Tag Archives: Open Source

Westside Improv!

There’s a new improv venue opening up in Wheaton, and I couldn’t be more excited. Jeff Ash and Brendon Culhane have leased a space for Westside Improv.

The biggest challenges I’ve encountered doing improv in the Chicago suburbs have been:

  • finding a physical space. I know all you need is people and chairs, but lights sure help, too. So does a neutral wall to play in front of, as well as a location that’s easy for your audience to find. Out of necessity, Open Source has held shows completely in the dark, on the set of Sweeney Todd, under garish fluorescent lights, and in places that are so hard to get to that I’ve gotten texts after the show from audience members who gave up looking and went home.
  • keeping up energy from one show to the next. It was only practical for Open Source to hold shows once a month, but that’s too far apart to use the momentum from one show to feed into coordinating and promoting the next.
  • connecting with new improvisers. Going to The Improv Retreat helped me with that this year, but as a whole, I mostly ended up performing with, coaching, getting coached by, and recruiting the same people I played with in college. I want to broaden my circle.

Westside is solving all of these problems. 123 Front Street is easy to find — it’s walking distance from the Wheaton Metra station and the parking garage. The space itself is something between a black box and a cabaret, seating 60ish people. It’s designed for long form, but the layout is flexible enough that short form, sketch, and plays with minimal sets could work, too.

There will be shows every weekend. Shows every weekend! In the suburbs!

Classes and workshops will be a good entry point for new and new-to-me improvisers.

My team, Circus Police, will expand and become a Westside House team. That means we’ll get an outside coach and have regular performance opportunities we haven’t had before. I’ll also be teaching beginner improv classes — the Tuesday night class will be free! — and helping out around the theater.

In related news, I’ve stepped down from leadership at Open Source Improv. Open Source and Westside look like they’ll have a great relationship, and Open Source getting to use that beautiful new space means it won’t need the same kind of constant administration it needed when it was mobile.

You should click here to get on the Westside Improv mailing list. It is going to be the best.

Snapshots and Group Mind

Due to a string of crazy life changes this summer, I’ve had something of a summer hiatus from playing and coaching. I miss it. I hope to dive back in soon. In the mean time, I’ve been taking pictures at Open Source shows.

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This was the opening scene from a show by the Unwritten Works of William Shakespeare. They snapped into this stage picture before anyone said a full line.

Watching a show through a camera lens makes it obvious why I like the troupes I like: They make the stage look interesting. When I look through the snapshots later, I never wonder, “Which scene was that?” because the scenes had distinct looks. The snapshots would make interesting fodder for caption contests.

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I love it when players use that back wall with some intentionality, not just because they’re tired of standing up straight.

If all of my pictures from the troupe are of two people, standing or sitting a comfortable arm’s length apart from one another, cheated out slightly, I probably won’t remember much about the show. It won’t have made any kind of impression on me. The players were talking heads who might as well not have had bodies at all.

If you get a chance to see a show at the i.O Cabaret, notice the stage floor. There are two worn out spots right in the middle from people always standing/sitting in the same safe spot.

This isn’t just about keeping someone like me interested in the show; how the show looks is usually indicative of how well a troupe works together. I’ve heard Jet Eveleth say that she doesn’t know which comes first, interesting stage pictures or good group mind. But group mind seems amorphous and vague, and stage pictures are concrete and manageable.

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I am also happy when I end up with lots of blurry pictures, because that means there was so much movement!

So instead of making your goal, “I want to experience amazing group mind in my troupe tonight,” try, “I want to help the stage look interesting tonight.” That gives you something practical to DO instead of a feeling to chase after.