The Teacher Becomes the Apprentice
By Allison Keller
Before I ever even considered teaching improv, I often wondered what my “legacy” would be if I were to become a teacher. So many of my previous improv teachers had a style that I could summarize in a word or an idea. What would be my calling card? What would be my “thing”?
The first time I had the chance to teach the wonderful students of The Apprentice Program, I spent days thinking about what exercises I wanted to go through, what ideas I wanted to get across. I had carefully written each part of my lesson down in my notebook with pre-planned variations to make the concepts increasingly more difficult. I had pre-made questions to ask the group to get my point across. I was ready to make my mark.
After a quick warm-up, I told my group of apprentices to line-up on our makeshift stage, ready to do some scenes.
“You know,” I gestured with my hands to the sides of the UTG Purple Room, “Chicago-style.” Eight pairs of eyes looked at me blankly.
“Chicago-style? Like, a hot dog?”
“No, like, on the sides of the room. Right? That’s Chicago-style?”
“Why is that Chicago-style?”
“Because… you stand on the sides… instead of at the back?”
“What’s standing on the back of the wall called?”
“I’m… I’m really not sure.”
Slowly, I divulged that some teacher (whose name I couldn’t even remember) at some point during my very early months of learning improv had briefly mentioned that lining up on the sides of the stage instead of on a back line was called “Chicago-style.” And I, having an impressionable young improviser brain, simply accepted this as a fact and moved on. It wasn’t until years later, having actually said it out loud to a captive audience, that I realized the description was not universal and really made no sense at all. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard anyone call lining up on the sides of a stage “Chicago-style” since hearing it that first time.
Like the talented group of improvisers they are, they never let me forget it. Each time I asked a group to line up on stage I’d hear a quiet, “Oh, Chicago-style? Or New York?” In fact, one of the first teams to take the stage at the apprentice show was named “Chicago-Style.” And even though I knew they did it to poke fun at my mistake, I can’t help but feel a little touched. “Chicago-Style” improv: My legacy.