I sat in the Panel of Improv #1 organized by The Improv Company. The theme of the panel was producing an improv show (ahem) but I found one of the tangents even more fascinating: Money.
The frank discussion by the panel was refreshing and insightful so I thought it would make a good blog post for us to discuss the taboo topic of money.
I’ll talk about my views on improv and money, then share some of the topics discussed at the panel.
First of all, I didn’t go into improv thinking I’ll get paid or get famous. There’s no direct-to-SNL production line in Singapore so there’s really no tangible benefits doing improv.
I continue doing improv because of the intangible parts: the camaraderie and the adrenaline rush of good scenes.
Money doesn’t have to be your goal
As an improv team, making money or selling your own show doesn’t have to be the goal.
If you want to perform, you can go on other people’s shows as supporting acts and be paid in goodwill (or in best case scenarios, a beer).
This is the strategy for the all-female team BO$$ whichI perform with. We’ve not produced any shows of our own and we’re fine with that because we’re mostly a project team.
Do shows but not for free
If your indie improv team has been around for a while but not everyone is really putting in much effort to come to practice, maybe it’s time to put up a paid show.
Why? Having a deadline pushes people to be more serious about the team.
And having to sell tickets put pressure on the team to market the show. However, I’m doubtful that a paid show means the players will put up a good show.
I don’t recommend putting on free shows unless it provides side benefits such as building goodwill or establishing a community. The behind-the-scenes work of setting up a show (even a paid show) is too much.
I also disagree with the school of thought that free shows are thought of as rubbish by the general public.
I was part of free-for-the-audience shows at Arts House Open House and Singapore Night Fest and those were packed with audiences. But the attendance was really due to the show being part of a larger event with curated programmes.
Also, Yale-NUS Improv charges $2 for their shows and it’s always well-attended. They do have the benefit of a highly-subsidised venue and a supportive community.
On the topic of getting paid as performers
Let’s jump back to the discussion from the panel. The very tricky subject of paying performers came up, and there were different points of view.
I don’t get paid with cold hard cash when I perform improv. And I’m fine with that.
Even though I don’t get paid, the teams that I perform with do sell tickets.
- Indie team Modern Schemers deliberately prices the shows at $10 to make it affordable to the masses.
- On the other hand, The Improv Company house team Les Musicables has shows that charge from $15 to $20.
For Modern Schemers, the ticket sales end up in a fund in a Swiss bank (half joking).
While players don’t get paid in cash, we do enjoy the perks of the occasional team meals or team-sponsored workshops. Of course, the money also goes into paying for expenses such as rehearsal, performance space rental, web hosting etc.
For Les Musicables, the money is said to flow back into the team: coaching, rehearsal space, and subsidised workshops.
Thankfully we’re not required as a house team to pay for coaching. (Can you believe that is/was the norm in the US?) Also shoutout to Les Musicables directors Pamy and Joel for giving so much to the team. Give them an award already!
On saving money as an improv team
As an improv team, rehearsal and venue rental cost money.
Though I’m not getting paid as an improviser, I really do not want to fork out money for such expenses.
So as an improv team, how do you avoid spending money (or save money)?
At the start of The Modern Schemers’ journey, we found a paid gig at a gelato bar. It took some hustling to get the gig. If you’re interested in such venues, walk around bars and ask if they’ll let you do shows on slow nights.
We also relied on the generosity of The Latecomers who let us use the free space they had at SCAPE for a while. Then with money coming in from shows, we could afford rehearsal rental.
You could also save on rehearsal space by practising in free spaces too. ASAP’s Pamy said they practised in her living room for a while at the start.
On making money as an improv team
Of course, skimping doesn’t mean anything if there’s no revenue. You need to start putting on shows to earn revenue. Here’s a blog post on how to prepare for your show.
Do your math properly so you can at least earn back the money spent on venue rental and rehearsals.
Or if you’re lucky and have the network, find organizations that will pay you money to perform.
Side note: I do not have paid improv show experiences. But I’ve been paid good money as a solo performer for the occasional storytelling gigs at the library through Story Slam Singapore. In this case, it does put pressure on the performer to put on a good performance.
Trust is fragile. And even more when it comes to money so make sure whoever is in charge of money has to have the trust of the rest of the team.
Both Modern Schemers and ASAP keep a spreadsheet of revenue and expenses, and the money is centralised with a trusted person.
As a team member, I appreciate the transparency even though when I say I don’t do improv for the money. And the idea of someone running away with our meager funds is both funny and infuriating.
What are your thoughts on money and improv? Let’s discuss in the comments.