When Worlds Collide: An Improv Class with Dr. Bill and Antoine McKay


It's always a thrill to bring together old friends who come from separate worlds. But it’s rare when worlds collide with so much purpose and fun. In the center of this photo is my high school buddy Bill, who is referred to by his U of M students these days as "Dr. Gehring." Bill is a psychology professor and among other accomplishments, he discovered the particular brain wave that occurs when you make a mistake. But I know him better as the smart kid who sometimes might lift up an elbow and let me cop a peek at a few answers on the Chem test. (I didn’t tell that one to his students.)

On the left is another dear friend and actor extraordinaire, Antoine McKay. For you Empire fanatics, Antoine played Bunkie Williams. Bunkie lost his life (and thus Antoine's job) during season 1. Antoine and I forged a unique bond after he was gracious enough to travel with me to the DOJJ in Richmond, VA, as part of our Educational Improv Works (EIW) program. By sharing the restorative powers of improv, Antoine helped a group of disadvantaged young men find hope and a stronger voice in an otherwise hopeless environment.

Back to Bill Gehring: This semester he's heading up a class for freshmen that focuses on offering insights and tools for managing the dizzying stressors dumped on college students of today. Boy, am I glad did my graduating in the '80s and '90s. Way cheaper, heavier books. Anyway, Antoine and I recently submerged these poor freshmen in a 90-minute boot camp of improv’s best practices and life takeaways (aka best of EIW).

Antoine, as always, was amazing, while I was simply there to cheer, lead, and head-nod — and probably didn’t even do that very well. It’s difficult to maintain focus when you’re caught in a Wonder Years/Quantum Leap moment of gestalt goo. I'm thinking, Won’t these kids be able to tell that I’m not an expert, I’m a goof who snuck through the system? I see Bill adjust the camera — he wanted to record the session. Not sure what he’ll end up with. And I'm not sure how I managed to cheat off a valedictorian all those years ago ... and still end up with a C on my report card. But I’m sure that I’m proud of my friends.