Normally, this Tumblr is reserved for adorable animal drawings and sketch ideas, but something’s been really rubbing me the wrong way, and I need a place to rant about it. Feel free to scroll past this for a great doodle of crocodiles in love.
I have recently been made aware of a policy change at iO West shows. The new rule is this: If your team is booked at a show, you must stay for the entire show, no excuses, or you will be blacklisted from the theatre.
This is largely due to a problem that iO shows seem to suffer from on a regular basis: Low attendance. And I get it. Running a show is hard. It’s not something you just get handed. A magical pack of audience members will not just show up all of a sudden, laugh at all of your jokes, and disappear in a puff of smoke at the very end of your show in the wee hours of the morning (wouldn’t that be cool, though?).
But here’s the deal: The minute you start treating the team you book like they’re the enemy, and not an amazing, delicate flower, your club will fail.
Here are the complaints I’ve been hearing from the hosts of shows:
1) It’s really disrespectful when a team leaves early.
2) We need all the audience members we can get.
To the first one, I say this: if I am doing a show, and I see someone in the audience leave, I think these two things:
a) Oh well, they’re probably doing another show/have work/have a hot date*.
b) Get your head back in the game, Brynna; you’re supposed to be listening to your teammates.
I’ve seen so many people get mad about audience members leaving, and yes, there is at least a thick brochure’s worth of etiquette on when it’s appropriate to leave if you have to during a show. But if it’s done politely, no one should get offended by it. It’s plain and simple: people have other things to do, and it’s not about you or your team, or your show, for that matter. You can’t take these things personally.
To the second one, I say this: The team you booked is not your audience. I can’t make this clearer. The team you booked is your talent. In fact, although they usually try their hardest, it’s not even really their responsibility to bring people to your show. That’s on you, the host. When you become hostile toward your talent, that is when a club is going down.
Here is what you do: If you want an audience, book a good team. Just one. That’s all you really need.
But Brynna, no amazing teams are submitting!
You can’t just wait for good teams to come to you. You have to ask them. If you want to see perfect examples of how this works, check out Room 101, TNT, or Crashbar, all of which are fantastic indie shows. You book even one amazing team at the end of the night, and people will show up to your show to see those teams that are still working out the kinks. Your newer teams will stay to watch the amazing team. And if they don’t, that’s fine, too.
Yeah, it’s hard, because those teams are not always going to say yes. But you can’t host a show and not work at it. Fortunately, here’s a wonderful secret: Good teams like to be asked. It makes them feel special. And yes, they’re often busy, and they might not bring their full roster, and they might show up five minutes before their show and leave immediately afterward. But you know what? They will bring people. People who aren’t sitting in their seats, fidgeting because they need to leave but can’t.
You don’t want a pissed off audience.
So here are the two paths:
1) You make rules like “teams have to stay until the end or they will be blacklisted.” Great teams get booked at a lot of venues, or have early morning auditions, or they need to finish their pilot script before bed, so they all get blacklisted, because they leave shows early. You end up with a bunch of okay teams who are still working kinks out. The audience dwindles as they realize there aren’t any mind-blowingly good teams booked at the show. The only teams remaining are the new teams, who, after the initial friends-and-family draw fades, are not going to attract an audience the way a Craig Cackowski or Miles Stroth will. Maybe you make students at the theatre see more shows as a requirement. Seeing shows becomes a chore and not the delightful experience any improv show should be. You eventually have nobody enjoying your show, and the show eats itself.
2) You book one solid team. You treat all your teams like royalty. They can come in whenever they want and leave whenever they want. Give them candy. If they take advantage of your hospitality and you get a no-show team or a super late one, you can quietly remember not to re-book them. That’s fair. But until that point, you take care of them and make them feel special. It doesn’t matter if they’re a great team or a brand-new one. You make them want to come back, and want to bring people, because even if their show isn’t great, their friends will enjoy the amazing headliner you brought in. The great team tells other great teams how much fun they had at your show. Everyone is happy.
Check out Room 101. They follow the second method. They have a huge audience every week. They don’t require anything of the teams, other than that they show up when they’re supposed to be performing. And people love that show. Teams leave after their set all the time, and no one cares, because the audience is there to have a fun night where they know there’s going to be a good team. Good teams want to come back, and newer teams don’t feel alienated. People donate money, and talk to each other, and have a generally lovely time.
I don’t buy the whole, “You can’t get people to come to iO,” or “The parking sucks,” or any of that. If you bring a good team in, an audience will adjust to anything. Shitty Jobs plays at 11:00pm on a Sunday night at UCB, the most inconvenient time for everyone, and it sells out consistently.
I’m sorry if this makes people angry with me. I’m not looking to start a fight. I don’t want to be blacklisted, but I am sadly preparing for that eventuality when I get booked at two places in one night. Or if I have work I have to finish. And definitely don’t begrudge me my hot date.
*Wouldn’t that be great? This girl gets a text, and this guy is like, will you go out with me, and she can hardly contain her excitement as she rushes out of the iO Loft to see him outside with a bouquet of roses and two tickets to see Grease! And then she’s like, I’m so glad you texted me, and he’s like, I’m so glad you said yes, and then they kiss as “You’re The One That I Want” starts playing, and then — oh, just go check out my crocodiles in love doodle.