4 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Improv Show

Would you buy a $50 car?

That’s a question I stumbled upon reading Value for Money, a short e-book by the Nu School about becoming a more successful freelancer.

And the answer is probably no. You wouldn’t buy a $50 car, even if the listing claimed it only had 20,000 miles and was in perfect condition. That’s just not what a well-maintained car costs. The low price tag means that we perceive the value of the car to be low as well. Even if, truthfully, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the car, we cannot shake the feeling that it must obviously be a lemon. Why else would it be $50?

When it comes to seeing your improv show (or attending your yoga class, or buying your painting), people use the same sort of calculus to determine whether or not they’re going to get good value for their money. And while I’m not suggesting you charge $10,000 at the door to prove your show isn’t a lemon, having the funniest 25 minutes under the lights is only half the battle.

How you present yourself is equally, if not more important.

How To Avoid Becoming a $50 Car:

  • What does your Facebook page look like? I’ve liked a lot of improv team’s Facebook pages over the years, but there’s rarely ever anything in it for me. I only seem to get notifications when they’re performing. If you’re only using social media to promote yourself (or just letting your Facebook page lie dormant), why bother having one? Instead, update it regularly with funny videos or posts, invest in professional headshots, have a professional logo created. Make your online presence (whether on Facebook, Twitter, or team website) reflect the same sort of experience you want people to have when your team takes the stage.
  • Is your poster professionally designed? Or did you make it in 10 minutes on your friend’s illegally downloaded copy of Photoshop? There are designers all over the city who will make your poster for a fair price. It’s a worthwhile investment to show that your team cares about quality, which people will assume translates to your show as well.
  • Do you look put-together? You don’t have to go all ties and slacks, Second City style, but there’s a reason Chicago’s most famous theater has a strict dress code – people paid and gave up their evening to the see the show. They want their performers to acknowledge that by looking worth the investment. A good pair of jeans or pants and a collared shirt should have the same effect wherever you’re performing.
  • Are you friendly? We’ve all heard stories of actors who seem like real sweethearts on screen only to discover they’re rude to their fans when approached. That tends to negatively color their performances, no matter how good they are. The time you spend at the theater – before you perform your set and after – can color fellow performers and the audience’s perception of your show as well. If you’re friendly and talk well of the other actors, your set, and your friends, your performance may receive a warmer reception.

Of course, once your off-stage image is squared away, it all comes down to the final product – the art itself.

But that experience can be enhanced or diminished based on everything that comes before it – from social media, to your website, to the poster, to your appearance, to how you conduct yourself.

It’s the same reason Ruth Chris’ can charge $50 for a similar slab of meat that Applebee’s can hardly charge $20 for. It comes down to the experience that surrounds the meat – the environment, the service, the other customers, the ambiance – and has nothing to do with the steak itself.  As an artist, it’s your job to make the experience surrounding your steak as good as, if not better, than the steak itself.


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