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By Rachael Mason


We can assume there was comedy when the first person fell down.

We can assume there was improv when the first lie was told.

We can assume there was satire as soon as there were kings.


Let’s take a shallow dip into the pool of the story of Chicago Improv.


At the turn of the century, Chicago had burned down and was experiencing a tremendous immigrant influx of skilled laborers and folks seeking their fortune. Green spaces were planned as part of this reconstruction. New York had created Central Park as a grand experiment. The theory was that everyone is the same in nature, rich, poor, indigenous, immigrant. Chicago took it upon itself to create many green spaces and field houses in those post fire built parks. 


A woman named Jane Addams takes control of Hull House and begins a community building experiment for immigrants and their children to acculturate NOT assimilate. For this work she became known as the mother of Social Work. Like equality in nature, social justice being a root of improv is very VERY lovely. 


A woman named Neva Boyd joins Hull House. She began to have the children play non competitive games which allowed them to quickly form an ensemble and fearlessly share how they felt about the new world. It was not them versus each other and their experiences of immigration but rather all of them versus the new world. 


A woman named Viola Spolin joins Hull House. She theorizes that if a little theater were dropped onto the non-competitive games the children were already playing, they would then be able to fearlessly make ART together about the new world they lived in. 


The sons of these women experimented with those exercises and became the founders of Chiago’s famous style of improvisation: Process over product, truth = comedy, and that everyone is an expert in something. There was a schism between the men and they separated. Some stayed in Chicago experimenting with improv to sketch and some fled to California and San Fran’s burgeoning art scene to experiment with long form improvisation. The Harold is invented there and is then brought back to Chicago where it is changed again… this artform is STILL evolving and must continue to do so.


The new iO Training Center feels that putting art where there was none before is an act of revolution. That groups of people daring to ferociously support each other to create theater out of thin air is audacious. That the opportunity to infuse social justice and give voice to the voiceless in our art is truly a gift.


Rather than teaching one static form, iO will now teach many forms so that groups can discover their own. The best forms were created by teams to show off a super power that only they have and the whole reason we take a suggestion is so the audience may learn a truth about it by the end of the performance and the performers might learn something about each other in the pursuit of that. 


The founders believed you could be both smart and funny and that both demand commitment and joy for discovery as well as fervent support for the ensemble… and so do we.


Our Artistic Community has asked for support, transparency, clarity, equity, and appreciation for the artists themselves. We support this revolution. In fact, it is inherent to our art form. 


iO would also like to welcome all our new friends and fledgling improvisers with open arms to an artform full of possibilities unlike any other.


We are lucky to have you,

Rachael Mason

Director of Education

iO Theater

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