After years of higher education and hard work, graduates of Central Michigan University head into the world to join the labor force, leaving CMU behind them.
But some come back to help future alumni develop the skills they need to be successful in what they want to do.
CMU alumna and longtime Chicago improvisational comedian Jill Fenstermaker returned to Mount Pleasant, bringing along members of the Chicago improv troop “Revolver” this month to run an improv workshop for aspiring theater students and members of CMU’s Trap Door Improv troop.
“I loved my time at CMU,” Fenstermaker said. “I’ve been doing improv and sketch comedy in Chicago for years. One of my groups, ‘Revolver,’ and couple others have been having a lot of success doing workshops at universities and we wanted to bring it here.”
While at a CMU theater alumni get-together in Chicago, Fenstermaker ran into Steve Berglund, director of university theatre at CMU. Berglund asked Fenstermaker if she would like to come back to help out the theater students and show them success is possible once they leave CMU.
“Jill is a real sweetheart,” Berglund said. ”She’s always willing to give back to the university to help the students.”
Fenstermaker graduated with a degree in theater and journalism in 2002. Shortly after graduation, she earned an internship in theater administration at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on the Navy Pier in Chicago.
“There’s a lot opportunity to be successful in Chicago,” Berglund said. ”We’ve got a lot of alumni there.”
When her internship closed, she applied for a job opening at the theater and, after showing perseverance and determination, was hired. She is now an executive assistant at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Working on improv comedy was an afterthought when she arrived in Chicago.
“I sort of fell into improv,” Fenstermaker said. ”I wasn’t really interested in being a working actor and auditioning. I was happy with my day job, but I needed a hobby and something to do so I took a class at Second City. It just sort of snowballed after that.”
Twenty-five students attended the workshop, eager to sharpen their improvisational skills. But not everyone was there strictly to learn improv comedy. Instead, they were looking to work on sharpening standard theater skills for when things go awry.
“Improv is a great way to work on theater skills,” said Ypsilanti senior and business manager for CMU’s theater fraternity Sean Houston. ”You have to respond to problems while staying in character. Working on improv is a great way to gain a better understanding of how to react to a change in the show.”
Students left the workshop smiling and laughing, some proclaiming it an amazing experience as they left.
“Working hard at my internship helped me obtain a job, ” Fenstermaker said. “For improv, if you work hard, listen and keep at it, you’ll go places. Being at CMU teaches you how to do that. The hard work gets ingrained into you so when the time comes, you’re ready.”