John Michael Michalski
John Michael Michalski - founder of the Improv Institute; founder of the Second City Training Center; teacher; performer; and director - died of cancer on May 24, 2021 at the age of 72 in Santa Monica, CA.
Michalski - a former cop, known for his handsome face, set, focused eyes and imposing physicality - learned to improvise at Forsberg’s Players Workshop, alongside Tim Kazurinsky, George Wendt, and Bill Murray. It was there that Michalski learned Viola Spolin’s deeper lessons (Spolin is the internationally recognized originator of Theater Games – the basis of all improvisational theater), which then went on to inform his lifelong career in improv — how to teach, and how to transform. In the early days, Michalski and his wife Kate performed every weekend at the Improv Institute, an institution they helped found in 1983 and behind which Michalski was the driving force.
The Improv Institute was devoted to pure improv, ran for 10 years and was one of the first non-Second City improv venues to be opened in Chicago. Hundreds of local improvisers played there, including Jane Morris, Jeff Michalski (his brother), Jonathan Pitts, and Susan Messing. Audiences recall how much Michalski loved the art of improvisation, and always performed with great confidence and results. Much mention has been made of what a striking picture he and his wife made… being called “”the best looking improv couple in Chicago, and most likely, on the planet.”
Michalski went on to be a founding member of the Second City Training Center. Like all great teachers, Michalski had his star students—improvisers who worked with him and then went on to have careers at Second City and beyond, (among them Rick Hall, Ron West, Evan Gore, and Peter Hulne), but his true legacy is one of a kind, giving, and perceptive teacher, and he is remembered by those who knew him best as as a loving, caring, considerate, kind, creative, intelligent and passionate friend. He continued sharing his gift in LA, where he moved first in the late 70s and later in the late 80s, at the Groundlings, the Comedy Store, and the National Lampoon Players.
Michalski is survived by his wife, Kate Kirkpatrick, and 3 children, Micah, Nate & Michael.