Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Wilmette couple gets funnier with age
Wilmette Village News
Wilmette couple gets funnier with age
Taubenecks keep things fresh with improv training
by Alan P. Henry
July 13, 2012
Anne (bottom row, far left) and Greg Taubeneck (top row, second from right) gather with fellow students of an intensive class at Annoyance Theatre out of Chicago. photo:Photos Submitted.
Retirees Anne and Greg Taubeneck simply won't act their age. Moreover, annoyance has become their favorite mode of expression.
While many other seniors are engaged in civilized pursuits like golf and tennis and bridge, this Wilmette couple has liberated itself from dignity and joined students decades younger to learn and practice the art of improv at the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago.
"We are the old people there, but that doesn't matter," said Anne, 65, who was a freelance writer for many years for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, specializing in coverage of food, arts and travel.
"One of the bad things about getting old is the thought that 'Oh no, I am old. I have to behave in a certain way.' Well, no you don't," she said. "This is an environment where you don't have to act your age. It is age blind, gender blind, color blind. You can be a little kid or a teenager or a different gender. That is kind of cool."
Her husband has a similar take.
"You spend your life writing stuff, which means you are always looking at it and second guessing it and worrying about it," said Greg, 69, who worked for Leo Burnett for 32 years and retired in 2005 as executive creative director.
Among many career accomplishments, he co-created the Rhapsody in Blue United Airlines campaign in the 1980s.
"With improv you are making it up as you go along," Greg said. "There is no looking back. It is over once you do it. There is something very freeing and crazy about making everything up as you go along."
The road to crazy has been a long one for the Taubenecks, who have been married for 43 years, have lived in Wilmette since 1978 and have two children, 23 and 33, both living in New York City.
They met while performing in a University of Illinois student production of "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum." After a 30-plus year hiatus, they began performing in charity shows for the Evanston Women's Club.
That led to meeting improv star Susan Messing, who was a performer on the Second City main stage and now teaches and performs at the Annoyance Theatre.
Anne and Greg got their improv feet wet with a group called "Mouth to Mouth" that primarily met at people's homes, then took classes at Second City.
They also read "Improvise," by Mick Napier, improv legend and the founder nearly 25 years ago of the Annoyance Theatre.
Last September, Anne and Greg enrolled in an intensive, one-week class at Annoyance taught by "an All-Star lineup" that included Napier and Messing.
"We had a great time and thought, 'Let's take the curriculum,'" said Anne.
They have been enrolling in one-night-a-week eight week sessions ever since.
"The Annoyance way of looking at improv is to be very character or emotion based," she said. "You have a real strong emotion in mind, and you can basically say anything and you should be able to get a scene going."
Anne recalled, for example, her improv as a Viking named Demetri, who confesses while on the open sea to motion sickness and asks a fellow Viking for a Tums.
Greg particularly enjoyed playing a high school football player who at halftime is seeking advice from his coach. The only problem: The coach is a flamboyant drama coach. Absurd events follow.
"You never know what you are going to get," laughed Greg.
"You have to use your brain. It is an active pursuit, not a passive pursuit," Anne said. "You have to really be engaged and pay attention."
You have to also want to cast aside convention, both agreed.
"Your whole adult life when you are working or you are a parent, you are trying to be a grownup and do things the way you are supposed to do them, and you try to be responsible," Anne said. "Improv is the opposite of that. You throw all that out the window. You can be haughty or angry or flirty or anything you want to be. You can be totally improper. It is very liberating."