Anonymous Feedback Reply from the Board – the size of things

We received an anonymous message via our contact form:

“Is there a chance that TCIF [Twin Cities Improv Festival] would ever expand to multiple venues? I feel like that could be a good way to support an inclusive improv community outside of just HUGE, and a way to give more groups the opportunity to participate, but I could understand other theaters not necessarily liking the idea of putting their schedules on hold for the festival.”

This is Jill Bernard writing. Although I am not a member of Five Man Job, the improv team that produces TCIF, an annual improv festival now in its ninth year, I can answer in my capacity as a member of the HUGE staff, as TCIF’s former Director of Education, as an independent improvisor who has attended dozens of improv festivals around the country and the world, and as someone who has had a show or two not make it into TCIF over the years.

Thank you for your question. Let’s set aside the economics and pretend an angel investor made it possible to buy out several theaters around town, guaranteeing the rent, salaries, insurance, and marketing costs. Let’s pretend also that somehow we have the human resources to multiply the workload. We still would not add an additional venue or venues to TCIF. Here’s why.

A single-venue festival and a multi-venue festival are two very different beasts. What we love about TCIF is that everyone is all together all the time. I have been to improv festivals in other cities where no one really seems to notice or care that I have travelled hundreds of miles to be there. I see my friends’ Facebook photos of the same event and it looks like we were at two different improv festivals. Often adding more venues doesn’t mean increasing your audience numbers, it means giving some groups the shaft. I have travelled to a festival on the coast on my own dime to perform for eight people. It did not make me feel valued. There is a concept called “Dunbar’s Number” that Wikipedia describes as “a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.” That number is about 150 people (that’s one of the reasons why HUGE has 100 seats). We want everyone involved with TCIF to have a shared experience and forge an amazing connection to each other. We aren’t out to be the biggest improv festival in the world.

A misconception you have is that the festival supports only HUGE. The festival was created five years before there was a HUGE Theater and has always been an open application. Of the 25 local groups performing at this year’s festival, only HUGE is produced by us. Nine are groups that have proposed a show and produced it at HUGE1, 13 are independent teams2, and the other two are the Brave New Workshop and ComedySportz, which have their own theaters. The festival has always welcomed and taken applications from all local improvisors, and communicated application dates through all possible means.

The festival has about twice as many submissions as there are spaces in the Festival, and Five Man Job reviews them each several times based on their own merit, not in comparison to any other submissions. At the end of the review, they always have more groups that have unanimous “yes” votes than there are spaces, which means culling groups that would be fine additions to the festival. It has to happen, and Five Man Job does not take these decisions lightly or apply anything but the highest scrutiny. Butch Roy, the executive producer, writes: “In the end, making that final decision and finally clicking ‘publish’ feels like slamming the door in a lot of faces and it is a day that I dread intensely. But it’s one bad day that marks the beginning of putting on the most amazing weekend that I look forward to all year long, and that one job I hate seems like a small price for all that awesome.”

When Five Man Job started the festival, there were very few other opportunities for improv groups to perform regularly. You had to be scrappy and find a back room at a restaurant or a bar, or put your name into the Improv A Go Go lottery and hope for the best. Currently in the Twin Cities there are ample opportunities for groups to perform. There has never been a better time to be a rehearsing, performing group in Minneapolis. In a lot of ways running TCIF was our practice for opening HUGE Theater. When the theater opened I said, out loud, “Oh my god, it’s like having an improv festival every day.” That’s what we have now. Not being in the improv festival doesn’t mean you’re locked out of the improv scene, it just means you have to pursue a different opportunity and put together a really killer submission package for next year’s festival.

TCIF is the bait that gets audiences interested in local improv. It is the gateway. It is not intended to be a grocery store, it is just the sample lady at the end of each aisle sending audiences in the direction of the teams and shows they will fall in love with during the other 51 weeks of the year.

If you have questions, concerns, complaints or feedback of any kind for the Board of HUGE please know that you can always talk to us or contact us directly, but if you prefer, you can always use the anonymous form.  Click HERE to go THERE.



1 Bearded Men Improv, Clue, Horseface, Interplanetary Appeal, KINGS, Ladyfriend, Mayhem, The Away Team, The Mess

2 Drew & Matt, Feel Good About Yourself Orchestra, Ferrari McSpeedy, Foterson, Gay/Straight Alliance, Kiss Kiss Slap, License To Krill, Liv & Bradley, MN Snow Job, Polar Bear Centric, The Houlihans, The Painters, Where I Am Now