Five weeks ago I sat in the event space at Chicago’s iO Theatre ready to take on the theatre’s summer intensive program. Five weeks of non-stop learning about the hobby I love – improvised comedy.
And now I’m done! I graduated! I must be a master improviser! An expert! Every scene I’m in from now on is going to be perfect!
Erm, not quite.
The truth is, I don’t believe that I’m a better improviser right now then I was when I left for the airport. Don’t get me wrong – the program was amazing. I’ve had a wonderful time in a wonderful city, both hanging out with my existing Improv Conspiracy pals and making many new friends (trips to Poland, Canada, Florida, and Minnesota are now being planned). I have a full notebook of everything I have learned, lessons and wisdom gained from going to class, performing, and just watching shows.
But for as much as I have gained, I’m by no means perfect. Intensive students squeeze three hour lessons into two hour twenty-five minute chunks, four days a week per level. A year’s worth of learning in just over a month. Unfortunately, that doesn’t equal a year’s worth of comprehension in the same amount of time. For every “this is the best scene I’ve ever done” feeling, there was a corresponding scene where I froze, not knowing what to say or do as if I had forgotten everything I’ve learned about long-form improvisation. The same problems that existed before I left for the States still exist, and a few things I never noticed before are now on my radar.
What the course does is emphasise the entry level basics to creating great improvised comedy. Over, and over, and over again. To listen intensely and respond with how you feel. To support your scene partner and your teammates. To forget about structure and rules and just have a shitload of fun. When you are so focused on trying to get the pacing of the Invocation right, or trying to remember something to pull for Beat 2C in a Harold, it’s easy to forget about those things. Then all of a sudden you are wondering why the hilarious line you had in your head didn’t get a single chuckle and oh god will someone please wipe the scene and get me out of here.
Growth from learning is slow but constant. For all the things I want to bring back to share with my Harold team, Your Elected King, there are a bunch that will take me a while to gain an understanding of, let alone know how to execute. I imagine over time the things that I picked up will start clicking and will be more incorporated in how I play, but I don’t have all the answers and don’t think I ever will.
One thing is for certain. There will be no strutting into class, telling my fellow YEKers “I am a great improviser and this is how things are done in Chicago.” I’m going to focus on those basics – the same basics my teammates know and I can trust to bring to any scene we are in. That is the exciting thing – as a team we may have been in different locations for the last couple of months, but we are all on the same page.
Although I will be teaching them Uhlir 8s. That shit is dope.