Student-led improv club makes space for laughter, fun

If someone were to step into Oak Park and River Forest High School’s Improv Club after school on Thursday, they would find a group of students standing in a circle discussing the weekly prompt chosen by the club leaders. They would find laughter, banter and a welcoming atmosphere.

Improv Club launched this school year and applied to become an official club in January. Three seniors—Julia Dingman and twins Jake DiMaso and Joey DiMaso—all had experience in improv before the creation of the club and felt improv should be represented at OPRF.

With this goal in mind, they endured the process of creating a club, and they now have a substantial group of about 15 students every week. “We were scared that no one was going to show up, but we had quite a few people,” said Dingman. “Since then, it’s just been slowly growing.” 

The improv club is sponsored by Andrew Brown, an English Teacher at OPRF. Not only does Brown feel lucky to be part of the group, but he also has experience and a love for improv. “It’s a privilege, getting to work with these young people,” said Brown. “It’s a reminder of how much I love it.” 

Although Brown is present at every meeting, the club is primarily run by the DiMasos and Dingman. The student-to-student dynamic, as opposed to a teacher-to-student dynamic, creates a place where many students feel more comfortable taking risks and being themselves.

“We’re really trying to work on having that connection and laughing with them,” said Dingman. “Starting conversations and asking questions makes it feel like a safer environment.” The leaders of improv club work hard to create a space where everyone can be themselves. Jake explained students sometimes feel like they “have to be funny or have to be clever, be smart,” to do improv, but, “It’s not true.” 

Another challenge is helping new students or underclassmen learn that no harm can come from making mistakes. “ There’s something very nice in being able to play and figure things out and make bold, weird, funny choices. And not have anything go wrong because of that,” said Jake. “It’s also really exciting to watch someone who initially in the first couple of weeks was shy or uncomfortable but now is stepping outside of what they were initially comfortable with.” 

After only a semester, the improv club leaders are already seeing progress. “We’ve seen growth in confidence, and their relationships with each other,” said Joey, “It’s really cool to feel like we’ve given a space for people to make friends.” 

Joey also continues to be impressed by the talent present in the group. “From my experience of teaching improv to younger students, it’s usually pretty difficult, but I find myself laughing really hard,” said Joey. 

Dingman also noticed “they’ve gotten better with technicality, but also just confidence, creativity and willingness to try new things.” Dingman thinks “that’s one of the best things that you can give someone or help them get themselves.” 

Joining the improv club can help students develop confidence, but also the ability to improvise and do the best they can with what they have. “Skills, like being able to think on your feet, are used in everyday life. Confidence in the state of ‘I don’t know what’s gonna happen next’ not only helps you like your academic future, but your career and onward,” said Joey.

“Improv is about working together to laugh,” added Jake. “You don’t know what it is yet, but you’re figuring that out together, on the spot. And, that’s amazing.” 

On top of the skills improv helps develop, the improv club at OPRF is a great place to make friends and try something new. “We try to keep the stakes very low,” said Dingman. “You can take a break from everything else, and just have fun. I think having a break from just academics can be a really awesome way to recharge.” 

Brown is “proud of all of the performers,” but he’s “especially proud of some of our kids who have never done any improv and just decided to come and take chances.” 

Brown described improv club as the “classic ‘come as you are,’ kind of club,” because “you can be you.” Improv Club presents an opportunity that is unique from the world of the arts and theater. Students learn skills that they might use in the rest of their academic career and beyond.