Improv Corner – EXCLUSIVE – Teaching at Chicago’s Dramatic Improv Festival

This week we have another exclusive for you. Whilst a lot of improv is based on comedy there is a huge section on it that also delves into the world of Dramatic Improv. In September Chicago is holding a Dramatic Improv Festival and Rachel E. Thorn and Rhiannon Jenkins are two Brits teaching at this year’s Dramatic Improv Festival, which is held by Theatre Momentum in Chicago between the 8th and 13th September. I caught up with them for an interview all about it to find out more about online festivals and teaching dramatic improv.

Hello! Tell us about the festival.

Rhiannon: DIF is the only festival that focuses on dramatic and narrative improvisation. Usually it’s held in September at Pendulum Space and Laugh Out Loud Theater in Chicago, but this year it’s all online.

How will an online festival work?

Rachel: I was really looking forward to going to Chicago this year, especially since a great friend from drama school lives there, but the good news is a Zoom subscription is way cheaper than flights! It’s disappointing not to be able to teach or perform in person, but now the festival is available to everyone in the world. That’s pretty cool.

Rhiannon: Tony Rielage runs the festival and he’s done a great job of working with the teachers to make sure all the workshops are suitable for online teaching. It’s certainly been a challenge switching over to doing things online, but now that we’ve been at it a few months, I think there are lots of exciting new things we can do online that we couldn’t do on a stage! 

So tell us about the workshops.

Rachel: There are over 20 workshops covering all aspects of dramatic improv. My workshop is called Stiff Upper Improv, and we’ll be exploring how a good dose of that famous British reserve can make your improv scenes more nuanced and more engaging. I admit I pitched the concept when I was expecting to be teaching a group of Americans! 

Rhiannon: My workshop is based on the idea of bringing your truest, most authentic self to the improv stage. There’s a lot to be said for great character improv, but I really love to see people being honest, vulnerable, and emotive on stage, and I hope that this workshop will help people do a little more of that! 

Are there shows too? 

Rachel: Yep, there are 30 shows, both pre-recorded and live online, including a Sex, Lies & Improvisation that Alex and I recorded over Skype in the depths of lockdown. We’ve been holding onto it specially for DIF – and it’s pretty dark! We wanted to make sure we worked with the restrictions of lockdown rather than in spite of them, so I guess we should temporarily rename ourselves Skype, Lies & Improvisation!

Rhiannon: They Don’t Know The Half Of It will also be doing the online version of our show. We do two-person scenes, where one actor who has learnt a script (and can’t deviate from it) is paired with an improviser who is trying to muddle their way through. Although it sounds like it could be wacky, we often find we have incredibly connected, heartfelt scenes – and it’s translated to the online space surprisingly well! 

Where can we find out more?

Rhiannon: Go to https://dramaticimprovfest.com/ to book onto some of the amazing workshops taking place. It’s a fab opportunity to work with improv teachers from all over the world, without even leaving the house!

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