Something to laugh about: Happier Valley Comedy finds a new home in Hadley

  • Scott Braidman, left, the general manager and artistic director of Happier Valley Comedy, lays flooring with carpenter Tim Holcomb at HVC's new performance space in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Scott Braidman, right, general manager and artistic director of Happier Valley Comedy, works with HVC members Jim Young, Sally Ekus and Kate Jopson during an improv rehearsal at the group’s new theater in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Scott Braidman, general manager and artistic director of Happier Valley Comedy, at HVC's new theater. The group has previously performed in several locations in the Valley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Happier Valley Comedy members Mandy Anderson, from left, Jim Young, Kate Jopson, Sally Ekus and Julie Waggoner work on an improv skit at HVC’s new performance space in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Happier Valley Comedy members Mandy Anderson, left, and Kate Jopson rehearse at the group’s new performance space in Hadley STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Happier Valley Comedy members Sally Ekus, left, and Jim Young rehearse at HVC’s new performance space in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Happier Valley Comedy members Julie Waggoner, center, and Mandy Anderson, right, work on an improv skit as Sally Ekus waits her turn at HVC’s new Hadley theater. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Happier Valley Comedy members Jim Young and Mandy Anderson rehearse at HVC’s new performance space in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Happier Valley Comedy founder and president Pam Victor, here doing an interview at 93.9 The River, calls HVC’s new home in Hadley “our clubhouse.” Gazette file photo

  • Happier Valley Comedy founder Pam Victor and Scott Braidman, the group’s general manager, work on an improv routine earlier this year. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 8/15/2018 3:59:47 PM

A group of eight improv actors stood on stage; one asked the audience for a location to get the sketch started, and a voice from the crowd of about 50 blurted out, “Canada!”

What started as a two-person conversation with a Canadian mounted police officer and another person was abruptly interrupted by Happier Valley Comedy (HVC) president and founder Pam Victor, who yelled out, “This scene is clearly in Canadian, which no one can understand!”

From there, the two actors spoke gibberish and another actor translated the nonsense speech. The sketch ended with Victor pretending to be a horse while the the actor playing the “Mountie” sat on her and began feeding her seltzer.

The madcap skit was one of several improvised moments featured during a performance by The Ha-Ha’s, HVC’s in-house troupe, at Happier Valley Comedy’s grand opening, which took place last Saturday at the group’s new location at 1 Mill Valley Road in Hadley. Afterward, the improv comedians, friends and other supporters celebrated the new home with a party.

For the past five years, HVC has had several temporary homes, such as the Northampton Senior Center, North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens in Amherst (previously in Hadley) and the Pilates Studio, also in Hadley. Now, the comedy community and improv workshop nonprofit has a permanent base.

“We’re calling it our clubhouse,” Victor said. “We have a place where our entire community can gather, which we’ve never had before.”

Victor, who’s also known as the group’s “Head of Happiness,” said the space was built specifically for HVC in what members call the “play plaza,” a small commercial complex that also includes a martial arts studio, a dance studio, and a taproom. The new space was constructed over roughly three months this spring and summer after the comedy group raised more than $26,000 from donors through Valley Gives Day 2018.

HVC traces its beginnings to 2013, when Victor took part in a year-long experiment to see if she could survive on the income she earned from just doing stand-up, after which she founded Happier Valley Comedy.

“I gave myself a year to see if I could make $16,000 through improv exclusively,” she said. “That was the poverty line for a family of two and I thought, ‘If I don’t make it, then at least I could write about it and have something interesting to say — that an artist can’t make the poverty line in the Pioneer Valley.’

“I did it through teaching improv and helping businesses use improv, through professional development for local businesses and putting up shows,” Victor added. “And I made it. I hustled like crazy, and we were in so many different locations.”

Scott Braidman, general manager and artistic director at Happier Valley Comedy, said Victor met her goal in six months and exceeded $16,000.

“It was enough that year that I officially became Happier Valley Comedy,” Victor said. “I opened up a bank account and hired an assistant that year. Over the next three or four years, we also became a nonprofit and we grew steadily.”

A group of 12 students who took part in an initial introductory improv class led to more courses being developed, said Victor. Now, HVC has a four-tiered training program for students that ranges from beginning to advanced improv courses; the comedy group also offers a stand-up storytelling class.

“We’re teaching eight classes a week for adults, from all walks of life, who are taking a class because they’re just interested in doing something scary or are curious about improv,” Victor said. “Most people aren’t interested in performing. It’s a ‘create community’ experience and a great way to make friends.”

More than just laughs

Improv isn’t just about making jokes, Victor notes. For beginners, it starts with being open to talking about yourself in a public setting.

“It’s the idea that there is no such thing as failure,” she said. “We’re redefining failure to be a culture of acceptance and agreement, one in which we’re trying to quiet the inner critic as much as possible, so people can trust in their authentic self.

“We talk about the idea of ‘you are enough,’ ” Victor added. “You don’t have to be funny, you don’t have to be quick, you don’t have to be clever. You just have to be you.”

She notes that one of the biggest barriers would-be improv artists face in just “being themselves” is fear. “It’s always just fear. They feel like they have to work hard to make stuff up or be something different than they are.”

Victor said the journey to quiet the inner critic starts on the first day of improv and continues for the rest of that performer’s life.

The second Saturday of each month, The Ha-Ha’s have typically performed with the group, which is followed by a student showcase, Braidman said. Starting in the winter of 2019, Happier Valley Comedy plans to have a different show every Saturday night.

“It’s going to be short-form improv, which is games like ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ and there’s going to be long-form improv, which is more scene-based and theatrical,” Braidman said. “Then there’s going to be musical improv and The Ha-Ha’s doing their thing with out-of-town guests from Boston, New York, and Hartford.

“Then there’s going to be an ‘aftershow’ after every one of our shows with weird experimental groups and up-and-coming groups and [our students],” he said. 

And, Braidman says, the improv comedy that’s at the heart of what HVC does is often about discovery. "We open our eyes as the show starts and try to just see what's around us, based on what we know.… We just sort of brush away at the fossil of what the story is for 35 minutes. It's more like discovering than creating.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

The next Happier Valley Comedy show is slated for Saturday, Sept. 8 and will feature The Ha-Ha’s and Sea Tea Improv from Hartford, CT. For more information about Happier Valley Comedy visit https://www.happiervalley.com/

 




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