At the start of his two decades in advertising at Leo Burnett, John Stoops discovered that his benefits package included a stipend for improv classes. Though he says he was never a drama club guy, he jumped at the opportunity. Before long he was performing with Second City and then joined Boom Chicago, a comedy club and improv group founded by Northwestern alumni in Amsterdam, where he shared the stage with Seth Meyers ’96, ’16 H and Jordan Peele.
After returning to the U.S., Stoops attended the Kellogg School of Management, where he developed the idea of The Revival, a theater and education company that focuses on improvisational skills. The company, based in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, performs and offers classes and workshops for children, adults and students, including at Kellogg, around themes of leadership, inclusion and innovation.
For Stoops, the applications of improvisation go far beyond the stage. He says the skills taught in improv workshops help to build a sense of community and teach participants to collaborate, communicate and engage with others. Instead of focusing on telling jokes, The Revival aims to teach skills that are transferable. “What we’re really doing is working with the building blocks of improvisation, which are active listening, collaboration and this philosophy of ‘yes and,’ ” Stoops says. “This notion that whatever a colleague offers to you, it’s important that you acknowledge what they have offered and build upon it in a positive, proactive way.”
While improv can seem daunting, Stoops emphasizes the supportive environment that The Revival fosters. “What we ask people to do is take a deep breath and focus in on everyone else, and to listen to our peers, our partners, our colleagues. It’s first and foremost about listening. If we all embrace that philosophy of having each other’s back, suddenly it’s this amazing, team-based, collaborative experience that never puts folks on the spot, never makes folks feel uncomfortable. It really is a team sport.”