I recently had the opportunity to take part in an improv class taught by Tara DeFrancisco – it was offered through my work as a way to work on the 5 C’s:
The opportunity was opened up for the inaugural class, and I admit i was hesitant to sign up. I wasn’t sure if it was going to end up being “more work”, on top of the general insecurities that come with this type of thing, but needless to day I ended up participating…And I cannot recommend it enough! It was so fun, a great way to get to know my coworkers (there are 500+ people in my office so it can be hard to get to know people outside of your immediate team) and full of life lessons and tools that are so very useful. Tara is an awesome teacher and helped us realize that people generally want to see you succeed and are there to help you if you let them (so don’t be afraid of looking or sounding stupid!). When you think about it, it’s probably true that the people you tend to gravitate to are often the ones who are passionate, confident and aren’t afraid of failing, right? One of the people in my class who has taken improv before said something I thought was really powerful that I hope to remember the next time I’m on the fence about something: “I always used to fear getting rejected, but now my biggest fear is having regret.”
Anyway, the class was SO FUN and the teacher is amazing, and lucky for us, she agreed to do a little Q&A on the blog!
Tara Defrancisco, Performer/Teacher at Second City, iO Theater, and ComedySportz
Q: I thought the class would be a great way to get me out of my comfort zone, but I was surprised by how relevant the exercises are for every day life! What is one practice people reading this could apply to their own life?
A: Oh, I’m so glad. Well, a good improviser following the tenets of what it is we do reflects the same traits as a good human – care, invest, play well with others, make your friends look good, say what you mean, participate in active listening and listen to hear not just to respond – and the biggest thing to take away – say Yes to most all situations. More doors are open when you say yes.
Q: Did you always know you were funny? How did you get into improv?
A: Thanks! I was funny as a kid, yes, but improvisation relies more on those things above than just being class clown. I left Ohio after college to pursue a career in improvisation; I had no other real goal besides “get good at improv”. I watched Whose Line growing up and heard tale that Chicago was the capital of it all. It was then, and is now, and luckily for people all over the world falling in love with the art, it’s starting to be ubiquitous.
Q: One of the big themes of the improv class is overcoming fear of rejection and how to project confidence. Was there a defining moment where you overcame these fears yourself, and if so, how did you let them go?
A: Hmm. Nothing specifically of note, but a lifetime of that. I was a smart tomboy with some extra weight on her, so, I guess a lot of it was digging out of awkward phases. Generally, being funny gave me confidence back – being funny allows you to tell people what to laugh at rather than letting them decide for themselves. It helped the teenage years – then it was just fun. My confidence skyrocketed when people would want to be around me because I was goofy. Later, people want to be around you because you’re capable of being more than that.
Q: There has been a lot of talk about women and comedy, and needless to say the ladies have been killing it the past few years – what do you say to those critics that think women can’t be as funny as men?
Q: What is the biggest lesson you hope improv students take from your class?
A: Care less about what art gives you, and care more about what you give art. Make something beautiful. Help make the world one you want to be in.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about imrpov?
A: That you must be funny to attempt it. If you are doing comedic improvisation, being funny sure helps. In this day and age, however, you don’t need to be hilarious to try engaging with another person to make believe – you just have to be present and drop your own agenda in order to successfully play with others.
Q: How often do you perform each week (and where, so we can go see you!)?
A: That has varied over the years. There have been times I performed 250 days a year and many shows a week; there have been other times I have taught as much as performed and evened the shows to the same (probably healthier) level. Right now, I do about 4-6 shows a week, most public, some private, and teach 3 times a week. I’m a Second City alum and now do the mainstages at two other theatres while I’m in town. One is ComedySportz Chicago, a house for shortform improvisation akin to Whose Line (usually Thursdays) – and the other is the world-reknowned iO Chicago (formerly the ImprovOlympic), where I do several shows a week, including the improvised musical the Deltones & house team Chaos Theory (both Saturday), and my own show defrancisCo, where I pull a random ID of those in the audience for them to join me onstage for a full set (Mondays).
Q: Your bio is so impressive! Any big plans or goals to meet in the next few years you can share with us?
A: Nothing specific. I like to keep perspective. Some people are all about getting famous at all costs; I have never understood it. Being famous is often a miserable life – doing great art and making people laugh is where it is at. I like fun. I like being open and not having a plan, because hopes are wonderful and plans are for suckers. I just got a feature film and have been in a few commercials recently. Artistically, I feel lucky. I get to teach and do big shows abroad. I’ll probably write something. I might try a pilot season once out in LA. I just love live theatre and getting to perform with my friends and talk to other inspired people. My loved ones are incredibly important to me. Coming from a big old family that has been through a lot, you have perspective – not much matters but loving people well. It’s a good life, as it stands.
Thanks Tara! You’re outlook on life is so inspiring. Check out more about Tara here: http://www.taradefrancisco.com/ and go see her perform if you’re in Chicago!