On Forming an Improv Community

Some thought I wrote up on forming an improv community — Jill Bernard

An improv community does not spring out of the ground. It takes a lot of aggressive effort.

Whoever the average businessperson would call your competition, walk across the street into the lion’s den and collaborate on something. Share students, share performers, share chairs and lighting designers and spreadsheets. Miracle on 34th Street this, refer customers to each other. A secret is it doesn’t even matter if their style of improv is not your cup of tea. You don’t even have to like them as a person, although it really really helps.

You are going to bump heads, there will be hiccups. There will be ego-clashes. You’ll find a way through if you want it badly enough.

Please don’t make your people be exclusive. If you let them cross-train and play elsewhere they’ll come back stronger. If they don’t come back, that’s natural too. If your attitude is, “I taught them everything they know and now someone else is profiting,” please don’t have actual children, the ROI is even worse.

There will be people who don’t want to be in a community with you. You can keep asking, and you can also make sure everyone in that organization knows you have your hand outstretched. If they’re badmouthing you, be perpetually classy about it, spread the truth without pointing fingers. There may also be people who don’t even recognize community, because they’re very focused on their own space or philosophy and have no regard for anything else. You can still find ways to include them and those around them. Alternately, you can let them be. They can eat Thanksgiving dinner alone in their room if they want.

Please know that if someone doesn’t come to your show it is not a guarantee that they hate you. Often its because we all schedule our shows and rehearsals on the same nights of the week because there are only seven of them.

People love being treated with respect, they love when their contribution to the history of the art form is recognized. Give them the status. You don’t need it. Honor your mentors and your elders. Also honor your youngers. It completely feels like they invented improv six months ago, let them have that thrill. Ask for help and share ideas in both directions. The best lessons can come from the most unexpected teachers.

The aphorism “A rising tide raises all ships” completely applies. You should not be afraid when some other theater gains attention, it will only raise the profile of improv in your city. You should not be afraid there is not enough audience to go around. There are so many people who’ve never even heard of improv who would love it. Don’t go after other people’s audiences, breed your own. Additionally, if there’s some show idea or marketing angle unique to a particular group within your community, let them have it, let it be proprietary. Don’t steal other people’s thunder.

It isn’t easy. There are a lot of cities that have worked really hard and buried a ton of hatchets. I would recognize Kansas City, Seattle, Chicago, Austin, and my own beloved Minneapolis as just some of the cities that doggedly pursue making their partners look good and yes and on a civic scale.

With Love and Trust and Friends and Hammers

The trouble with trying to make the Anniversary Show an occasion to thank the people that we need to thank is that we wouldn’t have any time left for the show if we started telling you the names all the people we owe our thanks – HUGE is surrounded by so many amazing people that do so much to keep this place open and make it an amazing place to be a performer, teacher, student and Board member.

Being here all the time, I have seen people do the most amazing and humbling things – Let me try and give you an idea what I mean.  Buckle up, this is going to be a bumpy ride.

Our staff

“It’s one thing to start off with a positive jam and it’s another thing to see it on through – and we couldn’t have even done this if it wasn’t for you”

Not only did our incredible staff ALL volunteer at HUGE for the first 18 months we were open, they continue to give in a variety of ways.  In fact, when I was finally able to email our bartenders, technicians and house managers to say that we were able to offer them pay for their time – I started getting email after email back from members of our staff saying “No thank you, please allow me to keep volunteering”

Initially, almost 75% of our staff opted out of being paid – I can’t tell you what that feels like but I’ve struggled to talk a number of them into accepting pay for their time and I wanted to tell that story but I never wanted the staff we pay to feel guilty for taking a paycheck. Because they would – our staff is not only dedicated to this place, they are selfless beyond reason or good sense.

Another amazing example nobody would ever know – some of our staff, volunteers and Members put items from HUGE’s Amazon Wish List on their birthday and Xmas lists.  That should take a minute to sink because it has taken me months to really process and it still gets me.  The few days of the year their families asked them “What do you want for yourself?” and they responded by saying they wanted something for HUGE.

Bree, Carolyn, Matt, MJ, Joe, Josh, Joe, Lipkin, Meghan, Sid, Marissa, Casey, Christopher, Beth, Bradley, Joseph, Hannah, Katie V, Kehla and Miquie, Rosie, Heather, Ali, Becky, Dave, McCloud, Matthew, Lauren, Courtney, Tane, Samantha, Rita, Drew – and so many more.

We love you guys – You are constantly amazing and we are so lucky to have you with us.


“Stand up and fight and I’ll stand up with you”

We mentioned this briefly on both counts at the show but two of our biggest fundraising days of the year were ideas brought to us by people outside of HUGE.  Tane Danger came up with the idea for the Improvathon, which has become the single biggest day of the year for our organization, and the Hangout Auction was invented and is run by two members of our audience that just wanted to do more cool stuff with the people they knew from HUGE.

Normally, fundraising would be one of the jobs that the Board would have to focus on and try to manage successfully without disrupting the fun too much so the audience and supporting Members don’t have to think about it much of the year. We are entirely the reverse – and it couldn’t be any more clear than the Improvathon.

For 28 solid hours, our Members and dedicated audience members not only watched more improv than any human being should – they mobilized on Facebook, Twitter and their personal blogs. They reached out to family. They contacted their employers. They stepped up and did exponentially more for this theater than we would ever be able to do on our own.

Our Members and Donors literally make this place possible – I hope they as proud to be part of HUGE as we are to have them.


“Siempre estoy haciendo cosas que no puedo hacer, así es como logro hacerlas.”

We started with seven or eight in an empty retail space, and now our student body is 150 strong, from ages four to 68. Unending thanks to our incredible teachers for all of the passion and wisdom they’ve imparted, and so much gratitude to the students. In two years we’ve seen students walk in the door curious and flourish into fully-fledged performers in shows of their own and we couldn’t be prouder.


“Husker Du got huge, but they started in St Paul…”

The people and the art form you see on our stage are the reason we are here – why it all makes sense – which is something I have worked hard to make clear to people.  But when you are the voice of the business people mistake your words for marketing. I understand the confusion since every business says they have something amazing that you should put down your cash for.  Not this place.

I have said it a hundred times before and I will continue to say it.  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.

When I tell people they really need to see the shows, it’s because the shows are amazing and they will only happen once – and if you miss it, you miss out.

Since we’re not like a normal theater that has just one show running on a seasonal schedule, it’s hard to mark the occasions when shows open and close at HUGE – we change shows every two months, all on different nights and it would take us a week of opening night celebrations to properly welcome them all, then another week of closing night toasts to begin to properly thank them – and everything moves so fast here that a year of mind blowing shows passes before I know it.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t thank them for the killer shows they bring to our stage, without them our theater is just a room with a bunch of chairs in it.

The Minneapples, The Bennets, Process, Star Trek, Splendid Things, The Bearded Men, Noise Picnic, The Mustache Rangers, T2P2, Survivors of the Undead Plague and Creature Feature, Friend Request, Off Book, Killer B’s, Family Dinner, Throwback Night, Her Name is Armando, M4W, Grasshoppah, Poivre, The Free Association, RomCom, SPORTS, Tim Troy & Damian, Brain Game, Gay/Straight Alliance, Class of ’94, Last Action Movie, Titanic Players, OMG, GONE, The Submarine Adventure Show, Sean & The Ladies and Drum Machine

You will never find a more impressive array of talent or a list of more dedicated artist – I dare you to try. It cannot be done.

This is HUGE – We had to follow this dream.

“Most kids give me credit for being down with it when it was ‘back in the day’ and things were way different – when the Youth of Today and the early 7 Seconds taught me some of life’s most valuable lessons”

Lastly, I wanted to recap what I said on stage at the Anniversary Show about what this is all for.  Why it is important.

When we talk about making this place a home for improv in the Twin Cities, often the conversation can turn to “why improv?” and I’m always glad to answer that question because I love what we do, but the less-asked question is “why does it need a home?” and that is one that I think we’ve only begun to answer.

Ironically, the only people that ever asked that question were people I was trying to get loans from to fund this big crazy place – and they really couldn’t care less about the answer because the answer wasn’t about money.  Sure, there has been improv in the Twin Cities for a long time. And a lot of it has been amazing. Groups can break out and produce their own shows and always have – Why does it need a home, then?

Consider this as an answer:

This was the Twin Cities I started improvising in – trying to put up our own shows and get the word out to audiences so we could grow, but there is only so much you can do in your free hours after (and sometimes during) work, only so much traction you can get when you can only appear once a month, only so much you can do even though you’re spending 10 times as many hours on marketing and hustle as you are on stage so you’re really sharpening the wrong skills.  There is only so much you can do on your own.

Then John and Jenni gave us a home on their stage when we came to them with the idea for the Improv A Go Go as a show for improvisers – all of them – and the results were impossible to argue with.

Suddenly improvisers could spend their time on improv instead of booking, forming new groups instead of finding a new venue. And we saw the number of groups explode. And audiences were showing up to see what was next because there was always something new and exciting just about to happen.

The improv festival grew out of that home – groups from Minneapolis started appearing in more festivals outside Minnesota because so many more of them had the chops from being able to perform more often, tape more shows. The quality we had going on here started to get noticed by people in other cities so we invited them here to see it.

Even with all that growth and progress – when the IAGG went dark after 8 and a half years to get ready for the move to HUGE, there were only 56 opportunities to perform in the Twin Cities if you had an improv group.

56 independent shows in a YEAR.

This past year – thanks to the hard work, dedication, time, talent, energy, perseverance and love that I wrote about above – there were 591 improv shows at HUGE Theater alone.

That is what it means to be a home for improv, and that is why it is important for improv to have a home.  That is why John and Jenni will always have my thanks for the path they put me on. That is why it’s easy to come in every day and hang lights or pick up trash and mop the floors, why I am so proud and inspired and humbled to be a part of this community.

Some days can be stressful, trying to be sure we’re headed the right direction and doing the work that would make these people proud – but my biggest job is trying to live up to the trust people have in us to give them the home they deserve.

That is our one and only goal and it is my greatest privilege that I get to work toward it every day.

When I say that my words feel so small, this is why.

When I say “thank you” – this is what I mean.


Thank you so very, very much.



Executive Director, Improviser, Humble Servant







My blurry vision saw nothing wrong.

I’m still writing up the next “State of HUGE” post that will be ready sometime after tomorrow – there are things in there I want to say on stage tomorrow and I’m sure I will forget, so it will be a nice follow up to my emotional ramblings – but I wanted to put together a post of highlights from 2012 as well.

This is by no means everything – I wanted to capture some of the things that I’m referring to when I tell people they wouldn’t believe half the crazy awesome things that happen at HUGE.  Some may only make sense to me, some may only confuse people further about the crazy things that happen at HUGE – but here are some of the landmarks from the last year:

Special guests!


Tim Hellendrung killed it this year bringing in special guests for Show X – Don Shelby, Chris Kluwe, John Moe and Brother Ali were among them and it was so cool to have them on our stage.

doughtyMike Doughty performed with us at a special late-night Armando after his appearance at Wits – and ended the set with an acoustic 3 song set.  To say this was a highlight of 2012 is a serious understatement.

Mike was just as awesome, laid back and flexible as you could wish for a celebrity you’re a massive fan of to be – and I am a big, big fan of Mike Doughty.

Most of our guests appeared the first Monday of each month at Show X – which meant that Mike Doughty and Brother Ali were on our stage within 72 hours of one another – As a total fanboy of both those artists it will stand out as two of the coolest shows I have ever been a part of.  As a producer at this theater, this was a moment where it really started to feel like absolutely anything could happen in this place – now we need to bring Mike Ness, Tim Armstrong and They Might Be Giants to our stage and then my head will happily explode.


These guys came to HUGE as well – BASSPROV!


Mark and Joe are some of the best and I love every time they come to town – which they have been doing for a long, long time.

It was really awesome to have them on our home stage this fall – we have the Midwest Regional Arts Council to thank for making it possible.






Also made possible by MRAC – Lights!


A big thanks goes out to Four Humors Theater for the long-term loan of their lights, which we were finally able to pay them for this year – and to MRAC for a grant that enabled us to put in real dimmers and a real light board so we can really light our shows in some really cool ways – for real.


Risers – Thanks to the big blue G!

risersThe Guthrie gave (yes. GAVE.) us platforms that transformed our seating – most people have no idea that the Guthrie gives materials to smaller theater companies all the time, and they don’t publicize or make a big fuss about it. But for a small new theater it makes a big difference.

Don’t worry – we found a better way to arrange them.





The drinking fountain – Anyone that doesn’t understand why getting a drinking fountain is a big deal or should be a highlight of the year has never had to spend a year feeling like they’re losing their mind picking up paper cups left on every flat surface.

This was one of the things central to the formulation of one of the big mantras at HUGE – “When you are getting pecked to death by ducks, you must murder the ducks, one by one.”

This was one duck that was slowly killing us – we showed that damn duck….anyhow.





There were some crazy surprises this year as well – some good, some bad and some….really really weird.


Our landlord, Julius DeRoma, surprised us with Xmas lights in HUGE red!

The entire time we’ve been here, Julius has been amazing to work with and so supportive of us. We already knew he was an awesome landlord and big supporter of what we’re doing here, but this was such a nice surprise. It may seem like a small thing but when was the last time you heard of anyone’s landlord being “awesome” and surprising them like this?

Never, that’s when – our landlord kicks ass.


Someone donated – and then someone else stole – a robot!


A robot named Del!  Wherever Del is now, we hope he’s having quite a strange adventure.

And then there was this…


Photo stolen from Theater of Public Policy’s Facebook page – this guy showed up, walked on stage and interrupted a show with a 62 POUND CARP IN HIS HANDS. He was NOT part of the show. He strolled on stage and launched into an incredibly detailed and informative lecture on the mating habits of the Asian Carp, much to everyone’s surprise.

No shit.

Jill and I are in a Facebook group of theater producers and managers around the world and, as far as we can tell from asking them, this is the WEIRDEST thing that has ever happened during a show.

Those are just some highlights – and really just some highlights that I have photographic evidence of – There was the Improvathon, The Tiny Funny Women Festival, Family Dinner, the extended run of Star Trek, GONE, the Twin Cities Improv Festival, the College Improv Tournament, the Fringe Festival and so many more moments – Photos and words don’t really capture what it’s like to be here when the magic happens or what it means to me that it happens here in this place we all built.

When people ask what I do for a living, sometimes it is hard to explain.  When people ask how things are going at HUGE, sometimes it is hard to speak.

Thank you all for an amazing year – only “the rest of them” to go!


You got the Groupon – how to use it?


To make a reservation ::

Step 1 – 

Choose the Show you would like to attend from the calendar (link at the bottom as well)

—– Step 2 ——


—– Step 3 ——


—– Step 4 ——


—– Step 5 ——


—– Step 6 —— 

Show up and enjoy!

the box office opens at 7pm, the theater and bar open for seating and drinks at 7:30 and the show begins at 8pm. Just check in at the front desk and you will get your drink tickets there.

Weekend tickets are good for the entire evening –  so you’re invited to come for the 8pm, 9:30 and 10:30 shows. Stay as long as you like!


Here’s the link back to the calendar to get started






Frequently Asked Questions ::

If your questions are not addressed here, please

email and we can add them to this list for everyone! We will always do our best to address any concerns or issues.

Can I add people to our reservation that did not purchase a Groupon – How can I make sure we can sit together?

All our seating is general seating – your friends can purchase their tickets online as normal, anyone from your group can pick out the seats for the group when they arrive so you can all sit together.

The theater opens for seating at 7:30pm.

I don’t see the night I would like to attend on the website!

We have shows every night of the week except for Tuesday – our Thursday show in “Space Jam” which is an open jam for all improvisers in the Twin Cities to participate, it begins at 9pm but we do not offer online tickets fot Thursday nights.

Is there an age limit?

We have no age restrictions at any of our shows – we do not have any shows running that are intentionally “blue” but you’re likely to hear some adult language and adult content at any show. Shows are likely a strong PG13 unless otherwise noted.

Is there parking?

We have two parking lots – one adjacent to the building and one across our alley, directly behind 3025 Lyndale. Just pull through our side lot and follow the signs! If those are full there is a municipal lot across Lake Street or metered parking on the street – meters are enforced until midnight!


A Guide To Reviewing Improv

Reprinted from

Short Form (Games) vs Long Form (Scenic):

Improv generally comes in one of two main categories, Short Form or Long Form.

“Short-Form” is insider jargon for games like you’d see on Whose Line is it Anyway or ComedySportz where the rules are decided on ahead of time.

“Long-form” is insider jargon for a piece that may have a form set ahead of time (“we’ll have monologues followed by scenes”, or “it will be an improvised horror movie”) but the individual scenes are free-form, with no set rules.

Different structures and styles:

You may see long form shows that refer to the overall structure of the performance that has been predetermined – for example, one of the oldest and most widely used is the Harold. The Harold is simply three storylines each seen three times. The content of those scenes and how they connect is entirely open and different everytime. You shouldn’t typically need to be aware of the structure in order to enjoy or appreciate it – it is primarily a tool or discipline that gives a long form show some recognizable shape and pattern.

Structure should not be confused with scripting, however.

How do I know they’re making this up?

You don’t – you just have to take their word for it and enjoy the show. Just know that scripting a show is probably FAR easier than scripting a show and then performing it in such a way as to make it appear unscripted.

Some shows have certain elements that are predetermined (like characters or locations) but no script for the events that you will see on stage.

How do I write a review of something that will be completely different next time it runs?

Is it safe to tell my friends to go see a show I liked, even though it will be different next time?

Good improvisors tend to have good shows every night. Bad improvisors tend to have bad shows every night. Only the content is different. The caliber of each individual performance varies no more than a scripted performance, where actors may say afterwards “We had a good night” or “that was an off-night.”

How do I even tell if what I saw was good?

Great improv stands on its own merit as if it were a play or a sketch comedy show. You need not give charity points because it’s improvised. You can tell if it was good if the improvisors connected [positively to each other and to you as the audience, and if they took risks and made big choices.

If it’s all made up, how does the tech know when to turn the lights out at the end?

In Short Form improv there is typically a predetermined ending – like reaching the end of the alphabet or the main character having guessed all the elements they were supposed to or time running out on the clock.

In long form the technician often has to decide where the best ending is and pull the lights, which means the performers often don’t know how or when their show is going to end. Some structures, like the Harold, have a set pattern and usually the technician is able to find an ending that fulfills that pattern.

Why isn’t this like what I’ve seen on TV?

Because it is live theater.

Why don’t they use props and costumes?

Most improv moves to quickly and in too many different directions to really effectively use props and costumes – even if you could predict some of what you would need you would always be missing a large number of them and running to get the items or costumes every time something is discovered in the scene is clunky and breaks the flow. Most long form improv you see the cast and space try to be a blank slate and most of the items that are discovered in the scene will be mime (or “spacework” if you’re an improv nerd…or someone that doesn’t like mimes).

Is all improv funny?

No, the only condition is that it is improvised – there are lots of structures of improvised dramas, period pieces, etc. Because it is improvised it can tend to be absurd but improv is just theater without a script and it can explore all the same areas with the same depth that scripted theater does.

Coming Soon :: January 2013

The end of the year is fast approaching, which means you only have a couple more chances to see killer shows like Family Dinner and Throwback Night. But we have plenty of fun coming up to start off 2013 right.


Coming in January


Fridays at 8pm – Interplanetary Appeal – $10

Friend Request

The duo behind the “Choose Your Own Adventure” show and Friend Request are back for more!

Fridays at 9:30 – The Score – $10

Bring your iPods, iPhones, MP3 players and we’ll use your music to inspire and underscore the show!

Saturdays at 8pm – Off Book – $10

One actor memorizes a script and sticks to it – One improviser just improvises. Together they are both Off Book.

Saturdays at 9:30 – Drum Machine – $10


Saturdays at 10:30 – Beatbox – $5

Freestyle hip-hop and improv finally hooked up and had an awesome little baby


Jill Bernard's Advice on Solo Improv

In honor of the Solo Improv Showcase tomorrow, I thought I’d share some general advice on solo improv:

Find someplace to test your piece – a cabaret, a friendly open mic, in between some group improv pieces. Once you’ve done a small test, the piece will tell you what it wants to grow up to be. You have to just try it and see.

Other advice: *most* but not *all* solo improv pieces involve switching characters. There are unlimited ways to do switch characters, but three easy ones are the CHARACTER SLIDE, the CHARACTER POP and the CHARACTER ABSENT. Whether you prefer the Character Slide or the Character Pop will depend on whether you’re more interested in preserving time or space – one of which has to be suspended for you to play more than one character.

  • In the character slide, I play the character of Janey, then go neutral and walk over to another spot on the stage and play Ralph. Time is suspended – normally dialogue would continue without the dead space. The audience accepts the travel time as neutral and ignores it, if you can make it truly neutral – the expression in your face or body should not be Janey or Ralph.
  • In the character pop, I play the character of Janey and then shift positions while staying in the same space. It works on a pivot. If we pretend I’m standing on a clock on the floor, when Janey’s talking I look at 11 o’clock, and when Ralph is talking I look at 1 o’clock. For some reason, we as viewers accept that the two are standing straight across from each other as you would be in an actual conversation, even though you’re portraying them at a 45 degree angle away from each other. A variation is the totem pole: I shift characters by changing my physicality and voice, but I stay looking in the same direction. The totem pole is nice for creating crowd scenes.
  • In the character absent, I talk to the empty space where another character would be. If I choose, I can do a “fill” where eventually I run over there to fill in as that second character, often as a punchline. Leave space in your dialogue where that character would “answer” you.

All of these can be used in combination with each other, and there might be a fourth way that’s unique to you. Like anything in solo improv, you’re the expert.

Things you may want to watch for in playing multiple characters:

  • Use realistic eye lines. If I’m playing a little kid talking to an adult, I should look up when I’m the kid and down when I’m the adult. This is especially tricky when using a chair, the temptation is to talk to the chair back, but a human’s eyes are about a foot and a half higher.
  • Make your characters distinct in voice, physicality, tempo and emotion or you’ll lose track of who’s who. Especially when shifting characters, make sure the change is complete from head to toe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve switched characters and looked down to see I still have the other character’s feet. Or god forbid their wine glass.
  • Audiences get boners for when you make physical contact with invisible characters. Fights, dances, even a simple shoulder touch are so pleasing because they define the imaginary.

There are some solo improv warm-ups I can teach you even though it makes me giggle.

  • The first is a variation on WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Find two initials in the room you are, like L.B. Then just make little verb/object or adjective/verb combos out loud, i.e. Lighting Bridges, Losing Brian, Listening Boringly, Limiting Barry, Lightly Baking, Listlessly Burying, etc.
  • The second is a one-word story where you blink to separate the thoughts for yourself. [Eyes open] “once” [eyes closed] “there” [eyes open] “was” [eyes closed] “a” [eyes open] “grandmother” [eyes closed] “who” etc. This is hard to sustain for long because your brain catches up and starts unifying your thoughts into one thinker.
  • The third is something Andy Eninger taught me.  Do four little mini character monologues with the same first line of dialogue, spreading out around the room and taking different physicalities.
  • The fourth is to put on your headphones and dance around to your favorite song completely unleashed and free of inhibition.
  • The fifth is whatever would make you happy, think of a way to adapt your favorite group warm up. There are other great suggestions in the book “Improvise” by Mick Napier.

HUGE Theater Improv Mixer!

It’s time for the HUGE Theater Fall Improv Mixer! Saturday, November 17, 2012 1-4pm

The mixer is great if you’re looking to form a group, looking to add new people to an existing group, hope to join an existing group, or just want some time to do some improv and get to know all of the wonderful people that at any given time are around HUGE.

Also, Beatbox will be be holding auditions for their shows in January/February at noon (before the mixer)!

If you plan on attending, please fill out our very quick info form here.