For the love of improv
Oh you pixelated picture I saved from Myspace (what?) before its demise. You evoke so many memories from one of the most wonderful and unbelievable birthday weekends. It was such a whirlwind, and even thinking back on it now, it seems too unreal to have actually happened.
Ok, so here's the story. I was in highschool and senior year my ridiculously talented and beautiful friend Angie Fisher was cast in the Illinois All-State Musical "Hairspray!" Each cast member's school was given a set amount of tickets for students to attend the performance and workshops that were being hosted at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Our school received eight tickets, so two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, and two freshman were chosen to attend. Myself and my other close friend, Anna (Purcell) McKeown (pictured second from left), were the two chosen seniors.
Before the conference, we were each given a packet with the different workshops being offered during the two-day event and were told to pick three (or four? can't remember) that we would attend. Some classes had a limited number of spots, so you weren't guaranteed your first pick. Anna and I collaborated and ended up choosing the same improv audition workshop that didn't have a noted limit. We both were interested in learning more about improv, thought a workshop about it would be fun, and planned on sticking together at least for the morning portion of the workshops.
I remember the EARLY morning bus ride up to Champaign. I remember how cold it was. I remember sitting on the bus next to Anna, going over our schedules again, all the students coordinating with the teacher for meet-up places. I remember my palms sweating in excitement and my stomach being filled with butterflies. I remember thinking there wasn't any other way I'd want to be celebrating my 18th birthday.
That's when either myself or Anna noticed in the description of the improv course we had signed up for that it wasn't a workshop at all. It was an audition for the Illinois All-State Improv team that would be performing that night and the following day for all attendees. It also noted that members chosen for the team would spend the rest of the day in rehearsals and would have to forgo any other workshops.
Well, Anna and I talked about it and decided that we'd go ahead and do the audition for the experience, and if we were cast, GREAT! If not, then we'd just go to the rest of the classes. We figured it would be fun and maybe we'd learn something and surely there wouldn't be that many people auditioning...
We arrived at the university and got all checked in, receiving lanyards, more packets, and gift bags. From there we all split up to go to our different courses. Anna and I headed to our improv audition, talking excitedly through chattering teeth about the possibility of getting on the team, and who all might be there.
We were the first ones at the ballroom and deicded to go inside and check out the space before anyone else arrived. It was spacious, ornate, and full of sunshine. Other students began filing in, and we were quickly surrounded by over a hundred other auditionees. They all seemed so much more hip and experienced and confident (cocky). I remember looking down at my plaid button-up layered over my white long-john shirt thinking, "I'm not in Kansas anymore."
The rest of the audition is a blur. We were all given numbers and brought to the stage in groups (cattle-call style) where we were then given a prompt and told to start a scene with one other person pulled from the group. I don't remember my number. I don't remember my partner. I don't even remember my prompt. All i remember was becoming a dry, annoyed, no-time-for-bullshit employee at the DMV and the scene went from there.
Anna and I met up after we were both done auditioning. It was so exhilirating and neither of us had done a terrible job considering we had absolutely no improv experience. We made a pack right then that no matter what happened or who was chosen that it was amazing to audition, we'd be happy for each other, and fuck those other stuck-up snobs who thought they were better than us.
The cast list was posted after lunch. Out of 100+ auditionees, only 12 would be chosen. Anna and I both jokingly resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably weren't going to be cast, but walked briskly nonetheless to the ballroom where the list was posted.
And there it was. Hanging alone. A stark white piece of paper against the dark brown wooden door, twelve lines of black typed out in bold Times New Roman font.
We approached it and quickly scanned the names for our own. My heart stopped. "Jillian Barron," it said. No, surely i'd read that wrong. I was hallucinating. "Jillian Barron," it said again and just above it "Anna Purcell." We both looked at each other and started screaming and jumping up and down. We ran--no, flew down the two flights of stairs and collapsed on the floor in front of some fancy leather lounge chairs in the lobby, laughing and screaming while professors in suits stared at us in horror/disgust before quickly walking away. Fuck 'em. We didn't care! We had done it! These two girls from a tiny high school in a town no one had ever heard of who had never done improv before had beat out dozens of others to become members of the 2009 Illinois All-State Improv team. We had beat the odds. Our talent, our passion, and our love for performing had shown through and only continued to blossom as we trained, trained, trained, and finally peformed for over 800 fellow students and lovers of theatre.
And the rest was...well...improv history.