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Happier Valley Comedy leaves the light on: Hadley club ends remote classes but maintains online presence

  • Pam Victor, at upper right, says Happier Valley Comedy is "going dark" at the moment but is maintaining a volunteer online presence. She's seen here with fellow improv comedians Moe McElligott and Laura Patrick. Gazette file photo

  • At right, Scott Braidman, artistic director of Happier Valley Comedy, works with some fellow improv comedians at the Hadley club when it opened in August 2018. Gazette file photo

  • Happier Vally Comedy founder and director Pam Victor, here seen recording a podcast a few years ago at WRSI-FM in Northampton, says doing improv comedy remotely has been a challenge. Gazette file photo



Staff Writer
Thursday, May 07, 2020

Zoom and other video-conference platforms have become the go-to tools for many artists in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But sometimes they can only take you so far.

Happier Valley Comedy (HVC) in Hadley, which since mid-March has made a valiant effort to keep its comedy shows and classes going through virtual means, has decided to “go dark” for the time being. But president and founder Pam Victor says the company is leaving on a “ghost light” — in theater, a single light bulb left illuiminated on an empty stage — as a sign of its promise to return in brighter times.

For the immediate future, Victor said she and Artistic Director Scott Braidman have furloughed themselves to try and stem the club’s financial losses, which have been especially felt in the cancellation of its classes for aspiring comics: nine separate programs, ranging from group improv comedy to storytelling to standup comedy.

“We’re pressing pause for the moment,” Victor said during a recent phone call.

Referring to efforts to move some of HVC’s classes to an online format, she added “I just don’t think we have the audience for that yet, and there are real limits to it when you’re not doing it live.”

She notes that improv comedy, both from a teaching standpoint and for performing, is very much a physical process that depends on close interaction with other people – something really tough to duplicate in a virtual format.

“When I’m doing improv, I’m working off what the others in the group are doing,” Victor said. “I’m reading people’s eyes, I’m reading their body language.”

But HVC is still maintaining an online presence, with a number of regular Zoom-based improv presenations, including Valley Comedy LIVE!, which airs at 8 p.m. on YouTube every night but Sunday. Those shows are now being done strictly on a volunteer basis, Victor notes.

“There’s still a lot of joy and fun to be found even when you’re doing this remotely,” she said. “We want to do what we can to help lighten the mood for everyone during this difficult time.”

Victor also continues to do some remote professional development presentations for companies and organizations, as well as some online private tutoring for some aspiring comics.

Happier Valley Comedy, which opened its Hadley club in 2018 after the company had staged shows for years in different venues, is also working to raise funds online, including through a GoFundMe campaign and an affiliation with Giving Tuesday on May 5, a global fundraising drive organized in response to the disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Victor is confident Happier Valley will come back in strength somewhere down the road. She and Braidman have left a bottle of champagne in the company’s mini-fridge, she says, to open when they reopen: “We’re really gonna enjoy drinking that.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com. Find out more at Happiervalley.com.