“It’s a moment of acting,” she said of the battle, “ and about what it’s really like when you come back to life.”
Ultimately, improv is about picking up your partner’s silly string, putting new knots and twists in it, then handing it back. This absurdist dance goes on until the thread is tied in a loopy bow and handed to the audience, who had best be keeling over with laughter.
Jessica tossed us a string and watched us work it into an intricate macrame.
I faced a Second City student with a serious expression that masked his parched-dry wit. Without any preparation, we started to fabricate a tale, each of us embellishing the story in a lively verbal volley. We set up the scenario: a spiritual figure (in honor of the holiday) on a quest for an alcoholic beverage. Roaming the neighborhood, he stops by the house of his pal, Mary Magdalene, who gives him — comic pause — a glass of water.
Sufficiently warmed up, we were now ready for the finale. We broke into two groups of five. The audience shouted out orders for our team, which lined up first: a horror tale about a glowworm. We each contributed a line or two to advance the story, stopping only when Jessica yelled “Switch.” Our protagonist, a delinquent bug, had to endure gangs, an after-prom party on the lake, a friendship with a moose, a PSA about staying in school and a murder. The scene ended inside the moose’s nose, with the glowworm getting away with the crime.
The room filled with applause. I soaked up the fleeting moment of success, silently thanking my agent, my family and the glowworm, to whom I owed it all.
After class, Jessica informed us of the evening shows taking place downstairs, including a free improv set. Tempting, but I really wanted to take my show on the road.
Leaving Second City, I set out with the idea of walking into a Chicago bar and asking whether anyone had heard the one about the glowworm, the moose and the amateur improv artist.
1616 N. Wells St., Chicago
Drop-in improv classes are held on Wednesdays 5-7 p.m. and Sundays 6-8 p.m. $15 per class.