With more and more people doing improv online, hosting a Zoom improv show has become an art form in itself. Having someone who can host your show well is an important part of making the show come off as smooth and professional as possible.
I recently spoke with Rebecca Bradford and Will Eiserman of The Improv Collaborative in Boulder, CO, about their tips for running a successful improv show via Zoom. Here are a few of their tips.
- Play Music Before The Show
Bradford and Eiserman think it’s important to play music 15 minutes before the shows start when the audience is first coming in to keep the energy up. They also suggest that the host or one of the players rename their slide to say “Welcome,” and for the host to let the audience know that they show is going to start momentarily.
- Explain What Will Happen
After the pre-show music ends, the host should come on to cover some basic guidelines with the audience. If you’re using a meeting format on Zoom, tell all of the audience members to turn their videos off. If you’re using a webinar format, the audience members will automatically have their videos turned off. When it comes to the audience’s audio, however, you may want to have the audience keep their microphones on so the players can hear some laughter. This is a good idea if you have a small audience, say less than 12 people. If your audience is too large, however, you may need to tell the audience members to mute themselves because too much laughter can be distracting for the players. Bradford and Eiserman also say they tell their audience members to keep their Zoom screens on gallery view and to use the chat room to indicate laughter.
- Give an Example of What Improv Is
After the host has gone over the guidelines for the show, Bradford and Eiserman suggest doing a quick example of what improv is before the long form show begins by getting a suggestion from the audience using the chat feature. Once you get a suggestion, a couple of people from the cast can do a one-minute game, like one-word story using the suggestion. The thing to remember is that for members of the audience this maybe be their first improv show. Once that is over, the host then can explain to the audience how the form is going to work. I always feel it important that to let an audience know that they players are making this up the spot and that there is no script and that is the first and the last time they will see this show.
- Call Lights and Promote Upcoming Shows and Classes
When the show is over, it’s the host’s responsibility to call lights or end the show. Bradford and Eiserman say that the end of the show is also a good time to allow to cast members to say their names and locations and to promote upcoming classes.
- Have a Tech Rehearsal
The other thing that can make a show run smoothly and professionally is to have tech rehearsal beforehand and for the players to makes some adjustments at home. If you are using the Zoom meeting format, Bradford and Eisereman suggest having the players use plain black images instead of profile pictures, which will be less distracting for the audience. They also remind the players to follow some simple tricks to look their best on screen, such as be lit in the front, use a neutral background, wear a solid color shirt and have your camera at eye level.
- Use the Webinar Zoom Format
Alternatively, you can do your shows using Zoom’s webinar format. This format is more expensive, but I’ve found it’s much better at keeping the cast and the audience separate. On the webinar format, the cast members are invited to be a participant via an email, and they will be the only members on the screen. The audience will be able to view the cast members, but they won’t be seen.