The State of the Co-op

By Dillon Cassidy and Courtney Tua

The Co-op, THEN.

Hi! Dillon here, I am the veteran of something like 12 or thirteen co-op seasons.

When I first moved to Chicago, I was fortunate enough to become a part of the Chicago Improv League - which was the precursor to the Co-op. Through the League I met a lot of really wonderful people that I still work with today, and got to perform with a lot of folks that I admire and are absolutely killing it everywhere. The League itself, was an extension of the College Improv Tournament, which is a kinda silly thing that exists in which college improv teams compete in improv (???). CIL was a pretty small group, because it required that you had not only done college improv, but had also competed in this specific tournament, which… was… … dumb. I’ve said it.

It was especially dumb at the time when the only way to the stage for amatuer and journeyman improvisers was to do barprov. It was prior to iO having more stages than they can fill, and Annoyance was in their old space, the Crowd didn’t exist, but there was Mullins, Town Hall Pub, and Spitballin’. You could do an eight minute set at the Underground Lounge for Avery Lee & Orlando Lara. The point is, there wasn’t any chance to do an improv show, in a space that people wanted to be watching improv and CIL could have provided it, if not for that rule.

So, seasons of CIL went on. We were in Comedy Sports, then Lynx Hall, then Polymyth Productions, then Theater Momentum. Around my third season, the management of the CIL pulled out, and let us take control - which is when Blair Britt (of Crowd fame) took the reigns. We rebranded the organization and from the ashes of CIL rose, THE CO-OP - an inclusive improv coalition!

The first season of the Co-op happened over at Theater Momentum, and then we opened the Crowd and it’s been a part of our space ever since. I have participated in something like 12 seasons of this organization, and each of them has been a ride. I can say with complete certainty most of my development as an improviser can be attributed to the Co-op. Apart from the raw number of reps, there is something important about playing with different folks that makes you hone in on what can bring about scenic success. It’s also hella fun.  

The co-op has been the backbone of the Crowd for a long time, and is foundational to most of our artistic and philanthropic goals. It was founded with the goals of creating an inclusive, low-pressure, and diverse organization for new people to get reps, and veterans to remind themselves of why they are doing this in the first place. All that being said, we’re making some changes which brings me to the next leg of this post with words from our Co-op Coordinator, Courtney Tua.

The Co-op, NOW

Last season, we experimented with a smaller number of teams performing for eight consecutive weeks instead of interspersed within a three month season. Because of the energy the new performers brought to this new system, we’re riding this momentum into season XIII! While this unfortunately means turning away a few enthusiastic performers, it also means shorter seasons and even more opportunities for people to sign up per year. It also cuts down on the scheduling confusion, which can be difficult to track.

I, Courtney Tua, love the Co-op for many reasons, but one of my favorite aspects is that it provides the opportunity to experiment with improvisers at a variety of skill levels. I think every improv scene has a tendency to try to draw a linear trajectory to success, no matter how fluid and strange the artform is. In the ambition and pressure to reach these career milestones that we arbitrarily decide for ourselves, it’s easy to forget why we liked improv in the first place. I don’t think ambition to improve is a bad thing, it’s actually pretty beautiful that we pour so much of ourselves into a hobby that requires so much unforgiving vulnerability. I do think it’s easy (especially here in the improv nerd capital of the world) to take improv and transform it from the soul-replenishing playtime it started as and make it into a soul-grinding and fruitless attempt at making you like the performers you admire the most. YEAH! OKAY! This is vague and I’m projecting!

That hefty rant is to say: I strongly feel that the Co-op’s sweet and pure focus on playing with performers that you haven’t before is not only an exciting opportunity for new improvisers, it’s a restorative opportunity for improv “vets” to experiment in a low-pressure and welcoming environment. In the future, we hope to increase the number of experienced improvisers signing up to play with us while remaining a reliable performance opportunity for new and diverse talent.

The Co-op, DREAM

Lastly, I’d like to leave ya’ll with what I personally have always wanted to see the Co-op become. To me, the most tantalizing incarnation of the Co-op has it sitting as a sort of crossroads for the entire comedy community. Each show would be hosted by a stand-up, featuring a line-up of improv teams, with each team comprised of a combination of green improvisers and veterans spanning each of the different theater. Could be nice!

Tl;dr - the changes!

  • Play every week for eight weeks.

  • You can have as many buddies as you want.

  • Four (maybe 5?) eight week seasons each year.

  • $40 dues changing to $50, but the price per show is going down slightly.