Meet our instructors! All instructors of the iO Theater are veteran performers that have a vast experience in the art of improvisation and in our approach to teaching improv, which comes from our co-founder and improv legend, Del Close
Emily Anderson is an improviser, actor and writer based in Chicago. She performs regularly around town, most notable in Holy Fuck Comedy Hour at The Annoyance Theatre.
For the past 25 years, Liz has been coaching, directing and performing improv.
Liz performed with IO’s team Frank Booth, who took the first long-form improv to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1995. Liz coached the long-running IO teams Valhalla and Mission Improvable (founders of the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica.)
Liz was IO’s Training Center Director for 3 years, and an ensemble level teacher for 10 years. In 1999, 2000 & 2001 Liz won the Del Close Coach of the Year Award, now called the Liz Allen Excellence in Teaching Award.
At IO, Liz directed the improv shows The Two Horsemen (Jim Carlson & John Lutz) and Big Guy/Little Guy (Ryan Kiessling & Lloyd Ahlquist). At the Neofuturarium in Chicago, Liz directed Devolution (written by S. Benjamin). An original member of The IO Roadshow, Liz has taught at colleges and corporations around the globe.
In 2004, Liz moved to Las Vegas and directed a main stage revue for The Second City at the Flamingo Hotel. The first-ever fully improvised show on The Strip, it received an A- from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Liz also directed Scriptless, a weekly short-form revue featuring The Second City’s understudies. Scriptless ran weekly for 4 years at the Flamingo Hotel.
In 2006, with Jimmy Carrane, Liz co-wrote the book Improvising Better (Heinemann) and co-created their Individual Assessment Workshop.
The Vegas Theater Hub awarded Liz as Guest Speaker of the Year and Best Workshop of the Year 2015.
Liz was honored to coach The Commune, the improv ensemble in Mike Birbiglia’s 2016 feature film Don’t Think Twice.
Liz mentors improv coaches at The Improv Shop in St Louis, and, thanks to Skype, coaches faraway improv teams.
In 2017 Liz and her family moved back to Chicago where she continues to write and teach. She is happy to return to her alma mater, Improv Olympic…oops…IO.
Damian Anaya is an actor, comedian, and improviser. You can catch him improvising every Tuesday night at iO with Fudge and various nights with Harold team Smokin Hot Dad.
Dave Asher is a veteran teacher, performer, and musical director at the iO Theater. Dave performed on the iO house team “Valhalla” before moving to Amsterdam to perform improv and sketch in “Boom! Chicago”.
Dave has music-directed with The Second City National Touring Company and has been the Music Director of The iO Theater since 2006. As an improv teacher, he has taught classes and workshops at iO since 2006 and is currently the director of the iO musical house team “The DelTones”.
Bio coming soon.
Lisa Burton is a transplant from Minnesota where she studied and performed at Brave New Workshop Theatre in Minneapolis. She has now been in Chicago and part of the iO family for 10 years. She performed with Second City Theatricals on cruise ships and can currently be seen performing with iO Harold team Devil’s Daughter as well as Musical Armando on Friday nights.
Padraic began taking classes at iO in 2001, and is an original cast member of the long-running show Whirled News Tonight. He performed with the Harold teams Ralphie’s Rug and Extra Billies, and toured with Mission:IMPROVable. Padraic has created and taught workshops for university theater programs, corporate clients, and youth and outreach programs. He is the current Artistic Director and an instructor at the CSz Theater Chicago, home of ComedySportz.
Alyssa Davis has been studying and performing improv for nearly at decade, and has found a home at iO. She currently improvises with the musical team the DelTones, her Harold team Daffodil, the Spanish language team Heraldo, and her all-ladies team Ms. Mistoffelees, as well as stepping in with both the non-musical and musical Armando! She formerly worked with Chaos Theory, Nightingale, and Emergency Sleepover at iO. She is the co-creator of the video group Cedarville Comedy and performs in XVP Comedy Shorts. She is an original cast member of Improvised Mythology, Will You Accept this Rose?, and Fan/Fiction. She performed in the Directing Showcases “A Bit Too Far” and “Doom and Gloom”. Some of her favorite former roles include Helen of Troy in Trojan Women, every character in Midsummer, and Iphigenia in Agamemnon and his Daughters, an Emmy-Award Winning Documentary about the Dah Theatar in Serbia. Be kind to each other!
Bio coming soon.
Native to Chicago, Gretchen Eng has been performing improv and sketch comedy since she was 16, as part of the selective Second City Teen Ensemble, directed by Jeff Award Winner, Billy Bungeroth. At Vassar College, she studied classical vocal performance while serving as president of the college’s oldest sketch comedy group, No Offense, for which she wrote, directed, and performed. Since then, she has primarily performed in long-form improv ensembles at several major comedy venues in the Chicago area, including house teams at iO Chicago, The Playground Theater, and in show runs at The Annoyance Theater and The Second City.
At iO, she currently teaches, coaches, leads workshops, and performs with the Harold Team Devil’s Daughter (Tuesdays) and The Armando Diaz Experience (Mondays). She has taught improv workshops for an array of corporate groups and children’s programs as well as the Cambridge Footlights International Touring Company in the U.K. She is on the faculty for the 16th Annual Würzburger Improtheaterfestival in Germany.
Bio coming soon.
Jill Fenstermaker performs with the iO house team Revolver and coaches the iO team Big Spoon. She has performed and taught improv at universities throughout the Midwest and at theaters in North Carolina, New York, Texas and Alaska.
Jon is currently a Level 1 teacher iO Chicago and he loves it very much. He can be seen performing every Tuesday night with the Harold team Sears Tower. His improv training was done at University of Florida’s TSF improv troupe, iO Chicago, Second City, and Annoyance Theater. He’s a former member of ComedySportz Chicago and the sketch group Pennybear, the latter of which went to the NY Fringe Festival in 2008. He was also an original member of the show FELT for which he played with for 10 years. He recently finished his classes at Columbia College Chicago and is working on completing his thesis short film to earn an MFA in film directing.
Jeannie Cahill Griggs took her first improv class at iO in the summer of 2004 and fell in love with the art form. She loves performing and teaching at iO. She has worked for The Second City as an actress and teacher since 2008. She has performed numerous shows for them on land and at sea aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines. Jeannie performs with Deep Schwa, the longest running Harold Team at iO Theatre. She holds a theatre degree from The University of Virginia.
Jeff has taught and coached at iO for several years and is a long standing member of the house team, “Deep Schwa”. Among other groups, Griggs performs with “Meta Five” and “Aphasia” at venues and festivals around the country.
Besides acting and directing, Griggs has also written several stage plays that have been produced in theaters around Chicago. His book Guru: My Days with Del Close is available from Ivan R. Dee Publishing.
Noah has been performing, directing and teaching improvisation for over 20 years. He began teaching at iO in the late 1980’s, and in 1999 he took over the Performance Level workshops when his predecessor, Del Close, passed away halfway through a class session. Gregoropoulos has also taught improvisation at iO West, Second City and Columbia College. (Click on image for his full bio)
As an improvisational performer, he has played on several house teams and currently be seen at iO performing with his current Harold team, “Carl and the Passions” and in “The Armando Diaz Experience”.
Charna Halpern is the founder and Artistic Director of the iO Theater. She has been teaching performers how to work together for more than 25 years. Having founded the world famous iO (formerly known as the “ImprovOlympic”)in Chicago and Hollywood, Halpern’s theaters are the meccas of training in the art of improvisation and act as a recruiting stop for television shows like Saturday Night Live, CONAN, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and countless other shows, supplying Hollywood with writers and performers. She is the author of the improv training manuals Truth in Comedy and Art By Committee.
Matt has been a part of the iO family for alnost 10 years and has been teaching at iO for over 4 years.
At iO he has performed with several teams and can currently be seen performing with the Harold team “Beans” and with “The Armando Diaz Experience”.
Norm Holly has spent over 30 years directing, teaching and performing. Norm has served as Co-Chair of the Columbia College Theater Dept with Second City founding member Sheldon Patinkin, Artistic Director, resident director and Conservatory Head at The Second City Chicago. He also goes way back with the IO Chicago having directed Matt Besser and Amy Poehler in “How Much I lied”. Norm was part of The Boys, and can be seen at IO Chicago with Susan Messing in “Molly.”
Brian Jack has spent the past 20 years in Chicago and Los Angeles acting, writing, teaching and producing comedy. His tv and film credits includes Mad Men, Cougar Town and The Night is Young. He has been on the writing staff for TV shows appearing on NBC, Comedy Central and The Audience Network.
Brian honed his skills in Chicago at the Improv Olympic (iO Chicago), Comedy Sportz, and Second City. He was also a cast member at Boom! Chicago in Amsterdam.
These days, you can catch Brian most nights at iO Chicago and iO West in Hollywood improvising with teams like The Armando, Deep Schwa, or The Reckoning.
Mike Johnson is a Chicago native, a graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago and holds a degree in Finance, and has studied and performed improv for 14 years. He’s taken classes and performed at iO, ComedySportz, CIC Theater, The Annoyance Theater, The Playground Theater and Second City. At iO, Mike has performed with “Our Feature Presentation Presents the Improvised Movie”, “Dinner for Six”, “Sears Tower”, and last but not least a short stint as host of “The Jam”.
He coaches the Harold team “Meridian” and can currently be seen playing with “Dinner Bell” and “Felt“.
Kim Howard Johnson
Kim Howard Johnson is a founding member of the Baron’s Barracudas (the first house team of the ImprovOlympic–now the iO), co-wrote Truth in Comedy with Charna Halpern and Del Close, and wrote The Funniest One in the Room: the Lives and Legends of Del Close, the biography of his longtime friend. He has performed, taught, and directed improvisation and comedy for many years.
Bio coming soon.
Cesar has been with the iO theater for over 15 years. In that time, he has had the pleasure – and honor – of studying and playing with some of the best improvisational teachers in he world, including the late Del Close.
He has coached and performed with numerous teams and also teaches improv around the country in academic and corporate workshops. (Click on image for his full bio)
He can currently be seen playing at iO with the teams “Felt”, “Heraldo”, “Smokin’ Hot Dad”, and with iO’s longest running show, “The Armando Diaz Experience and Hootenanny”.
Katie Klein is from Shaker Heights, Ohio. she began performing in Washington DC, with iMusical at the Washington improv theater and with friends at the DC improv. She then trained at iO, and the Second City conservatory. She loves performing and teaching improv around the country. She is a recent alumni of the Second City e.t.c stage writing and performing in “A Red Line Runs Through It” and “Fantastic Super Great Nation Numero Uno”. She performs every Wednesday at iO with her pals in the Late 90’s and Virgin Daiquiri. She can also be seen playing at the Annoyance Theater every Tuesday night with her sisters in Superhuman and whenever she can with her incredible husband Neil in Ed and Kath. http://thiskatieklein.com/
Kevin Knickerbocker began his theatre career at age five as Forgetty the Elephant in the Beaumont KIDmunity Players’ production of The Friendship Club. Around Chicago, he was a part of Susan at CIC, a cast member of The TomKat Project at the Upstairs Gallery and beyond, and directed John Reynolds’ A Slice of Life at the Annoyance. At iO he has been very, very proud to be half of Live! Tonight! With Kevin and Nick (Characters Welcome), as well as independent team DMNK and io Harold team Meridian.
Michael C. McCarthy has worked professionally as an actor, writer, director, producer and has been “special thank’d” in several small, independent films! His professional writing career began at the age of 24 when he became a staff writer for “Saturday Night Live,” followed by two seasons at “Sesame Street” (the antidote for SNL). After becoming frustrated with actors messing up his brilliant sketches (that damn Bert and Ernie), he began working as an actor/improvisor at The Second City in Chicago, including three shows on that venerable institution’s mainstage!
While at Second City, McCarthy started their writing program which currently boasts an enrollment of 1.5 million students. In Los Angeles he continued to write for the likes of “Drew Carey,” Chuck Lorre and many, many Comedy Central projects. He also continued to act in everything from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” to “According To Jim,” to “The Gilmore Girls”—always playing a priest.
At The iO West Theater in Hollywood, McCarthy created a second writing program he called The Comedy Lab, with four separate classes teaching students how to compile exactly what literary agents want to read, thus increasing their chances of working professionally.
Former students include: Jon Favreau, Tina Fey, Brian Stack, Peter Murietta, Vanessa Bayer, Matt Walsh, Kay Cannon, Travis Bowe, and Matt Kuhn (and many, many more). And there’s more…
Cat McDonnell studied Theater and Music Performance at Providence College and is a graduate of the iO, Second City Conservatory, and Second City House Ensemble programs in Chicago. She has performed with The Second City Theatricals aboard the Norwegian Gem, at iO with Denver, The Armando Diaz Experience, Peter Gwinn’s Launchpad, Mic Check: A Solo Show and more, as well as at The Annoyance and MCL theaters.
Cat has coached Harold team Snowball and independent teams around the city. She also developed the Outreach Program at MCL Chicago, co-creating/producing such shows as Got Her Back for female-identifying performers, Loud & Proud for LGBTQIA+ voices, and bringing improv workshops to youth on Chicago’s South & West sides.
Susan Messing, a New Jersey native, is a graduate of Northwestern University. She has performed for over 20 years with Chicago’s iO Theatre, and created and teaches their Level 2 Curriculum which is used in Chicago and LA’s iO West.
At the legendary Second City, Messing wrote and performed in two mainstage revues and directed their National Touring Company. Messing is a founding member of the infamous Annoyance Theatre where she has created roles in over thirty original productions, including “Co-Ed Prison Sluts”, “The Miss Vagina Pageant”, and “Your Butt”. In addition, she conceived, co-adapted (with Mary Scruggs) and directed the critically acclaimed “What Every Girl Should Know…An Ode to Judy Blume” for the Annoyance stage, where she also continues to teach.
You can see Messing’s critically-acclaimed show, “Messing with a Friend” every Thursday night at The Annoyance. Messing has been an adjunct professor for Loyola University, DePaul University’s Theatre School, and The University of Chicago, and The School of Steppenwolf. Her standup act with her puppet, Jolly, has been featured at the HBO/US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, and on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend and NBC’s Late Fridays. You can hear her voice on radio and tv ads. Susan has been cut from several blockbuster films, but her recent movie role in “Let’s Go to Prison!” as a bad stripper in a halo brace, made her very happy. Her daughter, Sofia Mia, is very twelve, very ridiculous, and very awesome.
Emma Pope is an improviser and teacher based in Chicago. She has trained at iO and The Annoyance theaters, and currently performs on teams at iO and CIC; she is also a recent veteran of the Second City Touring Company. Emma has been teaching for ten years to a variety of ages and abilities, and loves sharing in the joy of improv with her students.
Adal has been a part of the iO family for over 10 years and has been teaching at iO for over 5 years.
He has coached and performed with several ensembles at iO, and can currently be seen performing at iO with the Harold team “Revolver”.
Bio coming soon
Bio coming soon.
essica Kelley Rogers began performing in her hometown of Miami, Florida. After falling in love with improvisation at the University of Florida (Theatre Strike Force and A.C.I.I.), Jessica moved to Chicago to study and perform improv while pursuing her other passion, elementary education. A graduate of The iO (formerly the ImprovOlympic) and the Annoyance Theater, Jessica, an 8th grade math teacher, also teaches improv to adults at The iO and The Second City. Jessica has been directing The Second City’s Teen Ensemble since 2007.
The new Artistic Director of the Teen Comedy Fest (CIF Production), Jessica can currently be seen performing with The Playground’s Member Ensemble International Stinger. Since her move to Chicago in 1999, Jessica has performed in and taught at a variety of improv / comedy festivals around the country, including the Chicago Improv Festival. She has played with several improv ensembles at iO, The Annoyance, and The Playground. A former performer with The Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, she has worked with teens at the Audition Studio North, Beverly Arts Center, and several Chicago Public Schools. She developed curriculum for The Second City’s improvisation program and their Educational Touring Company, formerly EdCo. Jessica’s directing credits include teen and adult productions at Sketchfest, Donny’s Skybox, and The Bailiwick Theater.
Damon Royster comes from Lombard, IL. He studied writing and improvisation at The Second City and iO Chicago. He can be seen at iO performing with the Harold Team Comet. He also performs with Your F-ed Up Relationship; and Dreamboat at iO. He is also a founding and former member of the POC improv team Dynasty. He also performs weekly with the all LGBTQIA improv team Baby Wine at the Annoyance Theater. He was a 2017 recipient of Second City’s prestigious Bob Curry Fellowship; and is on faculty at The Second City Chicago for writing and beginner Improv.
Writing credits include This is Us…and They and Them (sketch); AppQueen (his web series he also starred in); and Love, Factually performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
John Sabine is a graduate of the iO Training Center. He can be seen around Chicago performing with The Late 90’s and The Improvised Shakespeare Company. He is an alumni of the Second City Touring Company and has performed in several Second City Theatricals. He writes with his writing partner, Asher Perlman, at https://medium.com/asher-and-john-try-comedy .
Stacey is a loud Long Island who just relocated back to Chicago by way of Boston where she was the Comedy School Manager at ImprovBoston, in addition to a cast member in their Music Improv Cast and Mainstage cast. Stacey performs regularly at iO in both The Musical Armando and The Deltones. She also teaches in the A-E program, Youth & Teen Program and Wellness Program at The Second City in addition to teaching at international improv festivals. Stacey performed in many theatricals at The Second City, including Life Hacks, #DateMe and two cruise contracts on The Norwegian Breakaway. Stacey recently toured her solo musical improv show STACEJAM and taught musical improv in Bulgaria, Germany, Amsterdam, Greece, Belgium, Norway and Denmark. She is also the creator of the Chicago Musical Improv Festival. To find out more, check her out at www.staceysmithcomedy.com.
Tim Soszko makes his living performing, writing, teaching and directing. He is thrilled to be teaching at iO Chicago. He tours with his sketch and improv groups, The Deltones, the tim&micah project, and Briko, all over the world. Tim also teaches at Second City, Columbia College, The Actors Training Center, Barrel of Monkeys, and Elmhurst Children’s Theater, to name just a few places. And finally, being an accomplished voice over actor, you’ve probably heard Tim’s voice on many TV and radio commercials as well as video games. Tim loves his family and chocolate pudding.
Alex Trepka is an improviser, actor, writer, director, and southern Illinois native. He is a graduate of the iO and The Annoyance training centers and has performed on house teams at CIC Theater, The Playground Theater, and ComedySportz. Alex has been performing at iO since 2011 and can currently be seen improvising with his Harold team, Gone Gone. www.alextrepka.com
Craig Uhlir has been learning/playing at iO since 1996. He was on teams with names like “Varmit” and “Spank” until becoming an early member of the house teams “Deep Schwa” and “Valhalla”, and later with “Prime” and the legendary two-person show, “Middle Age Comeback”. Hes also has hosted iO’s “Jam” on at least three separate stints starting all the way back in ‘97. (Jam!) Craig has played with ComedySportz Chicago, toured with the Second City (culminating with a tour of Kuwait and Iraq for the USO), and he has spent time in Las Vegas performing and teaching for The Second City at the Flamingo.
He can currently be seen at iO performing with his Harold team, “Deep Schwa”.
Farrell Walsh is honored to be an instructor at iO. Farrell has studied at both iO and The Annoyance Theater. He is a founding member of the iO house team “Revolver”, was considers himself very lucky to be part of the cast of iO’s last incarnation of the legendary long-form show, “Close Quarters”. Outside of iO, Farrell is the Artistic Director at CIC Theater, and is part of CIC’s house ensemble “Rainbow Deli”. He also makes up one half of the sketch group “White Fudge”.
He can currently be seen at iO performing with “Revolver”, “The Scene”, and with “The Armando Diaz Experience”.
Mary Cait Walthall
Mary Cait Walthall is a performer, writer, and director who has performed with various companies around town, including the Neo-Futurists, the Annoyance, and Baby Wants Candy. In 2015, she completed post-graduate level training in devised performance practice and physical performance techniques at the London International School of Performing Arts. She has been performing on iO’s stages since 2010, and she currently performs with Super Human at the Annoyance on Tuesday nights. You can also catch her on the Improvised Star Trek podcast (http://www.
Originally from Pittsburgh, Rob has been performing at iO since 2005. He’s been lucky to perform in several great shows including: “Close Quarters” , “Our Feature Presentation Presents the Improvised Movie” , and “Dinner for Six”.
Rob can currently be seen performing at iO the iO house team “Revolver” and with “Whirled News Tonight”.
Shane Wilson has been performing on the iO stage since 1998. A founding member of Whirled News Tonight, he also was part of the long-running Harold team Space Mountain.
He is the co-creator of The Green Mill Radio Hour with the Swing Shift Orchestra, the ensemble Second Floor Adriana, and the revue Small World. He created and directed Raconteur for The Playground Director’s Series.