First and Last Days

I moved to Chicago in 2010 to study improvisation at the iO theatre. After seven levels and six sessions of interning, I am graduating the program. Currently I am in the midst of an eight week audition process masquerading as a run of student shows. Each week a mysterious member of a the Harold Commission (i.e. improv admissions committee) sits in the dark corner of the theatre and decides who's got what it takes to be a member of the next iO house team. Tension is palpable, students are playing scared, and we're all bracing ourselves for deep, resounding rejection.

I want to make a team. I'm saying it out loud and I'm saying it publicly. I want to make a team. If and when I don't get picked, I will not pretend I didn't want it. Those grapes are not sour. This fox wants them in his mouth. Luckily, I have already won. My pilgrimage to improv Mecca will be recorded as a win in the annals.

My level one class was taught by the artistic director of iO and co-creator of the Harold, Charna Halpern. The art form is young enough to be taught by the people who wrote the books. Having spent the majority of my life reading books that were written in the nineteenth century, I find the idea of a living author to be charmingly novel.

This deference, however, is stifling. Improv is psychotherapy on stage. Our problems off-stage seep into the work and I flooded the stage with mine. Fear and anxiety. That day I felt my heart beating out of my chest and my face go numb. Words were strangled in my throat.

She never saw me play my best.

Fast forward about a 160 hours of classes to the last day of the final level of the improvisation program. I sat waiting to be called on stage for the last time. Three days from now we'd be performing on the iO stage. We'd been Full Metal Jacket-ed and come out whole on the other side. My heart beating even and steady like a patient metronome. I had been in the shit and had acquired the thousand yard stare. Leaping into the fire so many times, my body refused to be afraid.  Sitting in my chair with fifteen minutes left, I graduated. With no fanfare, pronouncements, or diploma, I had graduated.

To all the new Harold team members, if I'm not taking a bow with you on stage, I'll be cheering for you from the audience. What started as adult make-believe classes turned into therapy. I'm better for the time I've spent with you. I moved here to become a better improvisor and did. It was a W. 

Good show.


  1. You know, improv is a total cult. And I'm wholly in love with it. As someone who started with you, and took the first three levels with you, and watched a teacher start on SNL, I can't help but agree on all counts. Psychotherapy it was. The best kind. I'm doing the same thing right now, "Graduation" and all. Commencement into the world of Real Improv Life-or-something-like-it. As much as I love it out West, there's something the improv scene here just lacks--It didn't feel like a means to an end in Chicago, like something to put on a resume stapled behind a headshot to send to every casting director in the county. I guess what I'm trying to say is, even though I only spent a few months with all you guys, I felt more comfortable on stage with my level one homies than with practically anyone else. I miss you guys! Spread the word. Good luck getting on that team, boyo.



  2. Grow your hair out. It's much more epic.

  3. @Gabe. I will let everyone know We miss you hard, Buddy. See you in LA. How are things? Tell me about sunshine. I've forgotten what it looks like. Chicago is Russian in its winter bleakness.

  4. I like your hair longer.