Sometimes A Silly Idea Is a Good Idea: The Improv Retreat

improv-retreat3What first seemed like a silly idea and daunting task (an improv weekend slumber party-like camp for the Midwest), is now a reality thanks to Chicago improviser, Tara DeFrancisco, creator of “The Improv Retreat“.



Described as a weekend filled with “yes”, The Improv Retrea’ is billed as the first and only Midwestern improvisation sleep-away camp for adults.

To me, a sleep away camp for adults to goof around with a ton of other goofballs sounded like a dream come true. So I set out to chat with the mastermind of the Improv Retreat, Tara DeFrancisco, to find out more about what this Improv “sounds–too-cool-to-be-true” retreat is all about.

So how did the idea for the Improv Retreat come about?

TD: Thank you! We’re all so excited. A few things were inspiration for this event. Last year, after a major injury and health stuff, I was on bed rest and had some free time on my hands to see our community from a 10,000 foot view. It was a rare opportunity to step outside of it–you know, being in it all the time, you don’t always see the full picture. I started wondering if there was an easy way to connect our people of Chicago in a less competitive type of atmosphere, and if there was a way to pull more communities with less resources than the Mecca of improv together. I was reminded of two of my favorite things–slumber parties, and the ComedySportz worldwide tournament–an event held every year for all 22 cities around the world to gather together for 4-5 days. .So while I was laid up, I casually polled some people to see if they’d be interested in a retreat with lots of people, with activities and classes and shows and bunk beds, all that. All of them said yes. I was shocked and really, really excited. I didn’t know of anything like it, and wondered why it didn’t exist. So, when I started getting better, I gathered some incredibly talented teachers I am blessed to work with, and went for it.

That’s awesome! I remember being in the audience at iO when you announced this was happening and being excited about it. Still, I can imagine it not being easy to pull off. What went into putting it all together?

TD: We crafted a Lollapalooza-like ticketing structure to reward early registrants, and then a general ticketing system. My brother, Nick DeFrancisco, who is a web designer by trade, put a lot of hours into designing a class registration system that will work for us. Other than the technical stuff, securing an awesome place very close to Chicago and working with teachers, (creating) activities and coordinating schedules has been the biggest challenge.

What can someone expect at the retreat?

TD: Well, we’re going to do our best to create an incredible sense of community in a short amount of time. Our other main goal was to keep it as cheap as we could, so artists could afford it. There will be three classes per student …We’ll have activities, shows, hippie-dippie stuff like arts and crafts, hypnosis, and “yurt-prov” (you’ll see), a q&a panel, bunk beds, meals included, jams for the students, campfires, s’mores, games, and we’re nestled in a little campus next to a lake. It’s very Wet Hot American Summer.

You’ve assembled an improv team for this comparable to The Avengers! Who so far has stepped up to be a teacher during the


TD: So many great friends from all over! People from iO, Second City, ComedySportz, Annoyance, and Huge in Minneapolis. Our “camp counselors” this year are: Jill Bernard, Joe Bill, Deanna Moffitt, Janna Sobel, Matt Higbee, John Sturk, Ryan Archibald, Michael Tatar, Nathan Jansen, Rance Rizzutto, Craig Uhlir, Rene Duquesnoy, Susan Messing, Nnamdi Ngwe, Charna Halpern. And me!

Wow! You’ve used the phrase “this year”, is this something you think can possibly happen again in the future?

TD: I hope so! As long as we break even or above, things go well, health is good, and people are interested, then yes! Let’s get one down and hope for more!

Great! Anything else you might wanna add?

TD: No, except thanks for doing this! iO is amazing, and I’m always honored to be a part of the family!

To learn more about the Improv Retreat and sign up for a spot, visit


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