Moving to Chicago in the middle of a bitter winter makes the process of making new friends very difficult. Everyone is bundled head-to-toe until about March, and it seems no one really does any outdoor activities, such as softball or flag football. So with finding a cycling group or joining a rec sports league out of the question, I decided to start taking Improv classes at Second City.
Second City is where a lot of names you may know started their careers, such as Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, or Stephen Colbert. It is a cool feeling knowing that I was taking classes at the same place so many of these successful actors and comedians had. Second City offers a plethora of classes, but Improv (improvisational comedy) was the one I knew would give me the best chance to really connect with my classmates and make new friends. Plus, I didn’t really have any interest in taking a sketch writing class or a voice-over class, as cool as that would be someday.
So over the past 10 months, I’ve taken levels A-E at Second City. Each level added a new element to the craft, for example in Level A it’s all about learning to “yes, and…” and support your classmates. In Level C, we worked a lot on character development, and in Level E you really work on bringing it all together and learning your style.
What hooked me were my first couple classes; for the first time in what felt like forever, I was able to be out of my own head, mindful, and fully present to the environment I was in. When you’re forced to remember a bunch of new names, throw multiple objects in a specified pattern, and remember everyone’s favorite hobby all at the same time, there leaves no room to think about the minutia that take up so much of our brain space.
A few of us got together in Level C and opened for a late night show at one of Second City’s stages. Once I got the chance to perform and make an audience laugh, I was hooked.
I had an amazing group that I went through the program with. While we lost a few and gained a few along the way, a core of us went all the way through Levels A – E and I’m now in a group that is going to start performing around the city!
During Level D, I also auditioned for and got a part in a coached ensemble team. For 4 weeks, a group of 8 or 9 of us had a running performing on the Second City stage. We had a coach who gave us guidance and feedback and we were able to perform a mix of scenes based off a random idea we pulled from the audience.
The essence of Improv is simple, but so much of it can be applied to everyday life. The main rule of Improv is always say, “Yes, and…” You never disagree or shoot someone’s idea down, instead, you accept their idea and build upon it.
For example, if someone enters a scene as yells “Ow, I broke my leg!”, instead of responding with “no you didn’t”, I would say instead, “Yes, and your crutches match your shirt perfectly!” Every scene requires energy and commitment and you are always looking to heighten in some fashion—How could I make this scene more fun? And remember, “If you’re not having fun, you’re an asshole.”
Here are a list of the benefits and lessons I’ve taken from Improv:
- To learn to listen; hearing what my are my scene-mates are saying in order to understand and respond appropriately
- To say “yes”—“Yes, and I will do this __________"
- To live in the moment
- Don’t talk about getting ready to jump out of a plane, instead, have already jumped and then start the scene
- Play with people who have your back
- Make big choices
- Make them often
- Make them early
- Take risks:
- If you’re scared, look in your partners eyes and know they will support you
- Work with others and allow them to be in the spotlight with you
- There’s nothing more unattractive than a selfish “actor"
- The compelling actor is one who is going after what they want. But there are roadblocks or other actors trying to prevent the actor from getting what they want
- They act on their wants and goals
- Rather than being devil’s advocate, say instead “Yes, that’s an interesting idea and I have another!"
- Don’t crush the energy that is moving the group forward
- “Yes, and”, but without being a “Yes-man"
- Mistakes are gifts—own them, don’t correct them but keep going, keep the flow and acknowledge it without apology
- Heighten, Explore, Transform
- Approach the scene with an attitude of “today’s the day!"
- Be confident! Like a pilot walking through an airport
- Can enter a scene as if the scene is already occurring
- Don’t have a planned end
- "Yes, and”—accept and build upon
- Listen to understand, not to respond
Improv summed to one statement: “Yes, and…”, love, and have fun!
These lessons have helped me so much, not only do I think differently about approaching problems at work and with others, but also in every way that I interact with people on a day-to-day basis. I’m more inquisitive and try to find how I can connect with them so that we quickly form a better relationship. Actually listening to what people have to say shows them that you’re actually paying attention and care about them and not just biding time to say what you are thinking. And being able to think quickly and be witty is great… especially when talking to girls...
Now that I’ve finished the program, I’m exploring some options of what to do next. As I mentioned, I’m in a group with a coach who will be performing around the city. I’ve taken a few other classes (like Yes, Yes Y’all: An Improv Rap Workshop) and just finished class on Auditioning For The Screen. I finally got some headshots done (needed them my business life as well, so win-win) and am planning to take an acting class and start auditioning for more shows and creating some of my own stuff.
I’m lucky in that my approach is to try it all and see what sticks and find out what I love doing.
If you’ve never done Improv but it’s something you’ve thought about trying, or just want to have fun and meet some new people, I can’t recommend it enough!
And with that: Yes, and you are all amazing!