Andrew Bernier is a recent graduate of The Torch Theatre‘s training center in Phoenix where he also performs with Beach Blanket Bingo. He’s traveling across the country and just spent a week in Chicago for The Second City‘s weeklong improvisation immersion program. The Torch Theatre’s 4721 Blog is happy to present Andrew’s take on his Chicago experiences!
by Andrew Bernier
Monday, July 8, 2013 from The Second CIty in Chicago, Illinois.
Ahoy! Recent Torch graduate Andrew Bernier here reporting from the grandeur of the Second City, both a Chicago institution and an improv theater institution! You know, when you roll up to a place that is adorned with pictures featuring the likes of Bill Murray, John Candy, Gilda Radner, Tina Fey and my personal favorite, Fred Willard, you tend to be a tad in awe.
Visiting Chicago with great college friends that I performed shortform with ages ago, we are taking part in a weeklong intensive, revisiting the basics of improv. It’s more or less exactly the same as the Level 1 course at The Torch. Our first class was this past Monday morning. After having arrived late the night before and having wandered the streets and the ‘L’ of Chicago to then find my hotel, I was tiredly ready to go for whatever the first class of the first level was going to hold for us at The Second City.
First class, we jumped right in. No asking where you came from, no asking how much experience you have, no what do you do, nothing. First name, make a motion. I loved that. It made me feel like we are all on the same page and regardless of where or what we are coming from, we are now all here for the same thing. Kinda like the military in just that way, not that I would know. At least we don’t have to shave our heads.
Day One was all about work with our environment, just as I remember the third class of Level 1 at The Torch doing the same. Environment is something that I can always work on to better create the space and objects around me. In asking us to think about every specific step in brushing our teeth and acting them out intentionally, I took about ten minutes to recreate something that typically takes two minutes. The attention to intention was big, as it helps us to accurately recreate them on stage. I also only got half way through the sandwich we were suppose to create and I think I left the mustard on the counter.
While there really was no talking or scenes in this first class, the whirlwind of being in specific spaces made it seem like I was in a dozen scenes, exploring the space around me. A hilarious example was one of the exercises that we did, improvising a walk around the block in which we live. Our teacher repeatedly instructed us to behave as if the temperature was dropping, and while everyone else was starting to shiver, I was the only one walking around enjoying what, in my mind, was a pleasant Phoenix day in January! Soon it started to snow and while others were shoveling and trudging, I was flipping out, rolling around, and blowing snowflakes into the air because, you know, that is what you do when it actually snows in Phoenix.
After a touristy jaunt to the Art Institute of Chicago and a delightful stroll through Millennium Park, we made our way over to iO (formerly ImprovOlympic), home of the Harold and the theatre most active in dedicating itself to longform improv. I later learned that Second City’s main focus is to turn improv into sketch work.
I met up with current and past Torchies from WaterSoftenerMaestro.com (Can you ever actually be a past Torchie?), Maria Konopken, Chris Cooper, Lauren Corl and now Chicago resident Kate Anderson. We saw the show deFrancisCO featuring Tara DeFrancisco, who pulled up a new student at iO who had 3 weeks of improv experience to then do a complete 25 minute set with just her in front of a packed house. Holy hell, I was nervous for how nervous he was. But with the affirmation and support of Tara and the audience would have for him, not only did he nail the basics, he rocked a damn fine show. I was kinda proud, and not just of this beginner doing a great job, but of the audience laughing and cheering and supporting the heck out of this duo. It must have made him feel like a complete BAMF, and I could not imagine a better way to say, “Welcome to improv, one of the best things that will ever happen to your life.”