Monday, October 15, 2007

Rules, Skills, & Critisism

Confused? Don't know what Improv is? Go here.

Rules, Skills, & Critisism

Acting in Improv is similar to acting in a play, specifically that you are not just waiting for your chance to speak, but you are physically and emotionally involved in a realistic interpretation of “normal” life. You may interpret that as you see fit, so long as you understand that you must live in the moment and be an involved listener. Improv is all about making choices, and being committed to those choices. Reading books gives you the knowledge, but improvisational theatre is an art of learning by doing. Practice makes perfect.

The Rules of Improv: As a series of exercises, I suggest that all new improvisers be forced (torture is usually unnecessary) to follow the rules of improv. The "Rules of Improv" are a set of guidelines to help facilitate the experience of sharing imagination. It is only when we understand the rules, do we understand how and when to break them.

Getting criticism: Not only is the skill of listening an important during improv, but it is necessary for proper instruction. Check your ego at the door, because there are going to be people telling you that the types of choices you are making are wrong. It’s not personal. No matter how it may sound, they are looking out for your best interests and the interests of the group; they want to make you look better during a performance. If you think that they are wrong, feel free to clarify exactly what your mistake was, and help them articulate how to avoid the problem in the future. If you can help them clarify the type of choice that they did not agree with, then you can gain more understanding of their point of view. If you still think that they are wrong, don’t argue. Encourage your fellow players to give you feedback, and if you need to, take their opinion as just that—opinion. Do your best to find something constructive from every piece of feedback that you receive.

Giving Criticism: When giving notes, make sure to focus on the types of choices that are being made, and not the choices themselves. Correcting specific choices can feel like a personal attack, and the benefit of these specific critiques is minimal, since the exact circumstances of the scene are unlikely to ever occur again. Focusing on the types of choices can give a long term benefit for all group members, and adding to the understanding of the improv skill set. Focusing on types of choices may also give you insight to strategies for short-form improv games that you may have otherwise not been able to discover. Some things to look for:

Negative Things:
Basic Stage Skills (cheating out, projection, etc.)
Driving a Scene or Passive Scene Work
Vague Offers or Gagging
Blocking & Denying
Breaking Character or Inconsistent Characters
Weak Pimping (like asking questions)

Positive Things:
Strong Offers
Weak Offers (not for beginners)
Accepting & Advancing
Justifying & Clarifying
Rhythm, Pacing, & Timing
Focus & Listening

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


When promoting an Improv show, there are lots of steps to take. One person should be in charge of making sure all of the steps get completed, but it doesn't mean that Promotions Director should try and do everything by themselves. Below is a very detailed list of many of the things that you can do to promote your show & season, without paying an outside company to do it for you. Having a website as a medium of communication can help get others involved, but it isn't necessary to promote a show.

Since we're dealing with the DMIL as a whole, with multiple groups doing promotions in multiple venues, it makes sense to standardize the message. The positive results of standardizing the message include brand recognition,
information continuity, less preparation work, cost effectiveness, and professional appearance. The negative results of standardizing include redundancy, less creative options, information overload, disregarded repetition, and professional appearance (some people like the "punk rock" unprofessional promotions look). Though the negative results may seem really intense, it is far outweighed by the benifits of "less preparation work, cost effectiveness." That means if you put together one well-crafted and beautiful flyer, you will not only be able to make more of them, but you will also have more time to concentrate on other forms of promotion.

Confused? Don't know what Improv is? Click here.

Advance Preparation

(delegate most of these)

- Generic Season Flyer (see below), Season Schedule, massive amounts of push pins and packaging tape.

- Press Kit (see below)

- Radio Station, Newspaper, and Website contact list (name, title, e-mail, snail mail, and phone – plus extension)

- Generic mass e-mail regarding the show and season schedule, (include an “Unsubscribe button”

- Mailing list binder, patron questionnaire & ask-for sheet

- Promotional team phone list, mailing list, and phone tree (optional)

- Cash Box, Refreshments

- Posters explaining “Theater Etiquette”

2 Months Prior to Show/Season.

- Get permission from school to post fliers for the entire season. This is a good reason to have one standardized poster for the season. If you want to do individual posters for each performance, get permission for the first one, and tell them that the content will be almost exactly the same. (They’ll probably tell you it needs to be approved anyways – and you should, if you have the time. I hate to say it, but when you’re working towards a deadline, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is for permission.)

- Send out e-mails to your contact list. In the e-mail, request assistance for help promoting the Show / Season. Ask volunteers to help hand out flyers at other high schools, colleges, churches, coffee shops, and other events. Ask people if they would be willing to e-mail their friends, contact list, or copy and post a MySpace blast. For those who need flyers mailed to them, request their address and mail flyers to them, along with instructions. If they need additional promotional materials such as press kits and/or CD’s, please have them contact you. Be sure to make a VIP list, including all of those who helped promote the show, and give them free admittance. Include press passes on VIP list.

- With the help of your contact list, hang fliers all over your city or town – schools, churches, colleges, music venues, coffee shops, community centers, restaurants, bookstores, etc. –anywhere indoors where they will allow it to remain posted for the entire season.

- Get someone to ask for approval to post one in each glass case you see around every school in the district. Mail a flyer along with a press kit to each school in the district (including middle schools), and send it again to the drama teachers directly. Who knows, maybe they want to help get a team together, or prepare their middle school students for high school improv.

- Contact media and send them season schedule. Call and follow up to make sure that they received it.

- Contact theaters in the area and see if they will promote you show/season in exchange for you promoting theirs. Mail them a few posters and a bunch of ¼ sheets, and place their fliers on the table at your show(s).

3 Weeks Prior to Show.

- This is the most crucial time period of street promotion. The performance is now close enough to fit into people’s mental time frame and schedule.

- Stay in communication with promotional team, and have them update you every step of the way (that’s why god invented text messaging)

- Do 1st wave of handing out fliers. Do so extensively and aggressively. Get them to anyone you can and as many places as possible.

- Have the promotional team start talking about the show. Announcements in class are acceptable, but get the teachers’ permission first. Have one of the promotional members make announcements on Internet message boards. Visit websites where both locals and fans might frequent.

2 Weeks Prior to Show.

- Have the show announcement placed in the city paper, local magazines, and church bulletins.

- E-mail blast announcing the show.

1 week before show.

- Have the show announcement placed in the city paper, local magazines, and church bulletins.

- Continue to handout fliers at school. Only hand out ¼ sheets, and only one to each person unless you trust that they will hand them out to people who want them. No need to waste paper.

- Continue to pump up the show. Have it announced over the intercom at school. If you can, go in early to classrooms and write on the chalkboards. Many teachers who support the arts will leave it up all week if you put “Save until Friday.” Don’t forget to put the website up on the board too, and/or leave a small stack of ¼ sheets for people to take.

Day of the Show.

- Create an e-mailing list for people to sign at the show, informing them that you will provide them with information on upcoming shows for the future.

- Have a trustworthy promotional team member take money at the door.

- Have another trustworthy promotional team member get people to get on the mailing list, and use the questionnaire to get pre-show suggestion (like for party quirks) and also to ask each person how they found out about the show.

After the Show.

- Talk with the individual who took the money/tickets from the door. Sift through your list of contacts and see who was most helpful and who was least. Continue to develop an ongoing promotion relationship with those that were helpful. For those that were least helpful, either develop new ideas to facilitate assistance from them or “discard” them in search of new people to add to your list of aid.

Other Helpful Tips.

- Promotional Team: Always keep some small handout fliers on you. Pass them out as often as possible.

- Attend shows where other improv lovers might be, and give flyers to those interested in attending your show.

Things to Remember.

- Ongoing relationships are key. Think larger than a one time live performance. This is an opportunity to connect with other improv lovers and have contacts for future live performances.

- Creating a network and system of contact is important. It makes the workload less and less as time passes and creates a network of people that will continue to spread and grow. We suggest buying a small notebook to write down names, numbers and addresses in for future reference. Make sure there is always a returning student from each school on your list.

- Creating a relationship with local radio stations and people in the media (writers for local magazines, reporters on television, etc.) is also very helpful in reaching the masses with word about the artist you have booked. For improv especially, use the internet sources.

- Extend gratitude often. Letting people know that you are thankful for their help is extremely important. We all want to know that we are not taken for granted and our efforts are appreciated. On the opposite side, if anything bad happens, take the blame. If any mistake is counted as a leadership error, it makes things easier when you’re trying to recruit volunteers in the future.

- Assess what needs to get done, and what should get done. Delegate everything – and I mean everything that doesn’t need to get done. You’ll have a lot on your plate trying to manage people and tasks. Your top priority should be organizing and communicating. Being in charge is hard work, so don’t underestimate it. Plus, there’s a lot of things on this list that aren’t requirements in order to do a high school show, especially the first show. So relax. Its okay.



Things to Remember When Designing Fliers, and Mass e-mail

- For the Generic season flyer, make it 11 x 17, and include a full season schedule on the front. For the individual shows, make it 8 ½ x 11. Each design should be black and white, on bright colored paper, like this:

Or see the full sized image

- There are 4 key things to always have in bold, large text on a promotion flyer:

· The League’s name

· The performers (slightly smaller font size)

· The date of the show(s)

· The venue’s name

- In addition, in a smaller font size, include on the flier:

· venue’s address

· Official website

· your contact info (official league e-mail – used only for league business. No phone number-- you don’t want to get prank called)

· either “Family Show” or “This is not a family show”, “PG-13” etc.

- Additional info (on the back for ¼ sheets)

· if needed, directions to the venue on the back side

· full league schedule

- Also, if you are not someone who is a graphically inclined person, please either ask a friend to design it or go extremely basic with the design. We would like to avoid unprofessional designs. As the flier that is being designed is going to get posted all over your city or town where you live, we HIGHLY suggest you find someone who can design an appealing, high quality black and white flier for you that will copy nicely at Kinko’s.

- If you are unable to complete the above flier yourself, some places have a professional graphic designer you can hire for $20 a flier. Contact us about this if interested.

- Also, you may want to include a brief description of what improv is. For example:

· “Think musicals suck? So do we.”

· “Theater for non-theater people,”

· “Unscripted Theater” or

· “A family show without a script” or

· “Who’s line is it anyway? Only not bald.”

· Etc. You can come up with a better one for sure.

- ¼ sheets should include small amount of self-explanatory fool-proof instructions in addition to all the show information. It can be in smaller print – and might have to be in order to fit. These instructions should include:

· Please do not litter. These are not trash.

· Take only as many as you need, or would like to hand out to friends.

· Any misuse of these fliers is not the responsibility of the DMIL or any of its’ affiliates. Thank you.

- If you are really really want to have a killer design, set the sights for next season. Open up a competition for the art students to create a black and white logo for the posters, and have the first place prize be a pair of tickets to every show during the season...then just put their name on the VIP list. Second place can be a single pair of tickets to one show, and all the forks collected from the "Bring a fork, get $2 off" promotion. Once you have a really nice design, reuse it all the time.

Pre-Show questionnaire example questions:

- Have you ever been to a DMIL show before? Y / N

- How did you find out about this show? (check all that apply)

o Big Red Flyer (Generic Season Flyer)

o 8 ½ x 11 Blue Flyer (Show Flyer)

o Green ¼ sheet Flyer (Handout)

o You announced it last show, remember?

o You e-mailed me

o Someone e-mailed me

o A friend told me.

o Other:

- Would you like to help promote our shows, and get in for free? Y / N

- Would you like to be on our mailing list? Y / N

- Can we have your name and e-mail address? (optional)

- What is your favorite possession?

- Name a Celebrity:

- What will you do on your 80th birthday?

- What is your “safe place?”

- What is something that is red?

- Etc.

The Press Kit

- Use the contact information of a Faculty Member. This will make it easier for companies to continue contact for year after year, and make it easier for you to do so without continuously updating press release contact information. Make sure that the Faculty Member has your contact information, and knows the best method to forward the information to you. A Faculty Member may also be able to create a FAQ and help develop a more thorough Press release.

- Find an example of a theater press release that you like, and use it for inspiration. This is probably the first time you’re writing one of these, and it’s important to do research on how it’s done. Hopefully, someone in the DMIL will develop a format that can be easily copied and followed by each individual school.

- List show prices with the schedule, and avoid leaving any information out. That means most show information should be decided early in the season. If you are going to have special promotions for each show, such as "bring a fork and get $2 off," then this info should be included. You may decide to put "Bring the item-of-the-week and receive $2 off, see website for details"

- I've always wanted to create an 800-Number that you can easily record a message with all of the upcoming show information. Maybe I'm just dreaming. It might not be as easy as I think it is.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Improv Overview

After confusing a few readers with the specialized focus of my writings, I decided to include a piece on the foundation of the Devil Mountain Improv League, and explain the Improvisation Theater as an art form.

First, I understand if the question comes to mind: What is Improv?
There are only a few good descriptions, and lots of bad descriptions of what Improv is.
The most popular example is the television series Who's Line is it Anyway?

The art form itself has been around for much longer than the television series -- even the original British version. If you're interested in the History of Improv, do some research. You can even check out my list of suggested reading.

The DMIL is a high school league established for students by students, and has been around since 1996. It began with only three high schools participating in this creative and interactive art form, and it continues to grow. At some point, I hope to include a detailed history of the DMIL. For now, you'll just have to take my word that it was awesome.

In many ways, Improvisational Theater is known as the "Poor Man's Theater." This is because the lack of props, costumes and sets makes for a very cost-effective production. This art form, while not requiring much money, does require quite a bit of dedication to the craft and skill. This makes it ideal for high school students who may not have a large income, but do have the time and focus to build and develop the complicated skills necessary to master the art of improv. While the actors do not need to buy props, costumes and sets, they DO need to find a way to physically portray everything in the environment spontaneously, in order to help the audience imagine the world being created. Improv does not seem complicated until you realize the actors are manifesting a world out of thin air, while simultaneously creating characters we can relate to, emotionally realistic relationships, and events that are believable enough to fit in everyone's imagination.

Improv can create events that you never would imagine were possible, but maybe they are.

Improvisational Theater teaches skills that are useful for the stage as well as everyday life. The application to everyday life has become enormously prominent, especially when it applies to corporate team building. This site will not focus on the worldly applications, since corporations have the money to afford bringing in a professional instructor who can guide them through the process. If you're interested, I recommend it. The fluffy-cuddly testimonials are everywhere.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Judging Improv

The degeneration of quality scenes in the DMIL was indirectly caused by poor judging. Thus, I feel it is important to show examples, and have YOU be the judge. Let's see how well this works.

Theater Sports is based upon a three-tiered judging system for a very specific reason: Following the rules of the games, and having quality scenes that people care about, are just as important as making the audience laugh. Each judge rates each scene on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the best.

1. Narrative - Judges the Story. Do the characters DO something? Does the scene have a beginning, middle and end? Do they head towards the danger instead of talking about it? Do they have strong, believable, consistent characters? Is there an established location and environment?

2. Technical Judge - Judges the rules. Do they "Brown bag?" (Do they swear, make dirty comments, touch on subjects that would be inappropriate for a "Family Show"?) Do they follow the rules of the scene? (The simpler the rules, the more exactly they must follow them.) Are they consistent? Do they "Continue the illusion?" (Do they avoid walking through their own pantomimed furniture and doors?)

3. Entertainment - Judges entertainment value. How funny was the scene? Did they find the humor organically (or was it just a coupla guys telling jokes?) Honestly, was it really funny? How funny was it? Really? That's pretty funny.

Here's an introduction to technical judging, and the style of Theater Sports:
Watch the first 4:30

What is the brown bag? It's pretty simple:

An overview for the Narrative Judging:

First Clip: Exactly what NOT to do. These performers use gags and gimmicks instead of characters (very Monty Python), and it is obviously being driven by the interviewer. This scene should change dramatically when the interviewee says "So, do I have the job?" because the answer should be "Yes, and..." (or something equivalent) --so they can head towards an unfamiliar format and explore the possibilities. Another sign that something is very wrong is the length of the scene (7:00!) "You should always leave the audience wanting more." - Kieth Johnstone

An overview of Entertainment Judging:

This is fairly simplistic. Did you watch the above scenes? Did you find them funny? If you did, score them higher then the not-so-funny ones. End of story.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Suggested" Reading

One thing that has always been agreed upon including in the Improv Bible, is a list of suggested reading. the unfortunate part is that it has required so much money to become a well read improviser. Thanks to the invention of the internet, and free press, so much information about improv can be found, and is continuing to be organized and cataloged into neat little packages.

If internet readings don't interest you, you can check out these excellent titles at your local library, or pick them up from the Store.

I will admit, after all the books that I've read, there are still two that I believe are best suited for the DMIL above all else:

The Truth in Comedy IMPRO

For all the Basic "Rules of Improv" For Creative Exploration

These books will give you the information necessary to try improv with a group. Warm-ups, trust games, and all the other things you could find on the internet, but would rather have in a portable paperback copy.

Another couple of interesting books that I've read are "Whose Improv is it Anyway?" A Perspective history of Improv with an emphasis on Women and Minorities, and "Directing Improv" An in depth look at all the things that should be done on and off the stage.

All of these books can be purchased through the Bookstore.

However, none of these books focus on the Improv Catch 22, which is that there is more money in teaching Improv, than there is in performing the Art itself. So, when it comes down to it, why do people pay hundreds of dollars on classes and books? Because they are invigorated by the Art of Play, and either don't want to take the time to teach themselves, or don't know they can teach themselves.

You, being a member of the DMIL, already understand the art of playing, and collaboratively sharing your imagination. By the time these writings are done, I hope that I can collect, organize, and compile enough information, that you will never have to pay to play.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


Not Larry.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

BECA 670 Introduction

The plan for this blog is to compile information from East Bay Devil Mountain Improv League Members to be able to re write their own instruction manual. It will hopefully include multiple DMIL members from multiple schools working on their Senior projects and contributing information about individual games and warm-ups. The final compilation may be published for educational use.