Improv Training Center
Summer Intensive - Levels 1 through 5
The iO West Summer Intensive condenses the first five levels of our 7 level curriculum into five weeks. The class meets every Monday through Thursday from 11:30 AM - 6:00 PM for five weeks. Each week, a different iO teacher instructs the class in a particular level of curriculum. All of our teachers for the Summer Intensive are currently teachers in our Training Center. Best of all, the class culminates in a performance here in our theater!
Visit the Summer Intensive page for full details
Level 1 Intensive
A two-week intensive option encompassing all of the material covered in Level 1.
Class meets seven times for 3.5 hours per class.
Level 1: Introduction to Improv
In this class you are introduced to all the fundamental skills of improvising, while improving your ability to listen and explore the power of building off of other people’s ideas. Level 1 is a survey of the entire program, exposing you to the elements of scene work and the various skills involved in creating well-acted, comedic improvisation.
Passing Criteria: Students must demonstrate that their listening has improved over the course of the term and that they are willing to build off of their partners’ ideas, in addition to having gained some proficiency with the technical aspects of actually doing so on stage. Attendance at 5 of 7 of your scheduled classes, regardless of make-ups.
Level 2: Character & Game
With the basics of listening and building off of other people’s ideas under your belt, you will now go far deeper into all aspects of creating and playing characters founded in strong points of view. You will learn how to identify, create and play comedic games in your scenes, as we break down the elements of a comedic improv scene, demystifying what goes into making a scene funny and its comedic characters believable. Passing this level qualifies you to move on to Level 3 of our Improv Training program, as well as take any classes in our Industry Improv program.
Passing Criteria: Students must be able to consistently create believable characters with clear points of view, consistently identify the game of the scene and have gained proficiency in creating and playing games over the course of the scene. Attendance at 5 of 7 classes on your day, regardless of make-ups.
Level 3: You
Building off of and advancing all of the skills from Levels 1 and 2, this class will help you figure out what your own comedic point of view is, what your instincts are as a performer, and how you can continue to stretch yourself and increase your versatility. We will do this while forwarding all of your skills as an actor/improviser: listening, building ideas, creating and playing characters, creating and playing comedic games, etc.
Passing Criteria: Students must demonstrate that they have improved in their ability to listen and build on others’ ideas, create and play believable characters, and identify and play games in scenes. Students must also be able to articulate aspects of their own point of view and translate it into their work on stage. Attendance at 5 of 7 of your scheduled classes, regardless of make-ups.
Level 4: Advanced Scene Work
Based on solid acting, character work and scenic game play, this level aims to vault you forward to high degrees of proficiency and consistency in all aspects of your scene work, building up the necessary skills to not just create rich comedic scenes that stand alone, but that can also serve as the main substance of a long form piece.
Passing Criteria: Demonstrate proficiency with advanced techniques for creating and playing characters and identifying and playing games in scenes. Students must be able to consistently perform scenes with believable characters, execute comedic games and focus on what is going on between the characters on stage in the moment that we are watching them. Attendance at 5 of 7 of your scheduled classes, regardless of make-ups.
Level 5: Harold
You will learn all of the elements of the long form piece iO was founded on, The Harold, including openings, beat structure, non-scenic group games, organic group work, advanced support moves, and how to use variety and texture to create a show that explores an idea that the group creates together. This level includes four performances on one of the iO stages.
Passing Criteria: Students must demonstrate an ability to create and execute all of the elements of a Harold: openings, beat structure, non-scenic elements, editing/pacing, and variety and texture. Attendance at 5 of 7 of your scheduled classes, regardless of make-ups, and attendance at 3 of the 4 shows.
Level 6: Advanced Harold
Armed with the ability to execute all of the elements of a Harold, you will now learn how to improvise the structure of your shows, leading to wildly inventive pieces that challenge you to express yourself to the fullest extent of your creativity, and help that creativity evolve. This level includes four performances on one of the iO stages.
Passing Criteria: Students must demonstrate an ability to navigate all of the elements of a Harold when those elements are not in a training wheels structure. Students must have demonstrated an ability to make choices within a show to drive it structurally using the various elements at their disposal from Level 5. Attendance at 5 of 7 of your scheduled classes and attendance at 3 of the 4 shows.
Level 7: Graduate Level - Creating Your Own Show
In this final level, the teacher takes on the role of director, working with you and your classmates to help you create a show based on your very own improv form. This level includes four performances on one of the iO stages and all shows will be considered for longer runs upon their completion.
Passing Criteria: Attendance at 5 of 7 your scheduled classes and attendance at 3 of the 4 shows.
Youth Program: Teens (13-17) (6 weeks)
iO West’s Teens classes introduce the fundamental skills of improvisational comedy, the hilarious art form that sparked the success of comedians like Tina Fey, Jason Sudeikis, Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler and many more! Classes will focus on teamwork, characters, storytelling, and truthful comedy through imaginative games and scene work. Through their study of improv, students will learn valuable skills that are not only must-haves for television, film, and commercials but for performing, comedy, and life. All classes culminate in a final performance where they will have the chance to show off their improv chops in front of an audience!
Sketch Writing Level 1 (7 Weeks)
Instructors: Mark Vannier & Matt Craig -- This class teaches the basics of sketch writing. What makes the premise of your sketch funny? Learn heightening and writing efficiently in your scenes. Different types of sketches will be introduced as will rewriting sketches, and writing with others. There will be home-work assignments each week. No prerequisite to start this class
Sketch Writing Level 2 (7 Weeks)
Instructor: Matt Craig -- Students will build on the skills learned in Sketch 1 to generate material for stage and television. Notes from the instructor will become more specific and focused on producing professional sketches. The final weeks of class will focus on writing for Saturday Night Live and Television Talk shows like Conan and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Sketch Writing Level 3 (7 Weeks)
Instructor: George McAuliffe -- Students will use sketches from level 1 and 2 and create new sketches to form an original sketch show! Students will be taken through an iO West rehearsal process while stopping to elaborate on the different elements that make up a successful stage sketch show. Writing, tech rehearsal, running order improvisation and acting will all be addressed. This class culminates in a main stage show.
Writing Program Electives
Comedy Writer's Room (7 Weeks)
Instructor: Ed Lee -- Before trying to write a comedy spec script on your own, learn the fundamentals of the craft -- character, structure, tone, form, content, joke-writing, etc. -- in a group setting from a working professional. The instructor, Ed Lee, has spent over a decade working in professional sitcom writers' rooms, and has intimate knowledge of every stage of the process that goes into making a sitcom script work. By emulating this process in class, students will leave armed with an education in how the pros get it done. At the end of the session, the entire class will have taken part in writing one polished, punched-up script of an existing show, and each student will develop the skills necessary to thrive in a writers’ room and continue writing better scripts on his or her own.
After dissecting and analyzing episodes of an existing show, students will experience the writing of a new script through every phase: pitching, outlining, writing, rewriting, and punch-up. The instructor will provide the class with production drafts of the show being written, oversee the writers’ room, and give individualized attention to each student. In addition, other professional working writers will be asked for notes on the material and will be invited to sit in on classes. Students will also be invited to table reads of shows currently on the air. Whether you’ve never written a comedy spec script before or you’ve written many, this class will give you the tools to become a better writer.
Recent students have gone on to win paid writing fellowships and have procured representation based on spec scripts written after taking this class, using the education this class provided them.
What past students have said about Comedy Writers' Room:
"It gave me a methodical, pragmatic, step-by-step structure and approach to writing a spec script."
"This class demystified writing a comedy."
"The collaborative process was invaluable; quite a learning experience!"
Screenplay Writing (7 Weeks)
Instructor: Craig Cox -It's easy to get overwhelmed by the dreaded "blank page." But as long as you have the right map, you can confidently dive in and find your way forward. In this 7 week class, you will learn the basics of screenwriting, while also developing your own original feature film script. With an emphasis on workshopping as a group, we will build your script from beginning to end, providing you with a solid three-act structure, clear and interesting characters, and actual pages that will give you the foundation you need to confidently complete your script on your own.
Pilot Writing Level 1 (7 Weeks)
Instructor: Mark Amato -- CREATE YOUR OWN SERIES - People always complain about what's on television but nobody does anything about it. Until NOW! More and more networks and executives are starting to look beyond their typical yearly development for fresh, unique and original voices with a script with the potential of becoming the next cutting edge series. The philosophy is simple: build it and they will come. But creating the next HIT spec takes a lot more than just having a great idea. The "magic" goes in crafting a catchy concept, engaging characters and an involving story that brings the brilliance to light. Learn from a seasoned television writer with three network pilot sales under his belt, not to mention years of experience on staff as well as a studio executive, to take you from concept to reality. In a writer's room setting, this seven-week course takes aspiring creators through the process of what it takes from realizing a brilliant idea into a sellable pilot script that will get others to take notice.
Pilot Writing Level 2 (7 Weeks)
Instructor: Mark Amato -- This seven week course is designed for students looking to take their pilot writing skills to the next level. Emphasis is placed on three main elements starting with CHARACTER, STORY and STRUCTURE while connecting the three to a relevant THEME. A pilot script doesn't simply need to sell your idea, it needs to showcase to the reader a viable franchise that has the legs to run five to seven years... and hopefully beyond. The difference between good and great is often the difference between taking an idea with promise and creating a sales document that will leave your words LEAPING OFF THE PAGE. This class is recommended to students of the introductory pilot course or for those writers with more extensive experience writing scripts looking to hone your craft and take your writing to the next level.
Spec Writing (7 Weeks)
Instructor: Mark Amato -- IT ALL STARTS WITH THE SPEC - Staffing season is around the corner and if you're serious about trying to break in the lucrative world of comedy writing, you need an eye catching, knee slapping, laugh-out-loud original half hour spec script. But in order to turn heads, you have to get people to turn pages first. Whether you're just starting out or you're looking to up your game and create the best half hour spec script of your career so you can get agents and executives to take notice, this course is for you. Students work in a writer's room setting as a seasoned pro helps you learn the skills to craft the perfect spec script. Good is the enemy of great as you will discover the tricks to tap into your inner BRILLIANCE. Working in a collaborative “writer’s room” setting, this seven-week course will help you focus on first creating a concept for a story, then focuses on working out the beats into a comprehensive outline so you can sit down and write a dynamite spec that will get you noticed. Whether you want to write for mainstream comedies like MODERN FAMILY or BIG BANG THEORY or for fringe shows like WORKAHOLICS or LOUIS C.K., this course will demystify the process of developing a spec that is so crisp, fresh and funny, you'll truly understand what it means when writer's say the script "wrote itself".
SNL Sketch Packet (7 Weeks)
Instructor: Matt Craig -- The goal of this class is an SNL sketch packet comprised of at least six separate sketches suitable for submission to literary agents, TV producers and SNL itself. In this class by former SNL writer Matt Craig, students will hit the ground running and experience what it is like to write for a weekly sketch comedy show. Curriculum will cover Weekend Update jokes, cold openings, monologues, commercial parodies, Digital Shorts, TV and Movie parodies, cast and group scenes, as well as original and existing Character sketches in a SNL-style weekly writer's room environment. Ideally, students will walk away from the class with not only a solid SNL sketch packet but a business plan to move forward in pursuit of an agent and career in the world of writing. Previous sketch writing experience is a must. INTRODUCTION to COMEDIC SKETCH WRITING strongly encouraged as a prerequisite to this class.
Tiger Lily Stand Up Workshop (7 Weeks)
This 7 week course is perfect for all levels from beginners to experts trying to revamp their acts, performers trying to gain more confidence in auditions, or just regular people looking to express themselves in a fun and unique way.
Students will write and perform in every class, gaining stage presence, confidence and practice with constructive feedback in a supportive environment. By the end of class you’ll have an action plan, a stand up set and an optional performance at Tiger Lily comedy show.
Tiger Lily is a critically acclaimed, free weekly show that has been running for 7 years and features the best stand ups and storytellers in the world. Known for it’s surprises and celebrity drop-ins as well as for being on the pulse of presenting extraordinary up-and-comers, the show is always a special, unique and reliably fantastic evening. For lineups please follow @whatsuptlily on twitter.
How to Create a Hit Web Series (7 Weeks)
Instructor: Melinda Hill -- This 7 week course will take you step by step through the creation of your very own hit web series in a supportive environment. Lessons will cover pitching, financing, marketing, creating loglines, characters, bibles, episodes, story arcs, writing, hiring crew and everything else you need to make a hit web series. There will be some guest speakers.
Musical Improv Workshop (6 Weeks)
The three most important technical elements of comedic performance are:
timing, confidence, emotional commitment. Musical improv is perhaps
the best laboratory for sharpening and exploring these. Plus - it's
It doesn't matter if you can sing. It doesn't matter if you "don't
know music". It's comedy. Come play. Come be funny. We will start
with the basics - games, rhyme scheme, song structure, genres - then
musical scenes and, depending on the needs of the class, make strides
As a main stage alum of The Second City, Cleveland and musical director
at iO West, I've earned very specific insight into the intersection
of music and improv - an understanding of which will raise all of your
performance work to new heights.
Solo Performance (7 Weeks)
Instructor: Andrea Kittelson -- This seven-week course walks writer-performers step-by-step through the process of crafting an innovative solo show that showcases each writer-performer’s unique strengths.
While the class is appropriate for actors who want to tell their own stories, this class is not limited to autobiographical narrative or to an abstract display of multiple characters. There are so many possibilities within the genre that are fully explored. There is an emphasis on metaphor, symbolism and other literary and theatrical devices that heighten and explore chosen themes.
The course begins the participants taking an inventory of their own skills, exploring objectives, zeroing in on themes, becoming familiar with a variety of structures and exploring and using what makes them and their show unique.
The course culminates with a showcase either on the Main Stage or in the DCT wherein every writer-performer presents either all or part of what they create.
This class is limited to ten participants. No submission or audition is necessary, but enthusiastic exploration is.
While the class is primarily geared for performers who want to write their own solo shows, the class is open to playwrights who want to craft solo pieces for others.
The cost is $300, which includes the book “How to Put on Your Own One Person Show,” personalized attention and the culminating showcase.
Testimonial: "It was at IO West that I enrolled in a solo performance class that changed my life. I signed up merely to force myself to do a one-woman show, something that had terrified me for years. I began writing a musical about Ninjas but it became something so much more than that. This was the first outlet I had that really gave me the opportunity to literally utilize everything I love to do: Writing, Acting, Improvising, Comedy, Singing and Songwriting! And I did it all in one fabulous evening, surrounded by friends and family. I then took my musical to Scotland..." -- Katie Wilbert after the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe, where her solo show was chosen from 3,000 shows to be one of 35 critics' "top picks."
Storytelling (4 Weeks)
Instructor: Margot Leitman -- Learn how to use your untapped humanity and embarrassing moments in a way that can reach a wide audience. You will finish this class able to fill in the blank, "----------- is the story of my life."
Each student leaves class with a six-ten minute showcase-able set of autobiographical material. The first half of the class is filled with fun exercises to derive all the life experience that already lies within you. From that hilarious material, you will find your final piece. The second three weeks of the class focuses on polishing and perfecting your story, which will stand alone in the class show, but can also be a part of a bigger solo work.
Learn to dig inside your own life to find humorous, relateable, material, which unifies an audience by making them laugh at their own experiences through your brave performance. Additional focus is on getting through the fear of being judged for our honesty, and true life experiences. In the past, many students have gone on to produce autobiographical one person shows, win at the Moth Storyslams, perform on the storytelling circuit, or complete their memoir.
Storytelling Level 2 (7 Weeks)
Instructor: Margot Leitman -- Learn how to take your true-life material to the next level. You will finish this class able to develop your own voice further in order to move on to complete (or start) that one person show, stand up act, storytelling act, or memoir. Each student will leave class with a few completed stories as told in "their voice," yet relatable to any audience. Students will be given topics to write about weekly, challenging them to tap even deeper into their own lives to find true, humorous, universal material.
Students should leave class with the skills needed to dig into their lives for a story on virtually any topic. This is useful for auditioning, public speaking, memoir writing, live performing, stand up comedy, one-person shows and basic entertaining. Much of the class work will focus on simultaneously becoming both a stronger solo performer and writer. Topics covered in class include: character, emotion, finding the full circle, performance, polishing, the unexpected, and flaws. Expect to let your guard down completely to uncover the hilarity that lies within our true lives.
Improv Intensive with Lyndsay Hailey (4 Weeks)
Join Chicago vet Lyndsay Hailey for a four week improv intensive where Improv merges with Meisner, Clowning, and Yogic Breathing to take you deeper into character and comedic truth than you've ever delved before. Oh yeah - and you'll get a ton of scene work and personal feedback...loving yet brutally honest personal feedback. Let's get so weird it feels good.