Classes at iO Chicago
My biggest hang up to trying it was the fact I wasn't an actor. There was no practical reason for me to take classes to further any skill set that I already had in theatre. I am not interested in acting at all. Memorization of lines is the worst for my brain. In my high school theatre class, we had to memorize monologues and I was just no good at it. I literally made a recording of me saying the lines and I would recite it back to the recording as I wrote it down at the same time. It was super tough. I also get stage fright when I am supposed to remember to do something the same way. I didn't like running or being on stage for live performances.
My fondest memory of dipping my toe in to acting pond in high school were the auditions for "Bullshot Crummond". Mr. Bernstein had us doing a warm up exercise and we were playing what I know now as, an improv game. I was having so much fun. I ended up not getting the part and instead I started my backstage career. One that has been very rewarding since.
I kept on circling around the world of improv though. My favorite actors and personalities in TV and movies often have training in the Chicago improv scene. Folks like Tina Fey, Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler, and Steven Colbert. Amy Poehler's description of the Chicago Improv scene in "Yes Please" fed the fire that I barely knew was crackling.
Last summer is when I decided to jump in the pool. I had been doing a ton of personal development and a common theme between all of it was feel your fear and get out of your comfort zone. Improv was terrifying. I kept telling myself that I wasn't funny enough, and it was too scary. It took four months of staring of the cliff's edge for me to sign up for a class.
I chatted with my friend Christy about where I should start. She knows me really well and she knows the Chicago Improv scene as well. I was confident she wouldn't lead me wrong. There are three distinct styles of doing improv here. At Annoyance you focus on your character work and your place within a team, at Second City you use improv as a tool to write sketch comedy, and at iO you learn the art of longform, specifically the Harold. Christy said iO was the perfect place for me.
Improv Jams around Chicago
Shortly after I started classes, I realized that I couldn't get enough. I loved our teacher Emily Anderson and our class was just amazing. I was expecting a class stacked with young theatre and comedy majors. What I got was a diverse group of folks all ages, all races, and all sorts of professions in the room. In all I think we had two BFA actor kids and everyone else was trying it for the heck of it, like me. These folks were inspiring me to get up and try something new all the time. I was craving a place to practice outside of class. This is when I discovered jams.
Improv jams are where a bunch of people who do improv get together and everyone gets to practice with a bunch of different people. It's a really fun way to play with the people you know and get into the larger improv community. You can try out stupid characters or voices in a safe space and see if they work for you. I also love that people who are trained at so many other places all get together and different styles clash and mesh and you can figure out what you like, what you don't and what you are dying to try yourself. I liken it to a gallery displaying local artwork. You never know what you'll be inspired by.
One of my favorite jams in town is Girl Gang at iO. All of the performers identify as ladies. The show has an opening team , a jam, and then the featured monthly girl gang. Every month Shelby and Liliana, the hosts, cobble together a team of about 8-10 to be a unit for a whole month. It's wonderfully supportive to have a bunch of women on stage who have been through puberty, have their periods, deal with misogyny, and have experienced life being woman. This provides fertile ground of common experiences that we get to explore and turn on its head. These beautiful and strong women bring me life and tons of smiles.
Adrenaline & Ignorance
Jams have their purpose. It gives you a chance to practice your new craft in a quick and dirty way. I wanted more than that and thankfully a few guys from my classes were down too. We started practicing with focus and a coach. Emily Anderson, our teacher from levels one and two, lends her talents and expertise to our team. Practicing with a coach, I've found, is super important. We stay on track and drill down into the scenes and characters when we have someone who is going to call us out on shit and hold us accountable.
So now, my indie team Adrenaline & Ignorance performs at least once a week. Hanging out and creating with these guys brings me life. Improv was just the shot in the ass my creative spirit needed. I am super grateful for what I am learning and what I get to share with these boys. I can't wait for what's in store for me and my team next!