I love Chicago. There is something that draws me to that city, improv aside, it calls to me like a siren and I am easily wooed. Last year when I visited, it was the dead of winter. I always think it is somewhat miraculous when you can be in warm beautiful weather and bitter freezing cold in the same 24-hour period. The one environment makes you forget the
For this visit, I was on a mission. I wanted to see countless hours of improv. I wanted to be moved, to be inspired, and to remember why I fell in love with theater in the first place.
My first visit to Chicago was probably 15 years ago. I remember dragging my
older sister through the streets of the city from one humble venue to another until the wee hours of the morning. My sister, a non-performer and mother of 2 or 3 kids at the time-(I honestly can’t recall), was a willing companion. At the time, we visited each space. There were no frills. The performers lit up the tiny stages. I remember being packed into a crowded IO Theater and being so close to the performers, I could touch them. On another trip, when I begged my brother to come along, we visited The Annoyance Theater. It was a simple room with plain folding chairs and an old piano on the side of the audience. The players were the shiniest thing in the room. They breathed life into these ordinary spaces.
The words of a college professor echoed in my mind, “Theater is created with a space, a performer, and an audience.”
Seeing those small spaces and raw performances, it was clear these artists redefined the boundaries between stage and audience, and without all the bells and whistles-they made art. No excuses. It was small and simple.
When I first started doing improv, I read everything I could get my hands on and fast learned that behind the scenes, these small movements had starters firing the gun to initiate creativity-an improv maker.
In much of the U.S. I’d argue that some of the most innovative improv happens in small obscure spaces such as these and whatever visionary is “behind the curtains,”-people pay little to no attention to them, but they are there.
So when I returned a year ago, I was struck by the explosion of improv. All of these humble beginnings have turned into beautiful facilities with multiple classrooms and theaters in each space. I had to push through people to get in. Being there, I almost forgot there was something small years ago. The one environment made me forget the other ever existed.
But it did. Small things grow into bigger things. There was a visionary, seen or unseen- and now I was witnessing the fruit of their work. I couldn’t help but be encouraged. There is something special in the small, a kind of intimacy, that prepares for the bigger. The self-effacing visionaries in the work of improvisation understand this.
When I heard about Jason Chin, passing away, I read an article that said he would sweep and mop the IO stage floor before shows. I was struck by that. Chin, a greatly loved improv giant, made the stage ready for creative genius. He swept the remnants of the previous night’s improv shows and yesterday’s classes-to ready it for something bigger. He was an improv maker…making a way for the small to transform into the big and for me to witness yet another performance so I can be reminded why I love improv.
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones…” Luke 16:10
What do we do when an emergency happens? We improvise.
It began like a normal improv class, but little did we know what was about to happen would require everyone to think fast on their feet, and work as a team — because someone’s life would depend on it.
Last night I was teaching class 2 of our Improv For Everyone series at The Box Theater. I love teaching new students because there is a unique wonder and hunger for learning that often allows them to be truly captivated and engaged. I’m always surprised at how quickly I am enamored with my new students. This class was no different. We met last Tuesday for the first time and I couldn’t wait to see them again this week.
Like most beginner improv classes, we also focus on core principles of improvisation each week. Last night, we were talking about the importance of listening, giving good gifts and supporting one another. About halfway through the class one of my students asked if there was a water fountain and I let them know that there was, but quickly pointed out that there were some bottles of water in the theater.
He picked one up and turned towards me when I noticed something was clearly off. Like I said, this was only week 2 but from what I could tell-this student was already taking the concept of commitment to heart. He participated in exercises in the first hour with full vocal and physical commitment so when things went awry, we had a split second to decipher if he was acting or if this was indeed a serious condition.
When we realized it was serious, the whole class zipped into action. One student called 911. Another student offered a sweater to prop his head up, and still another stood as a guard so he wouldn’t fall. One person from our class rushed to the main door of the building to await the arrival of the medical staff. I quickly ran to another part of the building to solicit help from two friends who work in the medical field as well.
It turned out that the student was ok in the end. Though we were all shaken up a bit, we managed to take what life threw at us, listened and supported one another. We improvised. Much like improvisation, we never know what is going to happen in any given moment. So for week 2, the values of improvisation stayed true even thought my lesson plan was completely useless. I believe this at the center of all of improvisation lessons. As instructors of improv, we are equipping people with essential tools for life. I couldn’t have planned for this. The students worked together, focused on their partner, and listened to what was needed for the situation.
Life sometimes throws extreme situations our way. When this occurs, living in the moment is essential because occasionally someone’s life hangs in the balance. We don’t have the luxury of time to make a strategic plan. We have to improvise.
If you’re a big fan of watching , it’s time you got into the act! Get ready to have a blast! There are guidelines that can direct the performer towards success. These classes offer an array of skills that include supporting others, character work, listening, teamwork, story building, scene work, and the basic elements of comedy. At The Box, students will learn these fundamentals of acting in a supportive, fun-loving and nurturing environment.
IMPROV FOR EVERYONE-LEVEL I
Age 18 and up
6 weeks. $175
TUESDAYS June 14-July 19 (2016) 7-9pm
Age 18 and up
6 Weeks $175
MONDAYS, March 21- April 25
Adult Improv II-Focuses on character and scene work.