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Josephine Forsberg, 90, taught stars improv

Josephine Forsberg

Josephine Forsberg

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Updated: November 16, 2011 8:46AM

From her start as an improv instructor at Second City in the mid-1960s, Josephine Forsberg became a go-to oracle for thousands of actors in Chicago and beyond. She eventually established her own successful local improv outpost, Players Workshop.

Many of her charges, such as movie director Harold Ramis, “Cheers” star George Wendt and movie star Bill Murray, went on to big show business careers.

Ms. Forsberg died Monday. She was 90.

“She was quite a woman,” said Wendt, who was new to the still-fledgling improv scene when Forsberg took him under her wing. “She gave me the truest note I’ve ever gotten, and it’s one that I take with me throughout my life and certainly my career as well. We were in the middle of an improv exercise and she yelled up to the stage, to me, ‘When you’re havin’ fun, we’re havin’ fun!’ And I share that with young people to this day.”

Movie director and former television actor Betty Thomas has said Ms. Forsberg “had a way of introducing you to improvisational theater so that it would seem like a natural thing.”

In 2007, Murray brought Ms. Forsberg to an improv workshop he hosted for several members of the New York Giants football team in East Rutherford, N.J.

She arrived several days before Murray to work with players who were involved in a youth mentoring program and wanted to improve their skills in communicating with children.

Although Ms. Forsberg could be “sweet” and “kind,” Wendt said she was fierce as well. Once he had settled in and become “hooked,” her criticism became tougher.

“She could tell when you were thinking and not playing, and she would scream up to the stage, ‘Get out of your head!’ ” Wendt said.

After he spent a year or so under her tutelage, Wendt recalled, Ms. Forsberg told him he was ready to perform in the Sunday afternoon children’s show on Second City’s vaunted mainstage. Wendt was flattered.

“It was like an altar that I’d been worshipping for so long,” he said.

So he showed up at 11:30 one Sunday morning, puzzled as to why he had been asked to come three hours before curtain.

“Finally Josephine comes down and answers the door, and I go upstairs and she hands me a broom and a dustpan,” Wendt said.

“What’s this?” he asked.

Replied Ms. Forsberg, “Welcome to the theater.”

Ms. Forsberg is survived by a son, Eric, and a daughter, Linnea. Funeral plans were pending.

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