The Debut of The Big Yes And: Maria in Chicago!

Maria Konopken is a graduate of The Torch Theatre‘s training center in Phoenix where she also performs. Maria is in Chicago for the summer, taking classes at iO Chicago, performing, getting into all kinds of adventures, and generally living up the improv life. She loves Space Jam, too. Maria‘s been kind enough to document her journey and share it with us. Thanks, Maria! The Torch Theatre‘s 4721 Blog is proud to present the first edition of The Big Yes And: Maria in Chicago!

Yes, Improv, and the Blackhawks: My first week in a new city.

January 4, 2012.

This date is important to me because it was my first official class at The Torch Theatre. It was when this love and obsession for improv began and where it’s only gotten bigger.

My very first class I was nervous. I didn’t want anyone to invade my bubble space of three feet around me, and I wondered to myself, “What am I doing here?” By 9:30pm that night, I knew the answer exactly. What do you mean I get to play like a kid for 3 hours? I am in. The personal space issue took a few months to get over but now I cuddle my fellow players just to say hi.

This experience was extremely different than June 24, 2013, my first class at iO Chicago.


iO Chicago sign by Maria Konopken

iO Chicago sign by Maria Konopken


I decided last November that I wanted to take classes at iO Chicago. Not sure how I was going to do it. But all I knew is that I had to get to Chicago and be at iO. After arranging it with my job and cutting down on buying shoes, I was off to Chicago for the summer to do this crazy thing we call improv.

So here I was standing in front of what I had been working towards. Rain poured over me since I had forgotten my umbrella and I was surrounded by Blackhawks fans. It was the 6th game of the NHL Finals, and I was in the middle of it. I decided to be a bandwagon fan because, hey, wouldn’t it be cool?

I stepped into the theater of 18 students, into silence. No one really knew each other and we were all avoiding that awkward “Ummm, hi” moment. This is different from Phoenix because I know everyone and everyone knows me. Who am I going to cuddle with now?

I sat down right in front of the iO’s Cabaret stage. Holy Conley, Batman … I am here.


The iO Chicago cabaret stage by Maria Konopken.

The iO Chicago cabaret stage by Maria Konopken.


After taking the moment in, our teacher Matt, or Higbee, stepped on the stage to introduce himself. He is awesomely awkward with a potty mouth I adore. He then had us step on stage to hold hands and make eye contact with one another. It was a weird growing moment for me. 18 months ago, I would have ran for the hills if I had to be this close with strangers. This time, I was fine because of my lessons from The Torch but I could tell others were like me, then and now.

Higbee then said what happens in this class is like Vegas – it stays within these walls. No judgment. Nothing you do is wrong except not reacting. It reminded me of something Bill Binder would say, except as Christopher Walken. I felt at home immediately. I later found out that Higbee knows and has performed with some of my favs and teachers at The Torch Theatre. I now felt really at home.

Towards the end of a great class of newbies and seasoned performers, there was a loud eruption. Did we have that great of a class? Sure, but the ‘Hawks had also won the Stanley Cup! As a class, we emptied out into the streets to join the celebration.

In all the chaos, I had lost some of my new classmates but it didn’t matter. I was taking in the moment of a city celebrating. Ironically, I ran into a one Miss Kate Anderson, a great gal, Chicago newbie, and Torch performer.


Kate Hawks It Up by Maria Konopken

Kate Hawks It Up by Maria Konopken


My night of linking the new and the not-so-new was complete. As smoke and sirens filled Clark Street, I felt I had made the right decision to come to Chicago for the summer for improv.

I am not sure what will happen or what I will learn from Level 1, Level 2, and musical improv. But I said Yes to this adventure, and here I am.


Maria Hawks It Up by Maria Konopken

Maria Hawks It Up by Maria Konopken


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Posted in Improv, In the community, performers, The Big Yes And: Maria in Chicago

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