We had a meeting with a lot of our regularly performing groups. Here's the minutes of the meeting, I thought they might be helpful for improvisers to understand what happens behind the scenes.
Hoopla Improv Comedy Club Meeting
Dates: Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd May 2016
Hoopla Impro Comedy Club’s Mission Statement
To provide the best shows and community for people new to improv, delivered in the most fun, friendly, encouraging, safe and supportive way possible.
People new to improv includes both improvisers and audience.
This includes putting on shows that are accessible, entertaining, welcoming, inspiring and fun for an audience new to watching improv, giving them a great introduction to the world of improv. It additionally includes providing performance opportunities, support and community for people who are new to performing improv themselves.
Hoopla’s values include being fun, friendly, sociable, affordable, accessible, open, warm, supportive, unpretentious, open to everyone, and most of all providing a fun and welcoming improv community in London.
For performers Hoopla aim to provide a fun place to perform where there is a large friendly repeat audience that supports improv, and we aim to have a fair deal where 100% of the profits from the club are split equally between performers, front of house volunteers, tech support and hosts. This enables acts to perform at no financial risk and minimise barriers to getting shows on stage.
Summary of Meeting
Hoopla have been running a successful improv comedy club at The Miller for over six years. Steve from Hoopla is still enjoying programming a variety of improv across the club and promoting the shows, but is struggling to keep up with other tasks due to workload, changes in personal life, setting up a new filming branch of Hoopla, and a desire to be a performer not just a producer of improv.
He is especially struggling with providing tech support, hosting and front of house volunteers for so many shows (136 shows per year). Therefore Hoopla and the core performing groups will work together to build up and train a large ongoing pool of front of house, tech support and hosting volunteers.
Hoopla Improv Comedy Club in general will switch to a more community run venue, with groups, Hoopla and The Miller all working together as one team, to enable the shows to be as good as possible with a great experience for the audience.
Long term volunteer recruitment and training program:
- Hoopla and core performing groups to work together on recruitment, long term training, and ongoing management of a pool of tech support, front of house and host volunteers.
- This pool of volunteers to provide basic tech support only, any specialist tech requirements to be covered and booked by the groups themselves.
- The front of house, hosting and tech support volunteer experience to be improved, with them treated as equals by all performers and adopted and supported into the impro community and most of all thanked and appreciated.
- Volunteers to be rewarded with a rich training experience, free classes, free shows, share of profits on the night, being part of the team and most of all being appreciated and thanked.
Financial arrangements (starting September 2016):
- We aim to have a fair deal where 100% of the profits from the club are split equally between performers, front of house volunteers, tech support and hosts. This enables acts to perform at no financial risk and minimise barriers to getting on stage.
- The first £35 of online ticket sales per night to go to Hoopla to help cover the costs of facebook ads, google ads, printing costs and other expenses that are involved in running an ongoing night. This will all go on expenses for running the night and will not be profit for Hoopla, as we make our income from training instead. This is only if groups are using Hoopla's online sales, they are welcome to set up their own online sales that we can point to at no charge.
- All remaining online sales to be split fairly between performing groups and front of house, tech and hosts in the month following the show.
- Online sales processed once a month instead of once a week in the future, to free up admin time. If groups haven’t been contacted and/or paid within month of show they should contact Hoopla.
- All cash sales to be split fairly between performing groups and front of house, tech and hosts on the night at the end of show. Hoopla do not need a split on cash sales, even if there were no online sales.
- Performers, hosts, front of house and tech support to be treated equally regards share of profits from evening.
Changes to ticket prices (starting September 2016):
- Free access to Hoopla students and their plus ones remains for all shows apart from festivals. The exception to this is if a night is sold out in advance online, then online ticketed people only will be let in before 8pm and then free standing room only access after that.
- Nights are also free to cast of our regular groups, even on the nights they are not performing, so that performers can come and support each other and the night in general.
- Pricing to change in September to £7 on the night and £5.50 online, to enable us to continue to provide the best acts possible and to cover the proposed admin expenses.
- Varied ticket prices are also possible, with increased prices for some nights to cover festivals or international guest groups.
- We will also continue to put on a large amount of free nights, to keep improv affordable and accessible to all.
Sharing workload between regularly performing groups:
- General tasks involved in running the night to be divided more between the regularly performing groups, with a more community focussed feel to the night.
- Hoopla especially need help with the recruitment, training and long-term management of a pool of front of house, hosting and tech support volunteers.
- Hoopla to provide a clearer email at time of booking groups that clearly allocates roles and responsibilities between Hoopla and performing groups.
- Groups that run their own nights within Hoopla (The Playground, Glitch Cabaret, Guest Speaker Geekeasy etc) are a really good model and something Hoopla are keen to encourage more of, but they still need support from the proposed volunteer pool so the key performers aren’t doing too much and getting stressed on their show night.
- Groups encouraged to share photos of successful nights and general success stories and share with Hoopla on facebook and twitter.
- Formal system of how much promotion is expected from groups on facebook, twitter etc. This will be communicated at time of booking the groups.
- Groups and Hoopla to communicate more after nights to find out what went well, what could be improved, and to celebrate a bit more.
- Steve at Hoopla to cut down on the number of nights he is at, in order to concentrate on future planning, his own performing, filming, building up new shows and other fun events. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t love the shows, it’s just become impossible to both be at all the shows and plan and produce all the future shows.
The meeting was organised by Steve Roe from Hoopla and present were various improvisers from regularly performing groups at Hoopla’s nights at The Miller. There are also groups that couldn’t make it that we’ll be catching up with over email or phone this week.
Many thanks for everyone coming at such short notice. It was hugely helpful and I know it was a bit long-winded but I didn’t really know what to do beforehand so it was really helpful to chat about everything and hear from you all.
1. Main purpose of meeting:
a. Steve loves the shows at The Miller and is really proud of what everyone does, and overall thinks it’s amazing how well it’s all going.
b. But he feels a bit older than when it started, has other things going on, and also wants to get back into performing properly instead of being purely a producer.
c. Which means he needs to make a lot of the processes more efficient, by discussion with groups and working out how to share workload
d. And also ask regularly performing groups to work together as a team to take some of the admin time off Hoopla, and to find out if there are tasks that Hoopla does (and is no longer able to do) that could be done by teams.
e. To enable us to work together as a team and keep on putting awesome shows for the audience.
2. Who are you who who who.
a. We did introductions of each person, with a mix of improvisers, people running groups and people running whole nights at Hoopla Improv Comedy Club.
3. Fun Facts and celebrations.
a. Hoopla have been running shows non-stop for 10 years, including 6 years at The Miller.
b. Hoopla ran 136 evenings of shows last year.
c. Hoopla programmed over 100 different improv groups last year.
4. Mood Board and Hoopla values: We looked at mood board of favourite photos from the last couple of years to understand underlying values of the club. These included but are not limited to:
a. Being for the audience. Interacting with the audience.
b. Laughing, happy, fun times.
c. Bringing different improvisers together to work together as one team.
d. Connecting improvisers together.
e. Providing performance opportunities for new improvisers and supporting them.
f. Experienced and new improvisers working together.
g. Joyful human events.
i. Supporting new people to London and introducing them to new friends and safe, supportive and friendly community.
j. Putting on fun entertaining shows that are accessible to a mainstream audience.
5. Steve’s personal story.
a. Steve needing to cut back hours spent on admin in order to focus more on performing, family and experimenting with growing improv into new and interesting places.
6. Different venue financial models: We looked at different models of other improv clubs, comedy clubs and fringe theatres to learn from them and see how Hoopla could fit in:
a. UCB and IO:
i. Large well managed and staffed venues, largely staffed by unpaid interns or interns paid with training and experience, all money going back into the venue.
ii. PROS: Great marketing, big audiences, front of house team, tech team, good industry contacts, good venues.
iii. CONS: No payment at all to acts. No cash payment to staff (they are on intern/course payment basis), which may be tricky in UK due to controversy regarding using unpaid workers and over using interns and work experience. Large amount of work to set this up and manage.
b. Pleasance/C Venues/Leicester Square Theatre/Canal Café:
i. Well managed and staffed venues that operate on a profit split with the acts and often require acts to pay a deposit up front to perform.
ii. PROS: Front of house team provided, tech team provided.
iii. CONS: Often not a great profit share to acts and acts have to pay up front to perform, which can be expensive and restricting.
c. Angel Comedy:
i. Free entry, donations collected at end.
ii. PROS: Eliminates a huge amount of admin. Large audiences. Money still ok.
iii. CONS: Might de-value improv in the eyes of audience.
d. Current Hoopla:
i. All profits currently go to acts, split fairly between performers. Venue relies on volunteers or acts to do front of house, tech and hosting. Mix of paid audience and free audience from Hoopla courses.
ii. PROS: Provides place for acts to perform at no financial risk. Fairly pays acts. Good audience sizes. Audience who like improv.
iii. CONS: Hoopla running at a loss (£10 - £20 per show) due to covering facebook ads, google ads, extra show payments and general expenses. Hoopla currently struggling to provide full front of house and tech support as we don’t have the budget or time to do this properly and we feel like we are exhausting volunteers to do this and providing an unfair deal to volunteers.
i. Steve from Hoopla often feels that the expectation is that Hoopla should be running a fully supported and staffed night, but the current financial model and time available to run Hoopla doesn’t support this.
ii. Hoopla want to maintain themselves as a performer friendly venue with a fair deal to all performers. Hoopla is continuing to be run by performers and will need groups working together.
iii. Hoopla are continuing to run where all cash profits on the door on the night are split equally between performers, tech and front of house at the end of the night.
iv. The first £30 of all online takings from each night to go to Hoopla to cover advertising costs and general expenses.
v. Remaining online show payments to be split equally between performing groups, this will be arranged over the month following the show.
vi. Groups and Hoopla to work together more to try and solve the problem in front of house, tech and hosts.
vii. Hoopla to provide a clearer email at time of booking groups to clearly lay out what is expected from Hoopla and groups and clearly allocate responsibilities for each building up to show.
7. Common Challenges
a. We discussed common challenges that pop up:
i. Often groups and Hoopla only hear the negatives about the nights and communication could be improved and be a bit more joyful!
ii. Steve from Hoopla not being at a night doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you guys!
iii. Confusion about how invoicing works.
iv. Front of House volunteers often not available.
v. Tech support often not available.
vi. Hosts often not available.
i. Groups encouraged to share photos of successful nights and general success stories and share with Hoopla on facebook and twitter.
ii. Groups and Hoopla to communicate more after nights to find out what went well and to celebrate a bit more.
iii. Steve at Hoopla to cut down on the number of nights he has to be there, to be able to concentrate on future planning, building up new shows and other fun events. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t love the shows!
iv. Invoice amounts to be discussed over the month following the show and paid within one month of the show happening. This is so Hoopla can do it all at once per month and minimise admin time. If groups haven’t been contacted and/or paid within month of show they should contact Hoopla.
v. Groups and Hoopla to work together more to try and solve the problem in front of house, tech and hosts.
8. Hosting, Tech, Front of House
a. We looked at challenges facing three areas where we currently struggle: Hosting, Tech Support, Front of House.
i. This used to be mainly done by Steve from Hoopla and also Mike. Gradually other groups have started running their own nights within Hoopla and self-hosting.
ii. Steve from Hoopla is no longer able to host as many nights as previously, due to lack of time to cover everything in Hoopla and also to free up time to focus more on future planning and producing some new shows.
iii. Groups running their own nights has been successful in many ways but also has places too much stress on the key members of the group when they are having to do everything, and sharing this responsibility is still needed.
iv. There is a current shortage of improvisers who like and are good at hosting.
c. Tech Support:
i. This has been done by a mix of people: the host, a standalone tech, the performers, front of house people.
ii. Some groups have paid a professional tech and this has made the show really good.
iii. There is a shortage of tech support volunteers.
d. Front of House:
i. Originally this was provided by Hoopla with volunteers.
ii. Hoopla are struggling to find volunteers to do this.
iii. There was concern that the front of house groups are often not thanked enough by performing groups, and should be incorporated more into the evening.
iv. Hoopla are unable to pay front of house volunteers a proper wage, and Hoopla feel it is unethical to keep asking people to do it for free.
v. Hoopla need help from performing groups with providing front of house.
i. We need a pool of hosts that we have trained up in how to host in Hoopla style that we can rely upon to look after the audience, cast, tech and front of house in the night.
ii. We need a pool of tech support volunteers that have been trained up.
iii. Groups to receive only basic tech, provided by either the host, front of house volunteers or the performers.
iv. Any professional tech support to be booked by the performing groups themselves. Please don’t swamp the host or front of house volunteers with complicated tech requests on the night. Anything more than basic lights and sound should be provided by a tech provided by the performing group themselves.
v. We need a pool of front of house volunteers.
vi. Front of house and other volunteers need to be thanked and supported by performing groups and welcomed into the wider improv scene.
vii. Possibility of a wider training program for support crew, people interested in being front of house, tech support and hosts. This training program to be longer term and also connect the volunteers to groups so they can learn from each other.
9. Audience Map
a. We looked at a map of our average audience to understand where people came from and also look at the financial model of the night.
b. A big chunk of the audience (up to 50% on some nights) are Hoopla students and their plus ones who get in free. We checked with groups and everyone seemed happy with this arrangement as it provided a big audience and also attracted new people to improv nights and helped build up a long term audience.
c. Nights should be free to core cast, even if they are not performing.
d. Cast can add people to the guest list on the night. Please just do that on the night by chatting to the front of house, no need to email in advance.
e. NHS are half price.
f. General admission is £5. We discussed this price and everyone felt it is regarded as quite low in the comedy scene considering the standard of many acts we have on. It hasn’t changed for six years so pricing to change in September.
i. Free access to Hoopla students and their plus ones remains. The exception to this is if a night is sold out in advance online, then online ticketed people only will be let in before 8pm and then free standing room only access after that.
ii. Nights are also free to cast of our regular groups, even on the nights they are not performing.
iii. Pricing to change in September to £7 on the night and £5.50 online, to enable us to continue to provide the best acts possible.
10. Online Ticket Sales
a. We broke down how online ticket pricing works.
b. For each £5 ticket:
i. 50p goes to booking fee and ticketing agency costs.
ii. 90p goes to VAT.
iii. Leaving £3.60 that goes to acts.
c. Hoopla previously have been paying groups extra if it’s a low ticket sales night, but Hoopla will not be doing this anymore.
d. We discussed the possibility of dropping online sales and keeping it all on the door to save admin team, but it was felt this would be a step backwards for the club and maybe loose audience numbers.
e. Steve said the current admin process for this is inefficient and time consuming.
i. We are keeping online ticket sales.
ii. Online ticket sales increased to £5.50 in September to cover booking fee.
iii. Online sales processed once a month instead of once a week in the future, to free up admin time.
iv. Online ticket sales split fairly between groups, but there will not be any extra top up payments from Hoopla if it’s a low audience night.
11. Different options of how we work together
a. We looked at more options for how we could run the club and work with groups.
b. Options included:
i. Not running it all.
1. Unfortunately this is what would happen if we carried on with the current model.
2. We feel that we’re currently unable to please everyone without either making a constant financial loss or sacrificing other creative projects for the sake of admin time, neither of which we want to do anymore.
ii. The Miller running the club instead.
1. Hoopla could opt out and leave groups to book directly with The Miller while Hoopla keeping a couple of their own nights.
2. This would remove all admin from Hoopla, and in the short term could still work, but in the long term it was felt the lack of coordinated programming would lead to the end of the club.
iii. Paid Staff. We discussed that we could get paid staff:
1. Front of House (£20)
2. Host (£30)
3. Tech (£30)
4. Adverts (£15)
5. Admin cost for coordinating (£50)
6. This would come to a total of £145 per night, so all the profits of the night would have to go to staff and none to performing acts.
7. Although this would make a well run night we felt it was against Hoopla’s original values of providing a fair deal for performers.
iv. Free or donation night.
1. This would cut out a huge amount of admin for Hoopla, and also cut down on the amount of volunteers needed.
2. It was felt that this might accidentally de-value improv in the eyes of the audience.
3. We were open to trying some nights like this.
v. Community run night.
1. Volunteers providing front of house, tech and hosting.
2. Groups would have to help out with front of house, tech and hosting.
3. Hoopla to be clearer at time of booking about what is expected.
4. Booking priority given to groups that are able to help out with the night in general.
5. Groups working as one time.
6. Profits continue to go directly to performing groups.
i. Club to convert more strongly to a community run venue.
ii. Groups to help out with the recruitment and training of front of house, tech and hosting volunteers.
iii. Building up and ongoing pool of front of house, tech and hosts, with ongoing training and support so they feel part of the team.
iv. Everyone to work together on each night, Hoopla to be clearer at time of booking about what this would involve.
v. Profits to continue to go to performing groups to keep it a fair deal for performers.
vi. Option to also have some free nights, but most nights will be paid with a slight increase in tickets prices starting in September.
12. Split of roles and responsibilities
a. We went through a list of all tasks done by Hoopla and performing groups to try and find any inefficiencies, overlaps, and to see if there was any way we could share the workload better.
b. We also discussed a new model of night that has been going well where one group runs the whole night and can book in any sub groups they want, and is also responsible for booking their own host and front of house. These nights have been popular with audiences and are easier for Hoopla to run, but they need more assistance with hosting and front of house as otherwise it was putting the core members of the group under undue stress.
c. Things currently done by Hoopla and we’re still happy to do, no change or extra help currently needed:
i. Booking in regular weekend groups.
ii. Booking in guest weekend groups.
iii. Booking in international groups.
iv. Booking in festivals.
v. Booking in late night shows.
vi. Booking in jams.
vii. Booking in Launch Pads.
viii. Booking in networking events.
ix. Managing relations with The Miller.
x. Sorting online tickets (although this needs to be made more efficient).
xi. Paying invoices.
xii. Putting shows on Hoopla website.
xiii. Putting shows on Miller website.
xiv. Listing shows online press.
xv. Listing shows other press.
xvi. Press releases and ongoing press relations.
xvii. Audience agencies.
xviii. Facebook Ads (cost needs to be covered by online sales in future).
xix. Google Ads (cost needs to be covered by online sales in future).
xx. Email Newsletter (cost needs to be covered by online sales in future).
xxii. Producing new shows.
xxiii. Encouraging new acts.
d. Things that Hoopla currently do but need help with and will have to be a community run thing with the groups working together:
i. Finding hosts.
ii. Training hosts.
iii. Booking in hosts.
v. Finding front of house volunteers.
vi. Training front of house volunteers.
vii. Front of house.
viii. Finding tech support volunteers.
ix. Training tech support.
x. Booking in tech support.
xi. Providing tech support.
xii. Some money from online sales to cover advertising expenses.
xiii. Running jams.
e. Things that groups currently do and seemed happy to continuing doing:
ii. Training in improv.
v. Recruiting performers.
vi. Cross promoting at other festivals and venues.
vii. Facebook marketing about Hoopla shows.
viii. Twitter marketing about Hoopla shows.
ix. YouTube marketing about Hoopla shows.
x. Email marketing about Hoopla shows.
xi. Booking in sub groups if they are running their own evening.
xii. Hiring rehearsal spaces.
xiii. Art work for general marketing.
xiv. Podcasts and other online presence.
xv. Suggesting international groups.
xvi. Putting Hoopla in contact with other groups.
f. Things that groups currently but need help with or improvements needed:
i. Finding musicians.
ii. Carrying musical instruments and equipment.
iii. Finding cheap rehearsal spaces.
iv. Front of House, Tech Support, Hosting.
g. Other Conclusions:
i. Groups and Hoopla need to work together more to support the night.
ii. Hoopla to make division of responsibilities clearer over email when booking each act, with a formal rider type email.
iii. There needs to be a pool of trained and reliable front of house volunteers, tech support, hosts and gig captains.
iv. The groups that run their own night there need additional help so key performers aren’t doing too much on the night.
v. Having more groups running their own nights would be good, and also ensemble shows.
vi. More community events to be encouraged.
vii. Late shows and jams to be booked in with help of groups, with more variety of different styles of jams.
viii. Communications between Hoopla and groups to be improved.
ix. Groups to take an active role in the support of the club and also the recruitment and training of support staff.
13. Mission Statement and Values
a. Hoopla have a mission statement and values for their club but it was felt this could be communicated and celebrated more. So this will be included on the website and also when communicating to groups.
14. Thank You!
a. Many thanks to all the groups that took part in this, at the meeting and on email and phone. It was really helpful as going into it I didn’t know what we were doing but just being listened to really helped so thank you.