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November, 2011

Ask Local Genius Society: Q&A with Andrew Pish

Beginning this week Local Genius Society takes over the Thursday Threefer with a holiday themed show.  Meet the men and women behind the Society.

This week:  Andrew Pish

Andrew Pish has been everywhere lately – playing the titular role in “The Professor:  Improv Inspired By Dr. Who” at the Institution Theater, creating other-worldly creatures in the Hideout Theatre’s improvised “Spirited,” and embodying Angel in the staged version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” at the Highball.  Now the senior UT engineering student is prepping for a run at the Hideout Theatre with his improv troupe Local Genius Society.  Here Pish talks about discovering improv and believing in Santa Claus for far too long.

You’re just coming off doing scripted “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” shows, and before that you were doing “The Country Wife” at UT – what’s it like being a performer in a scripted show vs. being a performer in an improvised show?

Andrew Pish: It’s a lot less intimidating to do an improv show, just because everything you’re doing is off the cuff.  When you’re in a scripted show, there’s almost an infinite amount of work to do, learning about your character and taking on that character and figuring out your actions for your scenes, and that’s all beyond just learning the lines.  With an improv show you can just sort of jump in and be whatever, so it’s kind of liberating and freeing.

Improv’s not more nerve-wracking because you have to create everything all at once?

AP: No, it’s completely liberating to be able to do that all at once and to be able to create something that’s sometimes pretty profound.

What first got you interested in doing improv?

AP: I initially got into it because I was in an engineering internship that I hated during the summer and I needed something to kind of breakup the monotony.  I started doing it and I loved it way more than I thought that I would.  And what made me continue the improv classes was realizing that this wasn’t some small little hippie movement, this wasn’t something really inconsequential, it was something a lot more profound that would help me kind of pursue the entertainment lifestyle that I want to now.

What influences your comedy?  Where do you think your humor comes from?

AP: Oh shoot, I don’t know.  I feel like my humor comes from the little quirks of human life.  I feel like I don’t even try to make anything funny on stage.  I kind of just try to do what Iwould do and just pretend like it’s someone else, and then people laugh at that, which I guess is a good thing.

What’s it usually like during the holidays at your house?

AP: The holidays have always been a hectic time just because I have such a big family.  All included, like all the nephews and nieces… there’s 20 of us.  So packing 20 people into a house is kind of ridiculous, with people hanging off the ceiling and over banisters and stuff to sleep.

Is there a particular Christmas that sticks out in your memory?

AP: It was a couple days before Christmas and I was sleeping in my room with my oldest brother, we were in a bunk bed in my room and my mom had been staying up late wrapping gifts and all of a sudden we both wake up in the middle of the night and hear her, like, tumble down the stairs, and she started screaming, and she swears this isn’t true, but I remember very vividly her screaming, “Christmas is ruined!” over and over again.  She said, “Christmas is ruined!” because she broke her ankle when she fell down the stairs.

Does your family have any holiday traditions?

AP: We stay at my home in San Antonio, my parent’s house, every year.  I remember specifically, I don’t know how, but I believed in Santa Claus for a really, really, really long time.  Probably like the seventh or eighth grade.  I was a staunch believer in Santa.  And for whatever reason, I never doubted it, and no one at school ever seemed to talk about it.  I totally believed in Santa, but there was one Christmas, my dad was still playing as Santa and I heard him downstairs go “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and I was like, wait a second – that was dad’s voice. It was just a complete 180.  It tore the roof off of my world.

You were 12 years old.

AP: [Laughs] I know, it made me start doubting everything.  I just believed in everything at that point, but I was like maybe ghosts aren’t real now.  Maybe magicians are faking it.

There’s the idea that “anything can happen” in improv – are there some things that you’re hoping might happen in these holiday Threefer shows?

AP: I hope that we have a really, really dark Christmas show, like there’s a big conspiracy with Santa and there’s like reindeer getting killed… I don’t know, I just want something dark and twisted.

That sounds really cheery.

AP: Without really thinking about it, that’s the first thing that popped into my head, and so what that says about me, I don’t know, but I think it would be really interesting.

Local Genius Society headlines the Thursday Threefer beginning December 1st at 8PM.  Every Thursday through the end of December.

[originally posted at http://localgeniussociety.wordpress.com ]

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Explosion of Classes in 2011

2011 was a record year for our adult education program at the Hideout Theatre, with more classes and students than ever before. After every Level One class we send a student feedback form and, amongst other things, ask them what they would say when recommending classes at the Hideout.

These are the compiled quotes.

And because no one is actually going to read all 169 of them in one sitting, let’s break it down with a word cloud (where word size is tied to frequency):

It’s safe to say people think our Level One is a “fun class.” And fun is the priority that we come back to again and again in the curriculum. No matter how hard you’re working to develop technique, challenge yourself and learn to improvise, if you lose track of having fun you’re missing the essence of improv.

“This class is awesome. You will do at least one thing that scares you. You will try something and fail. You will HAVE A TON OF FUN.”

Ignoring the commonplace and practical words (Hideout, improv, just, make, get) we start to see a pattern emerge of superlatives (really, great, awesome, lot, much, liked, loved, amazing) and priorities that are as varied as the students who come through our classes every month.

There are the people just looking for a good time (enjoyable, laughed, funny)

“This class was super funtastic. Getting an adult play date every week has definitely been a great stress reliever to long work weeks. The instructors are fun and the games are crazy good times.”

People challenging themselves (skills, learned, exercise philosophy, risks, fail, change)

“All the social exercises help you develop confidence in public speaking and confidence in approaching people in general. I was pretty wired after the very first class because I was made to speak, act and do things I would otherwise never have done. Highly recommend it!”

Trying to be more social (friends, interact, play)

“This class has helped me get back in touch with my playful and outgoing side. And meeting a new group of amazing people was a bonus!”

Aspiring to comedy and performance (stage, comedy, performing)

“It is very structured. I’ve been in improv classes that are looser and more free-form, and these tend to lead to a lot of wasted time. The Hideout’s class structure utilizes the time better than most, and gives everyone an opportunity to perform instead of creating an environment of fighting for stage time.”

Or just trying to put themselves out there a little bit (public, therapy, loose, confidence)

“I started to feel that the older I got, the more timid and boring I became and I wanted to find something to help me overcome that. This class did just that by reminding me how to take risks and have fun just like the good old days.”

Ultimately it’s all about one of the most frequent words in our student testimonials: people. We’re all looking for something to knock down the walls between us and the rest of the world, to find groups and individuals open to connecting and engaging in a more meaningful, playful way.

I teach a lot of improv classes and over the years I’ve seen improv change hundreds of lives in big ways and small — people have quit their jobs to follow their passion, found love, become kick-ass improvisers performing multiple shows a week, and generally become more fun to hang out with at parties. Improv’s transformative power is what immediately intrigued me when I took my first class at the Hideout in 2001 and it’s what inspires me ten years later to share it with anyone willing to listen.

We’re starting new classes every month. More info on upcoming sessions…

You can also test drive our curriculum twice a month in our Free Classes.

-Andy Crouch
Education Director for the Hideout Theatre

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