How to Make it as an Independent Improv Troupe in Baltimore

I was having a conversation with a student on Tuesday night after class. He asked me what’s the best way to continue on doing improv in Baltimore after you’ve taken all the classes. This list could probably be applied in a similar way to other cities, but I’m making it about Baltimore because that’s what I know.

This was my advice:

    1. Get together with a group of people from your classes that you enjoy working with.
    2. Find a place to rehearse in someone’s basement/living room/classroom/office/church/wherever.
    3. Hire a coach for your group. There are performers and directors in Baltimore (BIG, Mimehunters) that are available for this, as well as other community members. You could even look to DC (WIT, DCUP) or Frederick (Comedy Pigs). Tell the coach what you’re looking to do–long form or short form, what kind of format, what your goals are, etc. Be honest about your goals–do you want to do casual shows for friends or do you want to be performing at the national festivals? If you don’t know what you want, the coach can help you. Watch other improv shows to see what kinds of formats and styles you want to perform.
    4. Practice for a few months and really work at improving. Read books by Mick Napier and Keith Johnstone. Read up on Go to festivals and take workshops. Practice characters in your car. Take a trip to NY to see shows at the UCB, the PIT, or the Magnet to expand your ideas about what is possible with the medium.
    5. After you’ve made some progress and gelled as a group, try to get a show together for an audience. Some places to start: parties hosted by group members or local events. Contact bars to see if you can have a show on a weeknight and invite your friends. If your coach is performing somewhere, see if you can get a gig opening up for his or her group. Don’t worry about getting paid yet–the main goals are to get live stage experience and an audition tape.
    6. Have someone videotape a show so you can submit to the Baltimore Improv Festival. Create a website with performer bios, a little history, and an embedded video.
    7. Split into groups of three and enter WIT’s FIST tournament in the spring to get more stage time, do some networking, and build your festival resume.
    8. Apply to the Baltimore festival and (hopefully) get in. Local groups are strongly favored so you should have an excellent shot if you followed all the steps above. Do the show and get the video.
    9. By now you’ve performed in Baltimore, DC, and you’ve been in a highly respected festival. Now you can submit to other nearby festivals like Philly, Providence, Del Close, Richmond, and Dirty South. Getting into just one of those will make getting into the others much easier.
    10. Keep looking for places to do shows in Baltimore. Call theaters and ask them when they have dark nights and what the rental rates are. Rent the theater on a weekend night and invite other local groups to join you. Give yourself enough time in advance to market the show.
    11. Invite all your friends and family. Make sure the other groups are promoting it as well. Get the event listed in the CityPaper, CraigsList, Metromix, etc. Get in the Fun Guide. Set up an account with Brown Paper Tickets and charge between $5 and $10. Getting people in the door (for free if you have to) is more important than making money.

Does this take some work, some planning, and some time? Yes, absolutely. You’ll have to be passionate about what you’re doing and you’ll have to be entrepreneurial.

Note: by independent, I mean unaffiliated with BIG. That’s not a knock on anyone because there are groups in Baltimore that are very talented.