Jim's Chicago Blog - Part 2

Big Forker Jim is currently in Chicago for five weeks, where he is undertaking some intensive training at iO, the theatre that is widely considered to have invented the Chicago style of improv. The intensive program at iO brings together over 150 improvisers from around world to spend five weeks immersed in the improv and comedy world. This blog is the second in a series where he talks about his experiences in Chicago.

Week 2 Classes

This weeks classes focus on group work, and we're being taught by Rance Rizzuto, a renowned improviser here in Chicago, who tours the world performing a two-person improvised musical with his wife, Tara.

Our first day kicks off with some physical, character-based exercises, before we begin working on large group scenes. Physicalisation and large group scenes have never been my forte, so it's challenging work. 

Peppered throughout the week Rance drums into us several themes that are important for group work, such as:

  • Strong, clear moves get results
  • Playing 'the new guy' is safe; playing experienced is interesting
  • If you're going to suck, suck BIG
  • Bad is the path to good

Further into the week Rance has us dancing in unison, creating improvised pieces using only physical movement, and physicalising our deaths on stage in front of the class. We end our time with Rance by lifting our teammates into the air and flying them around the room. I'm one of the last people to be lifted, and Rance adds the additional challenge of having the group assist me in performing a slow motion mid-air somersault. Despite forgetting to tuck my legs until the somersault was mostly completed, with the help of my team, I do the first somersault I've done in probably about 15 years.

Also, I eat deep dish pizza. It's delicious/gross.

Watching Harolds

Part of training at iO is sticking around after classes to watch a whole bunch of shows that consist of teams of varying skill levels performing iO's signature format, the Harold. I talked a little bit about the Harold in my previous blog, but suffice it to say it's everywhere at iO. While I'm yet to see a Harold that's blown me away, it very interesting to see the different interpretations of the Harold, and how it's grown from how it's described in class.

Also I ate at Five Guys. I didn't feel right for days. 

TJ and Dave

On Wednesday night we see TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi, who perform a one-hour improvised play, following a single story through the hour. Put simply, this was the most impressive improvised performance I've ever seen. Some of you reading this may have read their book, Improvisation at the Speed of Life, which discusses their philosophy, but it was thrilling to see it in practice. 

On the night I saw, TJ and Dave switched seamlessly between an array of characters as they played out a workplace narrative that culminated with an emotional and cathartic phone call between a mother and son. The most impressive thing I absorbed from watching these two incredible actors was how they seemed to be able to imbue all of their characters with rich, inner lives, no matter how small a part that character played in the story.

It was a patient, assured performance, that had the audience in the palms of their hands. If I can do one show in my lifetime that even approaches the level of polish that this show had, I'll be a very happy improviser indeed. 

Top 3 things I saw this week

3. The Book of Mormon - I've been waiting a long time to see this show - the best compliment I can pay it is that it lived up to the ridiculous amounts of hype it's received over the years.

2. Felt. I came to Brisbane too late to see Thank Troggg You're Here, the puppet improv that ran for a few years there, but if it's anything like Felt I really missed out. It wasn't the most technically accomplished show I saw all week, but it was the hardest I laughed all week, by some distance. Something about having puppets do the acting really seemed to free up the performers to escalate and really heighten the absurdity to ridiculous levels. 

1. TJ and Dave

Improv shows I've seen this week

The Harold: Coach/Bunk 7
la-do-da Musical Harolds
The Harold: Shonia
Felt: Improvised Puppet Improv
TJ and Dave
Messing with a Friend: Susan Messing and Tara DiFrancisco
The Musical Armando
Hitch*Cocktails: The Improvised Hitchcock Movie and Drinking Game

Other things I've seen this week

The Book of Mormon
Chicago Sightseeing