Welcome to Camp

iO Summer Intensive

Week 1

Instructor- Tara DeFransisco


Everyone is so excited to be here. The room this morning was buzzing with energy. The teachers keep calling it “summer camp” and it really has that feel about it. Camp for adults. I like it. We started out with a chance to sign-up for extra workshops, which I passed on, and then we had a Q&A with Charna. For those not in improv circles Charna founded the theater, and is something like the mother of long-form improv. It’s complicated, and I don’t know all the details, but I know enough to know I should be impressed. In a couple of weeks Jason Chin will be doing a weekend class on the history of long form improv in Chicago that I plan to attend, then I’ll know more.

After lunch, which they catered in for us, we split into groups and met our instructor (who will change weekly) and out classmates (which will remain the same all five weeks). Tara seems awesome, looking forward to working with her. She is a full-time actor/improviser, which isn’t extremely common. My team is an unique mix. There are 16 of us. 12 men, 4 women. 7 Americans (including all the women), 1 Swede, 1 Australian, and 5 Estonians. The 5 Estonians are from the same troupe, and then 3 guys in the class are from the same troupe in NC, the other two members being in another class. We also have a range of ages, from 20 to 45(?). I think I’m the least experienced in the group, at least in years. Only two. Most of the others are in the three to four year range, a few have significantly more. It’ll be interesting to see how the class dynamic shapes up.

We started with Conducted Story. It felt different than when I’ve done it at CSz or Funny Bones. Less competitive, little slower. Tara was trying to get us into the same page and listening to each other. After a couple of rounds we switched to Unconducted Story. Same thing, but we spoke up popcorn style. Apparently this can be used as an opening. It’s weird that I’ve never done openings. I think it’s because I’ve never done a Harold. No one here can believe that considering I’ve done long-form but it wasn’t something HUGE taught so I never had the chance. So learning “new openings to try” goes into my “if I ever do an opening” file.

We moved to Cocktail Party. I’d done something called Cocktail Party before, this was a little different. Four groups of two, just talking as ourselves. Each group took a turn and, as much as felt natural, tried to weave in something from the group before while still have a real, honest conversation. Tara said these were intended to be authentic, but that, while being respectful, to feel free to dig deep or ask personal questions. It allows things to come up the way they do on an airplane- more honest than you expect because there is no pressure to see this person again.

I was in the first group and we struggled a little bit with understanding the entire point, but there were still some good moments. The second group had even more of those.

Then we did 2 Chair Confessions. Person A makes a confession. Any personal confession, doesn’t have to be true. Big or small. Person B then makes a confession of their own, but only a confession that will comfort the other person. You have to start your confession with “I have something to confess to you/tell you”, and then go one. Like-

A- “I need to confess something to you. I killed your cat.”

B- “I have something to confess to you too. I’d already made an appointment to put her down.”

A- “I have to confess something. I’m the one who drank all the milk.”

B- “I have a confession too. I hate milk, I only drink it to be polite.”

A- “I need to tell you something. I lost the rent gambling and we’re being evicted.”

B- “I also have a confession to make- I forgot to renew the lease so I’m actually the reason we’re being evicted.”


Follow the feelings, not the plot.

People and ideas are interesting, plot and activities are not!

Stay with the emotions instead of fixing the problem.

We followed that up with some self-edited, two person scenes. That ended day 1.

Other random snatches from the day-

  • Try to avoid fighting. If there is a fight it has to be the characters, not the actors. And you have to agree on what the fight is about.

(I’d heard that, but not the last part. That was eye-opening! We, as actors, have to agree on what the fight is about, not just agree to fight. If I think we’re fighting over the eggs being gone and he thinks we’re fighting over me not taking responsibility for things then the fight will go no where and it will just leave everyone feeling bad. I think there is a life lesson in this.)

  • Strong initiations feel weird to say, but great to receive. Never be afraid of offering one. No one will begrudge it to you. Your partner will be thankful. Aren’t you when you get one?
  • When in doubt on the stage- love the shit out of each other! Always a good move.

I went to see the Armando Show tonight. I’m not a fan of Armando’s. I don’t like watching them very much and I often get annoyed with the monologist. Like the guy tonight was fine, but I felt like the same improv could have happened without him. I don’t know. Just not my thing.

After Armando iO does DeFransisCO and Powerball. Everyone who wants a shot at participating tosses their id into a large pot before the show starts. I tossed mine in because hey, why not? DeFransisCO is when Tara (yes, my teacher this week) draws one name out and then that person comes up on stage with her and they do a 35 minute set together. Which is insane! The guy who she drew tonight was a level one student, he’s been doing improv for three weeks. She found that out with a little interview on stage and then she told him the rules. I can’t remember them exactly but basically it was, you can’t fail. And if, somehow, this thing doesn’t work, it’s 100% on me. You are already golden.

Poor guy was shaking so hard that I could see it from the back of the room. This would be a good time to point out that there were probably over 200 people there. Including Charna, right in the front.

So- it was amazing. Tara supported him and drew him out, totally taking his offers and making them beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it. And he totally transformed as well. He went from visibly shaking and quivering to confidently making offers and big moves. I could have kept watching them go on for even longer.

After that was over was Powerball. 7 of the experienced cast members and/or instructors at iO drew 6 names out, to come up and do a montage for 35 minutes. I was one of them! Completely stunned. I really didn’t think I had a chance of being picked. I tried to be cool but it was a massive number of strangers and I felt totally out of my league.

However, it went well. Again, I think it’s just a credit in the nature of improv. We didn’t know each other, and there was a HUGE difference in ability on stage, so of course there were some hiccups and communication issues. Not the best improv of all time. But because we had this basic idea of sharing, supporting, and following the interesting things, it worked out.

One of the scenes I was with two of the veterans and while it was frightening because they purposefully put me in the center of the group and gave me the focus, which was a lot of focus in that room (I felt half-smothered), they also gave me support in a way that I’ve rarely felt. Only when I’ve done scenes in jams or class with really confident and experienced improvisors. It’s a real, physical sensation of sensing that this person is 100% behind you and everything is going to be just fine. It’s hard to describe. The first time I ever noticed it was in a class I took with Michael, at HUGE. He had me do a very simple two person scene with him to show the class what he wanted out of the exercise. I was so flustered by the unexpectedness of the feeling that I don’t even remember what I said. I was too confused by what I felt. Since then I’ve felt it other times, like tonight, so I know it wasn’t a fluke. It’s just not often, because I play with people around my same level and apparently we don’t have the magic yet.

I did feel very bumbling and awkward on stage. I feel like, even when I’m not nervous I come across as nervous, so when I am nervous I look painfully afraid. I stutter and I fidget and I feel like everything I say is only half applicable and five seconds too late. Gah. I know it takes time but sometimes it feels like I’m not getting any closer.

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