Near the heart of Chicago resides a theater aimed to educate everyday folks on improv and the vast benefits performing has. Called The Revival, it stays true to its geographic history — The Revival is located at the birthplace of improv from the 1950s. 

University of Wisconsin alum John Stoops founded the theater and gives further insight into its creation and his journey going from a marketing major at UW to founding a company with its primary purpose to educate others on improvisational theater. 

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Given the opportunity to attend improv classes at Leo Burnett Worldwide, an advertising company he first worked for as a recently graduated Chicagoan, he was one step closer to establishing The Revival. 

“I was not a drama club guy — I didn’t participate in university theater or anything like that,” Stoops said. “But that was my first introduction to it. So, I jumped into the classes and it really ignited a passion that continues to this day.”

Once he finished the improv classes, things became more surreal for Stoops, who went all the way to Europe to explore his new-found passion in improv theater.

“I auditioned for a theater in Europe,” Stoops said. “It was actually a theater founded by a bunch of Chicago expats called Boom Chicago. I auditioned for that and got the job in their ensemble and so I moved over there and my roommate over there was Seth Meyers. Fast forward a year, I left and the guy that took my spot in the ensemble was Jordan Peele.”

There, he realized his purpose of becoming a professional performer and started seeking out additional career opportunities, including an abstract idea of what would become The Revival. 

Coming back to Chicago, Stoops got involved in the industry in different ways.

“I jumped behind the scenes a bit,” Stoops said. “I started directing a bit more, producing a bit more and I was not sure what I was going to do but knew this could be the new and interesting career track. So I went to graduate school, went to Northwestern and got an MBA from Kellogg with the idea of putting a business plan on paper.  I graduated with the paper in hand and started the process of what became The Revival.”

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Stoops illustrated the extensive benefits of doing improv and the many transferable skills it develops. 

“We take the underlying skills of improvisation, which is not joke telling, it’s not to set up a punch line,” Stoops said. “That’s really not what’s going on in improvisational theater. What’s going on is fully engaged listening, effortless collaboration and this philosophy of ‘yes, and …’ One person says something you need to hear them, you need to acknowledge that you heard them and you need to build upon it in a positive proactive way rather than not hearing them in the first place, hearing them and denying or undercutting what they said. You can’t break those rules. And so if we take those ideas and those building blocks, we can develop modules and training for college students.”

With the numerous skills his patrons have developed since the creation of The Revival, Stoops himself has gained valuable insight as both a performer and an entrepreneur. Stoops likens the first few years of setting up The Revival to a boot camp.

“It was really tough and I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy,” Stoops said. “But, if you make it through that, you really understand the organization better than you ever could otherwise.” 

Stoops expanded on establishing a start-up in a major metropolitan city.

“I think the toughest aspect of my job is, because it’s a startup that I always need to have one eye on the horizon and a clear understanding of where we are going,” Stoops said. “But at the same time, the absolute minute details are also my responsibility. I found it challenging to be successful in both.”

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 An additional goal of The Revival is to spread the influence of improv not only within Chicago, but all around the world — including Madison. 

“We enjoy a great relationship with University of Chicago and Northwestern,” Stoops said. “We certainly hope that we can go to the Madison campus and do the same.”

Stoops had a few remaining words of wisdom for future entrepreneurs at the UW campus.

“If you want to be an entrepreneur, familiarize yourself with the tremendous resources that are now available to prospective entrepreneurs while you’re there as a student,” Stoops said. “Regardless, if you go to any metropolitan area these days, they tend to have quite a few new business incubators and startup communities. There is a realization that new businesses are important to a local economy. It’s important to be a part of those communities and cultures.”

He continued.

“Don’t be afraid of failure,” Stoops said. “In fact, most entrepreneurs I know embrace failure and recognize that if you’re not failing you’re either not pushing hard enough, not working at the pace you should be or you’re not doing anything new or different. But if you fail, you might be onto something.” 

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In terms of seeing The Revival at the Madison campus, Stoops said they are “in the process of casting about the right partners.” 

With this in mind, UW students should look out for future updates regarding plans for The Revival coming here.