Starting an improv troupe is easy, right? You find one to ten other warm bodies and you go, “hey, let’s start an improv troupe!” and they go, “hell yeah!” and soon enough the international festival invitations start rolling in. Success! Or not.
The truth is, starting an improv troupe is easy; starting a successful improv troupe is anything but. There are so many factors that go into creating and maintaining a successful improv troupe that it’s mostly out of anyone’s hands, but there are some things that you can do to maximize your chances of creating the a troupe that you will find fun and fulfilling.
1. Have a Vision
Initially, it’s very helpful if you have a good idea of what you want your troupe to be. Do you want to do the Harold? Do you want to do monoscenes? Do you want to do narrative?
Having a strong vision will help you make all kinds of important decisions, such as how many people you’ll ideally want to have and what kind of coaches you’ll need (If you want a coach! More on this later.)
With that said, keep in mind that troupes have a strong tendency to change over time, so while having a strong vision is important, it’s equally important to have some flexibility. If you’ve found the right people, it’s better to sacrifice the vision than to sacrifice the troupe.
2. Let The Right Ones In
A troupe is a delicate balance of personalities and chemistry, so choosing the right people is essential to the ultimate success of a troupe. Who are the right people?
Your friends. People that you like.
I repeat, the right people for your troupe aren’t necessarily the most talented, aren’t necessarily the most experienced, but are the people that you really fucking like. If the prospect of grabbing a beer or a cup of coffee with someone is unpalatable, don’t invite them into your troupe. If you don’t like the people you’re playing with, no matter how talented everyone is, your life will be miserable.
3. Go Big
Unless you’re starting a duo, you want to invite at least one or two more people than you think you should because people will inevitably drop out. This is normal, it’s going to happen, accept it and plan for it.
Think of your troupe as a Red Giant. Red Giants are not particularly hot as far as stars go but eventually they shed most of their outer volume (explosively!) and what is left is a white dwarf, dense and hot and full of dedicated improv goodness. Your troupe should be a white dwarf, but first it must be a Red Giant. If you’re not sure how many people your troupe should have, take a look at troupes who do what you want to do (remember, you have a vision!) for a rough idea.
4. Take it Slow
So, now you have the right number of the right people. What now? Time to start a website and apply for shows and check out some of the international festivals and… no. Stop. Breathe. A classic mistake troupes make at this point in the game is to immediately start putting pressure on themselves to be successful.
This is so dangerous. It’s like telling a toddler to solve geometry problems. Chances are they’ll just make a silly face and dribble spit on you. You gotta give that baby some time to develop, and the same goes for your troupe. Instead of immediately jumping into a hardcore rehearsal schedule with four shows lined up for the next month, start the troupe off as a simple practice group. Set the expectation that everyone is there to have fun and maybe learn a few things, and if things go well then a discussion can be had about moving to the next level. Give yourselves at least a few months with a loose rehearsal schedule. Take the pressure off yourself and your teammates and, for a little while, just try to have some fun with people you dig, man.
5. To Coach or Not To Coach
Once you’re ready for the next level, it’s time to get a coach. There are some who advocate that a coach is not needed. I’m of the opinion that coaches are generally very beneficial, especially starting off. If your troupe has been improvising for eight years, yeah, you probably don’t need a coach. But if you’re three months in, a coach can provide a wonderful array of services that could otherwise harm the troupe if it tried to, ahem, service itself.
For example, coaches can give notes; giving each other notes early on can be very tricky, with a high potential of hurting someone’s feelings. Coaches can act as independent hate-sponges, dishing out notes that need to be dished and soaking up any possible resentment (god bless you coaches!).
Make sure you ask the potential coach what they specialize in; if they’re all about game and your troupe wants to develop a patient, monoscene format, they might not be the best fit. Then again, they may be exactly the troupe needs! Ask, discuss and choose.
You’ve officially started a troupe with a great chance to succeed. And, by the way, all of these tips are just that – tips. With the exception of liking the people you’re playing with, I have seen successful troupes that fly in the face of everything written above. If you want to start a three-person Harold troupe and give each other notes, go for it. Ultimately, starting a troupe is all about rolling with the punches and having a ton of fun with your friends. And if it doesn’t work out, hey, there’s always the next troupe!