I need advice for setting up an improv group.
October 22, 2010 10:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm setting up an improv theater group and would like some advice.

I studied for a few years in the UK. While there, I had the opportunity to join an improvisational theatre group, and practised with them for a couple of years, with a couple of performances thrown in.

I'm now back in my home country (Singapore) and studying in a local university. The local improv scene is just about catatonic - repeated searches have only found one group and they seem to only perform at irregular (possibly randomly determined) intervals, and they don't seem interested in taking on new members. There's some amateur drama going on but no improv groups that I can find, so after nearly half a year of fruitless searching I've decided to take the plunge and try to set one up myself.

What advice would you have for someone in my situation? I'm looking for general advice here. I don't expect MetaFilter to be particularly knowledgeable about the local theatre scene in Singapore, so that's not what I'm hoping for - rather, I'm hoping to tap the collective for general advice on setting up a theatre group, finding potential members, publicity, and also for training up a group of people new to improv, plus any useful resources for training improv practitioners.

Thanks! If anyone needs more details, Memail me or leave a comment and I'll do my best to clarify.
posted by WalterMitty to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: "Amateur drama" meaning that there are people here in university-based or amateur acting groups, not amateurs going around being all whiny/ emo/ annoying.
posted by WalterMitty at 10:34 AM on October 22, 2010

do you have any friends that you could rope in? maybe start with them?

When I started my creative girls collective I put out the word on Facebook and also placed ads in local street mags and at local creative centers. Got quite a good number! I found Meetup also really handy for this sort of thing.
posted by divabat at 10:52 AM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: You probably have more skills and knowledge than most in your area. Start a workshop first to introduce improv to new people, preferably individuals with an interest in theater. Make it free or charge just enough to cover costs of whatever space you're renting. Find the individuals by postering or publicizing whereever local actors hang out, universities, theaters, etc.

Use the workshop to build an email list of interested people. Once you have a decent number of individuals who know the basics, start an improv jam, an open playground with minimal commitment for people to exercise their new skills.

From the community that you are just starting, very slowly select the best players a troupe that you will direct. Do not perform in it. Be a director first. If you're dying to play, play at the improv jam.

You need to grow the community first, in order to get players that can keep up with you. This will bring you a whole different kind of satisfaction.

All the while, you do need to form a relationship with the existing troupe. Go see them, hang out with them, and be open about what you are trying to do. They may want to join your effort. Be open, don't be territorial.

Oh yeah - start with improv games. You didn't specify what kind of improv you're doing, but games are more easily understood (for audience and performers) and are more easily taught, unless you have solid longform training. Just choose the games wisely, there are many that aren't helpful.
posted by mcgordonliddy at 11:04 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, I do, and the response has been a mixture of "this sounds really cool!" and "improv, what is that, it sounds hard". But from the looks of it I should be able to get at least 6-10 people for a first class. The question lies in how I can get a sustainable number of people after that, and for that I'll need to get the word out. Facebook word-of-mouth and ads are ideas I'm considering.
posted by WalterMitty at 11:05 AM on October 22, 2010

yes, start a facebook group by all means. sometimes it's also good to put a limit on yr workshop. Rather than make it ongoing, do a Improv I workshop that meets weekly for 8 weeks. this cuts down on the flakery.
posted by mcgordonliddy at 11:08 AM on October 22, 2010

Response by poster: Ah. Yes, I should have specified - I'll be doing short-form games as that's about all I'm trained in. The group I started out with in the UK actually had 2 trained improvisers and between 8-10 'newbies', and all of us were rejects from a local, established improv troupe's audition, and the focus was on building confidence and familiarity with basic principles with a view to giving a public performance, which we did.

In the medium- to long-term I probably want to fill that longform-shaped hole in my repertoire, but at the moment I'm more concerned with getting a group going first.

Also, and I clean forgot about this - I have a few books on improv, including Improvisation and the Theater and Impro for Storytellers. I'm wondering if there are any other books I should be looking at.

Clearly I should also be working on wording my AskMe questions clearer and with more pertinent detail.
posted by WalterMitty at 11:12 AM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: I was in a professional improv comedy troupe in Boston for many years, so if you want some more specific advice, feel free to MeMail me.

What mcgodonliddy says is great. Start small, because nothing is more disastrous to an improv group than trying to do too much too fast. I wouldn't put this up in front of an audience until you have a really great core cast who knows each others' rhythms and understands each others' styles.

I would definitely start with a workshop. I don't know a thing about Singapore, but adult education centers or universities are a good place to get folks who are eager to try new things. Facebook would be great, too (our comedy troupe was started in the 80s, so that's well pre-Facebook).

Make it fun, but really teach these folks what improv is all about. Games are, by far, audience favorites because they're light and fun, easy to understand and end before people can get bored.

A short course is best, but you may want to tier a series of courses. So have a Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. By the time people graduate up to Level 3, you'll have a good idea of who you want in your troupe, and you can feed folks from the lower levels up to keep a decent number of people in the group, as well as have fresh ideas.

When your troupe is ready to perform, start small. Perform for friends and family first, so you get used to where the laughs are, and how people respond. Find opportunities to share your talents with established audiences. Our group used to perform late nights after the regular show in a theater in Boston. We gave discounted (or free) tickets to patrons of the show, and built a really great audience, but it took a couple of years to become established and well-known.
posted by xingcat at 11:39 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Teach the gospel of "Yes, and..."

Teach them that the best way to look good (AND get laughs AND develop a fan base) is to try to make their fellow players look good, by supporting them.

Teach them to avoid the cheap laughs of shock and toilet humor and find the honesty in the scene.
posted by scwebd at 3:08 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

And make sure that you (and your troupe) are the ones training the audience - it's really easy to let the audience train you to keep giving cheap laughs/gags instead of the funny spontaneous outbursts that occur when truth is recognized on stage.
posted by Arthur Dent at 8:32 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

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