NEW FEATURE: Let’s Grow an Improv Troupe: Starting a troupe

In this column, Bobby gives advice on starting and running an improv troupe. Nothing can beat getting an experienced coach or teacher in, but not everyone is in a city with a bustling improv scene, and not everyone can afford to bring in an external coach. This advice should help you setting up a troupe and running workshops for your team.

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So you’ve been to on an improv course or two and are raring to go with your own team. You’re probably not at the stage of auditioning. It’s likely you and a few friends, or other people local to you who’ve done a course and just want to give it a go. A lot of what follows is going to sound difficult with a group of new people but trust me: get it right at the start and everything is going to go so much easier.

Most of this can be summed up in one word: Communicate. Don’t assume people are all on the same page, or that they can read your mind.

What am I signing up for?

So you’re all sat in the upstairs room at a pub (the traditional birthing ground for any new troupe) chatting about how awesome improv is and ready to get going. At some point, maybe not right now but very soon, you’re going to have to be clear about what people are signing up for. Is this a good excuse to lark about one night a week, or are you already booking accommodation for the Ed Fringe run? It won’t break the troupe if you aren’t on the same page, but it will be difficult if people are assuming different things, and in 6 months wondering what happened.

You can go further if you want: mission statements, visions, show goals: all of these are great at getting everyone on the same page and working towards the same thing. But right now, just have a chat, it’s that easy.

What’s my commitment?

Let me be super honest: as a troupe director (and DnD game master) nothing annoys me more than people turning up late or not at all without letting me know beforehand. If you’re starting a troupe be super clear about time commitment and rehearsal times. Even if you’re just getting together as friends once a week for a bit of fun, it’s going to feel really crappy for someone on that inevitable week when they’re the only person that turns up. No matter how casual the troupe is, you have an obligation to your other members.

Ultimately flexibility from everyone is going to be what keeps a troupe going. If you’re going to have a set rehearsal time then everyone should know that, and be aware of who to tell if they can’t make it. Personally I post every week in our troupe Facebook page, even though the time and location doesn’t change, just so people are prompted to drop a comment if they’re busy.

How are we organised?

Everyone’s favourite part! How do you organise the troupe? Who runs rehearsals? Who books shows? How do we pay for rehearsal space? What do I do if I’m not happy with something? Maybe don’t get into this discussion on week 1, but again it’s important to have or people are going to start assuming things.

Let’s get the difficult one out of the way: an inclusion policy. No one wants to talk about this because hey, we’re all friends here and that won’t happen right? Well just in case, I recommend The Nursery’s code of conduct or something similar. Just get it out of the way but don’t belittle it; if you need it you’re going to be glad you have it. 

Who runs rehearsals? If you’re reading this it’s probably you. I’m going to go into a lot more detail later about running rehearsals in a later post but for now make this very clear: only you give feedback. No one wants feedback by committee and I’ve seen that single thing destroy troupes.

How are decisions made? Committee works for some, benevolent dictatorship works for me and my co-director. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and it really depends on you and yours. I heartily recommend an AGM even if those three letters fill you with fear: they are an excellent way to decide what you’re going to do, as well as celebrate the year gone.

I think we’re done…

No you aren’t. I mean that’s a damn good start, and you should definitely go and improvise now if the pub is still open. Just remember to keep talking to your troupe: when things change, when opportunities arise, when you can’t take on all the damn admin. No troupe lives or dies on one person… except maybe Neil+1.

Can I get that in a handy graph?

Would you believe you can? Improv community hero Hugh Clark created the below at a British Improv Project weekend. We discussed quite a few things in the panel that lead to this, so you’ll find a bit extra too.

Starting an Improv Troupe

Now seriously, go and do some improv.

You can find Bobby on Twitter, and his troupe Stürike Comedy on Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to drop him a line with any questions or requests for future articles, or if you’re in Sheffield and want to say hi.

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