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 Big Yes And: Maria in Chicago!
Playing Well with Others
One of the core values of improv is trust. Trusting that your group will think your ideas are brilliant. Trusting that your group has brilliant ideas. And trusting that your ideas are brilliant. And, yes, I am a giant giraffe and you are my monkey sidekick, Bobby.
At The Torch, you are given more opportunities to play and develop that trust with your fellow performers. You are also given more time to understand that you are right in whatever you do. This is 180 degrees from what we are told as adults; that you are not always right and to stop making random farting sounds even if the scene calls for it.
In time, you start making friends at The Torch. You may even join a few groups (Hello, Adult Bakery) and become a part of the family. We do this in Phoenix mostly for the love of the craft, and for the chance to be a Russian monkey spy on stage.
Like any kid, you leave the nest for college, for backpacking across Europe, or for a sweet Taco Bell job. You realize you are no longer home and your mom is not cooking for you. Coming to Chicago is like that for me. While in Phoenix, I have to explain that longform improv is kind of like Whose Line, but not. In Chicago, more people know what I am talking about because you can throw a rock and hit an improv theatre. (Please don’t throw rocks.)
This means there are a lot more stages to perform on but with it A LOT more performers. The time I had to develop in Phoenix is not something I am rewarded here as I have less chances to perform but more chances to meet people who may share this love. As a result, I am given less time to build trust if I really want to take in the experience.
My third day here, I went to an improv jam at The Playground which is like the Bingo Jams we have at The Torch. I always get nervous before performing even at jams, but this was a “you are no longer in Kansas” moment. No tornado was going to take me away unless someone called for it. I am not going to lie; I did feel homesick in that moment. What if no one trusted me or I didn’t trust myself?
I got over it quickly the minute I got on stage and my improv instinct kicked in. Our adult instinct is that someone has to earn my trust before they can drive my car. Improv instinct has them drive our car, crash it, and then we steal their turtle…mom. I stole the turtle. It was hard and a bit nerve racking but anything that makes you feel alive like improv does, is worth it.
In my classes since, there is still a slight battle of trust and learning to play well with others. I sometimes want to fall back on old habits and doubt my ideas, but that would be the adult thing to do — boring. I will always feel nervous, but stepping out of our comfort zone is what we do as performers and we are allowed to.
Let’s go steal some turtles.