Theatre alum joins the cast of Chicago improvisation troupe

Thu, 2011-04-07 08:00 -- univcomm
April 7, 2011

When theatre arts major Holly Laurent graduated from Anderson University in 1997, she moved to Chicago, Ill., to study improvisational comedy. Now, she can be found performing “improv” every day of the week on one of Chicago’s funniest stages.

hollylThis year, Laurent joined the main stage ensemble of The Second City after being an understudy and a member of their national touring cast since 2007. Founded in 1959, The Second City is an improvisational acting company in Chicago that launched the comedy careers of Bill Murray, Steve Carrell and Tina Fey to name a few. Cast members perform nightly in which all of the comedy is spontaneously created. Prior to The Second City, Laurent acted with iO Theater and The Annoyance Theater, both located in Chicago. She also earned her master’s degree in interdisciplinary arts from Columbia College Chicago.

Laurent was a student at AU when Ronald Johnstone, director of theatre and associate professor of communication, joined the faculty in 1995. Laurent was a cast member in many of Johnstone's productions. Johnstone said he valued Laurent’s ability to contribute to the entire show and not just her assigned role, regardless of how often she performed onstage.

“She put everything into her roles, even a smaller one. I am used to people with small roles not showing up to rehearsal on time, and I normally have to give them a ‘talking to.’ But she understood that she was a part of a whole project,” said Johnstone. “I started moving her into more leading roles, but it never went to her head.”

Surprisingly, one aspect of Johnstone’s drama curriculum that Laurent struggled with was the improvisation class required of all theatre students. The lack of a structured script was originally frustrating for Laurent. However, Johnstone noticed improvement among his actors almost instantly in the improvisation class. Johnstone developed the course after he attended a workshop taught by Paul Sills, one of the three original founders of The Second City, where he learned many of the improvisation techniques that inspired him.

“I second-guessed everything I did in the class. But [Johnstone] understood the immediacy of improvisation and how it gets an actor to be completely present and trust their choices. After I graduated, I realized I had to face the dragon,” said Laurent. “I moved to Chicago, the mecca of ‘improv,’ to study and train. I discovered long-form improvisation, a more theatrical way of playing with no script. What had been my greatest fear became my biggest love.”

Laurent, who also teaches improvisation classes in Chicago, has inspired a new generation of AU students to pursue a career in improvisational comedy. While she is currently living out her dream with The Second City, several AU theatre participants believe she will follow the footsteps of many of her well-known predecessors.

“Students in the theatre department, myself included, would jump at the chance to have a career like Laurent’s. It would be an invaluable experience. Working with The Second City is big step on the ladder to getting your name out there,” said sophomore theatre arts major Sarah Garringer.

However, Laurent is not looking to be the next Bonnie Hunt or Tina Fey. “I’m pinching myself at the moment,” said Laurent. “Five years down the road? I hope to have a great dog and an outstanding garden.”

— Eva Christine McKnight is a sophomore from Batesville, Ind., majoring in communication arts and minoring in dance performance and English. McKnight is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the seventh consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.