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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.