Women We Love: Eileen Kahana, Founder Room2Improv
When Eileen Kahana took her first improv class at The Second City, she never imagined it would change her life. A retired teacher from Chicago Public Schools, Kahana challenged herself to take the class to stretch herself creatively. Once she was in the class, however, she realized she was getting way more than a few laughs. “I wanted to punch my instructor in the nose,” she stated. Her teacher, Today Improv’s Jay Sukow, was forcing her to say “Yes, and…” even if she was thinking “No way!”. This caused Eileen to reframe her way of thinking, seeing a world of possibility for improv to improve lives beyond theaters in Chicago.
Eileen’s experience in class inspired her to start Room2Improv, a non-profit organization bringing improv to students. “I knew improv belonged in the classroom,” she said, as it encouraged her to work with her classmates as an ensemble, where there were no mistakes and everyone was accepted. Eileen’s not the only one who sees the benefits of improv in education. Second City posted an article “10 Reasons for Teachers to Use Improv in the Classroom” claiming improv fosters collaboration and is more inclusive of different learning styles.
In an interview with CBS Chicago, Eileen explained the benefits she saw using improv in the classroom. “I saw the kids energized…listening to one another…supporting [each other] in a positive way simply by saying ‘Yes, and’ instead of ‘No, but’.”
Eileen believed everyone could benefit from taking an improv class, but not everyone had the luxury to afford a class at Second City which can cost around $300 for one 8-week term. As she would say, she really wanted to bring the joy of improv to “those who can’t afford it or wouldn’t think to take it.” She soon found that there were several populations that could benefit from improv, so she expanded her services to veterans, seniors, and corporations. Her team includes the former teacher she wanted to punch, with several other alumni from The Second City, The Annoyance, and iO Theater in Chicago. While they all attended Chicago’s finest comedy schools, they believe in expanding improv’s influence beyond the comedy community.
Room2Improv continues to grow, establishing relationships with organizations throughout the Chicagoland area. Clients include Rauner College Prep, University of Illinois Chicago, Noble Street College Prep, and KidsRank.
As the organization grows, Eileen is always looking for more volunteers. If you are interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org.