Improv Class Gives Grown-ups a much needed Play Date

Betsy Graham of Winnetka arrived half an hour late to class and on the verge of tears.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” she apologized, shakily pulling up a chair to join the group as instructor Lisa Bany-Winters handed her a plastic cup of red wine. “I’ve had the worst week, but I just kept thinking, I have to go to improv.”

Ten minutes and a couple rounds of “Word Association Juggle” later, Betsy was the first to leap to her feet to save the day in the Hero game. She pushed out an imaginary steamroller to flatten her scene partner’s unruly hair. The rest of us hooted and cheered; Betsy’s awful week was forgotten.

Such is the beauty of a Play On improv class. For two hours, the present moment is all that matters and every choice you make is right. There’s no grading, competition or pressure—it’s about being open, spontaneous and playful. In fact, the only real rule of improv is to say, “Yes!”

“Adults need to laugh and not think so hard,” says Bany Winters. “They need to give themselves the chance to play.”

Play On co-founder Josh Andrews agrees. “Everyone who comes here experiences an infinite amount of many small victories,” he said.

Bany-Winters and Andrews led the group through a series of fast-paced games that were silly and fun, but had purpose. “Survivor” made us listen to one another, “Triplets” was geared to heightening an idea.

As class members took the floor, Lisa and Josh shouted encouragement and switched up the scenes from the sidelines.

“You’re in a sandstorm! It’s blinding you! You haven’t had water for days. Yes! Now you’re in the arctic tundra!”

The night I joined Play On, I licked pretend spilled beer foam off the floor and clung to the rail of a heaving ship as a tidal wave descended. I felt refreshed and energized! No wonder my classmates consider improv one of the best parts of their week.

Winnetka’s Barbara Rittenhouse says, “Improv is the joy of my life and it’s better than therapy. When you’re in the moment …”

Mimi Roeder of Evanston finishes her sentence, “… you don’t think about the bad stuff in your life.”

“I don’t think about anything,” laughs Lucia Guridi, who lives in Wilmette.

Play On holds adult improv classes at the Open Studio at 903 Sherman Ave in Evanston on Thursdays from 7:30 -9:30pm.  You can register for an 8-week session or simply drop by for a fee of $25 per class. For more information visit the Play On website.

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