NET/TEN Shareback: Dad's Garage Theatre Company - Top 5 Ways to Use Improv to Collaborate

2012-13 Exchange Grant Recipient

Dad’s Garage Theatre Company (Atlanta, GA) created a network of like-minded theatres in the Southeast to share best practices and create mutually beneficial artistic, administrative, and production partnerships. Partner companies include Theatre 99 (Charleston, SC); SAK Comedy Lab (Orlando, FL); and The New Movement (New Orleans, LA).


In our collaborations with SAK, Theatre 99, and The New Movement, we found that the most commonly used terms in our improv lexicon came in super handy.  We thought we’d share the Top 5 Ways to Use Improv to Collaborate!

-Gina Rickicki, Dad's Garage Theatre Company, Development Director


1. YesAnd:  Oh Boy, does this tenet come to the fore when working with other theatres!  When in an improv scene, you want to take the ideas and information offered to you by your scene partner and fully invest in them. You say “yes’ to what they give you, then “and” to expand and keep the scene moving forward. There are no bad offers, only a story that can unfold in surprising and delightful ways. One of the wonderful things about improv, as in the larger world of theatre, is that there are many approaches to get to the same end.  Different companies often have vastly different styles and philosophies.  Being open to these other approaches leads to a sharing of formats, games, and even artists for future collaborations.

2. Offer: An offer can be as simple as a gesture, a name, a character type, or a glance.  This is the information scene partners use together to create a (hopefully!) successful scene. It’s a tool of conversation. Our collaborations led us to work with theatres that were similarly sized and newer to the scene. Sharing operational information, such as how to approach corporate gigs or marketing, is mutually beneficial and a great way to get into discussing the business of the arts.  For instance, Theatre 99 began as a touring group that specialized in performing at colleges across the nation. They intimately understand that niche market and built their theatre after years of success.  We learned that we could begin to enter that market as well, but that a dedicated team (vs interchangeable players) would likely be needed for a solid product.  SAK introduced us to the simple idea of selling popcorn in the lobby. The profit margins are large, the revenue steady, and it adds to the quality of patron experience. While food licenses are tricky to get in Georgia, we are looking to include a popcorn machine in our new permanent home. These simple conversations are crucial to the success of other non-profits regionally and nationally. What information could your theatre offer another to keep things moving forward?

3. Trust: This word comes up again and again in the world of improv.  A successful scene is based most simply on the performers trusting each other.  Because improv requires no sets, props or costumes, the artists often travel to other theatres or festivals and play with complete strangers. And it works!! Creating and renewing collaborations with other theatres employs that trust.  We found that performing together at each other’s theatres was one of the very best ways to understand how we each approach the art.  Making a point to build social time into collaboration is key, as the time spent outside of workshop or business settings just getting to know each other went a long way towards building a solid foundation.  Teaching and learning from each other, whether it’s short form games or operational tips, are the best way to learn another theatre’s style and how best to adapt to it. The audiences got to witness that trust developed further onstage; having a great show together  led  to excitement in conversations about future work together. That trust can lead to pretty neat  things!

4. Finding the Game: Ever see a scene when you can see the light bulb turn on in the eyes of the performers, and something simple creates hilarity in repetition?  Or when the performers find the rhythm, the stride of a scene?  It’s probably because they found the game of the scene.  It’s a discovery that when explored and expanded upon leads to a new realm of possibilities. Conducting workshops at each theatre led to a wonderful cross-pollination of styles and techniques, and it was crucial for each of the AD’s to push internal participation at their home theatre to make sure that there was as much interaction as possible.  Sharing favorite memories, short form games and formats is a sort of intimate conversation between companies that allows for a very quick understanding of how people can work together.  We even learned a great way to maximize one of our favorite games “A Day in the Life.” SAK performs a version of it as a musical called “The Slice,” and audience members pay to have the story of a day in their life told. This was a revelation to us and a great way to leverage audience excitement into a few extra dollars (every dollar counts!). There were many “a-ha” moments where the artists and administrators found the joy of a new perspective. That’s the sweet stuff!

5. Reincorporating: One of the hallmarks of a solid improviser is taking information from the beginning of the scene and bringing it back at just the right moment.  Working with other theatres offers not only immediate rewards but also long-term food for thought.  One of the great things about running an improv based theatre is that guests can be added with little extra effort, such as the ability to bring in celebrity guests with little disruption. This plug and play approach can lead to successful one-off events or features in festivals.   Our AD’s discussed the pitfalls of going “too big” with a festival relying on one name alone, and the advantages of sharing contact information/talent to ensure the variety and success of endeavors at our theatres.  Thanks to the example set by SAK, we are now pulling some of our students via lottery into Thursday night shows. This helps our students feel engaged and invested in the work that we are doing and that they have a stake in our future. SAK also made sure we knew to keep the number of students added limited to reduce performance pressure and ensure the success of the show.  Artistic and administrative collaborations on styles, shows, workshops, festivals and the nuts and bolts of running a theatre made this project valuable and deeply rewarding. We’ll be reincorporating what we learned for years to come, ensuring that we nail all the punchlines we can.



Posted by: 
Thursday, July 31, 2014

Add your voice

Site design by Design for Social Impact