Sunday, April 27, 2014

Essay: Channeling My Foul-Mouthed Spirit Guides

By Pam Victor

After studying improvisation for a dozen years, interviewing the masters for the last several years, and performing it for that same dozen years minus six months or so, I’ve relatively recently started teaching it. And one of the most delightful discoveries I’ve made is when I find myself channeling my own teachers. Now and then, I'll be gifted with the opportunity to pass along the words of Susan Messing (“Smell it touch it taste it feel it fuck it”) and Lyndsay Hailey (“Shoot the grandma”) and Mark Sutton (“Nobody in an improv audience anywhere has ever turned the person sitting next to them and said, ‘Man, I sure hope they fix that bike’”) and Joe Bill
Mr. Sutton and pie
(“Shut the fuck up”) and Craig Cackowski (“Specificity begets specificity”) and, of course, lots and lots of TJ Jagodowski (“If you keep putting brick and then mortar and then another brick, the mortar is the story. It’s the thing that squeezes out if you just keep on putting people together and exploring their relationships”) and lots and lots and
lots of David Pasquesi (“Listen to the foot”). People I’ve only seen perform inform my lessons, like sometimes I’ll be visited by Jill Bernard, whose drop dead brilliant one woman historical musical show is seared into my mind and heart and who teaches whole lessons with her infectiously joyous, child-like 1000% commitment to her performance. Even people I never will get to meet visit me while I’m teaching, like Del Close, whose gravelly, take-no-prisoners voice speaks through my teachers and my teacher’s teachers and, when I’m lucky, me. And so many more – I couldn't even dream of doing justice to sharing with you in one, small tribute all the many great teachers I've had - instead I'll devote myself to the quest if you care to stick with me for a lifetime or two.

A photo on the wall of iO Theatre of
Mr. Pasquesi and his teacher,
Mr. Close

People I’ve worked with. People I’ve seen perform. People I’ve interviewed. People I’ve learned from. And, more and more, people I’ve taught. As we’re all struggling to put into words the secrets to improvisation – and, let’s be real here, folks, the unsolvable secrets to life - all their words come through me while I’m teaching in this joyous, challenging, ultimately impossible self-propagating cycle towards infinity. And while I work hard on developing my own voice and message, I love that I get to say their names, are joined by their gentle guiding presence, feel reinforced by their experience and wisdom. It feels so much less alone and scary. It quiets the internal screaming meanie of, “Ohmygod, are they fucking hating this crap I am spewing? They are. They’re fucking hating this crap, aren’t they?” And on a purely selfish level, it makes me happy to get to spend some more time with these teachers, my friends and colleagues and heroes.

Mr. Jagodowski
and his teacher Mr. Gregoropoulos
When I say, “Shoot the grandma,” I see Lyndsay Hailey’s beautiful, beaming smile. I can picture her pointing to her arms and crowing, “Goosebumps! You guys gave me goosebumps!” When I try in vain to conjure Messing’s sexy rasp, I feel her reminding me that if I’m not having fun then I’m the asshole and I should get on the joyride and probably something else super smart and insightful about vaginas that makes me smile inside my soul. When I tell students about his bike metaphor, I see Mark Sutton leaned back in a chair holding a fishing poll (you’ve probably been there) or clad only in an adult diaper (I’m sorry if you weren’t there) and I can taste the best
Ms. Bernard performing
"Drum Machine"
fuckin’ berry pie in Chicago (you should have been there). Saying their names and words summons to my mind Cackowski spinning a Bentwood chair in iO’s cabaret theater and Joe Bill’s slow Indiana drawl that comes out when he’s been drinking or trying to be charming (which is pretty much all the time) and TJ’s generosity when I was terrifyingly interviewing him for the first time in his cozy living room and David Pasquesi that one time when I said something stupid that made his eyes twinkle.

As I step into each new improvisation class, of course I stand there, first and foremost, to share my robust adoration of this art form with these unreasonably kind folks who for some reason have chosen to spend a few hours with me. But my secret pleasure is when a moment arises that reminds me right away of something wonderful someone once said to me and I have the opportunity to be visited once again by my committee of geniuses, poets, and artists, my foul-mouthed gurus, and my spirit guides. And that’s when I feel like the luckiest one in the room.

Ms. Hailey

Mr. Cackowski

Read Geeking Out with...Dave Pasquesi

in which Dave says,
"Improvisation is itself an exercise in faith. 
In faith of Improvisation. 
That if I do the next tiny thing, all will be fine."


Catch up on past improv geek-a-thons:
Geeking Out with…TJ Jagodowski  of TJ and Dave
...Mark Sutton of BASSPROV
...Craig Cackowski of iOWest and Drunk History
...Susan Messing of Messing with a Friend
and many more!

And "like" the "Geeking Out with..." FACEBOOK PAGE please.


Pam Victor writes "Geeking Out with...," the popular comedy interview series. She is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam directed, produced and performed in the comic soap opera web series "Silent H, Deadly H." Pam also writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." You can see all her shit at 

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