An Oral History of Sea Tea Improv
Part One (extended edition)
By Briana Haynie
They met in improv class, each joining for a different reason. A few were new to town and wanted to meet people, some had read about their favorite comedians, and others had an itch to perform. Either way, seven unlikely individuals discovered a friendship and a passion for improv while taking classes at Hartford Stage under the tutelage of Matt Neufeld. They were hooked and when the classes ended they didn’t want to stop; so they kept going on their own. Since their formation on April 1st, 2009, Sea Tea Improv has grown into a company of 21 improvisers and boasts a monthly short form show at Hartford’s own City Steam Brewery, a monthly long form show at The Studio at Billings Forge, and countless corporate and private gigs to their schedule. They have helped cultivate a thriving improv community in a city that only five years ago barely knew what improv was. In these next few issues of The Annual, Sea Tea will tell you, in their own words, their story. Starting with the founders: Julia Pistell, Greg Ludovici, Joe Leonardo, Kate Sidley, Dan Russell, Summar Elguindy and Vladimir John Perez.
GREG LUDOVICI: Julia and I met way back in 2001; I was directing an AIDS benefit musical theatre organization. Julia auditioned and so we’ve been performing together for years.
JULIA PISTELL: We were dating and we were running this little tiny benefit theatre organization together which is still going strong.
DAN RUSSELL: [Vlad and I] met taking an improv class at Play On Acting Studio and that class was taught by Matt Neufeld who ended up being our teacher when we all got together at Hartford Stage. I wanted to perform in some way. I wanted to do comedy in some way; I thought I wanted to do Stand-Up but it felt like it wasn’t for me, and this seemed like a thing to try.
VLADIMIR JOHN PEREZ: I just knew I had to get into acting of some kind— every person’s IMDB that I was always stalking kept saying “Improv this and that” and it was like, I guess I’ve got to do this.
JULIA: Summar and Kate were apprentices at Hartford Stage, both in the education department, and they got to take free classes.
KATE SIDLEY: I grew up around comedy because my dad was a stand-up comic, so I felt like I had a pre-disposition to be interested in comedy, but I didn’t know how I would ever apply it. I never had any interest in doing stand-up, so I thought, if that’s not what I want to do I guess I won’t do comedy. I sort of saw– oh, maybe there are ways I can do comedy and this seems to be one of those ways.
SUMMAR ELGUINDY: I didn’t really get into improv for improv’s sake until I took the classes at the Hartford Stage. I guess what drew me to it was how it was an outlet and it was an opportunity to work that muscle in your brain that doesn’t get to be worked often.
GREG: The day Julia moved in was the first day of Flying Blind II and I had to convince her to come with me to try this out.
JULIA: I was like, well I’ve got nothing to do so I guess okay…
JUILA: Joe came in later.
VLAD: Joe was specifically there because he was doing Stand-Up and not really into it and someone said “hey, why don’t you try improv?”
JOE LEONARDO: I went to one of their class share shows. To me, it was a show; this is professional, the audience is engaged, they’re laughing, they wanted to be there as opposed to a lot of the open mics where you’re talking and the audience is like, “oh, there’s a show happening.” So it was a completely different experience in that respect.
GREG: We all came to these classes looking for something different to get out of it, but through that we ended up making these great friends. I remember having this conversation sitting at City Steam, it’s like; you guys are friends that I probably would have never had in life if we weren’t doing this together.
KATE: I think that we were all searching for something. I was from another state and also the job in Hartford was the first job I had after coming back from the Peace Corps so I hadn’t even been in the U.S for over two years so, I was looking for new people.
SUMMAR: Kate and I were taking a lot of these classes because we didn’t know anybody in Hartford. It was kind of our opportunity to meet other people like Dan and Vlad and Greg and eventually Julia and Joe that we didn’t know existed before this improv class. And then we enjoyed it and kept going and it was therapeutic in a way because even if we had a really stressful day we knew Sunday night we had Improv.
JULIA: We were all very motivated. It wasn’t like any of us were looking to do something quick and leave. Half of us were lonely and half of us were really ambitious. We were all very equally aggressively committed together, even before Sea Tea as a company existed.
KATE: I guess the first person I met and became friends with was obviously Summar and then Greg. Dan and Vlad, I thought were really funny but they kind of already knew each other so I felt like they were the cool guys that I liked but they were already the comedy friends, so I was a little intimidated by that.
JULIA: Summar and Kate told me way later that Greg was the only nice potentially single guy and when he mentioned that he had a girlfriend they were mad. They weren’t like, specifically we have a crush on this guy, they were just like, oh come on.
JULIA: It is also very notable that Joe had a ridiculous goatee at this time.
DAN: He was Evil Joe.
JULIA: He looked totally different. It was a really serious, thin, little goatee and he looked 10 years older than he does now because of this goatee.
KATE: I did tell Joe this: he joined us after we started to really gel as a group so I was very protective and nervous of a new person being introduced and I knew he was a Stand-Up and I had a preconceived notion of what a Stand-Up was like. The first time I ever met him he had this ratty flannel button down and he had a goatee going and I was just like, “who is this guy? Some dirty Stand-Up comic, going to try to get involved with our group and be funny. We have something good going here.” So yeah, I told Joe I was not a fan when I first met him. My instinctive reaction was one of I don’t know about this stranger.
SUMMAR: I couldn’t remember who was Vlad and who was Dan. I messed up their names a thousand times and to this day if you pay close attention I will sometimes call Dan Vlad and Vlad Dan, I don’t know why, it’s the beard thing. Even though they are a hundred percent different they are the same person in my brain.
JOE: I remember thinking Dan was basically a carbon copy of Seth Rogen at the time.