By Dillon Cassidy
I’m a dreamer. I spend a lot of my idle time strolling through long corridors in castles in the sky. On lazy Sunday afternoons my mind takes turns down galleries of what could be, with walls covered in portraits of possibilities. I am drawn to new and exciting and old and different - all of these doorways in the halls of my memory. I’m a dreamer.
But, I dislike that word.
It feels inactive, impotent, incapable, and lazy - all things which I am not. I am a do-er. A do-er that has willed most of daydreams into existence. But it’s a bit of a double edged sword. All too often I find myself caught up on the winds of inspiration, and before I know it, I’ve been blown off course.
The first time I actualized my dreams I was 24 years old; unemployed, depressed, and frankly terrified. I was unemployed because the company I had worked for was bad (and presumably still is). I was depressed for the usual reasons. I was terrified, not because I was afraid that we might fail, or that the business wouldn’t work out; I was terrified because I couldn’t see what was next. For as long as I could remember, I always had a dream I was working toward. And suddenly I didn’t have a dream anymore, I had a thing. But in the same way you wouldn’t tell a dog not to bark, I couldn’t expect myself not to dream. It is as much a part of my nature as breathing is. It’s hard to accept that you will never truly be satisfied. I am most at peace when I have a clear vision to work toward.
Which brings me to point of this. That vision. I want to share this vision, because I want people to know what we’re working toward. I want people to have the opportunity to say ‘I believe in that idea.’ This is a call for investment in all forms from the community. If you believe in this vision, vote for it. Vote with your money, talent, and most importantly your time.
Dreams are ephemeral and fluid and nebulous things. They aren’t specific. Dreams give way to reality when they are filled in with details. So - what is this? Details. Specific. The plan. I’ve laid out pieces of this casually in conversation with acquaintances and friends, but I don’t know that I’ve ever put the full picture up for everyone to see, so here it is: our vision for the Crowd, and the blueprint for its future.
To summarize, my long term vision is to establish Chicago’s first communal creative co-working space. This goes back to what I think, ultimately attracts most people to improv (at least the ones that stick around): it’s the desire to create in a collaborative setting. Everyone has ambitions, and many of these ambitions lie outside of ‘just improv,’ (i.e. writing for television or film, mainstage, touring, SNL, whatever) - all of these ambitions share a common thread: collaborative work. To me, that’s the siren song of improv, the desire to create collaboratively.
Included below is the idyllic vision for our space. Take all of this with a grain of salt, because the timeline between now and then is long, but this is where we’d like to go. This is a recipe, with the ingredients being equal parts time and funding, and we’re working on accumulating more of both.
Real quick - if you weren’t aware - the Crowd is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization with the mission of providing an affordable performance space for underrepresented artists as well as the tools and resources necessary to hone their craft.
(FYI: Tax exempt means you can deduct any donations you make to us from your tax filings- we are, have been, and will continue to be a charity!)
I bring this up to lay out a bit of a road-map for the remainder of this post. Our board met early this year and set out our goals for the year. Below is a breakdown of our long-term goals, and some more discreet goals for the 2019 year. Our hope is sharing these goals with the community will help keep us accountable and to give you an idea of our plan for the future. The goals are broken down into a handful of pillars which I’ll elaborate on below:
Increasing Our Digital Footprint
Increasing Our Digital Footprint
This is an ambitious vision of where we’d like to go next. In our dream space we would have an entire separate stage dedicated to streaming.The studio would be outfitted with a minimum of three cameras, a green screen, and a number of drop and lav mics. Down the hall, we would have a dedicated podcasting studio and editing suite, all of which would be available to people from the community to use and create with.
Twitch & Live Content
This bit is a big piece of the puzzle and one that I’ve written about before. Essentially, we must find ways to bring new resources into the Chicago comedy scene from outside of the Chicago comedy scene if improvisation is ever to become sustainable on any level. Live comedy in Chicago, and especially indie live comedy, relies heavily on ticket and alcohol sales from people who are a part of the comedy community. This results in undercompensated comedians bearing much of the financial burden for the success & viability of their favorite comedy theaters in the city. Streaming and small scale broadcasting presents an opportunity to tap into an online market, letting us reduce what we charge the community for rehearsal and performance rentals and potentially even work towards compensating performers.
There is a demand to see what Chicago has to offer, we just have to do the work to deliver it to them. I use to make the 8 or 9 hour trip up to Chicago a few times a year to see what was happening here - now we have the ability to deliver that experience to hungry viewers across the country. You will never play Wrigley Stadium with your improv team, but there’s nothing stopping us from getting 10,000 viewers on a stream.
There are a lot of things I’d like to try and experiment with in the live broadcast arena, but it comes down to not having enough time. Here are some of my thoughts on types of shows we can make together:
Mystery Science Theater
A show that lets twitch and the at-home audience select a movie, and has all the audio improvised live.
Don’t have a lot of concrete ideas, but talk tv is a really easy format to replicate.
Maybe its short form? Maybe it’s long form? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Maybe this show experiments with different ways to integrate the digital and live using telestration, voice over, polling, and other extensions available.
Live Podcast Recording, Streaming Blocks of Locally Produced Video Content, Other Weird Experimental Shows, etc
Basically, the goal with Twitch is to create a DIY TV channel, like a global public access. If you’re interested in pursuing any of these concepts, or pitching something of your own, please get in contact with us! You can submit online here. We have a limited number of slots, but we’re trying to dedicate a few crowd-produced shows a month to streaming content, and we’re happy to waive rental fees for people willing to take on the challenge.
Recently, the Crowd received affiliate status from Twitch and now collects (minimal) income on our stream (it’s working folks!). If you have amazon prime you get a free twitch subscription, maybe consider subscribing to our channel?
We launched our House Team Program last summer, and with that created our first media team. It’s been a very satisfying project for me to work on, and you can check out the first mixtape here, which is seventeen minutes of original work we put together with the help of a lot of friends. In response, there’s been a lot of demand for us to create more teams focused on creation of New Media and Digital Content, so anticipate seeing more of that down the road. Likely, the next house team we create will also have a digital media focus as well. In order to support this growing demand, we’re looking to devote more of our resources to developing digital media creation and currently shopping around for:
Cameras & Lens
Microphones & Zoom Recorders
Misc Equipment (Dolly, Boom Polls, etc)
If you just happen to have any professional grade equipment that you’re looking to sell at second-hand prices, please let us know! Once we get our gear sorted out, we’re hoping to put together an open-door media group that will let anybody with the interest & time have access to production equipment.
This idea is absolutely in its nascent phase, and I’m hesitant to mention it - but we’re working on putting together a small network of Podcasts that live on our website including our own podcast, Faces in the Crowd. We’ve got most of the necessary equipment already, just need to figure out the logistics!
If you’d be interested in submitting your podcast to our network please get in touch with us.
We’re a community theater. We’re trying to do a lot more stuff with transparency this year. We’ve got three town hall meetings planned for this year:
Saturday, March 9th 5:30PM-7:30PM
Early July (Date & Time TBD)
Early October (Date & Time TBD)
But as always, feel free to get in touch with us about anything and everything by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or messaging us on Facebook. We appreciate community feedback. It’s a community space!
We’re also trying to be more transparent about our finances and budget, if that’s something that interests you, there’s information below.
This is at the forefront of all of our discussions we have about basically everything and every aspect of our business, and consequently, the area we have the most room for improvement. We set some minimum standards for diversity that we are striving towards and to be frank, we are disappointed to say we don’t currently meet.
50%+ Non-Male Identifying
33%+ People of Color
We’ve identified 4 groups of people within the theater that we’d like to hold to the above standards: The Co-op, the Crowd House Teams, our pool of show producers for any given month, and performers at the theater in general. While tracking these numbers presents a challenge, we’re fairly certain we do well with two of those populations: LGBTQ and Non-Male Identifying. Our greatest shortcoming is with representing people of color. I would be remiss not to mention Lauren Walker and Ashley Victoria here - two really incredible people we worked with in the past few years in an effort to try and breach that gap. They each did a tremendous amount of work, for what at the time was little to no reward. Which brings me to one of goals we have for this year: we’re looking to try and make more top-down changes with our business. The only way we feel that we’ll see changes on the granular level is to make changes at the top-most levels of our business. Thus, we’re going to be hiring a new Director of Justice by the end of the year, a title originated by Lauren when we first opened the theater. We’ve still got to figure out what exactly that means, and what that person will be doing - but we’re excited to be working toward something we believe is good for us and good for the comedy community in general. More information on this will probably be coming out in the summer after we get through the grant-writing season.
As a last little note on this, we’d love to dedicate more time to producing shows by people of color in our schedule, and would also love to have a weekly all-PoC show, we just need someone excited about it to produce it. If this is something you’re interested in please get in touch with us!
think everyone has to go to temple - everyone needs a place of community union. If you don’t have that place, you start to get brain-sick (lonely, angry, etc). For some people that community is at a church, for some it’s the gym, for others (us) it’s the theater. It feels bad when you don’t go to temple. The gym has dues, the church has a tithe. We don’t have that. All we can do is ask. The Crowd may not be sacred, but it’s still temple to many.
Our goal is fundraise $20,000 in 2019. Which sounds like a lot (and honestly is), but is only $8,000 more than we raised last year. We’ve never liked asking for money, but at the end of the day - our business is a charity. In order for us to continue to deliver, we have to ask. So please give us your unwanted coins.
This is a community effort though, and we’re finally eligible for most of those good-good grants. Our Grants team, Dillon, Dana Besmanoff, and Corie Anderson are we’re optimistic about reaching our goal, but your support is of course appreciated. For the sake of accountability, we’d like the world to know we’re attempting to apply for six grants every quarter this year, for a total of twenty four applications by the end of the year.
I read something a long long time ago that has always stuck with me, and I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something to the effect of: the best type of leaders bring people together without the expectation of getting anything in return. That’s what we’re trying to do. Create opportunities and intersections for folks to come together and collaborate, and provide them with all the tools necessary to create stuff regardless of medium.
But to the summation of this post, the Crowd has grown, and continues to grow. This isn’t the little hole in the wall we started with. The workload has increased exponentially, and we’re fortunate to have a good team of folks that help out, but at the end of the day there’s more work than energy. There’s a limit to how much time/energy units each of us can devote to this project before it starts to cost parts of our sanity. We love this space but it has been paid for with pieces of our souls. This year, more so than ever, we’ve been faced with a lot of really difficult decisions. Taxing decisions. Some real bunk decisions. It’s not just a fun hobby, a big part of it is work.
All this to say, in order for the Crowd to maintain a sustainable operation, we’ve rolled out payroll and we have real employees now. We want everyone to hear it here first and we’d feel weird if we didn’t tell people. We’re planning on publishing all of our books online for anyone that’s interested in our financial operations. We love transparency, and feel good about how our funds are used. The second half of this, while we all love the Crowd, there is always the possibility that we won’t be here forever, but - we’d like to set up infrastructure that will allow the Crowd to exist beyond us. Creating a payroll allows to create some interchangeability within our organization. So whenever Audrey finally gets called into join that big ol’ Harold Team in the Sky: SNL, we won’t be completely lost, and we’ll have the pieces in place to keep moving forward.
So here are our three official W-9 employees:
Audrey Schiffhauer - Director of Social Media ($100/month)
Taylor Jones - Director of Finances ($100/month)
Dillon Cassidy (me!) - Director of Operations ($800/month)
Our team is larger than this, and we wouldn’t exist without our box office staff (special thanks to Irvin, Bonnie, and Chris who picked-up the most shows this last year), performers, community, and friends. Lastly, everything we’ve done up until now we did for free. This is the beginning folks. We’re proud of what we’ve done so far, and we’re excited to see what we’re able to do now that we are real-deal. If you believe in this vision, consider supporting us whether that is with your time, your talent, or you CASH.
Indulge me just a bit longer, but here’s the listing for our dream home. We love our little room, and we’ll likely be there for a long time, but eventually we’re going to outgrow it. The property above would require some serious renovations ($X00,000s), but would allow us to have a lobby with a Cafe-by-Day, Bar-by-Night that people could work and hang out in around the clock. We’d have our a cabaret style stage opening into the lobby, which is something I sorely miss. It’d provide us room for an additional stage for streaming content in the back, a podcasting studio, and rehearsal and classroom space - all of which would be closer to the Sheridan red-line stop than we are currently. It’s at best long way, away and at worst, just a dream. But - we wanted to share it with you. This is what we could be, it’ll just take work and investment. We’re going to keep working, and we hope you’ll invest with us
Thanks for reading this short novel about something we love -
Dillon & The Crowd Team