Category Archives: improv

Hump Night Photos, April 24, 2013


Chicago Improv Practice Group

A couple years ago, when I first moved back to Chicago, I started a Meetup group for actors and improvisers to get together and practice their craft. We had some good practice sessions, but I shelved the project when things started to get busy for me in other areas. However, I recently decided to rekindle the project and refocus it just on improvisation. It’s now called the Chicago Improv Practice Group.

I anticipate setting up and running two types of events. One event will be open practice sessions with experienced coaches, like myself. These events will cost between $10 and $20 and last 2-3 hours. I’m going to start with setting up one event a month and we will grow it from there depending on the demand. Perhaps we will eventually have some weekly ones which will act like an inexpensive drop in class. The first of these will be on May 18th and cost $10.

The other major type of event will be in conjunction with Improv To Go, a new web site and app that I’ll be plugging soon. In those sessions, we’ll be inviting improvisers to a get together where we will be trying out exercises that we publish on the new app.

Join the Chicago Improv Practice Group


Hump Night News

I have a bunch of things to announce about Hump Night. First off, we will be extending at least until July. Here are the dates of all the Hump Night shows that we have scheduled:

Second, I’m looking for musical acts for Hump Night. If you are interested in submitting your self or your group, check out that posting in Craigslist and respond to it.

Third, over the next few shows, the improv hour will begin to feature house teams formed from some of my recent students. Richard and the Kids is the first one featuring: Richard Scruggs, Jude Tedmori, Kyle Reinhard, Alex Hanpeter, Bethanie John, Matt Pina, and Matt Visconage. Others will be added in May.

If you haven’t checked out the lineup for this week’s Hump Night, it’s going to be really great. Mullaney Chain will feature John Hildreth, Lori McClain, Nicky Margolis and Tim Paul. Hope to see you there.


Etiquette for starting an improv scene

Perhaps you’ve been a part of something like this. It’s time to edit a scene on stage. One player starts to make a sweep edit, and everyone else hesitates before joining them. Finally someone joins from behind at about the same time that the first player waves for someone else to join them. Now there are three people in the scene. They each make fumbled initiations. and the scene continues to stumble forward as they try to make it work.

Or perhaps you’ve done this. You walk on stage and start doing some activity. You say nothing. No one joins for a really long time, perhaps because they can’t make sense of what you are doing. Finally someone does come on stage and immediately says something that contradicts what you have created. You freeze up because you are not sure if you should drop your initiation or say something that clarifies what you were doing and hope your scene partner can make sense of it. You are both extremely frustrated with each other, defensive at notes and begin to plot how you can get the other one kicked off the team.

Maybe you have done this. Continue reading


Let your scene partner provoke you

You’ve probably heard that if you react or behave in a particular way in an improvised scene, you should continue to behave or react in that way throughout the scene. That’s good advice. It’s no fun to see a character react to something in a specific way and then drop it for the rest of the scene. If your scene partner does something and you react suspiciously, you should probably react to other things suspiciously too. That’s how you create a game1 for yourself.

The key though is to let yourself be provoked into these reactions by your scene partner. You shouldn’t have to invent things in the scene to treat suspiciously. It’s far better to be provoked by your scene partners actions instead. You could notice the bookcase and the copy of the Bible, pull it out and glower suspiciously at it. But it would be far more interesting if your scene partner said, I want to show you something and pulled out a book from the bookcase and then you became suspicious.

In rare cases, your scene partner may not be doing anything at all and then you have to actually discover things on your own to provoke you. But most of the time, once you have a template for how this character reacts, you should focus your attention on your scene partner and when your gut tells you “React!” go for it.

For more on this, checkout my posts about Emotional Yo-yo and Behavior is a game.

1. Game as in anything you do more than once, but not necessarily what we mean by game of the scene.
Also, the photo is by miguelb on flicker.


Susan Messing will be my guest in Mullaney Chain

Hump Night returns after our sellout show last week with a post Chicago Improv Festival night full of delicious comedy.

7:30 – The Improv Hour
featuring two groups:
Dinosaur with Lauren Gilbert and Aaron Burns
& Barrel Roll with Kate Anderson, Shaun Clayton, Fuzzy Gerdes, Jose Gonzalez, Shaun Himmerick, Greg Inda, Erica Reid

8:30 – The Variety Hour
with a story by J. W. Basilo, standup by Will Meinen and Lane Pieschel, sketch by Princess Palace, and more sketch by Bethanie John

9:45 – Mullaney Chain
with guest improvisors Susan Messing, Lauren Dowden, plus two more to be named

Craig Cackowski

Craig Cackowski joins me for Mullaney Chain on Wednesday

Come see WILDCARD and Mullaney Chain on Wednesday night. The show is going to be at Strawdog Theater in the usual time and place for Hump Night. Check out the details here. The lineup for Mullaney Chain is going to be awesome. Can’t wait to play with my old coach and friend Craig Cackowski.


Help promote the Chicago Improv Festival

I got an email from one of the performers in next week’s Chicago Improv Festival asking what they could do to help promote the festival. Here is my response.

  • First thing to do is make sure you are on the performer email list. This list is where we send special information only for performers (like the secret show on Saturday night only available to CIF Performers).
  • Help us promote on Facebook. What has become obvious is that it really makes a difference when people share their shows on Facebook. Most of the people who have explored the CIF website in the past few weeks have gotten there because someone shared a link on Facebook. It’s far more effective that Facebook ads. With that in mind, we are asking CIF performers to like the CIF Facebook page and RSVP to the CIF Facebook Event for next week. Next find your event(s) on the CIF Website and share the link on your Facebook wall.
  • Take some pictures when you are at CIF and please share them on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram and mention CIF when you do.

Please keep in mind when you are promoting shows at CIF, that CIF is produced by Chicago Improv Productions, a not for profit who mission is “to celebrate the present, honor the past, and showcase the future of improvisational theatre, in all of its multi-disciplinary expressions, through local, regional, national, and international prespectives; by presenting and producing performances and workshops for both the general public and practicing improvisational theatre artists.”

Cross posted at

Next tuesday night improv performance class postponed 2 weeks

mullaney-with-beard-square-150x150Due mainly to my ongoing preparations for the Chicago Improv Festival, I have rescheduled the start date of my Tuesday night class. It will now be starting on April 9th and go to June 4th. The class is for intermediate and advanced performers and includes 4 performances. The cost is $199.

Opening lines: don’t make too much of them

In improv, it’s a common mistake to make too much of the surface details of scene’s first line or two. For instance, if your scene partner starts a scene by flipping a pancake and asking if you want fresh blueberries on yours, there is no need to make the whole scene about pancakes and the relative merit of blueberries on top. And yet, I see scenes like that all the time.

Instead listen to what’s behind the initiation. What is implied by the action? How are they behaving and what is their mood? These are the real clues to figure out what is going on.

Your scene partner is making you breakfast. Perhaps you have just spent the night together for the first time. Maybe it’s your anniversary. Maybe he did something wrong and he is trying to apologize or perhaps he’s buttering you up for a favor. Maybe it’s simply that he’s the person in your household that makes breakfast on Saturdays. That’s how you really yes and something, you go deeper.