Recently a friend told me that we were ‘competitors’, because we and they are teaching improv classes, so it inspired me to write a little something.
Flock Theatre is the new professional improvised theatre company created by Laura and myself, and set in Amsterdam Noord. When we decided to launch a new company, observing the improv landscape already present in Amsterdam, we knew it would draw attention from the rest of the community. Because improv is full of love, but somehow it gets super awkward when it comes to business. Improvisers dread talking about money, about contracts, and about competition.
But let’s start at the beginning. I am a new-comer in town, a fresh French expat arriving in Amsterdam with my cultural bagage, my dreams and my experiences. So I’m gonna share a bit of that. I come from a city inn France of 280k inhabitants called Strasbourg. It’s approximately three times less than Amsterdam for the city itself.
What’s my story where I come from?
I have been doing improv for about 12 years in Strasbourg and I was lucky enough to start in one of the major groups there, the oldest one, called la Lolita. La Lolita is an amateur association that leads classes and shows for more than 25 years, and that is very accessible financially if you are a student, that has a hell of a good and fun community, and does pretty good improv. I spent 9 years in that association at different positions—performer, artistic committee member, selecting team, secretary, administrator, teacher, etc. I poured my energy into it because it was a project bigger than me: 200 members, about 50 shows per year, 25 shows in a beautiful venue packed with 200 people every time, and an infinite list of projects! It is a fairly big company and the audience that follows is numerous, for a city of the size of Strasbourg, right?
But the thing is: it is not the only one! Along the course of the years, other groups, companies, and schools appeared. At first, all of them were seen as threatening for la Lolita. What if they draw our students to them? What if they suck our audience to a different venue? What if they organise a show the same day as us? A first was there, and la Lolita was still thriving. A second, and still no collapse. A third, and guess what? Still going strong. Even … stronger!
I have been the founder of one of these ‘competitors’: La Carpe Haute that I created with a bunch of friends eight years ago. We grew fast, and we grew big. After a couple of years, we had a full season selling out to 150 audience members, classes, gigs, etc. The first year we opened our classes, la Lolita was afraid we would compete: they sold out more classes than ever and had to turn down 20 people they couldn’t welcome in their ranks.
But will I get my slice of the cake?
Here is what I believe in: improv does not compete with improv. More improv just creates more improv, more people aware of our existence, more diversity in the community and in the art form, more options, more growth. Laura often talks about the ‘scarcity’ or ‘abundance’ mindset: seeing the world as a limited pie we have to share, or as a bottomless bag of love. It’s not always easy, but the thing is: life is actually closer to a bottomless bag of love than a half-finished pie. And Strasbourg’s improv landscape is a great example of it: today it has 5 or 6 major schools bringing together about 1000 students per year, around 10 professional companies with a regular show schedule—that sells for some of them up to 1000 tickets per show—, and numerous smaller independent groups, troupes, classes, etc. It doesn’t prevent a bunch of people to still think that we ‘compete with each others’—even me at times—, because it is in human nature to worry about it, but it is worth making an effort to see the abundance over the scarcity.
So if you are interested by taking improv classes or seeing improv shows, you can of course check out our offers on this very website—we have classes for all levels and on various topics, and produce a first weekend of awesome shows end of November. But you can also check what is offered by our friends at EasyLaughs, TVA Impro, Boom Chicago and more!
With Flock Theatre, we want to create an open community, that thrives along the other schools of Amsterdam, and feed the synergy we will get from adding a new brick to the Amsterdam’s house of improv.