Creating New Opportunities (Boulder, Pt. 2)

Jun 14, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: Playbills (Theatre), The business


One of my biggest concerns about traveling to Colorado to do a show was whether or not I could realistically afford it from a financial standpoint. My friends and family know that, when it comes to money, I tend to make poor decisions and wind up broke at the end of the day. I wasn’t exactly flush with cash at the time, so I knew the trip would require me to look for a creative way to help support myself while I was away from my job at the Royal George Theatre. Ultimately, I decided to follow the encouraging advice outlined in Gary Vaynerchuck’s book Crush It!, and to use my experience as a trained actor to my advantage.

My solution: to organize a series of three workshops in improvisational theatre that I could teach while in Boulder. I figured, “Heck, I’ve got this pretty neat skill that I know a ton about and would love to share with others, so why not?” Aside from affording me a couple dollars to throw around, it would help build my teaching portfolio and spread my brand to other regions! Brilliant!

I prepared like a maniac. Before I even left Chicago, I got ahold of the entertainment writers for the major Denver/Boulder newspapers and gave them official press releases announcing the workshops. I set up a Paypal business account to handle the enrollment fees, and linked it to a unique, easy-to-use website. I even contacted the region’s high school and college theatre instructors, letting them know about the student discount I was offering. While in Boulder, I printed hundreds of posters and flyers and papered every storefront and coffeehouse. I spread the word via Facebook and e-mail, telling friends to tell friends. In short, I did everything I could to make the improv workshops a tremendous success.

They were a tremendous failure. Only two people signed up, and I was forced to cancel them entirely. Sadness.

Looking back, I can identify several key errors I made while planning the workshops that could, when combined, might explain their unexpected failure.

  • I didn’t understand my target audience. My belief was that the acting community in Colorado would jump at the chance to study improv with a trained professional from Chicago. What I failed to realize is that the word “improv” has an entirely different meaning in Colorado than it does here in the Midwest. Here, improv is a culture. People call themselves improvisers, insisting that they’re not “actors.” In Colorado, however, there is no iO Theatre. There is no Second City. There isn’t the massive “improviser culture” that craves constant training. I had mistakenly marketed my workshops to a Chicago audience, not to a Colorado audience.
  • Each workshop lacked clear, independent focus. I could have potentially overcome problem #1 above by giving the workshops a clear focus. Instead of calling the first week The Fundamentals of Improvisation, I could have instead called it Beginning Improv for Stage Actors or something similarly targeted toward a more specific constituency.

On the bright side, the process of marketing the workshops got me in touch with the folks over at the Boulder Improv Collaborative. The BIC holds regular meetings to discuss, practice, and perform both short-form and long-form improv with anyone who’s interested. The group’s organizer, Rebecca Bradford, was incredibly helpful in spreading the word about my workshops in Boulder’s acting community. I attended one of their meetings and had a great time playing some super fun games with the group!

Dale Carnegie said it best: “Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” I might not have been entirely successful this time around, but I’m gonna go ahead and mark one in the victory column just for trying. 🙂

If you have similar stories, I’d love to hear your experience/thoughts/wisdom/whatever! Feel free to share in the comments section!



Joe Von Bokern is the Chicago contingent of this blog. Find out more information and view his materials on his website, or read the rest of his blog posts.