When audiences and comedy lovers think Improv, they usually think Chicago, home to popular destinations like the infamous The Second City and iO Comedy. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the closures of all schools, theaters, and public venues has also hit the improv world hard. Not only has the COVID-19 Pandemic forced these popular establishments to close their doors, it has forced many to lose staff, students, and performers along the way.
Still, humor is something everyone needs during a time of crisis, and Chicago improv is up for the challenge by going virtual.
The Second City
The Second City and The Harold Ramis Film School were forced to close doors March 13, 2020. They immediately postponed all classes when the pandemic hit, and prepared virtual classes as a substitute for students currently enrolled, and potentially for “Term 3,” which typically begins at the end of April/early May.
The Second City released a statement to it’s performers and students assuring them that all precautions are being taken at the facilities to ensure a clean and safe environment, and that all live performances, shows, and rentals are to be canceled until further notice.
Obviously it’s safer if everyone is online while the world is under quarantine, but there’s also a certain level of insecurity when trying new things alone. For those who might feel safer in the privacy of their own home, online virtual classes may somewhat beneficial. The sense of “stage fright” still exists since all of the virtual attention goes to those involved in a scene or those who speak during a game. In-fact it is almost harder to shy away when talking since typically one face to four faces were enlarged on a screen at the time.
There are times it’s harder to feel the energy without the audience or laughter, although no comedian should base their abilities purely on how may laughs they acquire during a joke or a skit. It can be more difficult to play off of others and their excitement and energy, but everyone is suddenly encouraged to be more creative.
Plus, it is rather nice to have had some group interaction, and see a handful smiling faces during this craziness. In the end, if this is the inevitable future of improv, or at least a temporary one, perhaps it’s not so bad.
ComedySportz, has officially gone virtual as well with all life shows “on pause” until further notice. Renee Ross, Managing Director at ComedySportz, told REEL Chicago they have set up a GoFundMe page to help their 60+ comedians and staff members taking a financial hit during this time of uncertainty. Currently they have “virtual matches” happening Friday and Saturdays at 7:30pm and 9:30pm, and hope people still attend the shows even if not in-person.
Evolving even more, they also have taken to the Zoom platform offering what they call virtual ReCeSz, which is a 30-minute mid-day break they are kids every Monday to Friday at noon. For adults they have Virtual Vino Vertas, April 8th & April 22nd at 7pm, which is run by Susan Haarman and two of Chicago’s best storytellers.
Join in as they gather around a virtual campfire, drinking non-virtual wine, while telling some unforgettable stories. These events are all online and donation based entertainment, so please consider donating. www.cszchicago.com
“The arts have taken quite a hit during the COVID-19 crisis. I can’t encourage people enough to support the arts now, if you are able, or plan to go to your favorite theater or venue when this all ends. We need the support of our communities and patrons now more than ever,” said Renee Ross, ComedySportz Managing Director.
Finding their own way through the chaos, The Annoyance Theater has also shut their doors to the public, but in a very different way. Starting March 19, 6 performers and 3 staff members began an in-theater lock-in to quarantine themselves inside The Annoyance while prepping for their Livestream performance on March 28th at 8pm CST.
This being the most creative response to the COVID-19 crisis and state-wide lockdown, the 9 individuals and The Annoyance have been actively sharing rehearsals, meetings, and bits and pieces of their experiences on various social media platforms.
The public has responded, and their GoFundMe page has been met with hundreds of supporters helping the theater raise over 20,000 dollars over the course of the “lock-in.” Considering either donating or watching their show, go to www.theannoyance.com.
iO Comedy Closes Temporarily
UPDATED:iO Comedy, another one of Chicago’s staple improv schools and performance venues, as well as home to The iO Network, has put out a statement as well telling the public that all performances are suspended until further notice. Encouraging ticket-holding patrons to reschedule their shows as opposed to requesting refunds, they are also hoping others will still support iO Comedy by purchasing gift certificates to be used after COVID-19 passes, and doors reopen. The theater is still offering writing classes online and the iO Comedy Network has been releasing videos and is holding a video contest. ioimprov.com
Katharin Mraz is a contributing writer for Reel Chicago and Reel 360.