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Improv, hold the comedy

John Stoops ’05, is hesitant to say he’s in the comedy business, despite having founded The Revival, a Hyde Park–based improv education and performance space. “If anything, The Revival is listening school, it’s collaboration camp, it’s a teamwork institute.” There’s no pressure to “be funny now,” he says. “That’s everyone’s worst nightmare, mine included.”

Stoops, who formerly worked in advertising, enrolled at Kellogg’s Evening & Weekend Program specifically to work on his idea for The Revival. “I showed up on day one, saying, ‘I have this theater-based concept, but I don’t have a lot of meat on the bone.’ Over the course of two years I figured a lot of it out,” he says. Ultimately, his vision for The Revival won a Kellogg business plan competition.

The Revival’s improv educators have paired with organizations like William Blair, FedEx, Leo Burnett and Chicago Public Schools, where teachers work on being adept at handling unexpected questions and dialogue in the classroom. “The best teachers know how to acknowledge and respond in a positive and proactive manner while also staying on task,” Stoops says. One elementary school math teacher took the lessons he learned at The Revival and incorporated improv-style collaboration in his classroom. The results were so positive that the principal made it an all-school practice.

Part of The Revival’s strategy is leveraging the Chicago and Hyde Park populations, hosting shows and classes that represent a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Shows have been science-themed or produced by law professors, and Stoops even recruits University of Chicago faculty as improv teachers.

“We think it’s an advantage to say, ‘Your facilitator is not some actor who can’t pronounce the things you deal with on a daily basis,’” Stoops says. “A PhD from Cambridge does know the world you occupy, and that makes him much more qualified to make these lessons real, to explain why this is important when you're dealing with your lab supervisor or your postdoctoral fellow. That’s a harder conversation to have when your teacher doesn’t even know what a postdoc fellowship is.”


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