Improvisers in Chicago have it really hard today. I can’t tell you how many improvisers I know who fell in love with improv in their home towns, and then moved to Chicago with stars in their eyes about arriving in the improv Mecca. And within a year, they are discouraged and depressed and don’t know why they ever decided to move here.
Today, the improv community has gotten so big here in Chicago that it’s really hard to feel a part of it. Sure, there are more opportunities, but there is also a much bigger chance you’ll feel lost.
This was never an issue when I started out in the ’80s here in Chicago. From my first class at The Players Workshop to my first house team at IO, I always felt like I was part of an instant community. Jazz Freddy and The Annoyance became my surrogate family. Back then, improv was happening in vacuum, and because so few people were doing it and you only did one project at a time, it was easy to develop bonds with the people you played with.
This clearly doesn’t happen today. Today, many improvisers struggle to find their niche here in Chicago. And when you don’t find a community, the more likely you are to feel lost, isolated and lonely. Even worse, you become depressed and tell yourself that if only you had made a Harold Team at IO or were hired by Second City all your problems would be solved. You moved here, left your friends and family behind to do something you love — learn an art form that is built on people — and you cannot understand why you feel so alone.
Community is something I took for granted when I was a student, but today, if improvisers want to be part of a community here in Chicago, they will have to work harder and harder to create it.
What many improvisers don’t know is that community doesn’t just happen. You have to build it. A great way is to commit to one group, and form strong friendships with them.
Unfortunately, many improvisers suffer from the improviser disease, FOMO — fear of missing out. So they participate in as many projects and groups as possible, always chasing a dream, but never really finding where they fit in.
I look back at all the friendships I have made in improv and they have outlasted the shows I was in. And those friendships are what kept me going when I was filled with doubt. It was the fucking people — they carried me when I wanted to quit. And you know what? The friendships I have made as a performer, director and teacher have been the best part of improv. I could not say that at 20 or 30, but I am saying it now.
Take it from a wise old guy who has been around for a while. When you move to this big, crazy city, make it priority to get a core group of friends. They’re the ones you can lean on from time to time for support and encouragement when you want to quit and move back home with your parents.
And if that means doing one less class or, God forbid, one less project, to give you time to nurture those friendships, then do it now. You can thank me later.