(Part 2 of a Series. Part 1 is Here)
I took my first improv class1 in Fall 2004 and immediately fell in love with the art form and the people. Since I was in New Orleans at the time and there wasn’t much of a scene in place, I took my future to an internet search. There I learned the general consensus that if you’re serious about improv you should probably move to Chicago.
After digging around, clicking and turning over web rocks I discovered that the famous Improv Olympic (iO) was resurrecting their “Summer Intensive” special. I don’t have to move to Chicago to get a Chicago-quality education? I’m in. I don’t have any money to pay for this? I’ll sell my car2. I can’t keep my job if I leave for a month on such short notice? Okay, bye!
With a meager amount of cash, no car and no job, I was gone. I had to leave a lot behind to take this journey but I never thought twice. My best friend from junior high school was going to let me stay at his house so I didn’t have to worry about rent3.
The first day of class about 45 students sat in the Del Close Theater and awaited our assignments. We’d be separated into 3 groups and each group would stick together for the entire 5 weeks. Of the 15 people in my group, 5 of us had some previous improv experience and were pretty serious about getting better. A couple people were actors and the rest were looking for something fun to do in the Summer. We quickly bonded and began developing a ground mind.
Our tuition also got us mostly free shows4 so we watched everything. The students who opted to go out instead of watching shows were definitely more than a few steps behind the ones who were front row for every show. I estimate I saw about $500 worth of shows for free that summer.
The instructors were mostly high quality. Nobody shared teachers that summer so if Class #1 had Jason Chin for Level 3, Class #2 and #3 didn’t get to work with Mr. Chin. Every teacher did their best to provide a “camp” feel to their classes, including joining us for lunch and chatting post shows.
At the end of the Summer we had a graduation performance to a packed house. Charna5 was there, our teachers were all there and our fellow intensive students were there as well. Although there was no formal ceremony, it was a good ending to a fun summer.
Was the iO Summer Intensive worth it? As a relatively new improviser without a creative homebase and a desire to taste “big city” improv, yes it was. Because of iO I know what’s it like to do, watch and think about this artform in a theater every day for 5 weeks straight. With the amount of improv blossoming all over the country, I’m not sure you need Chicago to do that nowadays. The success of the iO Summer Intensive probably has a lot to do with that.
- I’m not counting the “Improv Class” I took in college theater because it was uncomfortably hot in the classroom all semester long and everything we did was completely forgettable. I’m surprised I ever gave it another shot. ↩
- 1998 White Ford Mustang with a 5 year old Sportsman-brand Honey Bun in the glove compartment ↩
- Turns out he lives about an hour away from the theater and he also had 11 cats. I ended up sleeping in parks, rooftops, family members of other friends and sometimes not at all to make sure I was on time for class ↩
- Still had to pay to see TJ and Dave on Wednesdays ↩
- The owner, co-founder and leader of iO ↩