To make your improv group work, you need to put in a lot of work. You’ve put the team together, you’ve scheduled the rehearsals, you’ve got the group mind going on, you and your troupemates are constantly learning. You’re putting in the work creatively and it is showing in rehearsals.
The biggest problem you face is what you do with it now. What kind of visibility do you want to do with the work that you are doing? Do you want to be a group that entertains the public or do you want to be improvisers’ improvisers and make the work count when you go out?
In any case, you’re going to have to do work behind the scenes. It’s the least fun aspect of doing the work. However, if your goals involve going to bigger venues and getting in front of more people, you’re going to have to do PUBLICITY.
Let me say it again: PUBLICITY.
If you’re an introvert like I am, this sounds like the worst. The people that are best at publicity are not us introverts, who seek to show up and do the work, then retreat into their hovel and not come out until the next show.
Therefore, it’s important to put a publicity formula together so introverts can hit the bare minimum. Extroverts that are reading this already know how to do this, but not in the cold calculating terms. They just do it naturally because they are rejuvenated by being with other people. I’m truly jealous and I want you, extrovert, to know what a blessing it is for you to just do that. What a gift that I am so envious of.
1. Talk about yourself to someone for 5 minutes a day.
This sounds like the hardest thing, but this is called forming a friendship. Go out of your way to talk to someone about yourself. Talk about anything. Talk about something. Try and keep it bit free, too. Talk about yourself genuinely and openly for 5 minutes.
You probably want to talk to a bunch of other people, so try to aim to talk to a different person every day. Also, five minutes is not a long time, but can go a long way for you and for the other person. The other person will probably want to talk to you at the same time. Listen to them, nod your head, and respond when they ask for it. After five minutes, you can be done and run back to your cave.
The first people that will come to your shows are friends. I know because I’ve seen it with extroverts. They just show up to other people’s things like they like each other. It’s so weird, right?
2. Invite your friends
You will feel SO guilty about doing this because you don’t want to be a bother. Make the invitation in person, too. Or over the phone or via text message. Just make the invitation as personal as possible. Don’t put out a blanket invitation via Facebook (although that will come in handy later).
Since you’ve put in the work to talk about yourself 5 minutes a day to people you call friends, you have a friendbase. They will go to support you! If you’ve been putting in the work creatively, then your friends will not only like you, but (SURPRISE) they’ll actually enjoy you.
3. Go to your friends’ things.
Try to do one event a week with your friends. If they invite you to do something, do the bare minimum. You can do bits here, as your presence is the only thing that is requested. You can stay safe and closed off. What your friends really want here is for you to be there and enjoy their merriment.
Also, listen to whatever they are doing in their thing. If your friends came to support you in your improv group, then you can go to their karaoke thing for one hour and find some way to enjoy them.
Karaoke is hard. I don’t like to do it. And I use that as a blanket event because that’s what extroverts like to do: karaoke. But, even if they invite you over to just have tea, take it. I know you can make tea at home, but hang out with them to be friends.
4. Create a troupe social media presence
You know that everyone does this one because, if you’re in improv, you more than likely get invites to a number of shows. You also probably don’t go to a number of them because they do nothing but invite you. That’s why you get put off from doing too much publicity: you see other improvisers do nothing but promote their shows to you.
Well, since you’re a genius and know that that doesn’t work, you can do better.
A very smart man named Mike Carreon once told me about the way to do social media. You give your audience 80 percent, then ask for 20 percent.
Again, give 80, take 20.
This means putting out truly engaging stuff that people will like. This means putting out pictures of your group rehearsing, talking about how much fun the group has, and showing all the fun things that your group does together. You are only asking your audience to like the things and no more.
People like fun pictures especially. I know this because I’ve liked fun pictures myself. You’re probably liked fun pictures yourself. It’s easy to respond to it becasue you like it. That’s easy and it doesn’t ask your audience too much.
The 20 percent is where the invitations come in. If your troupe is putting stuff out that helps other people and entertains without asking, you build up a reputation of giving. Therefore, when you ask your audience to come to your shows, they are more inclined to. Also, since you’re putting out a lot more than you’re asking, it’ll be a higher success ratio.
Also, it’s important to try and post something as much as possible. If you can do once a day with your group, that would be best. You could probably get by with three times a week, too.
5. Do your own social media
People may like your group, but people definitely like you. That’s why you need to adopt the 80/20 rule for yourself as well. Since it’s hard for you to do social media in the first place, you can do the three times a week.
It’s really important to talk about yourself. People like you and people need to know about who you are. When they know what you stand for, then they are more inclined to like the things that you do. This makes friends, which makes people that are interested in your shows.
This sounds like a cold and calculating thing. However, you also just want friends, too. Networking is building friendships that will last. We put a negative connotation on social networking and make it like we’re treating people as commodities.
Extroverts do all these things, but they treat it as friendships. We introverts have to treat it a bit like a math problem. The more systemized we can make the process, the more we can give ourselves achievable goals to reach to.
6. Have each person in your group set $10/week aside.
Your group will not make money. The likelihood of making money will increase the more you invest. The saying, “You have to spend money to make money” applies more than ever right here, especially since improv is such a light money making opportunity.
To build up the ability to get cash, your group needs a savings account. Making a minimal investment each week from each member will give you something to help you in the long run.
Adding money complicates things tremendously. This may sort out the hobby players from careerist. It’s important for both sides to not hold it against the other, as hobbyists really just need to express themselves in a medium.
When you save up enough cash, you can apply to festivals and take trips while having planned for the financial investment. Instead of getting bombarded with paying at the time, you can take from the troupe saving’s account to pay for needed group expenses. That way, the only thing you may need to cover are personal expenses.
7. Make posters for your shows with clear hooks about who you are
I was up late one night talking with a former girlfriend, who supported me doing improv, but I would never expect her to come to a show. I asked her, “What would make you go to an improv show?” She said, quite plainly, “I don’t know.” Then she thought about it. “I don’t know.” She was clearly thinking about it. Then she said, “Well, I need to know what it’s about.”
She then brought up two improv shows she had been to. One she went to made her feel a bit more confident about what to expect. The other one she was much more nervous about. She ended up enjoying both, but she was also obligated to go to both. I can also verify that the one that was marketed clearly was much more well attended.
It’s very easy to try and come up with a cool or neat design for your improv troupe. That’s great and all, but your audience does not care about neat and cool. They care about, “Why?” Why are they good? Why should I go? Why are these people on this poster? The most important question you need to answer: Is this worth my time?
A cool design doesn’t do that. A cool design makes people go, “Cool design.” If the reader is not clear about what your group is, what you are all about, and what would make people benefit, then you are not selling yourself.
It sucks to say that you have to sell yourself, but you really do if you want to keep doing improv in front of people. For instance, if you are a group that does funny improv, make a poster that shows you all enjoying yourself and being funny. It’s as simple as that.
Make the poster look nice, of course. Sit down with a real, honest to God designer to try and get an effective design for your posters. Make sure that it looks cool, but it answers any and all questions of quality that a potential audience member might have.
Pretend like your improv group is a band. What would the details be that you would put on a band flyer? Name of the venue, time of the show, how much it costs, any sales that might be happening on drinks or anything.
[Side Note: YOUR POSTER IS ONLY ONE THING. The likelihood that you will get sales from your poster is very, very slim. Your poster functions as a trustbuilder, i.e. prospects that see it know that you put time into it. Don’t rest because you just have a poster.]
8. Get real publicity photos for your group
Don’t just take iPhone pictures or put together ironically funny photos in the hope that it will be enough to be marketable. To a certain extent, your group will appeal to the people in your improv circle. However, you want to blow people away with your professionalism. That way, when you apply to festivals with polished photography of you and your group, you look like you mean funny business.
Allocating funds away to hire a photographer is worth it. Take publicity photos of your group solo and away from the stage. Get headshots and make it look nice. That way, you will have assets for your website and other promotional materials.
Use a photographer for your stage show, too. Try and get a photographer to as many of your shows as possible. That way, if you have a great show, there will be some great poses and indicators of the quality of the show. It will resonate to the viewer.
Also, HIRE A REAL PHOTOGRAPHER. Don’t get your aunt’s friend’s cousin to take pictures. Make sure you go with a real, seasoned professional. It might be expensive, but if you are doing an improv troupe as the potential kickstarter for a career, you need to invest in it.
9. Videotape your shows
Festivals ask for video evidence of your troupe in action. You can get a camcorder for your group and record your set. If your troupe is setting aside a couple bucks each week, you should accumulate enough cash to have a troupe camera. That way, you have no excuse to not have your set recorded.
You can use the tapes for festival submissions, but you can also watch it back like a play reel. You can watch all of your shows, look at what succeeded for you, and look at what tanked you completely. This can help your game grow, making it stronger.
DO NOT SHOOT IN ANYTHING LESS THAN HD. Even phones have HD cameras. Do not settle for anything less. Also, MAKE SURE THE SOUND QUALITY ON THE CAMERA IS GOOD. If possible, invest in an external microphone that you can get close to the stage.
This sounds nitpicky, but imagine a festival crew. They go through hundreds of poorly shot, bad sounding submission videos. If you show up with your video and it has decipherable dialogue and clear picture, people will sit up. If you want bonus points, you will hire a video production crew to film your set. This would require three to five cameras, wireless mic set up, and a director. This is an expensive investment, but it will up your professionalism tremendously.
10. Dress the part
Being in an improv group is a bit like being in a punk band, but without the revolutionary politics. It’s dirty, low rent, filthy work. That doesn’t mean you can’t have the right costume.
You want to have a wardrobe which communicates to the audience that you know exactly what you are doing. Wearing shirts with casual logos won’t help. Make deliberate stylistic choices that will let the audience know you have purpose when you hop onto the stage.
Some people wear suits and ties. Others wear plain shirts along with jeans. Just don’t wear something that you got out of the dryer three minutes before the show starts. Make deliberate choices. The audience is watching.
11. Make everyone in your group do all of these roles
If your group is serious about taking their improv game to another level, you cannot have a weak link. Each person needs to be willing to engage people, engage social media, create promotional assets, and work their butts off to get things done.
Bands don’t magically get audiences. They work their tails off to grow and get more shows. They make phone calls, get agents, and put in the work to create a real infrastructure for themselves. For some reason, improv troupes don’t think this happens. They are okay with sitting back and expecting the work to just happen.
Be different. You can make a living at this. You just exist in a paradigm where everyone thinks they can’t.