Welcome to Chicago, Week One

Chris Hooper is a student of The Torch Theatre‘s training center in Phoenix where he also performs. He’s in Chicago for the summer, taking the improv intensive at iO Chicago in Wrigleyville. Chris will also be blogging about his experiences on stage and off and all around. The Torch Theatre’s 4721 Blog is proud to present Welcome to Chicago! Take it away, Chris!

Welcome to Chicago, Week One
by Chris Hooper

The empty stage of the Del Close Theater, upstairs at iO Chicago, by Chris Hooper

The empty stage of the Del Close Theater, upstairs at iO Chicago, by Chris Hooper

Okay, so I’m a 43-year-old guy in an improv world dominated by young adults. That’s a weird situation to be in to say the least. Mix that with the Midwest’s awful humidity and you have the first two days in Chicago, an uncomfortable situation for sure. I didn’t come here to be comfortable and I certainly didn’t come here for the weather. I came here for improv. Or better yet, to take myself to a place that can be best described as the Improv Capital of the World. And I’m finally here.

But, let’s start from the beginning. At 42, I decided to follow a dream that I have had hiding in the background of my mind, slowly burning a hole in my soul for the lack of trying, for a very long time. I never took a theatre class and only played with theatre for a little bit scattered throughout my life. The first time I saw theatre live, I knew that that was what I wanted to do. The Universe works in mysterious ways, for sure. I moved back to Phoenix, Arizona to get my groove back. I was stuck in a rut in life and I knew that a mundane existence filled with “doing the right thing” wasn’t for me. My daughter was in her third year of college and moved in with her boyfriend and I decided this was as good a time as any.

So, I moved from Indiana to my home state in mid-December of last year just to shake things up. I decided to move into an apartment complex on Central Avenue and Indian School Road in Phoenix and proceeded to live my life, waiting for the Life Change Fairy to come and tap me on the shoulder and tell me that everything was going to be different. I soon realized that it wasn’t different at all and that I was going to have to do it myself.

One day, I was driving down Central, on my way home, and I passed this theater, The Torch. I went home, googled it, realized they had classes for improv, and signed up immediately. This was a big step for me since, at that time, I had such a huge issue with commitment of any sort. From the moment the first class ended at The Torch, I knew it was for me. There was something that this improv thing did for me that was missing in my soul. It gave me a sense of freedom, a fire about life as if I was 21 again. I knew this would be the best thing that I could ever do for myself.

I did not miss one class … well, one class I missed due to a terrible automobile accident but other than that I never missed a class. After all, life does have unexpected twists and turns. I proceeded to stay in the program at the Torch and learned everything I could (time allowing) about the improv world. And what a world it is. I was transformed with the help of incredible instructors who know how to take a group of students from all walks of life, with completely different world views, and teach them to think as one. They taught us improv but in doing so they taught us how to be truly supportive in a selfish world. This is all while helping us maintain a sense of self esteem and boost our confidence to a level where you feel like a super hero in your own life’s story. Wow, right?

A year of learning improv had also taught me so much about myself. I had learned to be fearless, courageous, and brave in the face of anything and it taught me the most transformative word I have ever known: YES. We learn at a young age the word NO so well. It is beaten into our subconscious by unaware parents that not knowingly teach us about all the limitations there are in life.

For many people, it would take years of therapy to try to erase the impact of that word from their subconscious but I chose improv. I’m nearing the end of the training center program after an incredible year at The Torch and with the help of instructors and friends began to realize how truly amazing and responsible that iO is for the world of improv. It is as I have come to appreciate it, the father of improv.

Del Close and Charna Halpern have created a magical and inviting form of theater that is spreading across the world and reaching an international audience of improv players and improv watchers. I decided to attend the summer intensive at iO about 5 months ago and here I am now in Chicago, attending the iO summer intensive and living a dream.

Day One was amazing. As you walk through the doors, you know you have just entered a magical place. You can feel the energy in the air filled with an inviting spirit that will encourage your talent and foster your true potential. We gathered in the upstairs theater to be divided into our groups. This was the largest group of summer intensive students that iO has ever had, so we had 9 groups of 16 students each. They had to utilize other local theaters just to have enough space for all the groups. Each theater would have two different groups in two different areas of the chosen theater, and for each week that we are there, we will move from theater to theater. They set this up that way because, if it was up to the students, they would all be at iO for every class; the place itself is legendary.

Packed house for a show in the Del Close Theater, upstairs at iO Chicago, by Chris Hooper

Packed house for a show in the Del Close Theater, upstairs at iO Chicago, by Chris Hooper

The amount of talent that has graced the stages of iO is impressive. On their website, they state, “Performers from the iO Theater have gone on to work for shows like Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, MADtv, 30 Rock and many, many more! Whether it’s on the big screen or at the writer’s table, iO’s influence spans the entertainment industry from coast to coast.”

With legendary folks such as:
Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Jason Sudeikis – SNL, 30 Rock.
Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers – Saturday Night Live.
Angela Kinsey and Kate Flannery – The Office.
Neil Flynn – Scrubs, Mean Girls.
Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit – 30 Rock.
David Koechner – Anchorman, Naked Trucker, SNL.
Mike Meyers – SNL, Shrek, Austin Powers, Wayne’s World.
Andy Dick – The Andy Dick Show, News Radio.
Andy Richter – Late Night with Conan O’ Brien, Andy Richter Controls the Universe.
Chris Farley – SNL, Tommy Boy, Black Sheep.
Tim Meadows – SNL, Mean Girls.
Joel Murray – Still Standing, One Crazy Summer.
Ike Barinholtz and Arden Myrin – MADtv.
Mo Collins – MADtv, 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up.

And the list of people who have performed there is even more impressive.

We all began to filter in to take seats in the theater and to wait for everyone to arrive. I sat down next to an Australian girl, a man from Denmark who had been a child star, my friend & local theatre performer Lauren, and in front of us was a very dynamic and articulate girl from Toronto. I then realized the scope of international influence that improv and iO had.

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Posted in Chris Hooper, Improv, In the community, performers

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