Finding An Improv Troupe or Starting Your Own

1.  Just do it.  Reading a book on improv without actually trying it out is like reading a book on golf and never stepping foot on a golf course.  You need to get involved by actually getting on the improv stage and performing with a troupe.  It won’t be easy.  In fact, your first time, you’ll probably feel like you’re the only person on stage who doesn’t have a clue what you’re doing.  That’s normal.  It’s challenging.  But it IS fun.  So, here are some ideas to get you started on your path to better skills and a great time.

2.  Buy a book.  Before you attend your first improv class, go to your local book store and buy something on improv.  Improv Comedy by Andy Goldberg is a good book to get you started.  See paragraph 10 for an extended reading list.  Now that you’ve bought a book…here’s the catch.  You have to read it.

3.  Look for a troupe.  Do an internet search for a local troupe.  Check the community calendar in your local paper.  Look at the course catalogue of your community colleges (don’t forget to check the continuing education, non-credit courses).  You might have a branch of a well-known improv group in your city:  TheatreSports, ComedySportz, Improv Olympic, Second City.  The telephone book white and yellow pages might be a resource.  Call your local theatre groups as they may know of local improv workshops.  Tell your friends you’re looking for an improv troupe. 

4.  How much will a class cost?  Normaly between $5 and $40 per class.  Sometimes more.  Sometimes free.  You’ll find that small privately organized troupes (like mine) might be $5 to $10 per session.  Groups sponsored by professional theatre groups might charge $25 – $40 per class.  The difference will often be the experience of the teacher.

5.  Can’t find a workshop?  Start your own.

6.  My story:  In October 1995, I had two coincidental phone calls within a week.  The first one was from a former student who attended a humor workshop I presented in the San Francisco bay area.  He told me of a special three-day improv weekend he was attending and wondered if I might be interested in attending one of the events.  I had never been to an improv show or workshop in my life.  I immediately said I’d drive up for the entire three-day weekend.  A second phone call came from a friend in my Toastmasters network.  He was a member of a troupe in Santa Barbara and invited me to attend their show on October 27.  I attended that show and the following week began weekly workshops with the Santa Barbara Improv, a 150-mile round trip from my home.  In January I enrolled in a twelve-week ComedySportz beginning and intermediate level workshop, also in Santa Barbara.  During that same month, I started my own troupe in Santa Maria. During January, February and March, I was doing improv three nights a week and driving 300 miles to do it.  Within four months I went from never seeing an improv performance to directing my own troupe.

7.  My first troupe, Santa Maria CA, was licensed as a Theatre Sports troupe and we had an average show attendance of 150 people.  Players from many other troupes came to play with us.  We competed in the California Statewide tournament and reached the semi-finals.  The exciting thing is that this process can be duplicated.  When I moved to Las Vegas, I started another troupe.  You can do the same thing.  Ideally, the best workshops are eight to twelve people, but you could get started with a faithful core of only four to six.  Here’s how I suggest you go about starting your own troupe:

8.  Lay a foundation.  Spend some time in planning your improv troupe experience.  You can actually teach your own workshop even if you’ve never had any improv experience.  I did.  Then, when I moved to Las Vegas I spent the first year spreading the word and collecting contact information from interested people.  By the time I kicked off our first workshop in January 2001, I had a list of forty people who had expressed an interest.  On our first night, 15 people showed up.  We grew to a high of 24 people and have since settled down to a solid core group of about 10.  We conduct weekly workshops and monthly shows.  My approach is non-profit.  We charge enough to pay for the room and other expenses of producing the shows.  We have a logo, banner, shirts, and a keyboard player.  More on that later.

9.  Your homework.  You’ll need to invest in an Improv library, maybe a dozen books for starters.  See paragraph 10 for some books to get you started.  Try to attend a workshop somewhere even if you have to fly to a special week-long event.  Watch for workshop postings in our Resources And Favorite Links.  Find an improv buddy to help you present your first workshop sessions.  Doing a weekly two-hour workshop isn’t difficult, but may seem challenging when you first start out. Your first session should be shaped around games where people get to know each other.  You’ll need an extensive list of games for your weekly workshops.  Also look for opportunities to do things as a group.  For example this week, our troupe will be attending a Blues performance at a local casino after our normal weekly workshop.  This is fun and builds a trusting ensemble that loves being together.

10.  Recommended books.

Improv Comedy by Andy Goldberg

Truth In Comedy by Halpern, Close and Johnson

Improvisation for the Theater by Viola Spolin

Comedy Improvisation by Delton Horn

Improvisation for Actors and Writers by Bill Lynn

Improve with Improv by Brie Jones

Impro by Keith Johnstone

Improv! by Greg Atkins

Acting Games by Marsh Cassady

Musical Improv Comedy by Michael Pollock

Acting on Impulse by Carol Hazenfield

The Ultimate Improv Book by Edward Nevraumont

Improvise by Mick Napier

11.  Improvised Music.  Immediately begin your search for a musical director.  Music is a key part of your performances. We’ve been blessed in Las Vegas with two terrific musicians and several great singers.  You need to spread the word thru your own network that you are looking for a keyboard player.

12.  Guest players.  This is a key to building a strong troupe.  In both Santa Maria and Las Vegas, I arranged for several outside, experienced players to join us for our first show.  We’ve also have had about two dozen special event workshops presented by visiting, seasoned improv teachers from Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.  One of the big advantages of getting the TheatreSports license for our California troupe was to get connected to other troupes for the purpose of guest players and workshops.  I moved to Las Vegas with that network intact and ready to tap into.

13.  Time to get started.  Buy a book.  Find a troupe.  Or start your own.  Improv is the most challenging and most rewarding thing I’ve done in the area of performing arts and presentation skills.  I highly recommend it to you.

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