This week we talked to long-time Tampa improviser Josh Baldwin. An all around great dude willing to pitch in, help out, and always ready to get on stage, Josh told us about why he got into improv in the first place, his own approach that's guided by authenticity, and some of the best memories he's had on stage over the past 5 years.
How did you get started doing improv? What's your story?
It really started way back in college when I went to visit some friends over in Orlando and we saw a show at SAK Comedy Lab. I thought, "Those people are comedy wizards. How do they make it all up on the spot?" Fast forward many years later, about five years ago now, and I received an ‘Amazon Daily Deal’ for a 2-hour try it improv class over at the Box Theater in Tampa with Crystal Haralambou. I enjoyed the hell out of it and seemed to catch on pretty quick. This lead to me signing up for a full on Level 1 class and it was just off to the races from there. I went up through the levels with each one presenting new challenges along the way with incredible new people. I noticed how improv started to have positive effects on the rest of my life by just being more engaged and interested in people. Definitely lost some of my fear and shyness around new people as well.
Once I was done with classes, I auditioned for and was invited to join Dear Aunt Gertrude. Heck yes I joined. Even more challenges arose as I started doing performances for ‘real’ audiences. I started seeing the bigger world of improv after seeking out more resources then realizing how much more there is to learn and perform. To the point where a lot of my vacations have been improv related trips in the past couple of years. Now I am with The Escape Artisans, which is such a great and focused troupe of excellent human beings willing to push even further on their improv muscles. I love the people in the community and the constant challenges and rewards I get from the art. To me, improv is such a good mix of intellect, creativity, interaction, collaboration, and humor that just fits who I am in my core - or who I strive to be.
What have you been involved with at Spitfire? What's your favorite memory so far?
At Spitfire, I have been in Showcases and Cagematches with The Escape Artisans. I have also been a player so many times in Whose Line, St. Pete? and worked the box office and the tech booth. I have a ton of awesome memories at Spitfire with my troupe and just interacting with all the excellent performers and audiences. If I had to pick one it would have to be the time I was in the final three for Whose Line and I was given the individual improv challenge "6 characters in two minutes". I had no idea what I was going to do but somehow I performed completely out of my head to set up this old 'Wild West' wedding. I remember while performing thinking, "I have no idea where this is going" and being just as entertained as the audience. The killer line was after the groom’s father pulled a pistol, the bride’s father says, "That’s your problem, you brought a pistol to a shotgun wedding" then pointed a shotgun at him. Just one of those 'in the zone’ moments that makes me keep coming back for more.
What's your personal approach to improv?
My approach is to first make sure I get rid of any preconceived ideas about how the performance is going to happen but at the same time wake up my mind for really fast and wide recall. When I am on stage, I try to relate what is happening to something personal to me, like a memory or something in the news/current events I know about - sometimes a movie or TV show - and bring it forward to help build the story while making my stage partners look good. I draw characters from people I know or interesting people I have seen, which may be in the movies or on the street. Off stage, I try to be very aware of the experiences I am having and seek new experiences all the time. I am always striving to pull from something real to me, so my reactions and motives can feel more authentic to the audience. Sometimes I fail because I am nervous, tired, or admittedly being lazy. Ultimately, my goal is to be more authentic.
If you had to choose one memory about doing improv that sticks out in your mind, what would it be?
So many great ones and many very recent, but I am going to pick the first time I performed with Dear Aunt Gertrude at the Sarasota Improv Festival. This memory sticks out because it was the first time I performed outside of my ‘home’ theater in front of an audience who didn’t know me at all. I remember as we were walking down the hall to backstage thinking something like ‘damn, this is how professional performers do it.’ After we performed, I had the feeling of being part of such an excellent community of performers who were also damn fine individuals. It was then I decided I am going to be doing improv my whole life. A close second would be practicing for my first monoscene in the parking lot of Panera Bread with Darryl Knapp and Matt Rodriguez. #obsession4eva
What sort of advice would you have for a new person who wants to be part of the Spitfire community?
Just get out there. Now. The greatest strength the Spitfire community has is the creative environment of non-judgement where mistakes will happen and are celebrated. All the while, you feel free to refine your craft. Improv will be fun and frustrating all at once, but everyone here wants you to succeed. The best advice in improv I have received was to get out and do more in real life so you can have more to draw from on stage. Take those flying lessons, learn to make glass sculptures, go whitewater rafting, ask that person out for coffee because any way it goes, there will be a memory to help tell a story. Also, see some shows because it always a good time and it is real people doing improv right there on the spot for you. Bonus, you can see what works and, honestly, sometimes what doesn’t work.
What do you hope for the future of the theater and the St. Pete improv scene?
I would love to see growth for the theater. Either a second location or a bigger theater, but I do love the setting Spitfire has now so much because the connection I feel with the audience every time. For the St. Pete improv scene, I want it to become a destination for improv. I would love for it to become a destination because the principles of improv have started to feed into productions of original shows, community outreach programs, and some fracking killer festivals.
Improv is a serious art form that happens to be funny. Keep smiling.
You can see Josh perform in the Improv Showcase on Friday nights at Spitfire with his team The Escape Artisans and at The Box Theater in Tampa.