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!
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.