Jim's Chicago Blog - Week 5

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 fifth and final in a series where he talks about his experiences in Chicago.

It's week 5! The final week of the program means that we're spending the week getting ourselves ready for our graduation show on Thursday night and generally trying to squeeze the most out of the last few days we'll all spend together as a group. Something I haven't written much about on these blogs is the depth of connection and friendship I feel with my section after only five short weeks. The intensive program is designed to bond you together as a team, and it's very successful at doing just that. I've made deep bonds with my section 8 friends, and we're already making plans for when we're all going to see each other again. 

One piece of advice I would give to anyone in Brisbane thinking of doing the iO summer intensive: bond with your section. Really take time to get to know your section-mates, hang out, do touristy things together, establish in-jokes and bits, become vulnerable and open with them in a way you wouldn't normally do if you were at home. This will mostly help the improv, and, in the occasions where it doesn't, it'll make it easier to fail happily in front of them.  

I managed to interview every single one of my section 8 improvisor heroes about improv where they come from and their experiences at iO, and I hope to release these at a steady pace over the coming months to give the Big Fork community some international perspectives on improv.

Week 5 Classes

Our week 5 teacher is the sensational Matt Higbee, the only instructor we had in the five weeks who was himself a graduate of the summer intensive program. Sam and Chris had had nothing but amazing things to say about him, and he lived up to all of their praise. Not only was Matt responsible for shepherding us towards our final show, but he also led us down the rabbit hole of the many and varied other forms long form improv can take. Although, as he'd be the first to tell you, any long form is also a Harold. 

I've heard a lot of improv philosophies here in Chicago, but Matt's simple request that we simply play at all times with love in our hearts, 'yes' in our bodies, and support in our eyes may be my favourite. This is another symptom of week 5 of summer intensive, after you've been bonded with your group for what feels like months and everyone can see the end - you embrace the sentimental. There are few times in your life when you make friendships this strong this quickly, so you sort of have to throw out the cynical, jaded part of yourself and go with love and openness.  

As Matt says - yes I've drunk the Kool-aid - you have two choices: fear or love. 

Some forms I'm now conversant in

The Harold
La Ronde (a little different from how it's done in Brisbane)
The Living Room
Fibonacci (a form I hadn't come across before Chicago and I'm super interested to experiment with)

The Graduation Show 


Section 8 starts at 3 hours 3 minutes into that livestream link, and I'm in the second group, which starts at 3 hours 32 minutes into the livestream. Check us out!

Some notes on the show. The first group performs The Living Room, which bears some similarities to our Cool Story Bro format. The second group, which I'm in, performs a Harold, which I've described in previous blogs so suffice to say it's a very complex beast that we managed to pull off successfully, which is in-and-of-itself an achievement. When you add on that it's (I think) a funny and cohesive piece, it's a very successful show for all concerned! I could analyse some of my play critically if I wanted to, but that would be defeating the entire point. My goal of the show was to truly play as part of the ensemble and to play unselfishly and lovingly, and I think I did that. 

At the end of the show Charna Halpern (who you may remember from the week 1 blog as the woman who runs iO and helped pioneer long form improv with Del Close) comes backstage and gives us encouragement and notes that are very positive. 


The after party bar hops until we all end up at an all-night pancake house at 4am, knowing that this may be the last time we're all in the same room together.

It's a real bummer, but it's life, not looking back but being present, learning from what just happened, remembering it and hoping it'll come back. Life is a slow Harold, right? So I'll see these people again, see these situations again, or something familiar, memories will recur until maybe one day we all come crashing together again in a big closing game, and when the lights come back up we'll dance to "Firework" again.

Final Thoughts

Are you an improviser? Do you like to travel and have fun? Do you want to more deeply understand this artform, see more improv in five weeks that you will ever again in your life and radically re-think the way you play and what can be accomplished in improv?

Then do the iO Summer intensive. It's worth every penny.  

Shows I saw

Second City's Mainstage Revue: Fool Me Twice: Deja Vu
A whole bunch of Graduation Shows on the Wednesday and Thursday nights

Other things I did

Chicago Hotdog Festival
Korean BBQ

Thanks to anyone who stuck around and read these blogs, I'll be back in Brisbane in September so Forkers please let me know if you have an idea for this blog in the future or have any questions about Chicago. See you at the first Jam of September!