Thursday, September 21, 2017

Catherine Napper of Improv Bus

This episode of The Lisa D Show takes a deep dive into the childhood of Catherine Napper, growing up in Evanston, to look at how environment plays a role in fostering a creative life. Frank, honest, smart and funny, Catherine shares her journey through life all the way to the stage with her current role as an actor with Improv Bus. 

Upcoming Improv Bus performance dates; Theater WIP on September 27 and October 11.

Below is an edited version of Catherine's bio and Improv Bus background. 


I am an artist and teacher raised and nurtured in South Evanston and a proud class of ‘81 Wildikit. I  am very proud to be living here, in my hometown, once again after many years living in McHenry County, Milwaukee and New York.

Evanston is  the place where I developed my artistic spirit. It surrounded me, a most awkward child, with people and places that inspired and nurtured me. As an introspective and introverted child, I was often by myself or with my sisters. I found it difficult to find friends, or to find a place where I fit in, and I was left to my own devices. I used my imagination to create these places for myself. This translated easily into art of all sorts, writing, painting, and most often, acting and pretending. My sisters and I spent hours and hours creating and producing plays and puppet shows in our basement (amidst the drying laundry) often inviting all the neighbors, and occasionally neglecting to tell my mother.

I found solace, strength and the ability to use my voice through the fine and performing arts and opportunities were everywhere when I began to look for them!  My greatest role models were the artists I was fortunate enough to have as my teachers, Gloria Bond Clunie, being the most prominent. I learned through her, how to use theater as a form of self-expression (and life skill!) Through the performing arts, I felt I had found acceptance from my peers and more importantly, myself. And I had found my tribe.

After High School I studied photography and theater at Columbia College in Chicago I developed and ran a theater program and arts camp for kids through the Ridgeville Park District and taught improv at various locations throughout the Chicagoland Area.  As a young adult I studied at the Second City in Chicago and performed sketch comedy for several years with an improv group named, “The Illegitimate” players directed by the infamous Second City writer and performer, Don DePollo.

I received my Master’s Degree in Teaching from National Louis University and spent many years teaching, raising my kids, taking improv classes with Jimmy Carrane and seeking opportunities to teach and direct youth theater. I directed and co-directed productions of Peter Pan and Our Town through Shakespeare’s Child Theater Company in the Northern suburbs.

After moving back to Evanston two and half years ago with my husband, Tom, I heightened my participation in the improv community by making a stronger commitment to learning new skills, taking classes and performing when I could find the opportunity. I continue to do so!


ImprovBus is a flexible improv group made up of 8-12 individuals who trained together with local writer, author, performer and director, Jimmy Carrane, the creator of “The Art of Slow Comedy,” and “Improv Nerd.”  Our performance goal as a team is to bring authentic improv to different types of venues around the city, making it accessible to everyone.

Through our ongoing training, we developed a strong sense of ensemble, growing and learning together with the intent of bringing the “real” back to comedy. This is the philosophy and pedagogy of our mentor/teacher/coach, Jimmy Carrane, and one which really resonated with us as performers.  Our members, who are of myriad ages and backgrounds, bring a wealth of real life talent and experiences to our work. Most of us have enjoyed meaningful careers outside of theater adding  valuable real world experience and variety to our scene work and on-stage relationships.  Our hope is to always let our humanity drive our scene work. We are less game-focused and less silly than many groups out there and rely instead on developing meaningful relationships in our stage work. We vary the show forms we present based on the available performers, the venue, the time and the audience. The result is a group of highly versatile, very, very funny people working together to make comedy relatable and fun. We focus on staying grounded in our work because real life is funny enough!

The name ImprovBus came to me in a strange, albeit well-timed dream, earlier this year.  I dreamed that our entire troupe, along with pets, costumes and musical instruments was tooling around Chicago neighborhoods in a decked out Winnebago-like Bus. Occasionally the side door would pop open and we’d roll out performing hilarious improv right on the spot. When pressed for a name for our troupe in early June, the name just popped out, and it stuck!

ImprovBus! has been very fortunate so far with finding performance opportunities around town (and in fact, they tend to find us!)  We have spent the summer performing very regularly as part of Caffeinated Improv hosted by Osmium Coffee House and Star Lounge. Additional Upcoming dates include a performance with Jamwich (opening for Part Dog) at the Crowd Theater in Chicago on September 9 and 3 performances at Theater WIP on September 13, September 27 and October 11.

We continue to play and learn together, experimenting with new ideas and forms each week and look forward to expanding our performances to include festivals, galleries, industrial work and wherever else the “bus” takes us!

P.S. Having an actual bus is just a long-term goal!


"The Lisa D Show" is a podcast celebrating creatives, featuring 20-minute, unedited conversations that mimic the live-radio vibe, very low tech on purpose. Reach out to host Lisa Degliantoni at thelisadshow[at]

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