Bay Area Improviser Survey Results: Attitudes towards watching and performing improv

This is part two of the survey blog series. These results are associated with the statistics shared in part one. It is important to remind you that this survey was answered by people in the SF Bay Area improv community (performers, teachers, producers, and students alike) and as such opinions here may vary greatly from the general public who may be interested in watching an improv show purely as an audience member.

You’re an improviser. What do you want to get out of improv, and what are you already getting out of it?

This was a multiple choice question, with optional write-in answers. The choices below will be listed by popularity rather than the order they appeared in the survey.
Responses: 104

I like making people laugh: 81 (77.9%)
Enjoy the acting side of it: 80 (76.9%)
Enjoy the community side of it: 77 (74%)
Builds skills that are useful in other areas of my life: 60 (57.7%)
I like other audience reactions: 59 (56.9%)
I teach and/or direct improv (or would like to do that eventually): 59 (56.7%)
Just for fun: 53 (51%)
Find it therapeutic: 45 (43.3%)
I want to perform/have performed in other cities: 39 (37.5%)
Stress relief: 37 (35.6%)
I want to make money doing improv: 29 (27.9%)
Improv feeds my ego: 28 (26.9%)
I like the compliments!: 27 (26%)
Want to eventually work in film/TV: 17 (16.3%)
I am involved in applied improvisation, using it in and for my business/job responsibilities: 14 (13.5%)
No but really I want to be famous: 2 (1.9%)

Write-in responses:

  • Part of what I incorporate in my business (e.g., behavior design, tiny habits coaching, environmental health & safety)
  • Want to work in scripted theater as well
  • I like the challenge
  • I’m not alive if I’m not performing
  • I want my improv work to come from an honest, curious, exploring headspace. I can do that on my own, but it’s easy to hedge or take a step back. For me, an audience will see me hedge or lie to the weird stuff in my head, so in effect, the audience keeps me honest all the time, and in return my team and I ask them to come along on the ride.
  • It can quickly reflect the world and what we are experiencing (as opposed to a scripted work) and can build connections between audience and player
  • Improv is my career – I do make money performing and teaching it
  • Inspire social change

Any other thoughts not covered by the above options?

This was a purely write-in question. All responses are listed below.

  • I run an improv business, and hope to make money from running a business.
  • Artistic outlet/ it’s my art
  • Also interested in making cool art using improv skills
  • I am interested in the adventure/mystery of improvisational theatre.
  • I like getting deeper into the craft of improv.
  • Improv allows me the chance to play roles not offered to me in scripted theater
  • It’s my gym for the work I do as an actor
  • Delving into character work.
  • I need a creative outlet in my life and improv is currently filling that hole
  • Bring my own personal experience and expertise to a show (less str8 white guy working at software/web startup, less first Tinder dates)
  • I love the team-building aspect of it. Improv really is a team sport.
  • It’s a kind of spiritual practice, learning to be present in the moment and connected with the world around me.
  • Improv is a great vehicle for other comedic forms like sketch and stand-up

When you are not performing, what factors may impact your decision to WATCH an improv show?

This was a multiple choice question, with optional write-in answers. The choices below will be listed by popularity rather than the order they appeared in the survey.
Responses: 104

Reputation of group: 90 (86.5%)
Want to support friends who are performing: 85 (81.7%)
Admire the show/group: 72 (69.2%)
Admire one of the performers in the show/group: 68 (65.4%)
Think I could learn something from watching the show/group: 65 (62.5%)
Want to be entertained: 65 (62.5%)
Night of the week/date the show is: 61 (58.7%)
Style of show/group is something I haven’t seen before: 56 (53.8%)
Recommendation from a friend: 50 (48.1%)
Guest improviser visiting from out of town: 48 (46.2%)
Improv show/group visiting from out of town: 41 (39.4%)
Improv theatre/performance venue (feel loyalty to): 40 (38.5%)
Improv theatre/performance venue (reputation of): 39 (37.5%)
Desire to network and/or connect with the community: 37 (35.6%)
Want to feel emotions/Enjoy dramatic improv: 33 (31.7%)
I don’t attend other people’s shows; I prefer to only perform: 0

Write-in responses:

  • What I feel the “value” is (price matches my perceived value if there is a fee). Convenience – I watched one show and may stay for others (e.g., Endgames Improv’s weekly line-ups).
  • Convenience of show location to get to/from.
  • Location, how hard it is to reach from East Bay
  • Field trips with my troupe
  • If I’m not performing, if students I’ve taught are performing
  • Need something to do with a friend besides just bar or dinner

What types of improv shows do you like to WATCH?

This was a multiple choice question, with optional write-in answers. The choices below will be listed by popularity rather than the order they appeared in the survey.
Responses: 102

Long form – Harold: 74 (72.5%)
Long form – narrative structure: 71 (69.6%)
Long form – genre based show: 65 (63.7%)
Long form – Armando: 58 (56.9%)
Long form – musical improv: 58 (56.9%)
Long form – other format: 50 (49%)
Long form – Deconstruction: 46 (45.1%)
Short form: 44 (43.1%)

Write-in responses:

  • Improv jams
  • Everything as long as it’s done well. I don’t need to understand structure, I care about end product.
  • I checked everything because I’m less concerned about the actual structure of the show I’m seeing than the commitment of the cast performing it. Certain narrative or genre based shows I’ll attend because of the form of the particular show.
  • Monoscene
  • Don’t care. Less short form, only because it’s less common.
  • Not really limited to the style I like to watch, though prefer comedic improv with committed character choices.
  • New or rarely performed long forms
  • I’ll watch everything
  • Pretty much anything except short form
  • Gamified/sport improv

What factors do you think add to the quality of an improv show (and affect your interest in watching it)?

This was a multiple choice question, with optional write-in answers. The choices below will be listed by popularity rather than the order they appeared in the survey.
Responses: 101

How well the performers know each other/are comfortable working together: 81 (80.2%)
Years of experience of performers: 69 (68.3%)
Content and/or theme of show/group: 67 (66.3%)
Type of improv show: 58 (57.4%)
Reputation of show/group/theatre: 55 (54.5%)
Quality of tech (music and/or lighting): 43 (42.6%)
How often the group rehearses/number of rehearsals before a show: 42 (41.6%)
Dressing up (but not necessarily costumes): 14 (13.9%)
Costumes and/or make-up (show based): 4 (4%)

Write-in responses:

  • I don’t think quality is determined by any of these. It’s got more to do with team composition, frequency of practice, skill of the coach/director, and dedication to improvement. (N.B. This response was provided prior to some of the above possibilities, which I added as a result of this response).
  • Playfulness
  • Professionalism. Once on stage, I want to feel like the performers know they’re creating something for the audience, not just for their own egos.
  • Professionalism of show. Starting on time, confident hosting.
  • Reputation/skill of the group’s coach.
  • Good committed acting, no bullshit.
  • The quality of the show depends on only two things – do the performers connect to their own emotions, and do they treat their improvised environments as real. By treating their emotions and situations as real, they bring me into their worlds.
  • Diversity of people & life experience = diversity of story, ideas, and interest
  • I don’t care about anything except whether the group is funny
  • Quality of the venue
  • Professionalism, Playing characters authentically and digging deep into them, Playing from the top of their intelligence, etc
  • I think most of these factors can affect an improv show, but I would not say any of these factors necessarily means a show is any certain quality. New performers can be incredible and very experienced teams that rehearse all the time can be unbearable.
  • Talent of performers
  • Authenticity over cleverness.
  • If the group shares my sense of humor

What is your attitude about performers staying to watch other groups perform when they’re on the same bill?

This was a multiple choice question, with optional write-in answers. The choices below are listed by the order they appeared in the survey.
Responses: 94

I always stay to watch the other groups: 53 (56.4%)
I usually stay to watch the other groups: 31 (33%)
I rarely stay to watch the other groups: 3 (3.2%)
I never stay to watch the other groups: 0
I think other performers should stay to watch the other groups: 60 (63.8%)
It doesn’t bother me if performers don’t watch the other groups: 22 (23.4%)
I don’t think performers should watch the other groups: 0
I don’t feel like I can watch another group until my group has performed: 8 (8.5%)
It depends on the venue/set-up/size of the audience: 35 (37.2%)

Write-in responses:

  • I have family responsibilities that sometimes prevent me from staying and I HATE missing other groups
  • I hate when people stay but to talk instead of watch show. Feels so disrespectful.
  • I like to watch the groups ahead of my performance to get the mindset of the audience.
  • To each their own
  • I think if you’re comfortable being on that show’s bill in the first place, you should respect the group enough to watch.

Comments on the last question not covered by options

This was a purely write-in question. All responses are listed below. I’ve found this area has been a common discussion point for improvisers, and as such you can see a lot of strong opinions reflected in the answers.

  • I find it disrespectful when an entire troupe leaves early (without personal reasons or having to leave for another gig)
  • It really does depend on the space as to whether you can watch, but I try to.
  • I assume this refers to multiple acts in the same show (as opposed to separate back-to-back shows, in which case, I feel less obligated to stay because that often means getting home late on a school night)
  • Want to clarify the depends on venue: if the producers want your team to stay backstage and your team’s on second, then obviously you can’t watch the first team but if you’re not headlining and you can watch the last team? DEFINITELY stay. Don’t be a dick. 😚
  • I’d like to watch everything that’s on the same bill as me, but sometimes the audience is sold out or technical direction affects my ability to watch a group if they perform immediately before mine.
  • I know some individuals and groups who find that watching other groups before going on has a negative effect on their own performance. I also know others who leave early or don’t watch others because they feel they’re “too cool” to do so, even if there is almost no audience in the house. While I totally respect the first case, the second one doesn’t build community or make the group someone I’d want to invite when I am producing a show.
  • OMFG it’s so important to watch the other groups. Don’t be a jerk! Also, you might learn something!
  • I think it’s important for teams to watch other teams, unless the House is sold out or it’s just not possible to watch even part of the show. Teams should never leave after performing if another team is up after them.
  • When I hear another improviser(s) criticizing groups/persons for not staying (and I have had my share of being in a green room and hearing this chatter by colleagues), I feel sad and think of the following . . . 3 things: (a) some groups/persons have other performances and are at least making the time to show up, (b) unspoken expectations are just that – unspoken, therefore, if there is an expectation of folks staying to watch, it is helpful to know that before booking, and (c) things happen and another life’s priority takes over the good intention of staying and watching.
  • Sometimes it is not possible to watch another group’s whole performance if you have to go get ready in the green room, but if I am in a show with multiple groups, I consider it not only polite to watch the other teams perform, but part of learning improv by seeing how others perform. I find it disheartening and unsupportive at some shows / jams, where some groups bail as soon as their set is done.
  • it’s rude to skip out on other groups’ performances
  • Barring some daycare crisis or a need to be a work early the next day, it’s disrespectful not to watch other groups before and after. After all, we’re all in this together, right?

If you’re unable to watch and/or perform in improv shows as frequently as you’d like, what impacts your ability to do so?

This was a multiple choice question, with optional write-in answers. The choices below will be listed by popularity rather than the order they appeared in the survey.
Responses: 90

Work schedule: 57 (63.3%)
Travel for work: 13 (14.4%)
Travel for fun: 15 (16.7%)
Children/lack of affordable childcare options: 12 (13.3%)
Family responsibilities: 24 (26.7%)
Health factors: 4 (4.4%)
Have to wake up early: 31 (34.4%)
Travel time to venue: 33 (36.7%)
Cost of tickets prohibitive: 13 (14.4%)
Want to see other shows that aren’t improv: 29 (32.2%)

Write-in responses:

  • Business responsibilities (i.e., my own business)
  • TBH I’m performing and/or rehearsing so often that I feel like I need a break otherwise I’d be doing improv stuff everyday, which is great in theory but I need to make time for non improv so I can bring good improv to scenes.
  • Personal schedule, other interests
  • Conflicts with other shows
  • Group members’ schedules making it hard to practice regularly
  • Leela and BATS are too expensive, BATS is far away.
  • Public transit, accessible and nearby parking
  • Connecting with friends outside of improv community
  • Maintaining other relationships
  • Would love more opportunities to audition
  • Why would I want to travel >2.5 hrs round trip ticket see a 90 minute show?
  • Frustration with lack of diversity or unchecked priviledge of group members
  • Theatre availability for rent.
  • Finding the right folks to play with–and their availability
  • Want to occasionally do other things that are not improv.
  • Other interests : hobbies

Are you someone who attends or is interested in attending improv jams?

Responses: 103

Yes: 53 (51.5%)
No: 12 (11.7%)
Maybe: 38 (36.9%)

If you attend improv jams, what factors encourage you to attend them?

This was a multiple choice question, with optional write-in answers. The choices below will be listed by popularity rather than the order they appeared in the survey.
Responses: 79

Time/date of the jam: 68 (86.1%)
Location of venue: 57 (72.2%)
Sense of community: 55 (69.6%)
General atmosphere: 49 (62%)
Encouraging/supportive atmosphere: 47 (59.5%)
Ability to perform with improvisers I don’t normally play with: 33 (41.8%)
Amount of stage time: 24 (30.4%)
Groups distributed so less experienced improvisers can play with more experienced improvisers: 24 (30.4%)
Ability to play with improvisers across the whole Bay Area: 22 (27.8%)
Ability to bring my own group to perform/play: 18 (22.8%)
Level of experience other attendees have: 17 (21.5%)
Group games for all attendees: 11 (13.9%)
Ability to play with improvisers in a more localised community (e.g. a jam organised by a specific theatre that attendees usually have the same mindset and are part of that theatre’s community): 10 (12.7%)

Write-in responses:

  • Random styles and off the wall scenes can happen that are joyful to watch!
  • Not too many beginners. Rules / expectations around supporting scene partners (basically a “no jerks” rule)
  • Getting to play with other improvisors at my own skill level is #1
  • a good host, inclusive, non-cliquey, and not dominated by a small group of people
  • I like jams because they bring me together with people whose skills I don’t know. So if I can improvise successfully with complete strangers, then I am doing it well.
  • Clarity about creating safe space for everyone in combo with the playfulness (check out Fair Play MN for some context)
  • It’s not cliquey, the organizer warms up the group, there is a supportive environment for performers who are trying their chops instead of muffled giggles from the background, etc.

For your non-improvisor friends who come to see you perform, what do you know to be some of the factors that get them to come out to the show?

This was a purely write-in question. All responses are listed below. I’ve found this area has been a common discussion point for improvisers, and as such you can see a lot of strong opinions reflected in the answers.

  • Social pressure.
  • Location, duration of performance, price, time/day of performance, and support my interest.
  • Who else is on the bill (an interesting format and/or recommended troupe)
  • If they know one of the performers, style of show.
  • I have no clue.
  • location, day of the week, time of the show, not having other conflicts
  • If I’m doing something out of the ordinary. Convenience of the time.
  • Cost and time. Probably location but I’m usually in the city or Oakland so they’re not having to go far that it’s an issue for me personally.
  • I’m performing, entertaining shows, food & drinks available, convenient location, date & time
  • Enough advance notice. Safe and pleasant location, quality of other groups.
  • Themed night (e.g. women groups only performing); specific show of interest to them (e.g. it relates to their non-improv interests, because they’re not improvisers so they don’t always understand shows that are easier to follow if you’re more familiar with improv; it’s a more unique show; I’m performing with someone they’ve seen before and like)
  • Time and location of the show. Cost, $15 seems to be the cutoff. Amount of time my I or my group will be performing in the show. Number of times I have performed recently (inversely proportional to the number of times they attend).
  • That they’ll get to see me, that the environment seems welcoming and fun
  • day / time; familiarity with improv
  • Word of mouth and knowledge of the performers
  • Theme/format! People will come to a musical, standup Armando, genre show, etc more easily than a Harold or whatever. I’ve had better luck getting friends to see shows with me vs seeing me perform. I think they like having someone who can explain the mechanics of improv
  • Relationship to performer. Improv is a hard sell outside its student base here.
  • I’ve asked a million times
    They’re looking for something to do that isn’t just a bar
    They want to see what I do every week
    Sometimes they’re thinking of doing improv and want to see what shows look like.
  • Quality of the show – most Improv in the Bay Area is unprofessional. “elevator pitch”: e.g. your fucked up relationship and swipe right are easy to explain.
  • Location of venue (is it in a sketchy neighborhood)? Is there food/drinks? Who’s performing? Are they “good?” Or is it a Meaningful show? Social change aspect.
  • Day/time, price, convenience of location.
  • cost (and therefore value of seeing other troupes if there is a cost), location, and time/day. And with location is the public transit and/or parking situation.
  • time/date of the show
  • New type of show, Exciting new concept, something out of ordinary improv.
  • I honestly have no idea. I stopped intentionally trying to get non-improviser friends to come out to shows a long time ago, because I tired of the “I should come see your show sometime” conversation. Usually it’s friends from out of town who are more excited to see me perform. Local friends likely have the mindset of, “I can do that in the future as I live here.”
  • Inviting them via Facebook then following up with a personal text or email, knowing we can hang out after the show
  • Curiosity. Wanting to support
  • ????
  • Location – whether they feel safe attending the show.
  • A personal invitation helps, at least the first time.
  • Strong ensemble work; cheap date; laughs
  • Seeing me perform; low key night of laughter
  • If I push how good the show will be!
  • Amount of encouragement I provide beforehand
  • Personally knowing the performer
  • Friends in the show
  • Not sure. I think time of day is a big one.
  • Frequency of asking to shows
  • Can I vouch for other troupes/teams on the bill?
  • The genre/format, the level & experience of the players, the way the group members treat each other onstage in shows
  • How often you/’ve perform/ed and how often you invite them.
  • If I’m performing or if I can strongly recommend certain groups or performers that I know would put on a good show.
  • Is the show funny
  • They know someone in the show.
  • Guest stars, theme, venue
  • The quality of the improv.
  • Knowing it will be entertaining, funny – time and date and location of show.
  • They see a show and they go back thinking hah, that was good, as opposed to, huh, they did this weird tableaux, but then they did scenes that were kinda sorta related but not really. My non-improvisor friends really need what we’re doing explained to them. They also prefer narratives over montages, which are jarring in that they see a short scene, which is then thrown away.
  • Advertising, connections, show premise, team name. I generally think the more accessible the show idea (eg Your Fucked Up Relationship, Drunk Theatre), the more likely it is to be desirable for an outsider. An especially esoteric or random team name is not accessible or interesting to non-comedians. Spending a lot of time and energy on marketing to others, including personal invites, reputation building through news coverage, etc. is worth its weight in gold.
  • Childcare. Availability. Advance notice.

What would get you to see improvisers/an improv group/show from out of town (i.e. who live and are based outside of the Bay Area)?

This was a multiple choice question, with optional write-in answers. The choices below will be listed by popularity rather than the order they appeared in the survey.
Responses: 94

Recommendation from a friend: 76 (80.9%)
I’ve heard of them before (but they may or may not be famous): 70 (74.5%)
Whether I’m available: 61 (64.9%)
Type of improv show: 54 (57.4%)
They’re famous: 37 (39.4%)
Production value and/or professionalism: 33 (35.1%)
If I’m also performing on the same bill: 32 (34%)
It’s during a festival time: 32 (34%)
Length of time that group/show has been together: 16 (17%)
It’s not during a festival time: 9 (9.6%)
If members of the group are also producers of shows and/or festivals in their respective cities: 5 (5.3%)

Write-in responses:

  • A troupe intended to be diverse such as a troupe that may be all AAPI, all black, all womyn, LGBTQ identifying, mix of, etc.
  • Ease of obtaining tickets/access
  • Affordable tickets
  • They’re better than what we can do here. Or severely different.
  • racially and/or ethnically diverse cast, e.g., all asian/aapi, all black, all desi, etc.
  • If they are doing a format that is new, different than I’m used to, or something I want to experience & be exposed to

I confess, I included this question primarily because, as part of Improvative Productions, I’m interested in bringing in acts from out of town, and I was curious to see if there was any interest in people seeing the types of groups I wanted to bring in. Because right now it doesn’t seem like anyone else in the Bay Area is really doing that kind of thing outside of the festival weeks.

The groups I’m interested in bringing out tend to have a focus on production value and/or professionalism, and have their own unique format, style, or flavor that you’re less likely to be able to see in the Bay Area. This is because those groups tend to inspire me in some way (if you’ve seen the types of shows I’ve developed, I wouldn’t have done that without seeing groups like this) and I want to help inspire other improvisers to think about how they can create their own unique shows. I’m also interested in bringing out groups with casts from under-represented backgrounds (e.g. there are a couple of amazing African-American groups I’ve seen at festivals outside the Bay Area who I’d love to bring out here).

If this appeals to you, please consider popping over to my Patreon and subscribing to help support that venture.

Up Next

Part 3 will cover “Performance venue, frequency, and nights”
Part 4 will cover “Cost of shows”
Part 5 will cover “Experience with Theatres and Festivals”
Part 6 will cover “Technology and Marketing, and Last Words”

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