It’s late Sunday evening and the four members of Happy Valley Improv have just launched into an impromptu post-show critique.
There’s talk of crisp edits, timing and how of course — of course — Andrea knows everything there is to know about Ticonderoga pencils.
To an interloper it could all sound like a lot of hot nonsense — same goes for the seven-minute routine the group is still coming down from moments after the stage at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe has been forfeited to someone expressing themselves with the help of a kazoo.
“This is really just an excuse for us to get a little bit of practice in,” James Tierney said.
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He and the other three members of HVI — Andrea McCloskey, Nathan Rufo and Samuel Tanner — viewed the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it set as something as a dress rehearsal, an opportunity to show what they could do with some space and the word “pencil”
What followed looked a lot like tag-team wrestling but with skits.
It’s a failure based art form.
If you’re wondering how much comedic mileage can possibly be wrung out of a second-tier writing implement before things begin to get positively loopy, look no further than this sample line:
“The Ticonderoga 4 really changed my life, sir.”
So yeah, it’s hot nonsense, but all in the pursuit of a laugh. At least that’s the goal, anyway.
“It’s a failure-based art form,” Rufo said.
He discovered improv while living in Charleston, S.C. A speechwriter by trade, Rufo enjoys the break from structure, being able to convey an idea without the brain’s natural predisposition to write and edit at the same time.
I consumed a lot of comedy and then I thought maybe I can actually do it.
When it came time to depart for a new work opportunity in State College, he wasn’t sure if his new hobby would have to be left behind.
“That was my biggest hold up, that there wasn’t any improv here,” Rufo said.
He has McCloskey to thank for the solution to his problem.
Her comedic curiosity was the impetus for HVI, bringing both Tierney and Tanner into the fold.
“I consumed a lot of comedy and then I thought maybe I can actually do it,” McCloskey said.
The group practiced together weekly for a little more than a year before they realized that the only way to progress the act would be to put it in front of an audience.
They’ll open the first in a series of four shows at 8 p.m. on Sept. 28 in the attic space at The State Theatre.
Fail or succeed, it should at the very least be a cathartic experience.
“Improv creates this safe social space where it’s OK to vent and drop baggage,” Tanner said.