These pages are about my (mis)adventures in improvisational theatre. These are some of the oldest pages on my home page. I created many of them in 1994/95. Consequently, this is one of the oldest sites on improvisational theatre on the Web.
Six Easy Steps to Becoming a Successful Improv TroupeFirst, find an audience of young urban professionals (i.e., yuppies). Yuppies have loads of disposable income. They can thus afford to spend $15–20 for your show, rather than having to settle for the uncultured cinema for half the price. In addition, this is an easy audience to please. The average poop joke will have them practically eating out of your hand. Remember, people come to the theatre to be seen and possibly to hook-up. The more your theatre can gain the reputation of being a good place to be seen, the better. What gets shown on-stage is only of secondary importance.
Second, sell alcohol. Alcohol is hugely profitable. It also increases the chances that someone will score. That person will be a repeat customer and extremely valuable to your profitable theatre. Plus, alcohol makes everything seem funny. You will find that each mention of masturbation will instantly be greeted as the cleverest comment ever. EVER! Go with it. Your boozed yuppie has the comedic sensibilities of an adolescent boy. That's why you'll get such brilliant suggestions for relationships (they're gay), professions (gynecologist, proctologist, crack whore), object (penis pump), animal (sperm whale), etc. There's the old business expression of "your customer is always right." In this case, your drunken yuppie is always right. Some theatre purists would insist that you cannot create true art that informs, enlightens, and challenges by stooping to this sophomoric level. Fuck 'em. This isn't art; it's improv. Those theatrical snobs fail to understand either the modern audience or capitalism.
Third, pump up the audience. Audiences show their appreciation by clapping; therefore, the purpose of your performance is to get the audience to clap. The best way to get your audience to clap is to coach them. At the beginning of your performance, incite your audience to clap and yell. If they are not enthusiastic enough, taunt them: "I can't hear you!" Motion with your arms. Clap along with them. Play rock music (AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" is perfect). With enough of these lubricants, even the most reluctant audience will be turned on (Heh heh. He said "lubricant." He said "turned on." Heh heh). Once your audience is used to clapping, they'll continue to clap. You'll need to do the bare minimum of entertaining to make them feel great. They may not remember any of the things you did on-stage, but they'll remember the clapping. Inherently, they'll associate it with a great show. Voila! They'll tell their friends, you'll sell out shows, etc. That's when you're a successful improv troupe.
Fourth, don't read any theatre books or plays. Your high school's production of Our Town pleased neither the critics nor your audience (nor yourself, for that matter). So, it's fair to assume that scripted theatre is dead. There's nothing an author can do to craft a story that can't be outmatched by your improvised dry-humping. There are also no good books on improv. Books like Impro by Keith Johnstone are remnants of an older age of improv that can be safely ignored. You know what gets your audience to clap (see above); Johnstone doesn't teach you that stuff. Johnstone's only real contribution to improv is realizing that the techniques of professional wrestling can be transferred to improv (see Theatresports).
Fifth, cliches are your friend. People love seeing things that they are vaguelly familiar with or have seen before. Sophisticated audiences love it when you make fun of those things. After all, action movies, reality TV, soap opera, and the nightly news are so lame. They use the same ideas and formats over and over again. Make fun of that. Wear costumes that are so far from real life that they are inherently funny; these help you make fun of the artificiality of staged theatre. Everyone knows that staged theatre is lame, even if they've never seen it. They'll assume that your costumes are making fun of those costumes. Do impressions. Tom Cruise talking about psychiatry never gets old.
Sixth, be aloof. The best way to show that you are part of a semi-professional troupe is to look down upon troupes that are just doing it for the fun of it. Let's face it. Professional troupes in Chicago and New York look down on you; therefore, it is your right to look down on everyone else. It's called "paying it forward." Being aloof will make people admire you, just like you envy The Second City, The Groundlings, etc. This admiration can also be financially rewarding. You can set up classes to teach people to be more like you. If you set it up correctly, these classes can be a total cash cow. The classes will also make sure that there are people to take over your troupe once the original members leave. I'm not sure why original members leave a successful troupe, but for some reason or another they do. You'll need replacements. Those classmembers not cool enough to actually join the performing troupe can volunteer to take tickets, post advertisements, or sell the alcohol. They'll feel happy to bask in your light and you'll have the necessary support to be a hit. It works out for everybody.