For fear of sounding like a Primary School Headteacher, even when you’re not on stage you’re an ambassador for your show. When you’ve been invited to perform on an improv night, the actions you take off stage influences not only your reputation but the reputation of your team.
I’ve made this sound a lot scarier than it is, especially considering everything I’m talking about this week are all relatively small things but they do make a difference. While a lot of these guidelines for off stage etiquette are obvious, they’re often forgotten in the excitement of performing and the emotional carry-ons that come with it.
Before the gig: Know the backstage team
If you haven’t organised the gig and spent longer than you thought possible flitting between a ridiculous amount of messaging services, then it’s very easy to just rock up, do the show and go home without talking to any of the organisers. Even if you do a fantastic show, this can make you come off as aloof and potentially ungrateful. This isn’t usually the reason why we do this, it may be that your shy, tired or that you don’t know them personally but the more you do this, the easier it gets. All you really need to do is introduce yourself/say hello and thank them for having your team.
Aside from good form, there is also the more mercenary side of things in that if an organiser likes you or finds you friendly and easy to deal with, you’re a lot more likely to get booked again on their show.
It’s also easy to forget those who get less prominent or less sexy jobs, the tech booth and front of house team rarely get the praise they deserve and the show wouldn’t run nearly as smoothly without them. Do try to find the time to say hello and no matter what your technical requirements are it’s best to talk to the tech about what your show requires from them, even if it’s nothing as they’ll know they have one less job to deal with.
During the gig: Quiet at the back!
This doesn’t apply to shows where there is a green room or backstage but many shows you perform you will be in the audience watching the other acts play. I freely admit I still find this very difficult and I find it excruciating watching a show while my own performance is very much on my mind. Before my performance I’m trying to get into the right mindset and afterwards I’m most likely playing it back in my head, essentially meaning I’m not being an engaged member of the audience. If you find yourself in this same position a lot, I quite like to improvise in my head while the shows going on with the mindset “If I were being given these options, how would I respond?” It’s probably not as good as just allowing myself to just be an audience member but at least I’m engaging and paying attention to the other acts.
While you’re watching the show, other members of the audience shouldn’t be able to tell your an improviser before you get on stage. Essentially I’m saying: don’t draw attention to yourself until you are onstage performing. A number of times I’ve seen acts engage with the host for extended periods of time during the audience warm-ups and it can kill a crowd as it can messes up the hosts rhythm and alienates the audience in a warm-up that is supposed to be for them. As a follow on to this, leave giving suggestions to the audience when possible. It’s one of the times when they can actively effect an improv show and taking audience suggestions is often how improv shows are marketed. On the flip side, if an audience is a bit tight lipped with giving suggestions, by all means suggest your heart out.
This one is possibly the easiest to forget, as after a show you’re adrenalised and many of us want to start immediately talking about the show with our group. However, don’t do this until you have left the room as you’re not being nearly as quiet as you think you’re being. If you feel an immediate urge to talk about the show and decompress a bit, then leave the room. Many hosts understand this and will give you a bit of a grace period. Grab a drink, have a quick chat, celebrate what went well, hug each other about the stuff you weren’t so keen on, if you have time go for a wee and then ideally head quietly back into the room to continue to support the night.
When the gigs over: Say your thank yous (even if your show was pants)
Again this may seem obvious but saying thank you to the hosts is excruciatingly difficult if you’ve just had a show you were not happy with. I really do recommend swallowing your pride and thanking everyone that made the show possible. It will be tempting but there is no need to apologise if your show didn’t go the way you hoped. Improv is tough and it doesn’t always reach the high standards we set for ourselves. If the organisers are even half decent, they will understand this and probably don’t feel half as critical as you feel about your own show.
As well as thanking the obvious people like the hosts, don’t forget the roles like the tech and front of house.
After the show: If you haven’t got anything nice to say…
In improv, we’re positive with each other, support our peers and make each other look good. Until we the room and we turn into the true monsters we are!
We’re all grown ups here so lets be honest. We don’t like every show we see and we realise that improvisers don’t radiate positivity out of their souls 24/7 and they do criticise other people’s shows. There are plenty of benefits to unpicking our peers shows and there is a lot to learn by being honest about performances we didn’t like.
But let’s save that chat for when we’re a couple of miles away from the venue.
At the bar: Try to stick around for at least 10 minutes
Not always possible, especially if the E3 Nintendo direct came out that evening (who’s with me?! Anyone? No…? Okay early start at work tomorrow or something, whatever) but when you can try to make a habit of not shooting straight off after a show.
For a start, it allows you to say your thank yous as well as allowing opportunities for very mild networking. For some people that will be your worst nightmare but frankly even just being in the room is enough for people to come up to you and chat. In the past I’ve been offered future shows from improv show organisers in the audience and once or twice even been offered auditions for acting work (to turn this brag into a humble brag, I didn’t get the part). Even outside of being offered future opportunities, by not rushing off you get to be better known by your peers which is exceptionally valuable in a community that is becoming intimidatingly big.
It also gives an opportunity for audience to approach you and thank you for performing for them. It’s a brilliant feeling when audience come up to you and tell you they liked your show, especially after you think you’ve had a disaster or a show. It’s a nice reminder that you have high expectations for your show while most punter are incredibly impressed by the fact that you get up on stage and just make all this stuff up.
It’s a small gesture (pretty much like everything else I’ve mentioned above) but sticking around for even just 10 minutes after makes a huge difference in making the night better for everyone. Unless you’re the best improviser in the world, get the fuck out of there you sexy, aloof artist!
Any tips I’ve left off? Also I’d appreciate a better title for this post which doesn’t sound like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon: LiamBrennanImprov@gmail.com