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Second City teacher leads students in improv techniques

By Morgan Richardson (C13)

“Allow yourselves to play,” suggested Dionna Griffin-Irons to a room full of School of Communication students.

On Friday, February 15 students were invited to a School of Communication Office of External Programs, Internships, and Career Services (EPICS) Lunch & Learn Career Workshop Series featuring Griffin-Irons, an alumnus of Second City Detroit. For over 10 years, Griffin-Irons has produced shows and performed with Second City all over the world, including in Chicago, Norway and Latvia. Now she acts as the Director of Outreach & Diversity where she is committed to bringing diverse actors to Second City, creates diversity workshops, and produces shows for the company.

During the hour-long session, Griffin-Irons led students through a variety of improvisational exercises, including carrying each other around the room, a gibberish opera, and snarling on the ground like animals. Truly a master of her craft, Griffin-Irons improvised alongside the students by making up noises, new languages, and scenarios to enact. The exercises intended to produce quick, creative thinking and encourage students to let go of their inhibitions.

The physical and vocal exercises were followed by a yes and no game where pairs of students improvised situations by saying “No” and giving an alternative suggestion or saying “Yes” and adding onto the story. Griffin-Irons said the exercise enabled the ability to think in new ways and discover new experiences.

“Young men and women,” she said, “don’t be afraid to use your voice.” Griffin-Irons then recounted the first time she used her voice at her audition with Second City Detroit. The audition started with over 400 people, and she recalled finding herself in the final 12. Griffin-Irons then performed for the students the impromptu opera she created about a rivalry between the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press.

She encouraged students to take classes at Second City if they were serious about a career in improv or just wanted to have fun. Griffin-Irons offered advice on how to use skills learned through improv in any avenue of life, including school, work, and relationships. Through improv, Griffin-Irons explained she “experienced a freedom I never imagined” and was excited to share those experiences with students.

Griffin-Irons ended the session by discussing the upcoming events she has planned for Second City Chicago. “R.E.A.C.H.”, or Risky, Eclectic Artists Comedy Hour, is a show focused on comedy and performance art about themes of race, gender, and sexual orientation. There is also “Urban Twist,” which features the mishaps of a dysfunctional family. Both shows feature up-and-coming improv actors in the Second City community, and Griffin-Irons endorsed the programs as great ways for students to see how young actors can get their start in improv.

Students left the event with a good feeling about how improv could figure into their futures. “I’m thrilled that the School of Communication brought in Second City to lead a workshop,” said Department of Radio/Television/Film major Michael Janak (C13). “Improv is huge on this campus, and I loved learning how to apply that skill to business.”