After ten hectic days in New York City, I flew to Chicago. If I was going to be in America on an Improv expedition, of course I had to visit the birthplace of longform Improv. I spent a week in Chicago and took a level one sketch writing class at Second City – a world famous theater and training center that has been around for fifty years. I’ve never really fancied myself a sketch writer but I definitely wanted to get a taste of how Second City operates so that’s the one I enrolled in.
Chicago is a great city and I could totally see myself living there one day if not for the unbearable winters. It’s got efficient public transport, wonderful people, delicious food, endless theater and art and beautiful architecture. It’s like a New York City where you can breathe! A bunch of my Melbourne friends were in the city at the same time training at iO so it was lovely to be around some familiar faces for the week.
The class ran Monday-Friday and was three hours in the afternoon, meaning I got to explore Chicago in the blissful sun for the first half of the day. The Second City training center and theater were both massive establishments. It was so inspiring to see! The amount of shows and classes they had on offer were so vast as well and so many of them caught my attention. Hopefully I can take more Second City classes in the future.
After the first day of class I realized that I don’t find sketch-writing workshops all that inspiring. We were required to write a sketch per day to bring to the next class for review and I found it incredibly difficult to generate relevant sketch ideas. I could understand the formula behind each different scene type and the science behind the comedy but when I went home, I didn’t like any of the ideas I had on my own. It’s funny how I’ve performed hundreds of scenes in front of an audience with no preparation at all yet when it came to an empty page, I was shooting blanks. Sure, I could pick any random character or location and write a sketch that satisfied the criteria of the assignment, but at the end of the day, I didn’t like anything I wrote because it didn’t feel fresh. I think that’s why I rarely laugh when I see sketch shows. I can appreciate the effort and creativity that goes into writing and performing sketch, that’s for sure, but with YouTube and the various platforms of entertainment there are these days, its pretty difficult to generate content that hasn’t been thought of before.
In the classes, we did table reads of the sketches people wrote. I found this enjoyable. I was confident providing feedback on other people’s sketches. So I learnt something about myself: I have comedic understanding but my imagination could use a boost. I also learnt that I have the ability to compartmentalize my emotions. I was pretty down throughout my week in Chicago; not because I was having a bad time but because I got hit with one of those curveballs that your personal life throws at you sometimes. That’s one of my favorite things about Improv, comedy and creativity and why it means so much to me. When you go to a class or training session, you get to leave your crap at the door and forget about everything outside that door for the duration of the session. It’s like meditation in a way. Not that I’ve ever meditated before but I imagine that’s what its like.
Each day in class we explored a different type of sketch format. I found that a lot of the stuff we learnt wasn’t all that new to me because of my Improv background but applying it to scripted scenes challenged me so the class was certainly worthwhile. I took heaps of notes and I often find myself coming up with sketch ideas in random places at random times so now I write them down in my iPhone notes and if I ever decide to write a sketch show in the future, I will consult my composition book to bring the ideas into fruition.