Getting Silly at Chicago's Second City

With the 2010 season on my heels, I thought I'd take a quick break from wedding photography for a few short days to pop over to the windy city for something entirely different - a 3-day intensive improv/writing workshop at Chicago's famed Second City. Having never studied improv before, I wasn't sure what to expect... but I was determined to have a good time and explore something that was entirely new to me. The weather in the city was amazing...

I completely hit a home-run with my hotel choice (this is me in the elevator....)

Two days in this swank spot for $100 (including tax!)? Yes please! Plus, it was located right near the intersection of Grand and Michigan Ave., in the heart of the famed Magnificent Mile (not that I did any shopping.... but... it did make for great window browsing while running to the lake front to put in my requisite mileage every morning!).

I lived in Chicago off/on for roughly 4 years after college, and one of my favorite things about the city is the incredible public transportation. The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) makes it super easy to get around and even makes use of impressive technology that lets you input your starting/ending locations, then it tells you not only the route/transit connections you need in order to get where you want, but it even tracks the buses/trains telling you when the next one is arriving, and how long it will take you to get to your destination. I was blown away!

Much of Chicago's 'subway' is actually elevated above ground (hence the name the 'el train'). It makes for lots of fun when coming from the airport with a suitcase. :) Good thing I travel so light!

I took advantage of this travel opportunity to test out my new purse/camera bag made by my friend Maile (Relish Portrait Studio). The bags are called 'Epiphanie' bags... and it meant that I didn't have to carry a purse AND a separate camera bag. (Plus, I *love* the color!) I took out the adjustable partition inserts so that there were 3 compartments: one for my camera, one for the 2nd lens I bought, and one for all my 'purse' type stuff.

People watching on the trains...

This young lady, Anika had *the* coolest hair and sunglasses... I mean.... look at her! I felt absolutely compelled to ask if I could shoot a couple shots of her, so with my best "I'm-Not-A-Creep-I-Promise" self-introduction.... she obliged. Turns out she's in a band. As soon as I finish this blog post I'm sending these images to her. :) Thanks Anika!

I think this one is my FAVE!

Second City is in Piper's Alley in Old Town at North & Wells. I love the energy up there.... so much buzz! (Maybe it's from all the Starbucks in the neighborhood.... there's one right inside Second City that is open 24-hours!)

In case you're not familiar with Second City, it's the fertile breeding ground for amazing comedic talents like Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Dan Aykroid, Gilda Radner, etc.... Over the years, many of the stars from Saturday Night Live got their training at the Second City conservatory. Pretty incredible!

This was our home for three days. A simple classroom consisting of wide open space, an L-shaped bench and peppered with a few chairs. Truly a space of limitless potential... it became many different things over the course of the class.

The main messages that I took away from this exploratory 3-day session were in-line with Second City's 'collaborative' philosophy. Our teacher, Nick, taught us that in improv... there are no bad choices. Only choices, and better choices. Every choice that we make is a gift that we give to the other players in the scene with us. It is our duty, as scene collaborators, to accept and honor the choices each other makes. This is done by continually saying 'Yes and...." to each other. Not literally of course, but figuratively. It's kind of like a game of tennis where players serve the ball back and forth to each other all across the court (I'm just guessing... I've never really actually played tennis... but then again, until this week... I had never really studied anything about improv before either!). When another player in the scene makes a choice and tosses the ball back to you.... it's your job to accept their serve (whichever direction it may have gone in), run to it, embrace it.... and send the ball back to keep the game going.

One of my favorite things that I heard Nick say, was that in terms of the creative process, the word 'no' is an act of violent opposition. Kind of like when someone serves you a ball in a game of tennis... and instead of going for it... you just stand there and let it hit the ground. Not much fun, not much of a game.

The players in a scene are all responsible for helping each other out and making choices that support the choices everyone else is making. Nick said, "It's your job to make the other players look good." Sounds like good advice for life in general... don't you think? :)

Our days consisted of a series of 'exercises' where we would explore movement, shape and the transformation of all those things. We were often given a location, and in pairs or groups of three we were asked to bring the scene to life. There were usually some interesting rules/restrictions such as only being able to speak in 1 word sentences, or sometimes not being able to speak at all. One of my favorite exercises was done in pairs with one person pretending to be a poet, reading a poem (whose title was randomly generated by someone else in the class) in a make believe language while the other person served as the interpreter doing their best to give shape and reason to the jibberish and body language the 'poet' was supplying. I was continually blown away by the incredible material that would seem to come from nowhere in only a matter of minutes!

Having just come off of my experience writing the (hopefully) comedic "Uncle Bob" piece, I was really excited for the writing section of the workshop. We learned to explore dialogue, emotion, needs/wants and obstacles to make scenes that carry their own weight.

Of course, when it comes to improv.... there is no writing. You make it up as you go, completely on the spot. It was fascinating to realize that like any art form.... there is a structure that makes it possible. There are principles to learn and techniques to study. (This was very encouraging, as I always just thought that improv professionals simply woke up knowing it all... go figure!) Much of it centers around learning to let go of control and go with the flow. This was probably the hardest part for me as not only am I a total control freak maniac, but I have a very hard time just being 'silly' and doing things that at first glance appear to lack significant purpose. Of course, sometimes, having no purpose... *is* the whole purpose. :)

The other people in the class came from all across the country and even from as far away as Canada. With diverse backgrounds and spanning various age groups, it was an eclectic mix, held together with a thread of common interest in this art form/life skill.

What a great experience. Thank you to all the players for continuing to pass me the ball with a big "Yes and...." :)

As an added bonus, I managed to squeeze in an opportunity to connect with photographer friends Kenny Kim, Kenny Nakai, and Matt & Stevie Savage for an outdoor dinner on a gorgeous Chicago evening. So glad we could make it happen guys!