My name is Frances Bird and I am a junior currently on the Dartmouth women’s lacrosse team. For my off-term, I have ventured all the way across the globe to Chicago, Ill., a mere 750 miles from my house. While I had dreamed about jetting off to Europe, I realized that what I truly wanted out of this experience could not be achieved in London with my fellow teammates. I really wanted to step outside my comfort zone and try something new and completely random. I settled on a city where I had absolutely no friends and decided to take it one step further, and enroll myself in classes at Second City, an improvisation and sketch comedy powerhouse. At Second City, I have been taking acting, writing with the Onion, improvisation and comedy writing. While I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I have become a professional at handling public humiliation and welcoming vulnerability with open arms.
My Acting 1 class focuses mainly on creating and perfecting a monologue to use for auditions/interviews in the future, or, for people like me, just to have in my back pocket. After picking our monologues the first week of class, each week we develop a new aspect of these monologues - so far we have been dealing with emotions, energy (through either head, shoulder, chest, stomach, pelvis or knees), weight balance (toes, clenched toes or heels), environment and physical movement. Each class we perform our monologues in front of the entire group and receive feedback from both the teacher and classmates. While many people are truly working on perfecting a monologue, I have relished the opportunity to receive public attention, and have transformed it from petrifying to exhilarating.
Writing with the Onion has definitely been the biggest challenge I have faced. Walking into class the first day and taking a seat at a table with approximately 20 men in their mid-30s, I realized I was a little out of place. When people began introducing themselves, I quickly realized that I was not only just a little out of place, but the only person in the class without a career in the journalism industry. My introduction consisted of one word: Frances. The teacher then asked us to write down 10 Onion-style headlines and I proceeded to sit in silence watching everyone around me fervently writing. A few thoughts ran through my head, including: what is ‘The Onion?’ ‘Am I in the wrong classroom?’ And ‘Would it be inappropriate to stand up right now and leave?’ After the exercise we were asked to read our favorite headline out loud, and needless to say I did not receive a standing ovation. Since this first day, I have learned what The Onion is, thankfully, and how to write an Onion-style headline. In class, we have gone over the 11 filters of Onion headlines and each week our writing is projected in front of the entire class. Slowly but surely I have stopped thinking about how much I want the projector to break before it’s my turn.
Some of my favorite Onion headlines I have come up with:
- Irony Filter: Stay at Home Wife Wishes Husband Had More Ambition in the Workplace
- My own made up Filter: Man Heroically Saves Baby Chipmunk from Inside His Roller Blade
Why hasn’t The Onion posted these, you wonder? I wonder too…
The improvisation class at Second City has been a real highlight in my adventure. We play so many games using imaginary objects, exaggerated emotions, different energy levels and unheard of noises. These games are meant for us to become comfortable with each other, even though we may look a little bit silly. With my classmates, I have built a machine, fought a samurai war, and had full conversations in gibberish. I have learned that in improvisation, there is no such thing as ‘no’. Everything someone says must receive an enthusiastic ‘yes’, and it must also be elaborated on. The point of improv is to make your partners look good, not yourself. We recently began doing scene work where two people will stand in front of class and receive characters and a location. From there, the conversation is completely unpredictable. So far, I have been a police officer on a break talking about my vegan diet and a mother fighting over a sweater with my daughter at the mall. Both the games and the skits have taught me how to make a fool of myself and be perfectly okay with it.
Similar to my acting experience, I am constantly standing up in front of my comedy writing class and performing. However, these performances are both written and directed by me. Each week we learn a new way to transform our ‘sketches’, which we must incorporate into our work in the future. I love incorporating wacky stories from both my family at home and my family at Dartmouth into my writing. While my teacher credits my skits with an eccentric imagination, little does she realize how wacky my families actually can be!
This experience has been both thrilling and terrifying, but definitely one of the most amazing opportunities I have ever had. I am constantly in awe of the people around me at Second City and have met some of the wittiest and most creative people in the industry. I have become comfortable with being uncomfortable and cannot wait to apply what I have learned to situations in the future.
Chicago is an amazing city and I have loved every minute I have spent here. I have ventured to many different neighborhoods in the city and have become an expert at the bus system. This clean, homey city has been a delight, as have deep-dish pizza and Chicago style hotdogs. One of my favorite adventures was sitting in the glass box on top of the Sears Tower. I thought the wind was going to rip the box right off the side of the building!
I have also enjoyed the Peggy Notebaert Butterfly Exhibit, seeing shows at Second City, including my favorites: A Clown Car Named Desire and Let Them Eat Chaos, walking along the Magnificent Mile, attempting to interpret art at the Museum of Modern Art with friends from my improv class, and going out for lunch at Siena Tavern with teammate Jessica Frieder.
I am ecstatic to head home to Dartmouth for the winter and teach my teammates all the new games I have learned in my improvisation class!