Starting a Comedy Club at your School
Simple guide for Students, Parents and Teachers
By Walt Frasier, Improv Theatre, LLC
Does your school have an Improv Comedy Club? You should. We are using Improv Comedy all over the Tristate area to help bring arts back into school while teaching valuable cultural arts, language arts and character building skills. Students have so much fun as they study creativity (writing and thinking, storytelling), community (team, listening, respect) and leadership skills (public speaking, focus, self-respect, self-confidence). These skills create better students and prepare students for life. However, we like to focus on the tons of fun we have at every class, rehearsal and performance.
However you do not always need expensive teaching artists to create a great program at your school. You certainly do not need expensive props, sets, costumes or rights to perform found with most productions of plays and musicals. Your overhead (starting and operating costs) could be zero if you plan accordingly. FREE programs are always easier to sell to administration, right? Take advantage of this while you still can. Once you leave school rehearsal and performance space gets expensive. Use the resources your school and community provides.
Here are a few tips to help you get a program started.
1) GETTING STARTED. Share you interest in starting a program with some friends. Talk to parents, teachers and principal about your ideas. All you need to start a club is three or more students that are ready to play.
2) SPACE. You will need to determine a place to meet. Talk to teachers and school officials. Find out who is in charge of the building use calendar. In one school we were slated to do a program. Everything was approved and we were already payed, but when we showed up the room was double booked. It all worked out but you can save your selves a lot of headaches by double checking all schedules work for everyone. If you cannot get schools to let you have space, you can always start in one’s home. A living room or den is more than enough space to play most games. Rehearsing outside is awesome when whether permits.
3) TIME. You will need a schedule. Saying “lets meet sometime” never works. Get a weekly schedule. When possible meet more than once per week.
4) ADULT SUPERVISION. You may or may not actually need a teacher to start the program artistically, but you will definitely need a parent or teacher to serve as chaperon. That is the reality of school space regulation, insurance etc. In one school a teacher volunteered their free period as they could still eat lunch and grade papers. Another school, the dean of students spear-headed the program, realizing its potential and the student need for such a program.
5) REHEARSALS. Organize your rehearsals into three sections - Warm-up, Technique and Performance. Start every rehearsal with a couple energy and team building exercises. ZIP ZAP ZUP is always my go to in classes and rehearsals. Then move to a technique game to build your team’s skill sets. Then play. Work on new games and review your favorites.
6) PERFORMANCE. Always schedule a performance. The performance on the calendar at the beginning of your rehearsal process will help motivate and focus you and your team. The performance is the short term end goal. And the performance will be the gauge of your current progress. Plan on presenting a 45-minute show. That is about seven to nine games. Like rehearsals double check space and time needs. Try to rehearse in the space at least once. Consider sound and lighting needs.
7) RECORD YOUR PROGRESS. These days every phone and laptop can serve a video camera. Record you rehearsals and show. Before recording others you will need release forms (permission slips form parents allowing recording and stating how you intend to use the footage). Comics record their work to self-critique their progress. Also keep a journal. Artists need a place to process all the information. This allows us to keep objective as we track our progress.
8) ONLINE RESOURCES. As young comics you may have a limited knowledge of games and technique. While teaching artists can be a huge resource, there are tons of free resources online. YOUTUBE and other sites have videos of Professional Artists and amateur teams playing games. My company and others have blogs full of “How-to-play” postings.
9) WATCH THE PROs PLAY. Many of us professional artists first started playing games after watching “WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?”. We would get together with friends and just mimic what we saw on TV. Over time we would create our own games, or alternate versions of popular games. These days you can find dozens of professional Improv teams playing every night in New York. Most local towns have some sort of local comedy night. Not all are geared towards a younger audience but many are perfectly great for a teen audience. Every Saturday at 3pm we present Improv 4 Kids at the Broadway Comedy Club in Times Square, New York City. Families from all over the world stop by our interactive musical comedy based on audience participation and suggestions. Teens often attend our weekly Saturday 8pm shows. We also host daily field trips and tour schools nationwide introducing the art form. Go to as many live shows and watch TV and Film with an artist’s eye. Watch the HOW and WHY of a performance. I always say repeat successes and learn from your mistakes. You can save a lot of time learning from other’s mistakes too.
10) SUPPLEMENT PROGRAM with Teaching Artists. You can do a lot of the work yourself but at some point you will want one of our teaching artists, or any number of our colleagues, to help guide you to the next level. We often present a show and workshop to introduce the program and help you get started. We can return to teach you some new games. We often help teams tighten up their skills before performance or a competition like Destination Imagination. If budget is tight sometimes a grant or donation from the community (individual or business) can allow you to expand your program beyond what school funds and tickets sales will cover. There are resources available to you now that will not be there as an adult. Maximize your potential and research all your options.
Go for it. Never be afraid to fail. Never take no for an answer in pursuit of your dream. “Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett said. I like to say MAKE BIG MISTAKES. The bigger the mistake the better you learn from it. And when you take some risks the rewards are big. The sooner you start this journey, the sooner you get better. Not everyone will become a professional artist. Very few do. But the fun you will have and the skills you learn on this journey will change your life. ALWAYS BE CREATING!