So you’ve been hired by someone to put on a show for a corporate group or private party, eh? Here’s what you need to know.
This type of show is not about you. It’s not about you being funny and it’s not about expressing your creativity. Do that on your own time, in your own shows. Leave your personal mission statement at the door.
The members of your audience at this type of show want to laugh with and at each other. Set them up to be the stars of their own show. Bring them up on stage and put them in situations where they’ll succeed or fail gracefully (and hilariously.) Trust me, the mail room guy making crappy sound effects into a microphone will be way more entertaining than your cleverest line or your most inspired bit of storytelling.
Forget long form. Stick to games and keep them short. Almost every game should involve audience participation, either with an audience member on stage, or with the audience participating from their seats. You can include a few low-participation games to cleanse the palate.
Things to do in advance:
- Bring your contact’s cell number in case of emergency. You might get lost. It happens.
- Ask your contact for names of important people and a short bio for each. Knowing a few things about your clients ahead of time can give you ideas. For example, at our last corporate show, we included a dancing game because we learned the vice president loved to dance. That piece of info was golden and provided a hysterical ending to the show. In my experience, bringing up a few executives (especially, the boss) works well. If the boss seems nervous or straight-laced, give them an easy job. Always make them look good. I also like to ask for a couple of names of people who are good to “pick on”–your office clowns, guys who drop the f-bomb around the water cooler, etc. If people are shy to volunteer during your show, you can pick from your list of names. As a rule, we discourage people at our public shows from volunteering their friends because reluctant volunteers are not usually happy volunteers; however, I make an exception for office and home parties. If people are keen to see a particular person come up, they will usually react in a positive way to everything that person does on stage.
- Ask the venue manager if they have a sound system and/or a microphone. Prepare your set of games accordingly
- Plan to get there early and plan to stay late. Such shows tend to start late, but that’s no reason for you to be late. Now, I’m being condescending.
- Plan a set list of games. Decide who is introducing what game (alphabetical order is where it’s at), or have one person introduce all games.
- Bring a bell and a buzzer. (See below.)
The set list:
As I mentioned, fill your set with audience participation. The all-time best game for these things is Family Dinner / Typical Day on the Job in which players act out members of the family or company that hired you. Bring a bell and a buzzer for an audience member to ring or buzz every time a player does something that is faithful or unfaithful to the real person. Other games that cannot fail are Puppets, Sound Effects and Arms Debate. Chain Murder is a bit risky because you need a high-functioning audience member. Considering going to your list of office clowns for that one. Other standards that work well are: Touch and Go (or some variant), Slide Show and Should Have Said. If your party happens to be celebrating an anniversary (or a wedding!), go for SPIV date, i.e. recreate their first date with one or both characters being played by 2 players speaking in one voice. For our last show, we considered having an HR person come up and interview a SPIV character for a job position.
Arrive early, meet your contact, check out your performance space and, if applicable, test the sound system and microphone. If you’re performing at a restaurant, always perform after supper. If they are busy eating, they will be distracted, chatty and unlikely to volunteer for a game while their steak gets cold. Performing during desert and drinks is fine.
Warm up the audience. Introduce yourselves and get them to yell out a few things. They will be a bit chatty at first, so let them settle into the show during this part. If you want, you can even tell them that you’ll be looking for audience volunteers and promise to make them look good. Be charming!
Perform the show. Keep your scenes and games tight. Be prepared to change your set list in mid-stream if things are running long, short, or, uh, poorly.
Good luck! Gigs like these are usually a lot of fun. Being a working improviser is every improviser’s dream, so enjoy it for one night!