I’m terribly sorry about the delay in responding! I’ll gladly give a crack at your question.
I’ve been in that situation before in college. You have friends who do improv with you. You’re all friends on equal ground outside of improv. However, once practice starts, things change instantly.
They still see the practice as a time to hang out. In a way, it is. But there’s work to be done. You’re there for a reason, and it’s more than hanging out. Here are a few things that might work for you:
• “If you’re on time, you’re late.” If you say practice starts at 7:30pm, then start it at 7:30pm. Do. Not. Stray. From. This. Stand your ground. They won’t respect you or your time if you waffle about before or during practice. Take initiative. Grab practice by the balls. Announce on time, “Okay, let’s begin!” with a tone that shows authority, but that’s not demanding. You’re not a drill sergeant, but at 7:30pm, you’re not really their friend either. You’re their coach. Their captain. A ship can function without a captain, but it doesn’t go anywhere and is disorganized. Take the wheel and steer it on-course, for goodness sakes!
• Be On-point. A sharpened pencil writes easier and clearer than a dull one. Show them that you’re in charge, and that you take this time seriously. Have a regular routine to begin each practice. I find it helps to first ask if anyone has any improv-related questions from last practice, and then explain what they’ll be working on that day, even going into specifics about exercises or games they’ll be doing (if necessary).
• Why Wait For The Fun To Start? Ask them what they like about practice in general; a specific game, a warm-up they all enjoy or an exercise they all excel at. Much like giving a dog a treat for doing something you wanted them to do, the positive experience in the last practice will make them much more enthusiastic about coming in and starting it next time.
• Sharing Is Caring. You should be an outlet for them to share their frustrations, excitement or questions outside of practice. This is where you can blend the “friend” into the “coach.” You know them outside of improv, so you can customize your feedback based on what type of personality they have. In an email, through text or in-person, letting them be able to trust you when not in practice makes them feel more at ease and a part of the team.
• Make It Fun. Find new and creative ways to do exercises. Read books, go online to forums or make some up yourself. Try new things with the group. Variety is the spice of life! If you give a kid a toy, they love it for a while, then get bored with it, become apathetic to it and the novelty wears off. Changing up the practices will keep them on their toes and hopefully make them more interested in doing the work.
I hope this all helps. Check back with me later on when you’ve tried some or all of these. I’d love to see how the group takes to it, and I promise to answer your next question much sooner!