As we celebrate the Institution’s 4th Woodbury-location anniversary, I can’t help but remember when the Institution started altogether, in January 2008.  As a proud member of the first class, and of The Inmates, the first house troupe- long before we had interns with the same name- I can say that we have had a long journey together: Tom, the students, the staff, the locations, the shows, the audiences, and the many coffee shop meetings, dreaming and planning a theatre.  After all, we had to showcase all of the talent coming out of the classes.

I don’t know what propelled me to attend the free Institution workshop. I think it had something to do with having just purchased a car.  Relying on the inconvenient and inconsistent Austin bus service I spent most of my time at home or at work.  I saw the workshop posted on a film forum and signed up. And then, my January 14 e-mail:  “Hi Tom, I had a great time at the workshop on Saturday.  I’d like to sign up…”

Holy Toledo!  I don’t know what propelled me out of my living room and into the world of improv and TIT madness, but I can’t possibly express my appreciation for it and for Tom.  Every Sunday I went back to class, at the Velveeta Room on 6th Street.  I was quiet and shy and stayed in the back of the room.  Tom would ask if everybody had had a turn at an exercise and I wouldn’t respond.  He would visually scan the room then call me out: “WE SEE YOU BACK THERE!”  I certainly knew, for a long time, maybe two years, that I was not a performer.  Improv was not for me.  I would never do it in front of an audience.  But damn…I was having the absolute best time in class.  That’s where I met all my friends. It’s where I had fun and laughed more than I ever had. I looked forward to class all week.  

Before I knew it (OK, like I said, about two years) I found that Tom, and later Asaf, had chipped down my reserves and I was getting out of my head and into my heart more.  I was an improvisor.

I’ve come full-circle and have been teaching 101 at The Institution for two years.  I can’t imagine a better fit for me.  I absolutely understand the students who hang back and are terrified of speaking in front of others, in class or on stage.  I’ve had students say, “I can’t do it,” while shaking.  And I’ve seen them light up when they conquer something scary and also get out of their head and into their heart.

And so for all the terrified people out there, the ones who crave a change and want to do something fun, and play with a team who won’t judge them for making weird faces or gestures or saying something “stupid” (which isn’t even possible in improv) I say, “Please join the team.  We can’t wait to play with you.”


written by Jo Chauvin