Improv College is an online-only improv school. All of our class, teams, and events take place virtually. As such we've got a big interest in finding out who is taking improv classes online and why people take improv classes online. This goes double as various places around the world are returning to in-person classes and shows.
So what did we do? We sent out a survey. It's not a scientific survey, but I think we did ok! And by "we" I mean the amazing Chantal Lim who made the survey, sent it out, compiled the results, and did follow-up interviews. #chantal4eva
Naturally, the people who filled it out will skew towards the online improv crowd. We also did our best to reach out to people who were NOT into online improv . We ended up getting over hundred responses and wanted to share some of the results we got with everyone.
So here's what we found...
Who took the survey?
We ended up getting 111 responses from people who were kind enough to fill out our form. The form was up for 2 weeks in mid-January 2022 before it was closed.
As suspected, it was mostly people who have taken an online class who filled in our survey. But we did manage to reach a good number of people who had not taken them.
Improv College is based in Canada and works primarily in the English language and in North American timezones so this result is no shock either. But it's good to know how to weight the responses we did get. The Other category has 1-3 people from the following countries:
Philippines, Germany, Netherlands, India, France, Denmark, Brazil, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand
Again, no surprise that people new to improv didn't really find our survey. We posted it in places you only go to once you're already well into improv. But also, people doing online improv likely skew towards people who were already doing it in person. It seems likely that very few people are starting with online improv.
Top Five Reasons Our Respondents Like Online Improv
1. Affordable pricing: Compared to organizations that have to pay for physical space and the staffing that goes along with it, online classes have much lower costs. This means the prices can be lower than in-person offerings. Improv College doubles down on this with 5$ Equity Pricing and reduced prices for low-/middle-income students.
2. Learning a specific form: Even if you are lucky enough to live in a place with in-person improv classes, they may not be offering the kind of improv that speaks to you. Harold, Monoscene, Narrative, Dramatic, Pretty Flower, etc. With online classes, you can now learn a huge variety of formats from a great selection of teachers around the world!
3. Working with a specific teacher: There are lots of wonderful teachers out there. In the past, your best bet to learn from one of them was to go to an improv festival and take their workshop. With the shift to virtual workshops, we can have an incredible selection of teachers offering classes online.
4. Meeting improvisers from different backgrounds: One of the major advantages of online improv is that it is much more accessible than in-person improv with the lowering of physical, geographical, demographic and financial barriers. This leads to a much more diverse group of students from around the world which can lead to some awesome international connections and collaborations.
5. Online performance opportunities: Without the limitation of a physical space, anyone can put on a show. With infinite flexibility, any group can take the stage, at any time, and get valuable experience.
Virtual classes offer a good few advantages that in-person classes can't match. Any organization working with virtual workshops should be leaning into these strengths. Beyond that, it's important to remember that not everyone has access to in-person classes for a wide variety of reasons.
Top Three Reasons Our Respondents Don't Like Online Improv
1. Lack of physicality: Doing improv from a chair can make some people feel limited when they are used to roaming across the stage. Or perhaps you're in a corner of the dining room where you need to stay in the view of the camera. It clearly isn't the same as being in the same open space as your scene partner.
2. Missing in-person improv: No pre-class chats. Can't go out for a drink after. No audience laughter. Much of what makes improv into an activity and a community just can't be captured online.
3. Hard to engage with people online: You can't really look into your scene partner's eyes. It's hard to forget that you're just sitting in front of your computer. Especially if you're coming to it after work where you sit in front of a computer all day, as many people do.
It is worth noting that for people with mobility/disability issues, these obstacles are always present. And online improv diminishes or even erases their accessibility difficulties. For people who are used to performing for the camera rather than the stage (or want to learn how to do so), there are still plenty of skills to be gained. But it has to be acknowledged that there are aspects of online classes that cannot be replicated from in-person classes.
One important thing to note is that the #1 reason people took an online class in the first place is because of COVID restrictions (23% of respondents). With in-person classes coming back, the question remains: what will happen to online improv spaces?
The reasons not to like it won't disappear but the reasons to like it remain. It seems that people who have an alternative will likely return to the familiar. It is where their communities and connections have been built.
But for people who don't live in places with improv schools/theatres, online classes offer a way in. For people who feel underrepresented in those physical spaces, they can band together in greater numbers online and build their own communities. For people with accessibility issues that are often unaddressed in physical spaces, online improv lowers those barriers.
The world of virtual improv has a role to play, certainly not to replace in-person improv, but to complement it and welcome more people in.
by Vinny Francois
Survey and results by Chantal Lim