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!
by Maria Konopken
What is amazing about improv is that it brings people together from all walks of life. You meet people that you may not have met otherwise. It is these creatures and their other interests that help connect you. It is what helps you discover new characters on stage, as well as yourself, that you didn’t think you had in you.
For me, improv has helped me become a better marathon runner. I know it sounds like that those two don’t go together, but for me it does. I started running seriously around the same time I started improv in 2012. Towards the end of 2011, which was the worst year for me emotionally, I decided I needed to change. Some might describe it as a quarter life crisis and others depression, but the channel needed to be changed as I was unhappy with where the story of my life was going. I decided to try new things in the new year, two of which were running and improv.
Running long distances is probably the worst/best time for me. I curse myself as I run, but crave it most of all. This last weekend, my cousin Lindsey and I did the Graffiti Run, a fun & colorful 5k. While Lindsey doesn’t run, it was one of the most fun things we have done together in Chicago and just life in general. It allowed us to bond, get dirty, and have fun.
It is the same bond, dirtiness, and fun that I love about improv. And while different in many ways, running and improv have taught me three thing:.
- Stay Committed – Let me not be the first to say waking up at 5am sucks, especially when you stayed up late the night before watching Scandal. However, running events start early in the morning most of the time. Your body has to be ready, awake, and in the moment with the race or you will injure yourself. While most improvisors are not up that early, it is the same mentality that you bring to your craft and a show. While we make up most of what we do, if we stop listening or we don’t react, we lose the scene. If we don’t work on our improv muscles and strive for better work, we become like stale bread.
- Be true to yourself (or your character) – Unless you are Barney from How I Met Your Mother, you cannot just get up and run a marathon. Your body knows you are lying and will punish you for it. In improv, if you commit to being a crazy French maid don’t then deny ever being one on stage. You take yourself and the audience out of this reality.
- Wear sensible shoes as heels and flip flops will prevent you from going the distances – A better title for this should be don’t limit yourself and don’t wear clothing that will hinder what you will do. Sure, I can run in 6 inch heels … not far, but I can. And sure, I can wear a gorgeous ball gown on stage. However, you will then have players like Andrew Bernier folding you in half like a pretzel on stage.
- The point of this fashion rant is to say don’t limit yourself. With improv and running, it is going to take you out of your comfort zone — let it. It is alright to be characters you love and characters you cannot stand in real life. In some way or fashion, you can find an element of yourself you maybe didn’t know was there.
You also get to learn more about others in this limitless world. In the past month-ish, my Level One teacher Matt Higbee has asked us to bring a new object each week that represents us as individuals. We then put them in a trash bag and pull out something new that represents other people in the class and get to learn about them. In this exchange, I have gotten the book Good Omens, a Southwest traveling magazine, and the horrific movie The Little Black Book. It is different and fun to learn about the other characters in my class. It is also fun having them learn about my character through the book Man Up, Women’s Running Magazine, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding (my Mexican and Jewish family in a nutshell; also, why I need to run as we LOVE to eat).
I enjoy my weird and fun rainbow connection of the two and am forever grateful for these two activities. They helped me get out of a dark place, and pushed me to Chicago.