Learning how to say “yes and” changed my life. Too often, we are not given permission to be creative, whether it’s at work – when a colleague shoots down a half-formed idea rather than building on it – or at home – where you may find you’re battling with your spouse because neither of you can say “yes” to even a part of the other’s idea.
I want to demonstrate the “power of yes” by making a film about Chicago City Limits, the troupe that got me hooked on improv. The group’s story epitomizes what improv is all about. The film will tell the history of CCL – of group of seven Chicago improvisers who, in 1979, risked it all, rented a van, and headed East to test the waters in New York City. When the leader of the group, George Todisco, was asked about his strategy for breaking into the New York arts scene, he was candid: “We had no strategy.” Yet, over the next three decades, CCL become the premier comedy group in the city, garnered a trove of rave reviews and awards, with a remarkable run of over 10,000 performances, with guest stars like Robin Williams turning up unexpectedly and doing a show (see picture, above, taken by yours truly). Through its members’ belief in “the power of “yes,” Chicago City Limits helped alter the comedy landscape of the city, training and inspiring a whole generation of improv actors and comedians.
The film will offer the CCL story – illustrated with archival performance footage – and I will interview people who were there when the magic happened. My background: I have been studying improv since 1981, teaching it since 1987, and running the Sunday Night Improv comedy jam since 1993. I have also written a book on improv with CCL founding member Carol Schindler, A Doctor and a Plumber in a Rowboat: The Essential Guide to Improvisation, which the prestigious Kirkus Reviews called “a colorful, spirited gem.” And I have two award-winning documentaries under my belt, one of them being about improv.
Going through hundreds of hours of clips from 1979 to 1987 is a big job – and even though a great deal of the footage is grainy, the raw talent of the group shines through. And when you stumble across professionally shot material with three cameras, it is almost like being at the Jan Hus theater in 1982! If you don’t believe me, check out my Facebook page (Thomas Soter) and also on this site. I have put together five new promo videos (“The Volcano,” “George Todisco,” “No Plan,” “Class Acts,” and “Sounds Like a Train”) to get you revved up for the film.
I am also looking forward to the interviews! Longtime stage manager Paul Soderblom, whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years, flew in from his home in Saudi Arabia to recall those halcyon days. At the end of September, I am scheduled to talk with one of my favorite improv teachers, David Regal, and also to former CCL student David Fury, whose scripts for Lost and 24 have wowed me. Others who have agreed to interviews are Carol Schindler, Linda Gelman, Chris Oyen, Rick Crom, Carl Kissin, and Ian Prior. Please contact us if you were involved with CCL in the 1980s and have a memory you’d like to share.
You can help make this movie a reality by contributing. Any donation, from $5 to $5,000 (why not?) would be much appreciated! For more info, go to our gofundme page at gofundme.com