“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.
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).
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.
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?
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