials! It’s fun work and great money, but you need a little bit of prep to get it. To serve this need, HUGE is offering its first-ever Headshot and Resume Day. Participants will receive: help generating their performance resume, a digital file of one or more headshot options, and coaching on acting in front of a camera. The day is designed to give performers a basic headshot and resume to get them started, and introduce them to some of the casting agents looking for them.
Register in advance for the event, and visit a series of stations at the theater:
– Makeup consult and basic touch-up
– Video audition coaching session
– Resume review
Depending on availability, casting directors will also be on hand.
The cost is $30. Scholarships are available; contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Spaces are limited.
Registration is now open! http://tinyurl.com/cjk5hu7