Improv, What to Expect from a Second City Intensive

Improv Group

I just got through a 3-Day Improv intensive at The Second City in Chicago. I went 10am-4pm Friday through Sunday. I had only been there once before to see a show. I had seen lots of shows at I/O theater at their old and new locations over the years but I always avoided Second City. I think I was intimidated by it, even to see a show there. Second City was the “Brand Name” improv place where only people who are serious about doing comedy for their career went. So many legendary people have come out of Second City and SC is not ashamed to remind you of that fact. There are pictures of stars like, Steve Carell, Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert, Chris Farley, and countless others plastered all over their walls, web site, and marketing materials. The message is that this place is a star factory. That was massively intimidating for me. Of course, for every Chris Farley there are oceans of others who either don’t have the chops, didn’t want to put in the work, or just didn’t want to make comedy their career.

My class was made up of a dozen people from different backgrounds, ages, experience levels and countries. I think only 3-4 people there were from the Chicagoland area. The rest flew in from Atlanta, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Indiana, Puerto Rico, Sweden, and Australia. Fucking Australia! I know that Second City is a great place for improv but a quarter of my class came in from other countries and 2 continents to be there. I have been in Chicago for 2 years and just now took advantage of this. I’m kicking myself for being too chicken shit to start earlier.

Friday

9:30am: My fiancé dropped me off at Second City. A few days before, I was seriously thinking of not showing up because I was afraid it would be a disaster.  First day of school vibes were kicking in. The Second City building has 4 disjointed levels of space that have front and rear sections that are not intuitively accessible to each other. I think H. H. Holmes may have been the architect on that project.

The building is ice cold and that put me at ease as I have a propensity for pouring sweat when I’m on a stage or with a group of unfamiliar people. In this case, both fears were in full effect. I was glad I was early because it took me a while to find out where I was going. I expected to be in a classroom / workroom setting and for most of the time we were playing in the “Judy’s Beat Lounge” theater. Everyone in the class was quiet as we waited to start. Then, our instructor, Dionna Griffin-Irons (D) started talking. She instantly captured our attention and I think we all knew she was an expert who knew exactly what she was doing. I can’t say enough good things about how wonderful D was for those 3 days.

The first thing we did was clear out the chairs and started warming up. Like, physically stretching, shaking out our hands and feet, and breathing together. That set the tone that we would be on our feet and working as much kinetically as we were mentally. It really took me back how quickly D was able to take a group of a dozen strangers and within a short period of time we were playing together like we were all kids again.

For the first day we mostly learned the basics and played games. The games got us making eye contact, actively paying attention, and demanding our own attention. Any of our “scene” work was silent. Pantomime work was difficult but I am  very happy we started there. It gets you thinking how to convey something in a way we were not used to and laid groundwork for what would come.

Saturday and Sunday

I still got lost finding the theater inside both days. Only now do I think I could make my way there without a wrong turn. We work more on object work and were reminded to “show don’t tell” meaning we needed to use the space to paint a picture of where we were in the scene. By the end of Saturday I think we actually got to speak a bit in our scene work.

By Sunday, people were really coming out of their shell. It was a night and day difference how far people were letting go of their ego. It is all about permission to play and being in a safe and supportive space to do so. The time flew by and at the end of each day I was still ready to keep going for hours more if I could.

What I Was Left With

In the off time between classes I found myself paying attention to everyone around me. I would lock in with eye-contact with strangers. I automatically started to read the room anywhere I went. I found myself more open to new experiences and more empathic to strangers.

When I think back to the other players I can’t believe I had only known them for 3 days. They all feel familiar to me in a way they logically shouldn’t. I would trust any single one of them to look after a wallet full of cash while I stepped out of the room. We shed our egos were all vulnerable with each other and everyone took care of everyone else. Our final group photo looks like a picture from a fun family reunion, not a weekend class.

Some people were there to help their career in acting, voice-over, or writing. Some were there to help with public speaking or social interactions. But, everyone was there because they wanted to see what Second City looked like from the inside; to feel like they were in some small way, part of something amazing that helped shape the extraordinarily talented people we have watched on film and TV. We all got the smallest nibble of something that I know I am still in the process of digesting. They call what we did an intensive and that’s exactly what it was for me.

 

NexGen Networks, the Worst Fiber ISP in Chicago

Our office recently moved from the Willis Tower to the Chicago Board of Trade Building. Part of this move was selecting a new Internet service provider. After looking at lots of options, we decided on a fiber carrier, NexGen Networks. Their cost was higher but we justified the higher price since we were told we could turn up service faster and the support would be better. This was not the case at all we came to find out.

My First Mistake

This all started on Thursday, our move in day. We had all of the other things to take care of with an office move and we thought our Internet would be the easy part as we had signed the contract and were assured the our service would be working. Actually, we were supposed to have the line turned up and tested Wednesday but that never happened. The hand-off to our office was single-mode 1000BaseLX fiber. We used a Cisco Catalyst 2960-CX switch and a 1000BaseLX SFP. We were going to use this switch basically as a glorified media converter with the fiber in on one port and copper out on another port on the same VLAN to pass to our copper Meraki MX Router. For testing, we hooked a laptop into the copper port with our static WAN IP just to test the connection with pings to make sure it was working ok. We were never able to get a single ping to go through.

Their “enterprise” tech support was a nice and well meaning guy who seemed to be pretty fresh out of college. He kept talking about how he will ask his professor about what he thought of the situation to see if we could get the line working. Ask your professor??? You are the guy that is supposed to know what is going on. While troubleshooting the line, we thought that maybe the 10Gtek branded SFP we were using was not working right so their on site people swapped out with a Cisco branded SFP since that would match what they had on their side. Still no Internet. The SFP port would not even turn Green on the port. We were all scratching our heads. I thought that maybe there was an issue with our Cisco Switch. I overnighted a dumb media converter and tried that when it arrived. Of course, that didn’t work either. We work with support  again and they told me to throw out the media converter because they stated “they never work.” Fine, our office has not been able to function all week. We sent our people home as we had no phones, Internet, or ability to perform any work there. The only thing their tech support would tell me is that I was using bad equipment.

Nobody’s Working on the Weekend (since we have no Internet)

On Friday night, the building fiber contractor came to our suite, after hours, and we hooked a microscope to our fiber patch cables, and the building fiber running from the NexGen Networks dmarc to our office. He was extremely thorough and double checked every connection to completely rule out the issue being the cabling. Big shout out to him and the Chicago Board of Trade Building for staying late on a Friday to try to help us out. The patch cable we were using was a little dirty so it was cleaned and we were still left with no connection at all.

We asked NexGen for a list of compatible hardware as their equipment seems to be extremely picky as to what devices it will negotiate with. We were never provided with a list or even a single part number. I am very familiar with the Aruba (HP Procurve) line of switches and I have configured dozens of them with fairly advanced routing and ACLs so I ordered a switch I was familiar with. I bought an Aruba 2530-24G switch and Aruba Branded SFP. It arrived Monday and we hooked it in. Guess what? There was still no connection. We updated the firmware on the switch and there was still no connection. To recap, here is what we have tried so far:

  • Cisco Catalyst Switch with 10Gtek SFP – NO CONNECTION
  • Cisco Catalyst Switch with Cisco Branded SFP (Borrowed from NexGen) – NO CONNECTION
  • Cisco Catalyst Switch with second Cisco Branded SFP (Borrowed from NexGen) – NO CONNECTION
  • 10Gtek Media Converter with new SFP – NO CONNECTION
  • Aruba (HP) 2530 switch with Aruba Branded SFP -NO CONNECTION

Insult to Injury

The email we received this morning from Jeffrey Barth at NexGen:

"We have worked with your team for many hours trying to get this fixed. We  have identified now that there is a compatibility issue between our  devices. (NexGen’s and Yours). NexGen tested our service at our  demarcation point prior to handing off the service so we do know that  this is working. As I stated it is a compatibility issue between the  NexGen Cisco POP device and your device."

I have asked for anything at all to get our office back to normal. I have ordered new equipment, spent countless wasted hours with NexGen’s useless tech support and we are still without a connection. I have asked that they loan us hardware or at least tell us what to buy. They have been completely silent so far on that. Apparently we have techs coming this afternoon but I really don’t have a bit of confidence in their ability to turn up a connection for us. My advice is if you are in Chicago and looking for a Fiber Internet provider, AVOID NEXGEN NETWORKS! They are based in New York and New Jersey it looks like and they really have no business being in Chicago and claiming to be an Enterprise Fiber ISP. If you are looking for service I recommend that you stick with a REAL ISP, not whatever NexGen is. I’ll update if they ever manage to deliver our service.

Update Friday, August 30th 2019

Nexgen techs had to schedule an emergency maintenance windows Thursday evening to replace their core switch at the board of trade. Today we are now actually able to use our equipment. We were down for over a week due to their faulty equipment and we now have lots of extra equipment that we didn’t need to buy. I have asked them to give me a service credit that they think would be appropriate for this whole debacle. We will see what they come back with.

Update Wednesday, October 30th 2019

We were working fine for a little while. Last week we started to see packet loss and high ping times even while we were not using much bandwidth. Their support has never gotten back to me with a status or any information other than a generic maintenance window while they I guess randomly replace equipment. We have had at least 3 maintenance windows since I reported the issues and we are still seeing the same issues. Our phones do not work as a result. Again, NEVER USE NEXGEN!What an awful company.

 

Wizard World Chicago

My first Comic Con! I had to work in Chicago last weekend and my girlfriend was able to tag along with me! The whole weekend was wonderful and Saturday was our day for con activities. There were literally 1000s of people there. Once we finally got the the con, we were taken aback by how much stuff there was there. The majority of the con is vendors selling stuff but they also have programming you can attend. The programming was pretty obscure and I didn’t find much I was interested in. I see all of these videos from San Diego Comic Con and I can see it is on a whole other level from this affair in Chicago.

There is another con in Chicago called C2E2 and from what I can see on the Internet, it is a better option. While I was in Chicago in April this year it was going on and I went to one of the after parties at a bar and had a pretty great time. I will look into that next year.

There was a freeplay arcade setup there and I got to play Altered Beast. I used to play that as a kid at a local watering hole and then on our family SEGA Genesis. That was really cool to relive.

This con had an official after party that we went to and danced our asses off among Jedi’s, starship captains, robots, and superheros. We stayed out late dancing with the nerds brave enough to show up to a dance party and it was well worth the effort.