After a short, 15-year hiatus, we're back and better than ever! Ok, maybe a little hyperbole with the 'better than ever' but we are most certainly back. As the new owner of Players Workshop (Chicago's original school of Improvisation) I take the legacy of this incredible school very seriously. For my first blog post, I'd like to share the backstory of how this new iteration of our school came to be and what makes it different.
I graduated from Players Workshop in 1989. The lessons I learned helped me navigate a life in the arts and commerce. I've been a successful actor and performer for 30 years with a new TV show starting production in September 2019 (more on that in a later post). Plus, I've owned several businesses, including my creative agency, ZAP Creative, Inc.
Twenty years after graduating I realized two things: Players Workshop was instrumental to my success in every area of life...AND Players Workshop wasn't around anymore. Because of the former, I felt like I needed to correct the latter.
In 2008, I approached Josephine Forsberg and asked if I could relaunch the school. I had a business plan and everything. She was thrilled at the prospect, took my hand and said "I've been waiting for someone to come and ask me this. I'm glad it's you." Six months later, the effects of the recession hit the country and my finances hard. It took me years to recover, and by the time I did, Josephine passed away. I placed the idea of relaunching Players "on the shelf," knowing full well of a lesson learned in improv, which is to act on an initiation when you have it—or risk losing the chance to do it at all.
As 2018 rolled around, I was facing turning 50 years old. As I ruminated about what I had and had not done in my life, Players Workshop was the one thing that kept tapping on my shoulder. It was still "on the shelf" waiting patiently. Add to that my discomfort with my answer when people asked me, "Where should I go to learn improvisation?"
Chicago improvisation schools are wonderful. I've taken classes at Annoyance, Second City, IO, ComedySportz, and a ton of workshops with improv gurus. I toured with Second City and directed and taught there after my touring days were done, so I have a fair bit of exposure to what everyone teaches and how they teach it. The thing is...in my experience, none of them taught improv like Players Workshop.
Players Workshop was different than other schools of Improvisation. Jo realized very early that this art form was not just a device for the stage. Jo understood (decades before anyone else) that improvisation is a tool for living a mindful life—that the tenets of improvisation have the capacity to make us better people, better listeners, and stronger communicators who are more in tune with our surroundings. Skills learned at Players Workshop were life tools and Jo Forsberg created a safe place to learn them—a place where people could fail without judgement, learn without embarrassment, and give support to strangers on the same journey.
I knew Players Workshop had to be brought back. Soon, Linnea Forsberg (daughter of Josephine and an icon in the Improvisation community in her own right), and Doug Voegtle (a beloved instructor at Players Workshop 1981–1994), and I found ourselves talking about how to make the dream of relaunching the school a reality. It's a dream come true for me and I hope you get to experience some of the magic that was created at Chicago's original school of Improvisation—or as we like to say, Improvisation for Life.
And so, without further ado...Players Workshop...Lights Up!