Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment (#17: Confessions of a Former Dilettante)

by Pam Victor

[The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment is my one-year challenge to make a living through creative pursuits. Read all the updates here.]

I cried a lot before I went to the Chicago Improv Festival for the first time. It was 2009 and I was homeschooling both kids full time. I did lots and lots of driving and teaching and nagging. One evening a week, I would sneak away for improv rehearsal with my "sisters" in The Ha-Ha's, and maybe every month or two we performed mostly short form improv, mostly unpaid of course. At that time, my improv studies were limited to the rare workshop when I could coax one of my mentors, Will Luera and Piero Procaccini, out to the Valley to enlighten us. Although I loved improv with all my heart and soul, if pressed, I had to admit it was a hobby. Then Chicago started to haunt me...

So for no good reason whatsoever, I decided to attend the Chicago Improv Festival that year. The Ha-Ha's s didn't get in, so I wasn't performing in it. I didn't know anyone else attending. I was crashing in my kind friend-from-high-school's spare bedroom in Logan Square. For some reason, I was spending a good sum of money to fly to Chicago and buy full-priced tickets to the shows, just to breathe the air in the epicenter of improvisation. But I cried a lot about it before the plane took off.

I cried because I didn't know why I was going. I cried because I worried that improv was only a hobby and attending the festival from the audience made it seem even more so. I cried because the word "dilettante" came bubbling out of my blubbering lips over and over again.

"I feel like such a dilettante!" I remember boo-hooing to my cousinsisterfriend Jackie. 

To which Jackie sagely replied, "So the fuck what? So what if you're a dilettante. What's wrong with that?"

She had a point. So I stopped crying, got on the plane, and arrived in
Pilgrimage to the mecca
iO Theater on Clark Street in Chicago
Chicago without understanding why I there. Sniffling from a stress-induced cold, I got off the airplane, dropped off my bags, and immediately went to an event (it was free). I met Jonathan Pitts, Executive Producer of Chicago Improv Productions, almost as
Photo credit: Natasha Bhamla
Chicago Improv Productions
(CIF, 2013)
soon as I took my seat in the front row of The Playground Theater, and my life was forever changed. (If you had told me that in four years on that same stage I would be interviewing Scott Adsit and John Lutz of "30 Rock," I would have slapped your face and called you a filthy liar.) That first Chicago Improv Festival show ended with the MOST PERFECT IMPROV SET I HAD EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE performed by The Reckoning, featuring Jet Eveleth, Holly Laurent, and Jake Schneider, and my world was forever changed. Later that weekend, I took a workshop with Mark Sutton, and my life was again forever changed.

I landed back in the boondocks of Massachusetts and decided that if I was going to be an improv dilettante, I was going to be the most serious and committed dilettante ever to tiptoe onstage. That summer, I got my first paid acting job, as the Fairy Godmother (and five or six other roles) in Paintbox Theatre's production of Pinocchio. And I went back to the Chicago Improv Festival the next year, still not sure why I was going, still not performing in it, but a tiny bit less weepy. 
Pinocchio, Paintbox Theatre (2009)

By the end of this month, I will have performed freeform short form, longform, musical improv, sketch, and a successful short/longform structure I created in three paid shows (The Happier Valley Comedy Show, The Majestic Holiday Show, and First Night Northampton) and one unpaid show (ImprovBoston) with some of the most talented improvisers in New England. I've been teaching two weekly improv classes of my own design - a level one and level three of Zen of Improv. I've gotten paid to facilitate an improv workshop. I planned a new monthly show, a jam, which starts next month. I'm not bragging. These are just facts. Improvisation is my career.

And I will not be going to the Chicago Improv Festival this year because I have a major gig at another festival. 

* * *

Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam performs  "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." Along with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi, Pam is the co-author of "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book" which is due out in Spring, 2015. Read all her nonsense at

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