Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Improv Retreat

This retreat came across my Facebook feed today.
I am beyond excited. Look at the copy on their website:

The Midwest is home to thousands and thousands of improvisers, some of whom have never met.Some that have studied the same lessons, the same text, the same tenets, the same teachers, and have hoped to grow under the same guidance of the golden rules.

Those players have dreamed the same dreams, maybe with some variation (I want to work here or there, I hope to be professional, I wish I could keep growing this art); the good ones – well, the really good ones – just want to be GOOD, really – and attempt to live by the same principles we practice on stage:

Listen. Play. Share. Think. Breathe. React. Understand. Be affected. Give a damn.

Say yes.

Doesn’t that sound dreamy?

Now that I think about it, I’ve never been to a retreat or conference that wasn’t organized by a church or parachurch organization. Is that bizarre? This will be my first non-bubble slumber party.

I was on the fence — “But I won’t know anyone!” nonsense — until I read this in the FAQ:

If there’s anything to take from this camp, we want you to feel like we’re all in this thing together. We’re doing this because no one’s done it yet. We’re doing this because many of us feel like there’s a little classism in our art form, and there doesn’t need to be. We’re doing this because some troupe from Iowa City or Saugatuck or Denver or Nashville or Columbus or wherever hasn’t gotten to do any kind of thing like this.

We’re doing it so Chicago troupes can get out to other folks and are reminded why they started this journey in the first place. We’re doing it, basically, for fun. So if you’re doing it for lesser reasons, don’t come.

Open Source Improv is in a weird in-between. We’re close enough to Chicago that our out-of-state relatives tell their friends we live in Chicago. But we’re far enough out of Chicago that only the Very Dedicated will sit in traffic for 2 hours each way for a 3 hour workshop or 90 minute show. For people who have 9-5 jobs, kids at home, or just can’t stand to be in a car longer than actually being at the destination, it’s hard to feel like part of the Chicago improv community.
So we’re trying to make our own. Find our own spaces, form our own troupes, build our own audiences. It works better some months than it does other months. The months when it works are so exciting.
Who wants to road trip from the suburbs with me? If you do, register by December 31st so that you get first pick of workshops.

“Words, word, words. I’m so sick of words.”

In college, there was a deaf student who frequently came to our improv shows. He usually had a friend with him, translating our words into sign language. Our troupe had a goal that we wanted the show to be interesting and fun for the deaf student even if, by some chance, he didn’t have an interpreter that night.

I wrote in an email to my Flash Fiction partner, Brendon, “I’d love it if a deaf person watched our show and got the gist because of stage picture and body language, but things should definitely be harder for the blind.”*

An improviser I don’t know well asked me how I met one of my troupe mates. I said we’d taken a clown class together. Because he looked confused, I quickly explained that clown — at least, the kind I had been learning — was like improv, but without words. He said, “But that’s what improv is, is just words!”


Words are the quantifiable part. The seemingly-easy part. The least important part, if we’re doing it right. The part that can get us into the wrong kind of trouble if we’re lazy about them.

Most of the pitfalls Mick Napier lists in his book Improvise under “Common Problems” are about words. He’s got over seven pages about one version or another of talking too much (“Too Much Exposition” like in Blade’s sidewalk improv) and only one page about not talking enough.

I am aware the I’m starting to sound like Eliza Doolittle.

“Never do I ever want to hear another word … ”


*I just typed, “Things should definitely be harder for the blind.” Google is probably flagging me as a menace.