Chapter 10: The Architecture of Improvisation

stained glass house

Well, we are at the end of our second session at the Chicago Improv Den…

And I often finding myself asking the question “How do I get these kids to relax?” By “kids,” I mean students—some of whom are older than me.

Everyone has so much information in their heads from all their different classes—they want to “say yes” and “stick to their shit” and blah blah blah. All good stuff, don’t get me wrong. All valid rules that have real meaning in improvisation—but like any rules, these too are meant to be forgotten, on some level.

Here’s the problem: Improv imitates life to some extent—or its more heightened moments. This heightened thing puts people in their head…but really it should do the opposite.

Let’s say you want to be an architect, like George Costanza from Seinfeld (hey CID students: this is one of George’s “filters” btw). So you go to school and you learn all that is required. You study lots of math and other stuff—very technical stuff that I really can barely even reference because I am not an architect.


Eventually you get your degree in architecture and you go out there and you start architecting…

The rules still play a part in your architecture but they aren’t in the forefront of your head…you work with other people to create your spaces or maybe you design your passion project and you solely rely on a vision to which you’ve been clinging…The rules play a part sure, but at the heart of it is so much more. You are seeing things creatively first—with emotion and heart and want and other wonderful things that motivate each and every one of us.

When you, the improviser, goes into a scene—you have to be the graduated architect. You need to build a character, a relationship, an environment, a backstory. Sure the rules play a part, but something larger is at stake…something that the rules fold into.   You see, the other stuff doesn’t fold into the rules…

The other day, I was working with my level 1 class. I did a little experiment. At break, I secretly asked some of the students to all tickle another student. This was a student who I thought might be a little too in his head.   In any case, the scene started, and the tickling commenced. And the tickled student barely acknowledged it—he had his own idea for the scene and he wasn’t going to let anything get in the way. This to me proved a point. He was too in his head—he was being a good student and following the rules but he wasn’t LETTING THE SCENE HAPPEN. Everyone but him in the scene was tickling him but he still had to “stick to his shit” and ignore what was organically happening. What he saw as a nuisance was a huge opportunity…maybe he had an embarrassing laugh, maybe he peed himself, maybe he was wearing a wire. We’ll never know, because he didn’t let the scene happen.

pee stain

When a good architect is “tickled” he laughs—when his first design encounters some surprises, he deals with them. He trusts what he’s learned and applies it as needed but it isn’t his only guiding principle. We as improvisers need to know that…



“Being an architect isn’t only about construction, it’s about creating wide spaces with small spaces.”

― Yannick Heywang




Dina has toured with and directed for The Second City National Touring Company and has taught/performed/directed all over the great city of Chicago. In 2011, Dina was honored to headline the Denver Improv Festival as a representative of Virgin Daiquiri; that same year, iO Chicago graced her with the title of Improviser of the Year. In 2012, Dina executive produced Virgin Daiquiri’s first album FOOD BABY, now available on iTunes. Dina now performs regularly at iO Chicago with Virgin Daiquiri at iO - where she also co-created CUFFS & DBAG. She has also had the honor of working at Steppenwolf and ATC.

You must be logged in to post a comment