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Improv Wed Nov 21 2012
Chicago-native Jason Hodge started getting interested in improv when he was in high school. His father was a police officer whose foot-route was on Clark Street and was able to get him tickets to shows at the then-called Improv Olympic (iO, now). He started doing improv at 19 and has taken classes at iO and the Annoyance. For five years he was part of a member team at the Playground and for two years has been playing with pH -- who opened their new space in Andersonville this month. For the past year, Hodge has participated as a coach in pH's College pHarm Team program -- a free initiative that matches collegiate improvisers with pH company members and gives the teams an opportunity to play.
What made you want to coach a college improv team?
When I first started with pH I hadn't seen many of their shows, so they told me to go see shows and get familiar. The first show I saw was College Night and that show would have a couple college groups and then the coaches would perform. I had a ball, and I wasn't much older than most of the college teams... What I liked the most about it was that when I started improv I was their age, but I tried to get into it with all the twenty-somethings and the thirty-somethings, and I was very much an outsider -- it kind of caused issues -- I think -- with my development and that outlet is incredibly important, and I liked that pH has that. I basically went every night and didn't stop going.
Are they still doing college night now that they have a new space?
Yes. It's Thursday nights -- it was a 10:30 show at the last venue and at our new theater it's going to be at 10 o'clock. Because we have four teams now -- we used to have two -- they are going to rotate and we'll have three college teams each night, and the coaches always perform.
What colleges are involved?
Columbia College -- "Droppin' $cience" is the name of the team. DePaul University has a team [Cosby Sweaters].
Which team are you coaching?
I'm coaching Dominican University -- their team is called "Noise from the Basement."
[Ed. Note: the fourth team is Loyola's "Latchkey Kid"]
Are there auditions to be on these teams?
Basically, the schools independently have auditions for their school team. It is part of a "pHarm League," as we call it for pH. It's part of how pH is an outreach to the community. Most of [the schools] had teams that already existed -- or at least in my case.
How did you get to be a coach for the Dominican team?
One of the pH ensemble members works at Dominican University and was kind of coaching them to do shows at their own school. Every pH team has two coaches -- they kind of open it up to everybody in pH who wants to coach, and I put my name in the hat and they picked me to join him.
Are the teams competing against each other?
No, it's not competition... [T]hey all perform just like any other show. They do long-form pieces. DePaul does a musical improv. "Droppin' $cience" does their own form of improv, and my group does long-form as well.
How do people respond to the college teams?
I like to think that it's one of the most important parts of the theater, because also tickets sales are huge -- College Night sells out weekly. There are a lot of kids that want to watch. A lot of their friends play on a team.
With the new space are they going to do more stuff with the college teams?
One thing that's going to change about the structure of pH is that college performers are going to be able to audition for pH shows and have what we call like "spotlight series shows" where if they write their own plays or sketch comedy shows they can put those up. I think in pH and the grand-scale of improv things, college performers are going to be more prevalent in the next couple years.
What's some advice you would give a college performer?
The first thing that comes to mind -- just as a general improv thing -- is that you should play with anybody and everybody and you shouldn't be choosy or dismissive or judgmental of other peoples' work. The most you can learn in improv is by playing with everybody -- that's just whether you're a college kid or 40 years old and starting.
College night at pH is on Thursday nights at 10pm. Tickets are $5. pH is located at 1515 W. Berwyn Ave. -- box office number is 773-732.5450.
Photos courtesy: Carol Bontekoe of Colorful Cow Photography