Harry Potter and the Starving Artist

So, just how did the magic of Harry Potter save one poor improviser? Is Chicago the Hogwarts of Improv? Yes, says improviser Lisa Burton.


Lisa is using her improv experience and training to good use! Here's what she did before Chicago:

Before moving to Chicago, I lived in Minnesota.  I was
introduced to short form improv right after I graduated high school (summer of
2002), performed, and got paid (a rarity in improv, or any theatre form for
that matter).  I then went off to college at the University of Minnesota,
Morris where I got involved with the short form improv team there.  I
actually went to college for biology and ended up picking up a theatre degree
in the process (graduated 2006).  

Post college, I wanted to try my hand at
acting while I was still young, so picked up and moved to the big city of
Minneapolis, MN where I auditioned for a number of theatre things not specific
to improv until I got offered some free classes at the Brave New Workshop
Theatre bnw50th.jpg(known for alum Al Franken, Pat Proft, Michael Gellman, Louie Anderson,
and others).  This was my first formal training with long form improv. BNW
teaches a broad overview of multiple forms, mostly just teaching basics to
improv, as most Minnesotans have only seen improv on Whose Line Is It Anyway?
 Summer of 2007 I took a 2 week intensive at The Second City for Improv
and Sketch writing, which turned out to be an excellent program and a lot of
fun.  In fall 2008 I moved to Chicago to pursue improv and sketch comedy,
as there are no formal training programs specific to comedy writing in
Minnesota, and since I was curious about that part of it, I moved here!
 Got involved at the io Theater right away, and will begin the Music Improv
Program at Second City this fall! 

Why'd you move here?

Moved here to do more improv and sketch stuff.
 Minnesota really only has three theatres that teach the stuff (Brave New
Workshop, Stevie Rays, and ComedySportz) and none really have a solid
sketchwriting program.  I love the Brave New Workshop wholeheartedly, but
while I was there, it was difficult to catch the one sketchwriting type class
they have there, as there was only one teacher of it, and as a student, you
really had to pay close attention to the website to know when that class was
being offered.  Plus, there are plenty more opportunities to get up
onstage here for comedy.  Of course, everyone knows Chicago is deemed one
of the "Meccas" of improv and sketch comedy.

What do you do for a living right now?

I currently work at the Museum of Science and Industry in
the Harry Potter Exhibition.  I'm what the museum calls a Facilitator.
 I basically am there to facilitate hp_9436_476.jpg experiences for museum guests, talk to
them about what they're looking at or answer any questions they have.
 Sometimes it's to give tours of exhibits, but this summer it's
specifically to talk about Harry Potter films.  Funny story about this, as
improv has helped me to get my job, too!  


Picture me:  been in Chicago 2 months without a job,
money dwindling, lost about 10 pounds from not being able to afford food,
literally living the starving actor lifestyle.  I decided to use my last
$10 for the week to see a show at the io which is only a quick walk from my new
apartment.  The show was great, and about halfway through the shows in the
cabaret, the io does a form they call "The Dream" so I volunteer.
 I get up onstage and they ask me what my day was like and start in,
"well, I slept until about 2pm...woke up, got online until about six, and
then went back to sleep until I came to the show tonight at 10:30..." and
everyone laughed and I realized this was the life of the unemployed twenty
something.  They were asking me questions about by life and background
since my day wasn't filled with much and after the show I was approached by one
of the performers, Matt Higbee.  He said they were hiring at the Museum of
Science and Industry harry_potter_the_exhibition_logo.jpg and that they like improvisers and that my background in
biology would be a great asset to the science establishment for children.
 We exchanged emails and after a quick audition a week later, I had myself
a job doing tours of the Smart Home and the U-505 Submarine at the largest
science museum in the western hemisphere!  Totally cool!


How has your improv education helped in that?

Besides getting me my job, my improv education has been
invaluable.  I work with people all day, and since right now I have to
talk to people 9 hours a day in an authentic British dialect (Harry Potter
right now) improv has been essential in my comfort level. Honestly, people in
general improvise every day when they converse with other humans, so that's one
thing.  It helps that I'm a big Harry Potter nerd, but talking with people
you don't know is not always the easiest in the world.  When the only
thing you may have in common with a total stranger is that you're both standing
in relatively the same environment, it's sometimes daunting to think about
talking to them at any length, but that's my job and improv has really helped
to get over that discomfort, I think.  In Harry Potter, there are a number
of times we, as facilitators are performing for the groups as a whole and then
instantly jump to one on one interactions and to be adaptable to the number of
people you're talking to is quite important. 

Improv training really helps to read people.  Part of
walking into a scene is making eye contact with the other person and figuring
out your relationship.  If that person looks angry, they're mad at you in
that scene, or if they look worried, you may have a higher status, and the same
reading can be applied to approaching guests at the museum.  

If a guest
looks frazzled, my job when approaching them is to soothe them, if they look
excited, my job is to facilitate that excitement and answer questions to have
an even BETTER time (as if that was possible, they're probably having the best
time of their life already, I mean it IS the Museum of Science and Industry).
 Improv can also be a useful skill when dealing with problems at the
museum.  Any number of things could go wrong, you could have a
claustrophobic person faint inside the U-505 2305908152_9cbda97025.jpg for example, and you are on a
timed sound and light tour and you're in the middle of explaining life on board
the u-boat, so what do you do?  Or to have a wind storm shake  up the
tent in Harry Potter, how do you deal with the number of people in the tent, be
they ten or one hundred?  It's good to be versatile is what I'm saying,
and improv training has helped me to keep a level head in every situation.
 We do play a lot of improv games as we're training and doing facilitation
workshops to keep us versatile and adaptable.  Again, improv training has
really proven invaluable. 


The Magic of Improv has definitely helped Lisa! Thanks for sharing your story, Lisa!

Do you have story of how improvisation helped you and your life? Let me know!

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