Introducing Improv: Pat Finn’s course returns to Marquette

Marquette+alum+Pat+Finn+teaches+the+improv+class.

Photo by Josh Meitz (joshua.meitz@marquette.edu)

Marquette alum Pat Finn teaches the improv class.

Fifteen minutes ago, they barely even knew each other’s names, but now this group of students is acting through an unplanned, impromptu scene with no script. The scene can turn any which way as the plot unfolds before everyone (including the actors). Behold the wild, wacky world of improvisation, also known as improv.

An improv course taught by Marquette alum, Pat Finn, returns to Marquette this semester. Finn graduated from Marquette University in 1997 and went on to act in shows, such as “The Middle.” He was also close friends with fellow Marquette alum, Chris Farley.

The course is scattered across four days from the end of February to early March, and students will be working on the basic foundations of improvisation. 

“I teach through examples, I do this through stories that I’ve had in my own life whether in a new city or on a movie set,” Finn said. 

Finn taught the course at Marquette once before in the fall of 2020. September-Melody McDonald, a junior in the College of Communication, remembers taking the class and how the experience impacted her life.  

“The class really helped me get out of my head and into reality,” McDonald said. “I can be more reserved sometimes, but now I’ve learned to just speak up and say things.” 

Jazmine Arteaga, a junior in the College of Communication, enrolled in the class this semester and she hopes that it will teach her some important life skills.

“I love film and I love comedy, but I always put pressure on myself to have everything scripted and perfect and serious all the time,” Arteaga said. “I want to allow myself to resort back to my child-like self and be funny and fearless and not worry about making a fool of myself.”

Previously, the class was often spent playing games to understand the format of improv and the importance of working and playing off each other. For example, “Yes, and…” is a popular improv exercise where the goal is to build a cohesive storyline while accepting ideas from all of the participants. Aside from the games, Finn used exercises with the students to teach key components and life skills that come from improv. 

“We talk about things that could help in an interview process at a job, if things get stuck and people aren’t listening to your ideas, things like that,” Finn said. “Improv is about agreeing to an idea when perhaps you might not originally agree with it.”

 Arteaga is excited to learn from someone with experience in the film industry. Arteaga can’t wait to hear what knowledge Finn will share with them. 

“He has actually experienced the things he’s teaching, and not only that but I think it’ll be nice to gain insight from someone who came from Milwaukee,” Arteaga said. 

When the improv class began in 2020, it was right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the weather was nicer and allowed the class to occur mostly outside. Since this semester will most likely be plagued by freezing days and masks are still required, Finn has had to alter the curriculum. 

“We’ll do the first few classes obviously with masks on and as spread out as we can be, and then we’ll see what happens from there,” Finn said. “One of the biggest things in improv is listening to understand, so even with masks it makes it more magnified how you put in effort to listen.” 

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Finn is looking forward to a wonderful semester back at Marquette. The process of returning to teaching and planning the course has been stressful but he’s incredibly grateful for the aid from the faculty. 

“Meeting Dean Feldner, Laura Schram, all the people in the office … all these people are helping me along this journey,” Finn said. “Everywhere is different but this just reminded me how nice people are at Marquette and how much they want to help.” 

This story was written by Izzy Fonfara Drewel. She can be reached at isabella.fonfaradrewel@marquette.edu.