DOs and DONTs from FIST Champions—Updated!
Whether it’s your first time FISTing or you’ve done it more times than you can count, here’s some advice from previous champions on how to succeed in Washington Improv Theater’s eleventh annual competition.

Michelle Swaney (Polygamy – 2008; Not Mad, Disappointed – 2009)

  • DO dress like a team, but don’t wear costumes.
  • DON’T hug that back wall.
  • DO rehearse and spend time together as a team.
  • DO mention to your opponents that you’re a two time fist champion right before they go on stage.

Mary Lauran Hall (Pals are Pals – 2012)

  • DO frame your event invitation so that your non-improv friends understand what’s going on and why it’s important that they come. (You *do* have non-improv friends, right?)
  • DO find a way to get the audience unambiguously on your side in the first 30 seconds
  • DO pick a simple format that lets your improv chops shine through, and leaves room for smart moves like callbacks and establishing overarching themes
  • DO rehearse!
  • DO communicate openly and honestly with your teammates, and get to you know your teammates on a personal level.
  • DO HAVE FUN, and take it one match at a time!
  • DON’T break up with your partner of 2 years on the day of your round 3 show (sorry, Boat Metaphors)
  • DON’T pick a complicated format that locks you into a scene or pattern that is more likely to go sour than a montage
  • DON’T go all John Nash on predictions for what’s going to happen in the bracket. This is how you get inside your head. Throw something at any teammate who even remotely starts to go down this road. Keep them away from bulletin boards and colorful yarn.

Cassidy Russell (Pals are Pals – 2012)

  • DO bring your mom to watch
  • DONT make puns or you might get slapped

Stan Seiden (Barely Runcible – 2014)

  • DO trust your form and your fellow players.
  • DO play to all sides of the room.
  • DO emulate Frank Sinatra when possible.
  • DO be do be do.
  • DON’T play on the back wall.
  • DON’T be scared of strong emotions in scenes.
  • DON’T you forget about me.
  • DON’T go chasing waterfalls.

Lura Barber (Beverly Crusher – 2016)

  • DO have fun promoting your show.
  • DO invite all your friends, especially those who have never seen improv before.
  • DO have at least one pre-show ritual that puts your group in the right mindset for going on stage.
  • DO rehearse at least once.
  • DO let your grudges from past FIST losses fuel your competitive fire.
  • DON’T spend more than one practice deciding on your format, costumes, etc.
  • DON’T forget that your set is only 12 minutes long — don’t spend half of that setting up your premise.
  • DON’T worry if you lose a match — that grudge will help propel you to victory next year!

Dan Miller (Beverly Crusher – 2016)

  • DO attack the stage like you only have a 12-minute set—because you do!
  • DO make sure that your FIST teammates are all about a half-foot taller than you.
  • DO invite friends and family to your shows. My mom and stepdad brought several of their friends to a 5 PM show—one of whom wound up signing up for Level One and loving it. (Holla Gail!) Doing well in FIST is a combination of doing good improv, aggressive marketing, and a bit of luck.
  • DON’T acknowledge your nerves to the audience (especially if you’re a newer improviser). You should be spending your energy taking care of the audience and projecting confidence.
  • DON’T waste time on an elaborate “get” or opening, unless it’s wildly entertaining in its own right.
  • DON’T let your format be the star of the show. If it’s too cumbersome, distill it to its simplest elements. Wear the garment, so to speak, don’t let it wear you.
  • DON’T let the competition affect the way you interact with people off-stage.

John Carroll (Childish Things – 2017)

  • DO listen to everyone’s advice (which you’re already doing if you’re here), but…
  • DON’T necessarily act on all of it. Follow what feels fun and/or true.
  • DO invite a bunch of people you normally wouldn’t. FIST is a great “My First Show” experience.
  • DON’T tie your fun up in the outcome.
  • DO a show you’re proud of.
  • DON’T let the competitive nature of FIST change what you love about improv.
  • DO expect to lose. You’ll have a lot more fun if you win.
  • DON’T expect all of your teammates to remember your last name (NOTE: if you are teammates with Henry Ring.)

Jenna Hall (Childish Things – 2017)

  • DO play to make your teammates (and yourself) laugh.
  • DO put on blinders. If you pay attention to the other teams and how they perform it takes your attention away from your own teammates and the fun you could be having with them.
  • DON’T squeeze the bird. Hear me out. On the TV show The Golden Girls, Rose Nylund once famously said “if you hold a bird gently, the bird will stay. But if you squeeze the bird, his eyes will bug out.” The more pressure you put on yourself and your team (the bird), the less fun you’ll have, and the less far you’ll go (thus, killing the bird).

Nina Hsu (Double Date – 2018)

  • DO find time to connect as a group before the show. Pre-show rituals can help.
  • DON’T be afraid to toss those pre-show rituals!
  • DO have a blast on stage, no matter the format – it shows to the audience!
  • DON’T let expectations or pressure get in the way of attacking that stage with gusto and joy.
  • DO capitalize on your networks to promote the show, especially to non-improvisers.
  • DON’T be afraid to lose!
  • DO prepare a back-up plan in case your teammate has to rush to the hospital to be with his wife giving birth.

Joe Randazzo (Double Date – 2018)

  • DON’T be expecting a baby all through the run.
March 15, 2017