I wrote this exactly a year ago. It’s fun to read about my reflections from back then. The only real difference is that it’s like I am becoming a “Rey”. Being a “Rey” is much different than being “Leia”. It involves removing blocks and becoming one with the force.
My problems a year later are much different from my problems a year ago, and I think I prefer my problems from a year ago. I actually do fit in very well with the main cohort that I am training with currently. That’s different too. This is a year old.
I am surprised no asked me to explain what I said about having problems adjusting in the new and improved Chicago Comedy world. Luckily, I have an analogy through, “The Force Awakens”. The new iO is like, “The Force Awakens” and everything the movie stands for. That includes all the good things and bad things that fanboys all over the world have been ranting and raving about.
I will start out by saying I have watched “The Force Awakens” three times. This a lot more than I have seen any Star Wars movie on a theatrical screen. I saw it opening night and two times in 3D IMAX.
Even though many improvisers knew who I was in the late 90’s, I actually spent a whole lot more time at the new iO. In the late 90’s I took all my improv classes at Columbia College Chicago, but in the late 90’s that was good enough. It was more like a theater community and if you were accepted into it you were accepted by everyone. That included improvisers. I also believe former SCTV producer Sheldon Patinkin being the chair of the theater department had a lot to do with it, and he never made it a guessing game about which students were his favorites.
I don’t think any of the “greats” made it a guessing game. Del had just passed away, but his memory was still very fresh in everyone’s minds. It was almost like he was still there. Martin de Maat was still with us, and he never made it a guessing game about who his favorites were either. What was special about these people is that they loved to drive forward the story. They loved to keep the magic alive, and they were often scouting for special people to take center stage in the dream. Well Sheldon didn’t do this on purpose, but he ended up doing it anyway for many people completely by accident. Sheldon lived in the here and now. I believe both Marty and Del did this ON PURPOSE. They weaved and created stories, with your life. Of course, I never met Del but I met many people who knew Del and this is what has led me to come to this conclusion. He did that too.
For me attending iO post i-phone and YouTube it’s like a wonderful hobby. It really enhances my reality. It really isn’t like living in a dream though. I walk around observing people. I watch all their shows. I take a lot of classes. They are living in a really fun reality, but it’s not a dream. I am pretty sure that the only people that are living in a dream there are Charna H. and Susan M. Even though I have not seen TJ and Dave yet, since I knew them from before I will go ahead and say they believe in it too. If they didn’t it would really shock me.
Well, in the late 90’s it wasn’t just TJ walking around like that. It was everyone. It was the teachers. It was the students. It was the performers. It was even the skeptics. Sure, they were really incredibly negative sometimes but deep down they thought they were living the most amazing life that anyone could possibly have. It was worth making sacrifices for.
That’s one of the good things about modern iO. I know if I ever missed a rehearsal let alone a show I would have been blacklisted from the community. That’s not true today. I have missed a couple of shows and I missed a few rehearsals.
The opposite is true today. I will be blacklisted if I don’t gracefully “take the hint” and find a really good excuse to not be there if I didn’t feel welcome by the group. Sometimes it’s hard to figure it out. It goes against all my training, but I have learned that if you don’t take the hint right away you will be very sorry. People really hate being forced to not be polite, and they will take it out on you in ways that are much worse than you can possibly imagine. I have had to find really good reasons to miss shows. It’s because I took the hint that I could keep going. If I did not I would have been blacklisted to the point where going forward would be impossible. Your life there is dictated by the tides of gossip. It always changes. You don’t quit when the tide is high, you just become a lot less active. All of a sudden your family or work life becomes overwhelming and you need to cut back. Ahh, but why wasn’t it so overwhelming before? So many of my friends do this, and it’s strange that they feel forced to do that. It’s a survival skill. When the tide of gossip goes back down, they become active again. It’s in and out. In and out.
In modern iO everyone has boundaries. I must say it leads to a really incredibly awkward Christmas Party. I went there (later like I was supposed to) and I was so confused because I didn’t know who I was supposed to hang out with. Luckily someone saved me from that social confusion. There are also lots of people who know me well enough to acknowledge my presence, but they are not at all interested in how I am doing. They will say hi to me , but they don’t want to talk to me. They only want to talk with the group they came with.
That’s not anything like the late 90’s. Improvisers looked for any excuse at all to schmooze with other improvisers. Why else are we there? That’s not just the people in our own class or level, it was everyone. If we saw someone we did not know, we made it a point to get to know them. They must be important if they are there. We should at least find out what they are doing here. We were kind of possessive of our territory.
Everyone I met sincerely wanted to know how I was doing and they even memorized the key points of everything I told them. Then they recited these key points every time they met someone who knew me. It was always pretty accurate.
This is how it worked. An unknown person goes up and introduces himself to a random improviser he saw perform in a show and literally memorizes everything that they say. Now, they “know” each other. A week later the newbie introduces himself to another more established improviser and they both happen to “know” the improviser the newbie met the week before. It is true the established improviser may know the improviser who is the topic of the conversation a little better, but the newbie knows enough to contribute. The newbie in turn memorizes everything the more established improviser says about the previous improviser. When the newbie meets the original improviser again, they now have something important to talk about. The newbie catches them up with all the gossip.
This was still true even as late as 2010. It’s just not true today. It’s how I know Jason Chin. I was there for the Spring Intensive and he didn’t know who I was so he made it a point to find out. I only know him from that single conversation but I memorized everything he told me and he memorized everything I told him. We then “knew” each other. We became Facebook Friends. I am so glad he took the time to find out who I was and what I was doing at iO in the middle of the day. I know him much better from Facebook, but I never would have gotten that chance if he didn’t make it a point to get to know me in person that day. It’s a great example of how I can just talk to someone just once, but consider them a friend. I still remember everything we talked about. It’s ingrained in my mind.
In today’s iO I can meander about for an hour, sometimes a couple of hours and not talk to a single person. I feel so uncomfortable. I don’t even talk to people I actually know, let alone to people that I don’t know. There is kind of a snobbish cast system, and you can only talk to people at your current level of education. For example, I took level one but decided to stay in the Musical Improv Program. No one from my level one class will talk to me anymore. They say hi, but that’s about it.
Sometimes it feels a bit strange, but I need to respect their boundaries. They are clearly not there to talk to me. They expect me to respect that. Say hi, then you need to find a reason to leave. It’s kind of lonely, and I noticed no one really wants to just stay there without a purpose anymore. I think in the late 90’s anyone would be looking for a reason to hang out at iO all day every day, but not today. The idea of being trapped there for three or more hours with nothing to do sounds absolutely dreadful. I can only walk around “Whole Foods” so many times. No one wants to hang out in a place where they are blown off by everyone. I can be on the phone or my computer at home and it’s a lot more comfortable. At least then I can pretend that I have some friends.
In the late 90’s I hung out at Columbia College all day long. I was there from 9 am in the morning until 11 pm at night. I would take naps in the room with all the mats. I was living the dream. I was there every day rain or shine. Not even a huge snow storm could keep me away, because I loved being there so much and they loved having me there. I never existed in a place where I fit in as well as I fit in there. Most people either really genuinely liked me or at least they pretended to. Well, a lot of other students there were convinced I had a say on who got cast in shows. I didn’t, but it was really great for me that they thought that I did. But there was some cultural pride about being perceived as being genuine (as opposed to being fake), and I think we all kind of felt a duty to acknowledge everyone who belonged there. That was a big deal in the late 90’s. Even many years later we still feel like we have that duty. There were so many people that liked make things up about people just so they could schmooze, believe it or not. They would lie about knowing people so they can get asked to do shows without taking the proper steps. Rumors were horrendous. We had to protect each other, and work really hard to keep all the fakes out.
There was some guy that knew Del very well and he wrote a book about it. I doubt that this guy who knew Del well enough to write an entire book about what it was like to know Del would have gotten to know know Del as well as he did if he didn’t think of any excuse he could have to hang out at iO all day long.
No one really cares anymore about who knows who, and most people come in pretty established already. Teachers are more interested in getting to know the new people. Improv is no longer a gateway to becoming famous. There are no longer gate keepers. A lot of students attending are already kind of famous from YouTube and Instagram. They are just there to become legitimate. You do still need to attend iO to become legitimate.
Things today are a lot better for women and minorities than in the late 90’s. In classes today there are more women than men in some classes. The classes are very diverse. Anyone with the money can sign up for classes and be an improviser. They got the system down. In the late 90’s you needed some psychic talent to get it. That’s not true today. They have a formula and anyone with money and a minimal amount of commitment can learn how to do a Harold. They have mastered the art of teaching it.
However, since you don’t really need empathic abilities to be an improviser in today’s world it really freaks normal people out that I happen to be one. It can also cause a little discrimination because I have the ability to connect at a much deeper level. I have been accused of having romantic relationships with men I never dated and I have been accused of being a lesbian while being an improviser in Austin. A lot of female empaths are lesbians, but I am not one. I form much deeper connections with men. For the most part, I really enjoy working with men. I get along really well with men.
As a performer I am much stronger than I was in the late 90’s. That’s not good enough today. I have to be Rey. I will never be that good, no matter how much I try. It’s impossible to dream when the standards are so high. Back then I had to be Leia, which was a much different skill set. I had to hold my own with really outspoken men. That’s all.
I am good at dealing with misogynists and class clowns. In every improv class in the late 90’s there was at least one of each. Class clowns like to make people laugh by making someone else look bad. Since I am a redhead that someone was usually me. My dad’s favorite hobby was insulting me and bringing me down, so I was used to that as well. He thought he was being funny. I had actually gotten quite good at thinking of comebacks, so this felt natural on stage. It never bothered me to always be the girlfriend, daughter, mother, love interest, or wife in a scene. I felt happy just to be on the stage. I loved playing off of others, especially if they were really strong players. I did not enjoy being sexually harassed, but not enough to make me want to get off the stage. In some ways, it gave me a warped sense of self-esteem. How could you not with all these guys sexually harassing you all the time? The comedy scene was a place where very average looking women could go to feel like they are super models. In fact, most female comedians have a very inflated sense of self when it comes to their external beauty. It’s impossible not to. Just by the mere fact you have a vagina and do comedy you have now become gorgeous. No plastic surgery needed.
In modern iO I do have a problem with people completely blowing me off on stage and in classes. Men do not sexually harass women, not that they would want to harass me that way anyway. I am almost 40 and I am a mom. However, in the late 90’s a misogynist would be at least trying to put an older lady in her place and then I could come up with some witty comeback. Then everyone would crack up. Nope. They just completely blow me off now. I feel like I am in a perpetual audition for a high school musical, and it never ends. In auditions, people do whatever they can to stand out but no one ever really connects. That’s what classes at iO feel like.