Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Instructor Craig Cackowski in brief

Craig Cackowski is a busy fellow – actor, improviser, popular iO West teacher, and sometime-police officer on hit NBC comedy Community.  I stole some of Officer Cackowski's time, in brief, so that he could provide some insights into the man, the myth, the...instructor.

SKK:   What was the moment when you first discovered you loved performing improv?

CC:  This is going to both sound lame as hell and date me horribly, but I was in my college improv troupe when "U Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer was popular, and I made a reference to "Stop! Hammer time!" that (you'll have to trust me on this) was totally in the moment and appropriate to the scene and it simultaneously surprised me, my partner and the audience at the same time and brought the house down. I guess I've been chasing that unique high you get from improv in front of a live audience ever since – and I've also improved my reference level.

SKK:   What has been your favorite onstage experience so far?

CC:  Wow, tough to pick just one! I guess the most recent great show I've been in is always my favorite... We just did a Quartet show where we were all in high school concert band that was both tons of fun and allowed me to exorcise some personal demons dating back to my own band experiences.

SKK:   What led you to begin teaching improv? 

CC:  Besides the sweet, sweet cash money? I was a coach for a couple years in Chicago for a terrific team called Frank Booth. I guess [founder and director of iO Chicago] Charna [Halpern] saw enough in me as a coach to believe I could teach as well. I can't say I was totally ready, but I got to do a lot of on-the-job training. I learn just as much from teaching improv as I do from performing it.

SKK:    What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching for you?

CC:  Just those "A-ha" moments that students get when you [as the teacher] can make a small adjustment and help them understand what a truly great scene really feels like. It doesn't mean that they'll immediately begin to duplicate that feeling every time, but I can tell when I've helped to hook somebody onto this great art form for life.

SKK:    What has been your favorite in-class experience so far? This experience could also be as a result of class.

CC:  I always enjoy the last day of Level 4…Evaluation Day. The students get to give feedback to each other, and it's always overwhelmingly more positive than they would ever expect. Then I give them feedback and assign them specific exercises off of their problem areas. It's a productive and supportive day for everyone.

SKK:   Lastly, for everyone reading this blog who is trying to figure out what shows to see first, which are a few Harold teams you think are particularly successful, and why do they work so well? You can include your own.

CC:  I think Local 132 and Waterloo are great to watch for playfulness [and] USS Rock n Roll for group mind and unconditional support.  Natural 20 is a super-talented, up-and-coming team. King Ten, though (who I have been lucky enough to sit in with a few times), is the team that I think pushes the envelope of the possibilities of Harold the most, and produces shows that are both hysterically funny and little works of art.

Craig Cackowski's bio:

Craig Cackowski has been involved with Improv Olympic as a performer, coach, teacher, and director since 1992. He recently relocated to L.A. after 11 years in Chicago, where he also performed with Second City on their 2 resident stages, and with their National Touring Company.

Presently, Cackowski performs with Quartet, The Armando Show, COG, Thoughtcrime, Dasariski, among others, and he currently teaches Advanced Scene Work – Level 4.

 - Shawn Kathryn Kane

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