Writer and Producer – Sydney Huddleston
Other Side Drive Producer – Shannon Williams
Editor – Fernando Espinosa de los Monteros
It’s super easy to get caught up in our work and forget how important it is to play. And sometimes, between work, studying for tests, running errands and just the daily tasks of living, our creative muscles can get a little weak. So, I caught up with some of the most creative people I know – the Improvisers – who reminded me how fun it can be to let go a little and just play.
Tom Booker: Improv is when two people or a group of people get together and take a suggestion and create something new. Create some sort of performance, it can be a short sketch or it can be a long play-like episode.
This is Tom Booker. He has built his whole career out of playing pretend. It all started in 1984 when he realized his penchant for the spotlight.
Tom: I was the mascot for the college, for the University of Oklahoma. I was the mascot for the basketball team and I liked people looking at me, and when I thought I graduated from college in 1986 I heard about this place called the Second City in Chicago and I moved up to Chicago to take classes at Second City.
Fast forward to 2014, Tom has taken everything he’s learned and brought it to Austin to share with other people who have a passion for the performing arts.
Tom: I own a theater in South Austin called the Institution Theater, a 47-seat space where we teach improv classes and put on original productions.
If you ever get to meet Tom, you’ll quickly notice just how dedicated he is to the theater. When he’s not teaching a class, he’s hosting a show, or painting a wall.
Tom: The thing I like most about my job, is just helping people follow their secret dream. I think a lot of people come through the doors at the Institution Theater and have a secret dream, a dream that they want to pursue but they’re so afraid to tell anybody because it seems like a crazy idea. And then by coming here and just taking one step after another, and just slowly getting rid of their fears, they realize that they can do it, and that they enjoy it, and that they’re good at it.
So, not only do theatres provide awesome entertainment on the weekends, but improv classes create the perfect environment for friend making and often result in the formation of troupes. I got to speak to Austin improviser and creator of The Theft Forum podcast, Scott Hearne.
Scott Hearne: You take classes to do improv but then, you can only take classes for so long, you run out of classes to take and how are you supposed to grow as an improviser? Well you go to jams, but the other thing is, you can create a team, cast a team, and hire a coach. And continue to work with the same people over and over again and that repeated relationship of doing scenes, will help your improv. It’s kind of like a social club on some level, because you really get to know people and when doing scene work with them, it creates friendships and relationships that you never would have imagined, but also, being able to work with people there and creating scenes and doing the good work, it feels like you’re reaching towards a goal so it’s like being in a constructive friendship.
“The thing I like most about my job, is just helping people follow their secret dream…”
– Tom Booker
Besides making new friends and finally getting the chance to express your human experience through performance, according to Tom Booker, there are a ton of reasons to try improv –
Tom: To have fun, to build self-confidence, to create, to find joy, to smile, to laugh, to have a place to go to. There’s an infinite number. I mean, why does someone want to skip — why not?
Now as for any of you who may be considering giving improv a shot, Tom’s advice is pretty clear.
Tom: Do it. Because you’re never going to know if you don’t try. And if you feel like doing improv, I guarantee you’re going to be good at it. Everybody’s good at it once they get out of their own way. I don’t teach anybody anything they don’t already know – I remind them that they already know it, and I do that by just reminding them how to play. Remind the people how to play because that’s what we do. Because when we play, when we try to have fun, our inspiration speaks to us through what we feel like is fun. And when we do that we create things that only that person can create. It’s wonderful. It’s fun to watch.
Much like life, improv is all about taking risks and making choices and that’s what makes it all so exciting.
More information on The Institution Theatre.