Erin McEvoy tells her class they’re making a sandwich today. “You can put anything you want on it,” she tells the two boys and three girls, ages 4 to 6, who make up her Saturday morning ImaginAction class at the Second City Training Center in Chicago.
McEvoy pretends she’s placing a huge piece of bread in the middle of the circle, then adds cheese and some meat. For a twist she throws on a lizard. Two of the girls scream “Ewww!” as another one giggles and jumps into the game, adding “tortellini, a dog and a goldfish” on the growing sandwich. McEvoy goes around the circle, coaxing her students to add more ingredients. One boy wants lots of candy and another asks for chocolate syrup and three meatballs.
“This is going to be a sugary sandwich,” McEvoy says.
Laughter, play and children go together. For parents looking to expand their children’s imagination, Chicago’s comedy circuit offers a variety of classes, shows and festivals for their little budding comedians.
A classroom of games
Every Saturday, Second City in Chicago, hosts a number of hourlong improvisation classes aimed at kids from ages 4 to 12, along with a teen improv program. Classes consist of games and activities designed to encourage imagination, improvisation and acting skills. Sessions run for eight weeks and cost $120.
McEvoy says she likes to open each class by building an imaginary object—such as the sandwich—with her students. Such games encourage kids to stretch their imaginations, an important component of improv. “A big tenet of improv is that anything goes,” she explains. “With the sandwich, they don’t have to just put meat or cheese on it.”
Other games involve schoolyard favorites such as Red Light, Green Light—but with an extra layer of team building and imagination. For example, during McEvoy’s version of Red Light, Green Light, students pretend to be different animals such as hedgehogs, bull dogs and zebras.
“It’s not to trick them into acting, but to get them to open up,” McEvoy says.
Chicago resident Juana Diaz, 26, says the Second City workshops fit her 4-year-old daughter, Cassandra, perfectly.
“[Cassandra] has always been very vocal and expressive,” Juana says. “She likes the class a lot. She calls it her ‘downtown’ class.”
Shows for the whole family
For families seeking an entertaining night on the town, Chicago offers many kid-friendly shows with humor that appeals to both children and parents.
The Chicago Improv Festival will host its free Family Day on April 23 at the Chicago Cultural Center. Jonathan Pitts, executive director of the festival, says families can watch improv featuring family-appropriate material and teenage performers. The festival will also host workshops for parents and children ages kindergarten through high school.
Family versions of popular adult shows are another venue for all-ages entertainment. The Neo-Futurists at Chicago’s Neo-Futurarium are running a family-friendly version of their popular “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” show. “Too Much Light Kids” runs from April 9 to May 28.
In “Too Much Light Kids,” the audience sits in the driver’s seat, says Genevra Gallow, artistic director. Each interactive performance consists of two-minute-long plays chosen at random by the audience, she explains. The mini plays cover everything from divorced families to a pregnant mom interviewing kids for tips on what makes a good mom.
Gallow also says the fast pace of the show is great for kids. “[The play] is built for a short attention span,” she says. “It kind of plays to kids’ strengths.”
For an even more interactive show, families can check out “Hogwash—An Improvised Tale for Small Children,” which runs through April 30 at the Lakeshore Theater in Chicago. Before the show starts, children can color posters and have their faces painted. Once the actors appear on stage, the kids in the audience take the reins. They choose the characters’ names, costumes and even the direction of the story. A group of artists supplies the props and background as the show unfolds and a live musician creates music to match the mood.
At the opening show, kids helped the actors spin a tale about a reindeer named Veronica who wanted to be a professional wrestler but was being held captive by the bad guy, a pig named Señora Squash. The entire story line, names and props—including a wrestling ring and gold wrestling belt—all came from audience suggestions.
The show is produced by Jerk Alert, an independent touring company that also holds summer camps and workshops. Jason Anfinsen, creator and executive producer of “Hogwash,” says the show is a way to expose young kids to the stage. “We want to give [kids] the stage time they wouldn’t normally have,” he says.
Meg Shreve is a Chicago Parent intern and a student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
• Chicago Improv Festival Family Day Chicago Cultural Center 77 E. Randolph St., Chicago (773) 935-9810 www.cif.com
• “Hogwash—An Improvised Tale for Small Children” Lakeshore Theater 3175 N. Broadway Ave., Chicago (773) 472-3492 www.hogwashtime.com
• “Too Much Light Kids” Neo-Futurarium 5153 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago (773) 275-5255 www.neofuturists.org
• Second City Training Center 1616 N. Wells St., Chicago (312) 664-3959 www.secondcity.com