My first day of improv was exciting, I had not been to a class like this since my days in high school which were terrifyingly far in my past. Seriously, those last 25 years just snuck up on me! Stepping into The Second City Training Centre was energizing. The space (above Gretzky’s restaurant since since 2005) is three stories up. The stairs are dark but with quotes from famous alumni getting you excited for your class. It opens into a large white space, there’s a welcome desk on your left and comfy chairs and tables where people can gather and chat as well as computers where students could connect to the internet. Despite being shortly after 11 am on a Sunday the room was electric. There were people waiting for classes gathered and chatting with their friends. Parents were waiting for kids who were taking improv classes for children and teens and staff pointed people to the right spots for their first day of classes.
My Level A class was taught by Dora recipient, veteran performer and teacher Ed Sahely
an up beat and positive force from the second he walked into the room. Ed started by explaining the nature of the course, how Level A was to introduce us to the language of improvisation and make us comfortable. He then took the time to recap the code of conduct, how The Second City was a safe space and harassment would not be tolerated. These notices were also in the hall and in our classroom. The Second City wants to welcome people not push them away. We then launched into our first day of classes. Over the course of that first day we played games familiar to any person who took high school drama class. These were simple trust and familiarity building exercises that got us to feel comfortable with the people we were going to be spending the next seven weeks improvising with.
The class itself was a mixed bag of actors, stand-up comedians, teachers, professionals of multiple industries and people just looking to try something new. This mix of people from young performers to older professionals (me probably being one of the three oldest in the room) gelled quickly. These simple games allowed us to open up and establish trust bonds with people who have very different experiences and motivations for being there.
Every week, regardless of how the rest of the week was going, I found myself early and eager at the door of classroom 6 waiting for my next class to start. Last week, before class, I was chatting with a couple of class mates. One of them brought up how they felt relaxed when they left the class and I admitted I did too. It was like there was a weight lifted off my shoulders after every class. The people I was chatting with both meditated and they drew a connection to how they felt meditating with how they felt coming out of class. I can’t meditate, my brain just doesn’t go there, I don’t know if it’s a task orientation or a break down in how I process information but it always has to remain active. When I was younger, one of the treatments my neurologist tried for my epilepsy was meditation, I would just fall asleep on the mat of the dark room they had me meditating. My brain would only go from on to off, there was no idle mode. These classes though, focusing on the moment, it gave me something to turn my attention too and let go of those other stressors.
Over the course of the weeks we learnt more about the basics of improv and its language. We learnt about acknowledging the offer and never refusing it. We learnt about heightening, story structure, space and object work but all at a very fundamental level that helped us establish a mutual starting point and it’s been a blast! Last night I got to attend a Second City main stage show (It’s A Wild, Rowdy, Wonderful Life which I can’t recommend highly enough) and it brought an entire new understanding to what those improvisers were achieving up on the stage. If I hadn’t had an early day I would have stuck around for the improvisation session after the main show.
This Sunday is my last day of class and I approach it with some dread, I don’t want it to end but the bright spot is it doesn’t have to. Level B classes start on January 6th and I’m signing up for those classes in the next few days. Registering before December 20th will save me a decent amount of money on my registration fee. I’m never going to make it onto the main stage but it’s been a blast to take these early courses and I look forward to completing the program.
One last item of note, being a Second City student does come with some benefits, in Toronto you get a discounts on food from The Charlotte Room and Boston Pizza, discount on books from Theatre Books or studio rentals and even a break on Zipcar membership but the most important deal in my mind is cheap or free tickets to Second City shows. As a student you get a free rush ticket 30 minutes prior to the show (so if the show is sold out you are out of luck) but you can 2 for 1 tickets in advance certain days of the week not to mention their student shows. As I mentioned I got to see It’s A Wild, Rowdy, Wonderful Life, this was a free show to students of Second City. I ended up getting called out and then pulled on stage during the performance, I didn’t ask to be positioned in a prime spot I just went where they seated us. My wife (who was also pulled up and is very shy) was not amused but I was ecstatic. I got to feel a bit of the thrill of these performers up on that stage and develop an even richer appreciation for what they do.