After over two years of improvising in Chicago (and quite a few years before that in Seattle), I have decided to stop improvising on stage for a while.
I actually made the decision a couple weeks ago, but needed to complete some official business before it was practical to announce it. I have officially left One Group Mind, the organization I had been practicing with since 2015 and the one organization I was still currently committed to, and as of last night am no longer committed to anything improv-related going forward. My last show with my team Sosa Mimosa was 2/24, and I coached my last rehearsal for Flynn Tin Tin last night (2/26). I didn’t want to make a big deal out of goodbyes, so (though the org and teams knew) I kept it quiet until now.
This was not a painful, ‘Mike Schmidt or Lou Piniella crying on TV’ sort of decision. I’m actually quite relieved. My life over the last few months has changed in many ways, and demands on my time and energy outside of improv (demands I mostly want) also increased. While free time and other interests have become more important, improv gradually became little more to me than an obligation… one I realized I did not need to keep.
Over the last six months I got seriously into distance running. I’ve run regularly (to a lesser extent) over the years, but wanted to get more serious about it. I run most days of the week, and now regularly run races on some weekends. For a lot of reasons I really enjoy it, and of course I’ve gotten in pretty good shape and health doing so.
Because of this, rest and recovery becomes much more important. As a Chicago resident rest is very hard to get since doing anything at all requires some walking and other physical effort (plus I also have to commute to/from work, like everyone else). Add in an improv commitment that requires going to and from Wicker Park one or more nights a week, and I just wasn’t getting a lot of time to rest. (And improv culture, of course, does not lend itself to a restful and healthy lifestyle in general)
Of course, your body as a runner punishes you when you don’t rest, and I don’t want to risk long term injury from exhaustion, let alone deal with exhaustion’s negative effects on my running performance. Plus, I have other errands and responsibilities I need to find time to do, things you take for granted like laundry, grocery shopping and preparing meals. Removing any unnecessary late nights or commutes from my schedule became a huge priority. During a stressful week a couple weeks ago, it became clear how much improv had gotten in the way of the rest of my life, more than adding to it.
I still generally enjoy improv, watching it and doing it. At my last performance and my last coaching rehearsal, I still had fun. But everything surrounding getting to that space and carving out time for it is what really sucks, and at this point it just sucks too much.
I don’t (unlike a lot of people in the scene) have any delusions or ambitions of channeling fame or fortune through improv, and did it solely as a serious interest. Since improv’s not a serious interest for me anymore, I should stop. I have finite energy and time, and I now realize improv’s eating away at too much of it. I want to get to a point where I once again have a impassioned, active interest in improv… and realize I need substantial time away for that to return.
I still believe One Group Mind and The Comedy Clubhouse are the sneaky-best places for improv fans and performers in the city of Chicago. I gladly endorse the organization as a place to practice, and gladly endorse the Clubhouse as a great place to enjoy improv on the weekends. It’s my hope that if/when I want to return that I can return (from our communications I’m told they’d welcome me back). I still believe that anyone who ignores the Clubhouse or the organization, or looks down upon it as a lesser improv house, is making a substantial mistake. Yes, that’s just my opinion, albeit an informed one (as someone with more experience than he ever wanted with all the local Chicago improv theaters), and a lot more coldly objective than it ought to be given my allegiances with the theater.
I may or may not come and see improv or other comedy shows over time, but I do want to spend time away, so I probably will not during the foreseeable future.
For now, I want to focus on running and enjoying the rest of what life has to offer. Some people get into improv as an escape from a life they don’t care for. Personally, I like my life, and I want to create all the space I need to get the most of what I want out of it.
One notable point is that I originally moved to Chicago at the end of 2014 for the explicit purpose of doing improv. And now I’m no longer doing the thing I moved here for.
Now, I could come back to improv in time. There’s also the possibility I just don’t. But if I’m not going to do improv, then what am I doing here in Chicago?
Well, for as many issues as I have had with this corrupt and troubled city… it turns out Chicago is a great city for running. Along with many running groups and organizations, and countless local races throughout the year… the Lakefront Trail and Lincoln Park are two accessible and massively inviting places to run. Training for me has been very easy since instead of dodging cars, I can jog a few blocks to a trail and then not have to worry about vehicle traffic throughout a long run. I realize very few other livable locales for me could offer that.
Obviously, if for some reason I was economically or logistically forced out of living in Lakeview my situation could change, and maybe then I consider a move out of Chicago. But for now, Chicago is actually a really good city to run in. So even if I moved here for improv and don’t do that anymore, I can still live here for the valuable running experience.