Q&A With Vinny Valdivia
I first met Vinny Valdivia over a little year ago through Zach Ward. Vinny was and still is in charge of booking the Pork stand-up show at DSI theatre and he booked me and a friend to perform there without knowing much about us other than that we had performed at the NC Comedy Arts Festival. From the minute we got there Vinny made sure we were taken care of and even invited to us a going away party after the show was over. Super nice dude.
I got to see him perform at Charleston Comedy Festival a few months later when he performed with his group Bonecracker. What intrigued me was that Vinny didn’t play to type, he didn’t play for laughs, he played what the scene needed: victim, princess, gym coach, it didn’t matter, he was all in. Super good improviser.
Needless to say I was really happy that he took time from his busy schedule of helping to make sure the new DSI Theatre’s coming together and also being a resident instructor at said theatre to answer some of my question.
1. How did you get started with improv?
In 2008 I saw the UCB team Death By Roo and half way through their show I knew I had to do what they were doing. At the time I lived in Raleigh so I looked up improv classes in the area and started right away. Fast forward two years, I wanted to take more classes so I started classes at DSI in 2010.
2. Rather than regularly play to type, bigger guy = bully, jock, etc you tend to allow yourself to play low status and even victim from time to time. Is that a conscious decision on your part or just something that comes naturally?
It’s a conscious decision. Playing vulnerable just feels like a better place to start for me. I feel like it gives the character more appeal than being an aggressive asshole. We run into those types of people all day long and we all hate them. If the scene or show calls for it, I have no problem taking on that role, but it’s not one of my go to characters.
3. What do you get from improv that you might not have gotten when you performed with a band?
As drummer you don’t get to have as much as a connection with the audience as the singer or other members. With improv it’s all about connection.
4. Who are some comedy heroes of yours?
I grew up watching mostly sketch comedy. I remember watching the season 2 premiere of Kids in the Hall when I was 9. So yeah, Kids in the Hall made me a weird kid and I love them for it.
5. What’s something that pushes you as a performer?
As a performer my main goal is for the audience to have as much fun as possible. The trick is being able to read an audience and knowing what they think is fun. I love the challenge of getting on stage with a quiet audience and breaking them out of their quiet shell. Then I know I’m doing my job.
6. How would you define your method as an improviser?
My method to improv is following the game or anything that is fun, which can also be defined as game, depending on who you are talking to. I am a firm believer that all successful scenes have a clear game, you just have to be aware of it and then play it out to it’s full absurdity.
7. How do you prepare for a show and does it change based on the group you’re going on stage with?
The only thing that never changes is that I stretch. It feels good and it’s good to let your body know that you’re going to be using it. What I like to do most before shows is beatbox. With one of my teams, BONECRACKER, I always beatbox and we just freestyle rap. We never do it in shows, but it’s something that we all enjoy. For some of my two person groups we just talk before hand, about our day, how we are doing, just like checking in with each other. Crazy high energy warm ups are also fun, but not everyone is into that and I kinda respect that… KINDA.
8. When get the prompt from the audience how do you take it in, ie idea for a scene, a character’s physicality, reflect on a past moment, etc.?
It really depends on the show and if there is a set opening to the format. For a montage, I go with how the suggestion makes me feel. If it were for a Harold it would be what does it remind me of. I like the idea of really diving into a suggestion and pull themes, and troupes from that suggestion and come up with some crazy scenes. I don’t know how often Pineapple comes up as a suggestion in Charleston, but I hear it a lot. There is so much more to a pineapple than, ‘Here we are at this tiki bar on vacation.’ You know? It’s cool to really think about the suggestion. Pineapple… Hard on the outside soft and juicy on the inside. Start a scene with a BAD ASS character, but know that she/he truly is a delicate person and that the toughness is just the exterior. Then the fun part is finding out why the character is that way that she/he is.