What's the Deal With Filling Workshops?

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What's the Deal With Filling Workshops?

Postby acrouch » May 10th, 2010, 1:16 pm

So watching LAFF have a hard time filling workshops this past weekend, and having had mixed results filling workshops over the past couple years at the Hideout, I'd like to get a community conversation going on.

We've got a vibrant, thriving improv scene in Austin, and between the five or six training centers in town we should be able to bring teachers from out of town (and showcase bad-ass local teachers) and fill workshops way more easily than it seems like we currently do.

I think this means that the theaters have to get better at making sure we're offering the right workshops at the right price in a way that makes it easy for improvisers. And it means improvisers have to step up more often with their time and money.

Am I way off base?
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Postby Matt » May 10th, 2010, 1:30 pm

Speaking for myself, that's actually one of the problems - there are way too many classes/workshops/other things out there than I can either keep track of effectively, afford, or find time to take.

Also, we're barely advertising these workshops and classes in many cases, and even then usually only to fellow improvisors. There's a wider community out there than just us - I'd like to know of ways we can be connecting with other groups to fill our workshops rather than ask the same set of people for more time and money.
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Postby bradisntclever » May 10th, 2010, 3:11 pm

My income isn't as disposable these days as it was two years ago or even last year. As a result, I've signed up for fewer classes. My personal criteria include topics that interest me (do they help me build my strengths? work on my weaknesses?) and instructors I'd kill to work with (if you bring Mick Napier down here, I WILL take your workshop.).

Furthermore,

Matt wrote:there are way too many classes/workshops/other things out there than I can either keep track of effectively, afford, or find time to take.


Agreed.

Matt wrote:Also, we're barely advertising these workshops and classes in many cases.


Again, agreed.

For one in-depth example, read these two descriptions of the recent musical improv workshop at The Hideout. First, they were posted less than two weeks before the class. While I'm sure there can be many valid explanations for why it was posted that late, it's hard to expect a packed crowd will sign up with little prior notice. We're all performers and we all have lives outside of improv. If I can't schedule it more than a month in advance, I have a hard time of signing up for a class, period. If you're looking to increase your chances of having people sign up, PLEASE announce the classes sooner. I already had plans made for the weekend of LAFF by the time I actually heard about the workshops being offered. For a while, I wasn't even sure if guys would be allowed to sign up.

Second, Sara Farr's confused post in one of those threads is exactly how I felt when I read through them. The description was bland/vague and I had no real clue what to expect if I were to sign up for that workshop. Were we going to play instruments? Were we going to work with somebody else playing instruments? These are questions that should be answered in the workshop's description. Without any sort of real distinction, other than "this guy has played for some famous people", I didn't see how I would learn anything different or new from what I had already learned in a Merlin Works class I took a few years ago on musical improv.

Again, there's a problem. Check out the description of the Merlin Works improvised singing workshop that I signed up for back in 2006. Yes, that was a much longer six-week class instead of a one-day workshop, but there was much more of a description than "this guy is going to play instruments and you're going to sing." I signed up for that class because I knew what to expect and I knew that Shana is a great teacher. Austin has a ton of kick-ass improv instructors in town. I've taken classes at nearly all of the theaters in town, and I know there are many like me. Make sure you differentiate your product or that it's something that hasn't been offered extensively in the past. It's entirely possible that the vast majority of people interested in musical improv already felt satisfied with past workshops taught at other theaters. Without a solid marketing tactic or explanation of why a certain class would be better for me to take than others, I'm not as likely to sign up for it.

Matt wrote:and even then (we're advertising) usually only to fellow improvisors. There's a wider community out there than just us - I'd like to know of ways we can be connecting with other groups to fill our workshops rather than ask the same set of people for more time and money.


Agreed, again. If you want to maximize attendance for a workshop, find other people outside of the community who might find it interesting. If you want to pitch it to improvisers early, go for it! But I'd still recommend tapping those other groups outside of improv. Who knows, you might get them exposed/interested in signing up for other classes.
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Re: What's the Deal With Filling Workshops?

Postby bradisntclever » May 10th, 2010, 3:25 pm

acrouch wrote:I think this means that the theaters have to get better at making sure we're offering the right workshops at the right price in a way that makes it easy for improvisers. And it means improvisers have to step up more often with their time and money.

Am I way off base?


I agree completely with the first sentence and disagree entirely with the second.

I don't think any business should feel like their customers are obligated to give them money. If you offer 3 mindblowing workshops in one month, I'll do my best to sign up for as many as I can afford. However, if you offer 15 shitty workshops instead, I probably won't sign up for any of them.

I know it's an extreme instance, but look at the model of OOB workshops. I bet most of them, if not all, succeed each year. They're advertised well in advance (well before you can sign up, even), feature great instructors, and they cover interesting topics.
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Postby kaci_beeler » May 10th, 2010, 3:30 pm

Personally, I like to see a person perform (and be pretty great) before I take a workshop from them. This is illogical, I know, because do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do is a perfectly reasonable way to teach.

Sometimes workshops descriptions are too general or sound too similar to things I've taken in the past. So-and-so makes you play real. So-and-so kicks your ass. So-and-so touches on storytelling in improv.
Free time is harder to come by than it used to be and learning and creating new formats myself keeps me pretty sharp (unlike when I first started out and just had a few projects). I assess how useful a workshop will be and sometimes they just don't sound right for me.

I guess at this point I'm personally looking for unique, advanced, and specialized workshops by teachers/performs I have seen, respect, and like (or heard lots of good things about by sources I trust). Or sometimes (like in the case with Keith J) a workshop that by itself is extremely rare.

Also, we all know how nice it is to take a workshop with a group of people you like and trust.
Personalized workshops for show casts or troupes are really helpful and fun.
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Re: What's the Deal With Filling Workshops?

Postby acrouch » May 10th, 2010, 8:10 pm

bradisntclever wrote:I don't think any business should feel like their customers are obligated to give them money.


I don't think that's where I'm coming from on this.

I know that personally I have to push myself to sign up for workshops. I have to push through the facts that I'm I'm lazy, often broke, disorganized, fickle, skeptical, etc. And that's on me. That's my responsibility to myself as an improviser and also to the community and its long term viability and growth.
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Postby beardedlamb » May 10th, 2010, 10:53 pm

oob usually does well, but many of our students are traveling performers in town for the festival. so, oob has the benefit of a wider base of captive people to advertise those workshops to. we also didn't even have workshops until 2006, because we didn't feel we could do them effectively.

i think the general issue is a flooding of the market. you might find the reasons for sagging audience numbers similar to sagging workshop numbers. tons of competition, not enough variety, and innefective marketing. but mostly the increasing number of choices for the audience member to choose from, which mirrors the number of workshops available, will disperse the bodies among the choices.
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Postby kbadr » May 10th, 2010, 11:54 pm

Jeremy's right.
I took a workshop when I was 3 weeks into level 1. Why? Because there was one improv school in town and this was a chance to study with someone else! (also...I was totally hooked and a complete improv dork from day one...)

There are like 5? 6? schools in town now. Plenty of ways to get different perspectives.

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Postby sara farr » May 11th, 2010, 1:57 am

I've already spent several years taking classes & workshops. I'm now trying to spend some time playing/practicing with the improv knowledge-base/tools/techniques that I already have.

I have skill sets I want to build up to make me a better imp, but I'm intentionally looking outside the improv community for these things.
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Postby HerrHerr » May 11th, 2010, 12:28 pm

There are so many opportunities to play improv these days...free shows, free sample workshops,
student level shows...etc...If a person has the opportunity to play without a money commitment,
well, hell...he'll play.

Supply for workshops outweighs demand....and there are just so many theaters and offers...

And I, personally, am only going to do a workshop if it hits on something I really want to focus on
and...must be with experienced players.
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Postby Pdyx » May 11th, 2010, 1:55 pm

A lot of good stuff has already been pointed out, and I don't want to echo all of it, but I'll repeat a few things.

The main two issues are time and money. Personally, I don't have a lot of disposable income. I also don't have a lot of free time because I'm rehearsing and performing not to mention my non-improv obligations.

I do take occasional workshops, but for me I do that when I have enough advance notice (or it just fits in my busy schedule) and it's something different, interesting, unique or someone special that I've heard of teaching it. I'm more inclined to take workshops when I'm not in Austin (at a festival somewhere else) or if it's something that I can't study at one of the existing schools here.

Personally, I'm interested in taking classes at the various improv training centers in Austin and that costs a lot of money and I still haven't taken any classes at two of the training centers here.

Positive possible solutions:

1-More promoting to newer improv students. I feel like these are the people who have more free time and are interested.

2-More promoting to the greater theater community, University theater students, High School theater students, dancers, actors, etc.

3-When possible, more advanced notice and more specialized workshops.
To the end that people don't get much chance in Austin to study solo-scenes, stage combat, stage intimacy, etc. Things that aren't taught in traditional improv classes in Austin.
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Postby TeresaYork » May 11th, 2010, 9:10 pm

Yeah, I hate to sound snobbish, but it's really hard to take a workshop on a specific skill with someone who has never done improv. Okay, that just sounded obvious, but it can be frustrating.
Maybe suggesting which "levels welcome" would be helpful to all and encouraging those giving the workshops to not be afraid to say "advanced" as we have people here who would fit that category.
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Postby jillybee72 » May 19th, 2010, 9:53 am

It's a national crunch. We got to lower the price and offer 2 for 1s and scholarship opportunities like crazy. No one's got the money anymore.
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Postby AmyA » May 22nd, 2010, 4:47 pm

I like the idea of marketing workshops to troupes. Maybe a discount if your whole troupe attends, or one price for the whole troupe to attend, or the promise of the chance to do a scene/work on a skill as a troupe during the workshop?
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Postby AmyA » May 22nd, 2010, 4:47 pm

Maybe an AIC freqent flyer card--attend X number of AIC workshops and get 1 for free?
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