Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interview with Storytown's Jill Olson

Storytown Improv founder/producer and Funny Bones Chicago director Jill Olson took some time out of her schedule recently to talk with Chicago Improv Celebrity News.

Danielle Solzman:  Thanks for joining Chicago Improv Celebrity News.  How are things treating you?
Jill Olson:  Thank you for having me.  I can't complain.  School has started and I'm gearing up for a nice fall even though we still have a little summer left.
Danielle Solzman:  When did you first get bitten by the improv bug and know that it was want you wanted to do?
Jill Olson:  I had no idea what improv was and fell into it.  I was waiting tables in harford county MD with a girl who was going to a audition for a theater company in Baltimore and wanted someone to go with her.  I had nothing to do so I went too.  They were auditioning for EVERYTHING in the theater, a play, a late night ongoing series, a couple other things in addition to an improv group.  I got a call asking me to join the improv group because I obviously had a lot of training.  I had no idea what they were talking about.  They said I was great at the improv section... and I was like, oh, you means the warming up?  I did that during college and did comedies.  When I graduated I wanted to move to NY because I was in love and the boy wanted to move there.  A professor of mine said I couldn't, that I had to move to Chicago.  I can to visit and he introduced me to my godfather of improv Nick Kanel from Baby Wants Candy.  I moved here two months later.
Danielle Solzman:  You produce and founded Storytown Improv.  When did you get the idea for this?
Jill Olson:  I was an actor in a similar children's production and slowly worked my way from acting to help producing it.  There wasn't a script but a beated out story structure.  The company dissolved and I wanted to continue working on a show for kids because it was so amazing to see kids get so involved in theater.  At the time I was working at iO and Charna Halpern was a blessing and said that it was my theater and I could try whatever I wanted on Saturday mornings as long as I was done by the time classes started.  We went to a fully improvised format.

Danielle Solzman:  How many shows do you perform per year?
Jill Olson:  Storytown performs every Saturday at Stage 773.  So we are a weekly staple.  Then we try to go out in the community as much as we can.  In the summer we partner with the Lincoln Park Zoo on Tuesdays and Sundays for multiple mini shows a day.  We've done two events with the Art Institute.  We just started a after school program at the Chicago Jewish Day School.

Danielle Solzman:  You’re also the Chicago Director of Funny Bones Improv.  What do you feel is the most important thing about this organization?
Jill Olson:  I could go on and on about Funny Bones.  I'll try not to... I love that Funny Bones gives kids who are going through something hard a relief.  We do not treat them like children in a hospital.  They are kids that deserve to laugh.  The performers also give their all to every show to help make these kids feel amazing and involved.  Their energy and heart and commitment does not change if there is one child versus a whole room of kids.  They take their time and do what they can to make sure each person has a great experience.
Danielle Solzman:  What improv instructor has had the most meaningful impact on you?
Jill Olson:  Oddly enough, through teaching, I learned that my dance teacher growing up impacted me so much.  For her it was about the practice and process rather than the bells and whistles of competitions at a young age.  I think that is why I love the process of improv and using at as a tool to appreciate the arts.
Danielle Solzman:  You teach improv at The Laughing Academy.  If there is one thing that your students take with them after they finish your class, what is it?
Jill Olson:  That's hard.  It changes day to day.  But I guess what I would want them to walk away with most is the teamwork aspect of improv.  None of us can do this alone.  YOu need your scene partner.  You need your classmate.  They need to be able to work with other people regardless of whether we are friends outside of class or not.  It doesn't matter who you think is cooler than someone else.  In class, we are a team and can only succeed together.
Danielle Solzman:  You’ve trained at both iO and Second City.  What were your initial thoughts in seeing the improv community come together after the fire a few weeks ago?
Jill Olson:  Well, we can only succeed together.
Danielle Solzman:  Thanks again for joining us and keep up the great work.

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