Katie Nunn is incredibly dedicated to improvisation, and it shows. Currently, she teaches at The Improv Shop, directs Improvised Missed Connections (go see this awesome show every Friday at 10 at The Improv Shop, it’s killer), is a member of the Storyteller cast, and occasionally plays with theater-favorite Ted Dangerous. I also had the opportunity to perform with Katie in the Halloween Sketch Show.
She is a delight to play with – always finding what’s fun about a scene and following it until the end. She plays a wide range of characters from goofy to serious, and never let’s one type of improvisational style define her. Go catch her in a show or get on stage with her if you can!
Meet Katie Nunn:
Why did you get into improv? How long have you been doing it?
Growing up, I had the opportunity to try my hand at a wide variety of the performing arts. My first experience in improv was doing traditional Spolin theater games in seventh grade drama class. During my freshman year of high school, they offered a short form class. I loved it because I could borrow from all the other areas of performance that I enjoyed. I could dance, or do characters, or just clown around doing physical comedy.
My friends started a short form group at school, and by Junior year, I was working for CITYimprov – the old comedy club in Union Station. I was so stoked about a new career in improv that I graduated high school early. Immediately thereafter, CITYimprov folks organized some wonderful festivals and brought down longform acts from Chicago. I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. I moved to Chicago in 2003 and consumed as much longform as humanly possible.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman in comedy? If so, what has been the biggest?
I don’t think I have faced any more challenges in comedy than I would have in any other male dominated field. There is as much misogyny in improv as there is in any other facet of my life. Misogyny is seen in two ways in the workplace: in the execution of the work and in the culture of the field
As for the former, I have been very lucky to play with people who do not diminish women. I can count on one hand the amount of times I have felt personally disrespected on stage, and the last time it happened, I emptied a beer over someone’s head. I still see it in shows and classes every week, and I think it’s important for improvisers to be aware of when they are using honesty to accurately portray sexism and when they are subconsciously reinforcing hurtful bullshit in their choices.
In terms of culture, I was lucky to have come up in Chicago, which is rife with female producers, directors, teachers, and an endless stream of talent. Working at Second City, you see it first hand every day: women run that place. From the legendary Producer Emeritus Joyce Sloane to current producer Alison Riley, I had incredible role models.
What was your inspiration in creating a show entirely from Craigslist Missed Connections? What are you most looking forward to in regards to that show?
Fun. I wanted to do a show that would be lighthearted fun. The actual Missed Connections in Craigslist personals are mix of quirky, sweet, and overtly sexual, which fits my sense of humor. Despite how different individual posts may be, all of these people live here in our city.
The thing I’m looking forward to the most is seeing how the cast uses world moves to explore these characters and watching the form take shape. Above all else, I love that all of these characters automatically come from a place of vulnerability. What could possibly be more vulnerable than putting yourself out there on the Internet to say “hey, I’m lonely. Are you lonely, too?”
What has teaching Levels 2 and 3 at The Improv Shop and directing the upcoming Missed Connections show taught you about your own improvisation?
1) Be there for my scene partner.
2) Being there for my scene partner means being in the moment.
We all know that we are supposed to drop our own ideas and fearlessly love and support every offer from our teammates. We don’t always put it into practice. Sometimes we think our idea is too awesome to drop, sometimes we weren’t listening hard enough to perceive the offer from our parter, or sometimes we are straight up afraid to do what has been laid out in the initiation. I’m still guilty of driving my idea on occasion, and it’s important for me to recognize and work on it.
Watching students learn this for themselves is a reminder for me. It’s thrilling every time I watch two improvisers learn for the first time how awesome it feels to discover the scene together instead of having leaders and followers.
What is/was your biggest takeaway from playing with the Improv Shop favorite, Ted Dangerous?
When you play with people you love, the good shows are always worth the bad shows.
Can you share some words of wisdom with those just starting out?
Have fun at all costs. Become a stellar listener. When you are lost, look your scene partner in the eye and just respond honestly to the last thing they said. It’s ok to be in your head, it means that you are processing a lot of information. Keep at it. You get in your head with decreasing intensity and frequency as you progress.
What is the best improv advice or note you have ever received?
“Savviness comes with repetition, just play the scene you’re in.” Joe Bill
What is the best lesson you’ve learned from improv that translates to your real life?
Patience. I’ve always been a patient person in the short term, waiting in line at the bank or waiting for an entree at a busy restaurant. Improv has taught me long-term patience.
I was nineteen when I started classes at iO, and the first thing I noticed was all my favorite players were in their late thirties or forties. It was obvious this was a time game, and if I wanted to win, I should relax my sack and enjoy the ride. I got a ton out of classes, Harold teams, independent teams, and weird jams because I never felt pressure to be the funniest or the best.
If you steadily work on your skill set and keep taking risks that help define your voice, you’ll enjoy the journey, which is all that matters. Patience in my career translated to my life because it taught me how to forgive others, forgive myself, fail big, follow what I’m passionate about, I could go on forever here . . .
Do you have anything going on that you’d like to plug?
I will plug playing. Grab some pals and play The Lab. Put your hat in the ring at Open Court. Get a room with a door and coach and become little producers of your own work. Become content creators of bold work that you love. Those are the shows I want see.
(Optional…well, more optional than the others). Is there a video, podcast episode, blog post etc about improv that you find particularly inspirational or inspiring?
This is the single most important blog post I have ever read about improv and in my opinion is the key to total happiness onstage.
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