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I’m a big lover of television. We do live in the golden age of it, after all – or at least that’s what they say. I just recently watched the 2nd season of Stranger Things, which was excellent, and gave me nostalgia for the ‘80s even though I was only alive for about 9 months of them.
I’m also a huge fan of comedy. Comedy Bang Bang is one of my favorite podcasts, and they always have hilarious guests.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this. “Is he just going to tell us about all the stuff he likes?” you may ask. “Isn’t that what his wife is for?” Fear not, there’s a point coming!
In Stranger Things Season 2, a few new characters are introduced. One of them is a conspiracy theory peddling journalist (who, of course, turns out to be right). As soon as he started talking, I recognized his voice – that’s Brett Gelman! (Brett Gelman is a semi-regular guest on CBB. Look up “iBrain,” if you’re okay with seriously NSFW stuff.) There’s a certain feeling you get when someone you know from another world shows up on one of your favorite shows.
Well, I’m happy to announce that you’ll have that opportunity tomorrow night!
See, me and my pals from Happy Valley Improv have been running a faculty workshop series over the past eight weeks. This is the last week of the course, and the students will have a closed recital to celebrate. But, we are also inviting two of them to perform with us in Happy Valley Improv! If we had credits, there would be a giant "WITH SPECIAL GUEST" title card!
We’re incredibly excited to have them on stage with us. They’ll be joining us for the first and final acts of the night. I reached out and asked them to share their thoughts and feelings with us!
Andrea: Working with Happy Valley Improv has been an amazing experience. I was unsure of what to expect when the course began. Every class has been so much fun, so challenging, and so rewarding. This show is going to be a chance to really test myself, to release my inhibitions, and to just focus on my partners and the scenes that they create. I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of it and hope that the audience has as much fun watching!
Jackie: As someone involved with community theatre, I always thought the intersection of performance and pedagogy was something fun to think about. This workshop has made me think about being truly present when teaching, and “yes and-ing” has become somewhat of a life philosophy extending outside the classroom. Performing with Happy Valley Improv is an honor, and I can’t wait to show the audience what we’ve been working on!
To see what we’ve been working on, well, you’ll have to come out to our show on Thursday! It’s going to be a blast! Just click here: TICKETS!
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Tonight is the second of our run of four shows at the State Theatre this fall. It’s just a small part of the many different activities we at Happy Valley Improv have been working on. In our group Slack chat, we have multiple conversations going over multiple channels; we met for lunch yesterday to discuss business and future scheduling; we’ve had to sign up for a bunch of different apps just to keep up with everything going on. It’s times like these that it feels more like running a business than an improv group.
All four of us are busy adults. Two of us have kids, a fact that Sam never lets us forget (he’s also 37 years old, you know!). But all of us have decided to spent time, energy, and effort into building Happy Valley Improv. And it’s a lot of effort! This isn’t a “woe is me” post, though. This is a post about why it’s all worth it. Let me take you in the way-back machine to 2011.
My wife and I had just moved to Charleston, SC. The first couple of years I lived in Charleston, I didn’t have much of a social life. I worked evening shift while my wife went to school during the day. During my off-time I’d watch TV or play video games, sometimes with friends from back home, but I wasn’t building any sort of network there.
That all changed after I saw my first improv show at the Charleston Comedy Festival in 2013. I was hooked. I signed up for classes the day after – luckily, they offered a daytime class. I kept hearing about this “Improv Practice Group,” or IPG, that met on Monday nights. Working evenings, I could never make a Monday night a 7, but finally, one day, I had a day off and decided to go.
It changed my life. The night was so fun, and the people were just…on the same wavelength as me. They made jokes and they made me feel supported. When I got home that night, I literally told my wife, “I have found my people.” I decided to switch from night shift to day shift, in large part because IPG and improv classes and shows were all at night.
I met almost every friend I have from Charleston through improv. A lot of us still keep in touch, even though I’ve been gone almost a year. One of them has been playing D&D with me every Monday night for the past 5 years, and I consider him one of my best friends.
Then, fast forward about five or six years. I moved from Charleston to State College. I knew no one. The only connection I had was an email with a guy named James Tierney who told me that he and two other people were doing improv in a church basement downtown. I didn’t know them, but I wasn’t nervous. They were, after all, my people.
That’s the reason I continue to devote all of this time and energy into building the improv community here. So that one day, maybe there will be a State College IPG, where someone who moves in from out of town, or someone who’s never done theatre or comedy or performed in any way, will be able to come to a meeting and leave saying – “These are my people.”
And maybe, someone in the crowd of our show tonight will be like me during Comedy Fest in 2013!
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Hi all. It's me. Andrea. The improv newbie.
Actually, I’ve been told I’m not allowed to call myself an “improv newbie” anymore. I officially completed my first public performance. People WILLINGLY paid to see me and my group do improv together. On a stage. I survived. I even kind of succeeded, by most measures, and especially if you use the measure I had identified for myself before I started on this whole crazy journey. This measure is best summarized in a flow chart, which I would make if I were better at graphic design, but basically it looks like this dichotomous key:
Query: “Am I having fun?”
If yes: I have succeeded!
If no: Try again, but be and have more fun.
I’m a little bit sad that I can’t play the “But-I’m-new-at-this-and-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing” card when it comes to improv because I’m really good at playing that card. On the other hand, it feels pretty good to put on my big kid underwear and be able to say “Actually, I do kind of know what I’m doing and I can keep up with the big kids for at least a little while.” Because I did!
I had a lot of feelings in the days leading up to and after last week’s performance, and I want to describe them here. So here is a selected list of some of my most prominent and spell-able feelings, in chronological order.
3 days before showtime:
My friends and family keep asking me if I’m ready. No I’m not, thankyouverymuch. Why did I agree to do this, again? Why wasn’t I content with just doing my usual stuff, why did I have to pick up a whole new hobby? And even if I legitimately needed a new hobby, why wasn’t it sufficient to just keep meeting with the crew once a week in the church basement? Why did we decide that we wanted to put on a show for the whole damn town? I can’t remember whose idea that was, but I want to kick him.
10 minutes before showtime:
We are still behind stage, of course, but one of our crew members texted us to say that the ticket office ran out of tickets and they’re having to turn people away!! WHAT?!! How is that even possible? We are shocked, we are thrilled!
We do more warmups. Sam helps us get our Zen on by breathing and blanking. Nate helps us get our silly on by singing like the B-52s. James helps us get our characters on by launching us into “Five things.”
2 minutes before showtime:
We are offstage and we can hear the audience taking their seats. WHY IS SAM TALKING ABOUT HOW MUCH HE NEEDS TO GO PEE? ISN’T HE THE PROFESSIONAL HERE??
Minutes 1 thru 75 of showtime:
ADRENALINE-FUELED FLOW STATE
We run out onto the stage. The audience claps, and we jump right into “10 scenes about.” Someone from the audience suggests “octopus,” and off we go. It’s fun. The audience is laughing. I’m laughing. The paper-based numeration system that has been devised to help me with the counting is wreaking havoc, but that’s ok. We got this.
First hour post-show
I talk with some of my friends and family who stick around after the show. They give me hugs and flowers. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. So many friends came to watch, even though they had to pay babysitters, even though they had to give up some cozy couch time, even though they had to drive three hours just to get here (Special shout-out to Anne, who was a member of BOTH of the bicycle gangs I described in my previous post). A few of my students came, even though Thursday night is primo party night for College students. (Notice how I’m assuming improv and college-partying are mutually exclusive choices). I’m very grateful that so many people were willing to take a chance on my little group.
Second hour post-show
Girl’s gotta eat.
So, in summary: my emotional journey can be best described as:
Nervousness-> Excitement-> Panic-> Adrenaline-fueled flow state-> Grateful-> Hungry
I’ll take it!
P.S. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure the original idea to perform for the public was mine in the first place, so I’ll hold off on the kicking...for now.
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Today marks our first ever full-length show for the public.
We're nervous, to be sure - but more than that, we're excited to be able to finally share what we've been working on for the past year.
On Sunday, we were lucky enough to be able to perform a short set at the State College Community Theatre fundraiser event at Webster's Bookstore Cafe. It was our first truly public performance, and it was a blast. A middle-schooler named Elizabeth gave us the suggestion "unicorn" and in the middle of our set yelled out, "THIS IS AWESOME!" Elizabeth talked to us after the show and told us she does improv at her school. Elizabeth is a cool kid. Be like Elizabeth.
Later on, despite Sam's sleep deprivation (he's 37 years old with two children, as he will often remind you), we joined Penn State's After Hours show for a quick interview and round of "scenes from a riot helmet." (See both clips below. A warning - the second clip has some sparse language). That was also a blast, though Nate must have missed the "PG" memo. (He's not really sorry about it).
On Thursday, our show is going to be much longer - we're hoping to go for over an hour with laugh-out-loud improv comedy. How will we do that, you didn't ask? We'll tell you anyway! Here's a sneak peek of what you can expect from our show, which will be broken into three parts:
Part 1: 10 Things About
We'll open the show with a round of "10 Things About," an improv form or game where we get a word from the audience and do scenes about that word. How many scenes? You guessed it - ten. You're a math major now! (Andrea says that's not true). This is a little different than what we do at the end of the show, because all of these scenes will somehow incorporate the word given to us. It's fast-paced and fun!
Part 2: Small Town
The second act of our show will be a performance of a form called Small Town. If you're into improv, you might also know this as a La Ronde. Basically, each one of the four of us will only play one character for the entire set. We set it in a "small town," but it doesn't always have to be a literal town - it could be a big city, a castle, or even a spaceship. The idea is to explore the interconnected lives of people in this one area. It's probably the most "artsy" part of the show, and isn't always inherently comedic - but we promise, you'll love watching it.
Part 3: Improv Jam
After a quick intermission to refill on drinks and snacks, we'll come back and do the old standby, the oldest longform improv trick in the book: an improv jam. No holds barred, no rules, we just get a word from the audience and weave a bunch of scenes together for the next 25-30 minutes. It's improv without a net - no forms, no games, just scenework!
So that's it. That's a sneak peek at our show. Check out the clip below to see us in action, and please come to our show tonight! All you have to do is click the "Tickets" link in the menu on this site and pick the right show (hint: it's the first one listed)!
Thanks for supporting us!
-Happy Valley Improv
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“Beautiful soul.” “Inspirational founder of Happy Valley Improv.” “Creative hero to many.” “Annoying lady who takes too long to pick a checkout line at Wegmans.” These are some of the phrases that have been used to describe me.
Are they true? You’ll have to judge for yourself. But one thing I know is not NOT true: I am the one who should get 99.9% the blame/credit for this little experiment that is Happy Valley Improv.
As with many things in life, it all started for me at a summer camp. In the summer of 2016, I attended a three-day camp in the Poconos called Camp Improv Utopia. I didn’t know anyone, I had never done improv, and I was scared. But I had a great time for those 3 days. People were friendly and supportive, especially when they learned I was a newbie. I was hooked and determined to find a local community to continue playing and practicing with when I returned to State College.
But I couldn’t find anything like it. So I reached out to Sam Tanner, a colleague whom I knew had extensive experience with improvisational theater, and James Tierney, a faculty member whom I had never met but had been recommended to me by an Improv Utopia leader who knew James from his California improv days.
I didn’t know whether James and Sam would be interested in forming a group that met to practice regularly, especially considering that I was brand new. But they were and we did, and soon the stars aligned and Nate found us and here we are.
I used to teach high school mathematics. Then I earned a PhD in mathematics education. As a faculty member in the department of Curriculum & Instruction at Penn State, I get to teach preservice elementary, middle, and high school teachers. I also get to study mathematics teaching and learning in classrooms. My hunch is that improvisational theater can offer some ideas about more joyful ways we can approach mathematics teaching. So that’s what I’m setting out to explore next.
In my spare time, I like to read fiction, especially with my neighborhood book group. It’s literary fiction, you guys. LITERARY! I like to ride my bike—I’ve been a founding member of TWO bike clubs, one which was composed of two other 6th graders. In that one we mostly just rode around in circles. The other one was while I was in graduate school in Bloomington, Indiana. We formed an annual “Bike and Beer” event, which was a pub crawl on bikes, and we ended up riding around in circles in that one, too.
I like camping with friends, but only if they do all the work and I can just sit in a chair and read books among all the nature. I like eating food that other people cook for me, especially when it’s my mom’s, and especially when it’s her prize-winning blueberry pie. One of my hobbies is learning how to freestyle rap under the tutelage of my coach, JT. That hobby mostly consists of me talking about how I want to learn how to freestyle rap. I used to love watching Pirates baseball, but instant replay has ruined it for me so now I just like complaining about the good old days.
My family consists of my supportive husband Jason, our amazing daughter PJ, and our adorable dog Sluggo. All 3 of them are eternally grateful to Happy Valley Improv for providing an outlet for me to get out of the house and get some much-needed attention. It has relieved them of some (but not all) of that burden.
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Hi. I'm James. (This is also what I say every time my wife says, "I'm hungry...").
My improv journey started back at my undergraduate university, Western New England College, located in Springfield Massachusetts. Attending a liberal arts college meant everyone needed to have three credits of an art. The only two courses that fit in my schedule were paper making and improv theatre. It was an easy choice.
My first improv class was awesome. It taught the basics of improvisation and some short-form games. After finishing Improv Level 1, I continued onto Level 2: Basics of Long-Form.
The 6 of us in this course ended up forming the first improv troupe I've been a part of: The Terodactl Sqwad: Spelt Phonetically. The T-Skwad performed on campus and in a few comedy festivals. My love for scene work was born.
After WNEC I left for graduate school in Orange County, CA. The first year of graduate school was a blur. My free time was spent doing economics problem sets and taking the occasional weekend vacation to Las Vegas. Improv was not in the cards.
As the second year rolled around I finally joined a troupe: ImprovCity. ImprovCity is a short-form group that was in it's infant stage when I joined. It taught me a lot about working with a wide range of skills levels and starting from the ground up. While in Orange County I also joined a scene-based team, The Friday Society, a team under the Spectacles Improv Engine. The Friday Society was special. Six strong improvisers doing all scene-based improv games at midnight in a small theatre. I felt like this was true improvisation.
In southern California, I spent some time getting great training. I took classes at iO West and went to ImprovUtopia. I'm very grateful for the time I spent in California.
After graduate school I ended up teaching in upstate NY at SUNY Plattsburgh where I helped found a student-ran improv group called SPIT. We dabbled in both short and long-form improvisation. This is where I gained experience directing a troupe. I miss those kids...
That brings us here. Which you've heard about already. I could write more about Happy Valley Improv or you can read our getting started blog or the one I wrote on my personal site.
When I'm not doing improv I'm usually teaching economics or playing with my dog, Penny. She has her own Instagram. My wife is amazing and supports everything I do.
I hope to see you at our shows! And, if you have any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@James_Tierney).
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We've promised to introduce the members of Happy Valley Improv. Next up? Sam Tanner. Me. It's me. I'm Sam Tanner. I"m going to write in first-person now.
I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1980. This was long before blogs, self-promotional branding, and Steve Jobs. It was a simpler time. Nobody tweeted nuthin'. People kept their crazy ideas repressed, and there was no such thing as a hashtag. Things have changed.
What brought me to State College? Well, you nosy scamp, if you must know.
I taught high school English and drama in the Twin Cities for nearly 15 years, before accepting a position in the Penn State system. Currently, I'm a literacy education professor at Penn State Altoona, and graduate faculty in Curriculum and Instruction at Penn State's University Park campus. I live outside of State College with my radiant wife Katie, our lively sons Solomon and Samson, and an epileptic cat named Meow-A-Sauras. We also have a cat named Yara. Yara is the Hebrew word for fear. Like many Americans, Yara suffers from extreme anxiety.
Why use a Hebrew word to name my cat? Funny you should ask, you delightful voyeur. My father is a first-generation Russian-Jewish immigrant. He became a Jew-for-Jesus freak in the 60's, around the same time he married my Lutheran mother (remember, I'm from Minnesota). I was raised in synagogues, evangelical churches, and extreme instability. It was wild.
I drift from the point. Improv. I've been directing (and teaching) improv for 15 years. Most of that work happened in high schools, but I've also worked with adults. I've written about improv too. I'm interested in long-form improvisation.
I got my first taste of long-form attending shows at Brave New Workshop in the early 2000's, when it was still located in Uptown, Minneapolis. Founded by Dudley Riggs, Brave New Workshop is similar to Second City in Chicago. My original high school improv troupe used Brave New Workshop as our model.
My own practice as a director and teacher of improv is a bit quirky. It grew out of my experience working with high school students. For me, improv is a disciplined practice that facilitates collaborative interrogations of the psyche. It helps us unleash the repressed, explore the unexpected, and participate in group mind. This view of improv informs my research, my teaching, and my writing. It also influences the ways I move through the world. I think practices (and principles) of improv have much to teach us about how we might more productively (and healthily) interact with the creation.
How did this Happy Valley Improv thing happen? Really, you're too kind to ask. It's a funny story. Well, no, I guess it's not funny. It's just a story.
My family was at Discovery Space two summers ago, a local children's museum. We were trying, as we often do with two toddlers, to kill an afternoon. Andrea - the founding member of our group - appeared from the ether. She was with her daughter. Andrea knew I had experience with improv, and mentioned an improv camp she had recently attended. We talked. Soon, she connected me with James, and we agreed to meet in the basement of Andrea's church. A strange thing was born. Happy Valley Improv.
Now, it's my hope that Happy Valley Improv can foster an improv community in State College. We plan to put on shows, offer workshops, and bring some improvisational life force to this college town in the mountains.
There you have it. That's a snapshot of me. Did you read this blog and think, "damn, I like the way this cat writes." You did? Damn. Well, check out my weekly blog. Heck, check out my two memoirs (third one is on it's way). They're cheap and good. Info can be found here: www.samjtanner.com/
Peace, my friends. Peace.
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Hey everyone! As promised, we're going to be giving a little insight to you into who our players are. (Who asked for this content? No one!) First up is Nate, AKA "me," I suppose. Hello?
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Hello, and welcome to the new Happy Valley Improv website! We're very excited that you're here.
When we began meeting in early 2017, we never guessed that we would have a professional website, a run of shows at a local theatre, and workshops lined up this quickly - but here we are! We're eager to bring longform improv to State College, and it seems like you're eager for it too! Our hope is to build a community like the ones we've been a part of in Charleston, Minneapolis, Irvine, and New York.
In the coming weeks and months, we'll be taking some time to introduce you to our players. In that time, this website may change occasionally - we're new at this! - but we hope you bear with us as we try to put our best product out there.
Thanks for following along!
-Your friends at Happy Valley Improv