Halfway There Improv

Hello again, friends!  Today I bring you word about a new improv troupe happening in residence at the Lamp Theater in Irwin, PA.  Introducing (cue drum roll):

Halfway There Improv

The new troupe members!

The new troupe members!

You can check them out Friday, February 5 and February 24 at 7:30 at the Lamp Theater!  You can check out the Facebook event page for more information!

A one Mr. Joe Connelly

A one Mr. Joe Connelly

You know that awesome thing you have to do in the theater business world where you create your own opportunities?  A one Mr. Joe Connelly is making it happen for himself and as Joe and I spend entirely too much--I mean, not enough time together, I was able to ask him some questions about his theater experience and his journey to this point.  Check out my interview with him below!

 

 

 

So, what is your theater background?

I started out in high school doing stage crew. When we did Les Miserable my junior year, I realized that I missed out on acting in a beautiful show, an opportunity that doesn’t come along that easily. So I decided my senior year I would audition for the spring musical. I got Uncle Henry in Wizard of Oz and had a blast. I decided then that I liked being onstage rather than behind it and went to Bowling Green State University for acting (the story behind that whole decision is a story for another time). After college I came back to Pittsburgh and have been acting regularly since then.

Well, I know for sure I enjoy watching you act.  Your comedy chops are great.  (Full disclosure: Joe and I actually met doing Love's Labour's Lost at Poor Yorick's Players THEN we did Yo, Vikings! at Stage 62 together.  We would like to work together in Boy Gets Girl so if anyone would like to produce/direct that, CALL US!).  Was comedy your in to improv?

Absolutely. During my first three weeks of college I saw an audition for The Plastic Shatners, a short form improv team on campus. They were only looking for one actor to fill a spot and, not having much to lose, I decided to audition. Spoiler alert, I ended up making the team and learned and performed with them over the next three years. When my first senior year came around, it was time for the director to pass the torch and he decided to leave the group in my care. I directed the team for my last two years in college before passing the torch myself. It’s a team that has been around since 1999, and I don’t see it ending anytime soon. That’s kinda cool. I was just a cog in a long running and successful improv troupe.

Having experience like that helps out a lot with starting a brand new improv troupe, I'm sure.  I'm sure you wouldn't want to IMPROVISE starting a new company (see what I did there?).  (At this point, Joe's eyes roll very far back in his head and I'm not sure he would want to put me on his improv team.)  How did you get started at the Lamp Theater?

The Lamp has been a longtime staple of Irwin, but in 2005, the movie theater closed its doors. When it reopened last year, the renovations included a stage for live performance and updated lighting, sound, and seating. I had been looking for an opportunity to do improv again in Pittsburgh and approached the theater with a proposal. I offered the improv troupe as a way to make money to continue renovations on the theater. They accepted and thought it was a great idea, so much so that auditions were scheduled the same day. They’ve given me a lot of freedom to do with this group what I want and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. They’re really a great group to work with.

It sounds like a great match!  Having a safe place and being surrounded by people who support you is super important in improv.  A lot of actors (myself included (at least, sometimes)) find improv terrifying.  Is it scary for you?  If so, why in the world would you want to do it?

Improvisation, in it’s nature, is not comedic, but it takes quick minds to make it such and I like to think I have a quicker-than-some kind of mind. Improv comedy has rarely scared me. Early on, it was more my battle with stage fright than improv that made me nervous. Now, what’s always been scary for me, and only recently has changed, is improv within a scripted show. For example, when an actor forgets a line and starts going off the cuff until they remember their place in the show. To be honest, that’s never happened to me, but that’s been my anxiety for most of my acting career.

I find that absolutely terrifying, too!  And the time it takes to come back around to the right moment seems like YEARS onstage even though it might only be five seconds!  The worst!  Has there ever been a moment when a scene has fallen completely flat on it's face?

Oh man, there are more of those times than I’d like to admit and most have probably been suppressed in my mind.

Understandable.  Any fail proof gimmicks?

I’ve learned that, above everything else, when I do physical comedy, people crack up.

 

 

Absolutely.  Physical comedy is ALWAYS funny.  ALWAYS.  

<<<<< as seen here

 

 

 

 

 

Any goals for Halfway There?

I want to have fun while introducing the town to improv comedy. At our first show, it was evident that a lot of the audience had never been to an improv show before. I’m glad I’ve helped them change that. As long as we stay funny and continue to bring crowds, I don’t want that to end.

Long term? Make this a staple of the community to live and thrive. I don’t plan on being in Pittsburgh forever, but I hope that when I leave I can hand the baton to the next director to continue this community collaboration. We’ve only had one show, so I’m probably jumping the gun, but it’s something to think about.

Okay, now the really important questions:  Do you have a theatrical dream role?

Ever since that first missed opportunity to perform in Les Miserable, I’ve wanted to be either Jean Valjean or Thenardier. Maybe someday I’ll get another chance at it.

And finally, perhaps the biggest, most important question ever to be asked: best burrito?

Oh man. Gobblerito. Until someone comes along with a General Tso’s burrito...

Be sure to check them out and support local artists!  I can't wait to see them myself!

I am also a huge fan of Joe Connelly, who is also a great photographer and actor and teacher.  You can check him out as Dr. Dino in Spinosaurus Encounter! (And you never know who might be wrangling Spiny that day!), and as a gallery presenter throughout the museum.  He is also working on his own improv skills at Arcade Comedy Theater so you can see him there as well!  And if you ever, EVER need a gif made, he's your guy.