In Praise Of: Paul Normandin

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Dapper Paul. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Miller.)

Paul Normandin
by Mia Iseman

I know what you’re thinking.  “It’s about time someone wrote about that wonderful person, Paul Normandin!”  Or maybe you’re thinking, “Wait, which one is this?  Paul who?  Do I know him?” If you fall into the latter category, take another look at his picture. You know—Paul, the guy that’s quick to lend a helping hand, give a hug, or ask how you’re doing. You probably met him in the green room at a local theater or during intermission in the audience. I refuse to believe you have never met him.

However, if you only know Paul through the improv community, then you don’t know the half of him.  I can tell you some of what Paul does, but I can’t possibly encapsulate what Paul is or why he deserves so much praise. So, I want your help in fawning over Paul.  I want you to post in the comments below of how Paul has helped you, why he makes you laugh and smile, or the effect he has had on you.  Read on, or not, but make sure to comment so Paul can hear from all of us.

When I first met Paul, it was at Wahoo’s Fish Tacos for the Ultimate Players League of Austin board meeting.  Paul is certainly pimp enough to be an ultimate playa, but this board just serves a local Austin athletic community. Simply called “ultimate,” players chase a plastic disc around and gradually destroy their bodies over a period of years. Ultimate is self-officiated, and according to the rulebook, “highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors.” It should come as no surprise, then, to know that for years Paul has played with a local team, Riverside, and won the respect of all competitors. He coached another Riverside team in Austin, and can be spotted at countless pickup games around town, always the friendliest and most excited to welcome someone new to the game.

One of Paul's Winter League Ultimate Frisbee teams.

One of Paul’s Winter League Ultimate Frisbee teams.

 

However, that night at Wahoo’s, Paul wasn’t your average community member. He takes it upon himself to volunteer his time and energy to help those around him, in this case so that local players could compete more often, more safely, and more easily. Fellow board member Paul Hanna asserts that Paul not only served on the board but also made it better.  Hanna says “he was unflinchingly optimistic and extremely ambitious. He convinced us that we were capable of doing so much more than we were doing – and we were already doing a lot.”  Paul served as Board President for years, obtaining a 3rd party website, and at one point utilized his professional expertise to negotiate a contract that no one else had the experience to maneuver. Fellow board member Tina Woodings says, “Paul had incredible vision for our organization.”

But I’m sure Paul would downplay his involvement. He’s in the business of doing good and making others feel good, and I am rarely able to convince him to take some credit himself.  Fellow imp and ultimate player Chris Sebilia puts it perfectly:  “In the ultimate Frisbee world, Paul’s self-deprecation will belie how much people looked forward to playing alongside him or how early he was chosen in the draft.”

Paul loves ultimate.

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Paul as some sort of jolly and terrifying pirate (Epic Scare, 2011, photo courtesy of Steve Rogers Photography.)

Fast forward about 5 years, when I bumped into Paul at the Hideout Theater. We were surprised to see each other, and found we were both members of another community – the AIC.  Like ultimate, improv encourages you to play nicely with others and use your brain and body at the same time in “pressure” situations.  (There are a lot less injuries in improv.)  Paul quickly found his niche in the improv scene as well, taking classes, forming troupes, and making friends at all different theaters.  He plays in three troupes – Two Guys from Yonkers, We’re Here to Date Your Daughter, and In Our Prime, and his affability translates to the stage. That’s not to say he can’t play a mean character, but he’s got a connection with the audience that is undeniable. In one scene, he played Napoleon opposite my sassy but helpless servant girl, and things went exactly where you might predict. I remember being grateful it was Paul, because no one else can pull off Napolean creeping on a young girl in such a likeable way.

Paul loves improv.

If playing ultimate or improvising aren’t really your thing, fear not! Lately, Paul can be seen at Salvage Vanguard Theater’s No Shame variety open mic. That’s right, there is another community in Austin that will benefit from Paul’s kindness. Sebilia, also a No Shame regular, says, “Who better to take a supportive role than Paul, introducing himself to new-comers, coaching budding storytellers, or sharing his own captivating stories?”

Paul loves storytelling.

Paul doesn't charge a nickel for his hugs. Socialist! (Photo courtesy of Allison Asher.)

Paul doesn’t charge a nickel for his hugs. Socialist! (Photo courtesy of Allison Asher.)

But, it’s not enough for Paul to simply love something. He feels the need to bring that joy to others. Perhaps you saw him with his Free Hugs sign on Congress to any passers-by.  Paul has literally touched the lives of hundreds of people.  Maybe you were one of the over 40 volunteers at Hideout’s Wafflefest under his expert direction just last year.  He’s producing the festival this year.  Maybe you were just out of the hospital, only to find that he and his equally-benevolent wife Victoria came to visit you, treats in hand?  Were you with him cleaning up the green room at the Hideout?  Paul has a unique way of inspiring envy; we are jealous because he makes us want to be more generous, more philanthropic, more like him.

This guy doesn’t just love ultimate, or improv, or story-telling.  He loves people.

We love you more, Paul.

Let’s show Paul we love him by leaving our comments below…

23 Comments

  1. Rebecca on October 11, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Paul loves, period. This is so well written and a great snapshot of Paul, Mia – Paul is love. He’s also an inspiration for those in the social work / care-taking fields, having served many years helping others working while for the State of Texas. When I first met Paul, in 2005 at the IM pick-up game, I was mildly concerned about why the dude I just met was always greeting me (and others) with a hug. However, I realized pretty quickly that that’s just Paul; he has so much love to give, he’s got to get it out somehow. =)

    Thank you, Mia, for writing this. Thank you, Paul, for being you and sharing your love.

  2. Jordan T. Maxwell on October 11, 2013 at 9:42 am

    Paul is one of those genuinely wonderful people who inspires me to be a better human being, but whose friendship and support make me feel like I’m also doing a pretty good job at it already. Paul loves to remind me that I was there the first night he took the stage in a jam, and I love to remind him that I could tell even then he was going to be a star in this community. He just had this huge smile the entire time that said “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I love it”. You can’t teach that kind of madness and fearlessness and joy. I’ve watched him grow and learn as a performer since then, but he’s always had the knack for storytelling. And I’ve been honored to talk with him in depth on both as well as many other topics. The man is a wealth of spiritual strength and compassion. It’s infectious. I want to work with him and be his friend forever and always. And kiss his bald head. I love kissing his bald head!

  3. David S. on October 11, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Paul helped me take another player to the emergency room to get stitched up after he fell on a metal drainage grate in a ditch – yes, while playing ultimate (summer league). He is a great guy, and a lot of fun to be around.

    I had no idea he (or Mia for that matter) were improve artists!

  4. Rage/Rach on October 11, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Paul makes the world a better place every single day just by existing. He and Vicki have made our lives infinitely brighter and have been there for the fun stuff (like dropping off a bottle of wine for anniversaries) and the crappy stuff (like Ultimate related surgeries). But more importantly, he’s always there – with a hug and a smile – to make everyone have a better day. We love Paul and Vicki!!!

  5. Kayla Lane on October 11, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Paul Normandin was the first person to invite me to an event in Austin improv, and he continued to be a warm presence in my life in the three years since then. He always makes you feel as though you are the most important person in the room, and he is ruthlessly supportive. On more than one occasion, Paul has been a comfort and cheerleader for both my performance and my personal lives, even when I didn’t know I needed it. Paul doesn’t cease to love other people or show his support. He feels no shame in this practice. He makes himself vulnerable time and time again, even when a person can not or does not accept this affection with grace. It can be uncomfortable to receive affection; we live in a world where more often than not, people AREN’T outwardly complimentary or effusive. Paul swims upstream and reminds his communities — his families, that we can thwart this convention. We can give and receive love that exceeds our expectations.

  6. David A. on October 11, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Paul is just larger than…uh…life. As has been said by others, he’s there with a hug and a smile, always ready to help. He’s open and honest and represents his faith well. His enthusiasm is infectious in all his activities. He’s humble and even willing to wear burnt orange just to be a team player.

  7. Jenell Katheiser on October 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I met Paul for the first time playing ultimate at Monday/Friday pick-up. He was the most friendly person there that essentially took me under his wing, being it was my first week living in Austin. He told me all about the various UPLA leagues and club teams I could join. From that day forward, every time I saw Paul I looked forward to his big bear hugs. You know, the ones that just put a smile on your face no matter what kind of day you were having. Then he introduced me to his amazing wife, Vicki. Knowing that I was new to Austin, they decided they were going to be my adopted parents. I am so grateful for the way they treated me, they made me feel like Austin was my home. They are so warm and genuine, great listeners and advice givers, and Vicki gives the best massages!!!!

    Now for my favorite story. I happened to tell Paul at one summer league game in 2010 how much I loved the ice cream truck when I was kid. He somehow convinced Vicki to show up the next week with ice cream sandwiches and popsicles for everyone! I was the happiest kid ever. On occasion over the next few leagues, Vicki would show up with ice cream sandwiches and popsicles and every time I felt the love that Paul and Vicki had for making other people smile. That’s just something you can’t fake or recreate.

    And most recently, as Rach said, they are incredibly helpful during ultimate related surgeries. Vicki came by every day for at least a week making sure I had food and company when I couldn’t walk. She even took me to the grocery store and helped me buy groceries when I had to ride around in the motorized cart! She didn’t laigh too much at me.

    Paul and Vicki are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. They have restored my faith in humanity many times over!

    Love and Hugs,
    Jenell

  8. Gary Breaux on October 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Sometimes I think Paul is a robot; but not like the evil, world-annihilating kind. He’s the kind of robot that has been programmed to do good….and so that’s what he does. (His hugs definitely have robotic strength, btw.)

  9. JC Ferguson on October 11, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Paul was the first person to introduce me to Ultimate. It happened during a fellowship night for our youth group at church. Paul was a member of a seperate church but through whatever connection he would set up and teach us the finer points of ultimate (most importantly mutual respect in competition and spirit of the game), usually about once a quarter or so. Our interaction was sporadic but the impact has lasted over a decade. Stung by the bug I continued playing throughout college and finally landed back in Austin after 5years away. Despite the limited interaction to begin with and the time away, Paul had no problem remembering who I was or my story. To this day every meeting includes a heart felt inquest into the status of my universe and never concludes without a giant hug (big hugs for big guys…I think we almost split an atom last time). This man has made a life long impact on who I am and how I treat the rest of the world, simply by showing up and having fun with kids he didn’t know nor was responsible for. You’re forever part of my family, Paul. Thank You (and thanks Mia for giving us a place to do this).

  10. Brady on October 11, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Paul is a truly wonderful person, so friendly and happy all the time, and gives awesome hugs! <3

  11. twgeldon on October 11, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    As comfortable as Paul is on stage, he’s never more comfortable than when he’s teaching someone how to throw a disc. All he wants to do is show the world how much fun it is to play ultimate, so they can have the fun that he’s already having. And he seemingly wants to do it person by person. When he sees someone walk by a pick-up game, he encourages them to join in. When someone new does show up to play, he’s the first to encourage and teach them. In fact, when someone even looks at him funny, he hands them a disc and tells them to keep it and use it. He’s seriously given away more discs than even seems possible – it’s like he has a magic disc factory in his bag that was built just to keep up with his generosity.

  12. Ram K on October 11, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Paul is all about making others happy. He shares, he teaches, he throws forehands like a laser beam, he throws hammers with precision, he hugs, he listens, he tells great stories, and so much more. He’s so awesome we forgive him for being an Aggie!

  13. Victoria on October 11, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Paul was on my team for my second-ever hat tournament. I never played league, or any organized Ultimate for that matter, and had no idea what I was doing. That didn’t seem to bother Paul in the slightest. He helped me the whole way, “Run here! Go there! Cut now!” Paul was yelling nothing but encouraging words throughout the whole tournament. He even threw a couple of passes to me for scores!

    At the end of the tournament, Paul went out of his way to give me a disc calling me an MVP, “Most Vicki-like Player!” I still have that disc. It’s up on a bookshelf at home, displayed. I don’t want to ruin it because that is the disc that got me into Ultimate. After the tournament, Paul convinced me to join summer league. And now I am addicted to Ultimate. Thanks, Paul!

  14. Nick Mastronardi on October 11, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I remember Paul fondly from my time in Austin playing ultimate (pick up, seasonal leagues, and Riverside). He was always happy, generous, sharing a positive attitude, and welcoming to new folks.

  15. Ray on October 11, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Paul is great. I first met him at the UT frisbee fields many years ago. His long mane of silky hair flapped in the wind as he galloped down the field. It was glorious. GLORIOUS! j.k. Paul is so nice and optimistic you wonder what drugs he’s taking and where you can get some. I did find out he is on one drug, love. In fact, he’s a dealer, and once you get a taste, you’re hooked. Cheers to Paul. Oh.. and he’s going to be the officiant at my wedding! Yay!

  16. Kaci on October 12, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Having Paul and Vicki in the Austin improv community has been an absolute delight. I’ve loved teaching Paul, performing with Paul, and watching him onstage. He’s so humble, honest, and committed to everything he does. There’s this phrase, “plays well with others”, and it’s said to be an important trait in improv and in life. Paul plays very well with others, and it will always take him far. <3

  17. mduran on October 12, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Paul is one of the most humble, genuine people I know. I realized very quickly after first meeting Paul that this was someone with an incredible amount of goodness in their heart, and who did not hesitate to share it with you. To be that vulnerable and honest and immediate with respect to others is a sign of a self-actualized human being, someone who deserves our notice and respect. And to be lucky enough to be around that is a rare, precious thing. Thanks for being awesome, Paul.

  18. Iram Leon on October 13, 2013 at 7:03 am

    Paul has been impressive from the first day I met him. He somehow both captures and challenges being human, accepts you for who you and creates a desire for you to be better. His smile lights up a lot more than just the room he’s in and his personality and character are bigger than life.

  19. csebilia on October 13, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Mia asked me to jot down a couple lines about Paul Normandin, but much like Paul’s impact on my life, or his love for his community, it couldn’t be contained to a couple lines.

    I met Paul within days of moving to Austin, and I’ve been proud to call him my friend ever since. A stranger here, I went to the one activity I knew, ultimate Frisbee. The crowd was polite, yet standoffish, with one major exception. Paul introduced himself to me, warmth overflowing every word. From that day forward pick up ultimate at the intermural field was the one place I could count on someone remembering my name, and giving me a hug big enough to lift my body and spirits. In the ultimate Frisbee world, Paul’s self-deprecation will belie how much people looked forward to playing alongside him or how early he was chosen in the draft.

    Another commonality Paul and I share is improv. As our class moved into level 5 at The Hideout we were already a tight bunch. Paul’s integration to our group was instantaneous. The following six weeks brought some of the most fun improvising, or Dog and Duck trips I have experienced to date. The grimy halls of the bar feel empty without Paul drinking root beer and proving he could do pushups while someone sat on his back. After the class ended, the eight of us formed a troupe called Jukebox. Six months later, however, the troupe disbanded in a less than gracious way. Eventually Paul and I recognized that our lasting friendship was undeniably more important that any bitterness we might be carrying. His development as an improviser in both Two Guys From Yonkers and In Our Prime has always been inspiring to watch.

    These days I typically see Paul around Salvage Vanguard Theater’s variety open mic, No Shame. The show is a creativity incubator for anyone looking to take the stage. Who better to take a supportive role than Paul, introducing himself to new comers, coaching budding storytellers, or sharing his own captivating stories? I have and continue to learn a lot from Paul. I don’t know what community I’ll join next, but I hope I can be the Paul Normandin in that community once I do.

    Chris Sebilia

  20. Lacy on October 13, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Love you and your hugs, Paul. Thank you for being a wonderful friend, and an amazing man in this world. Hugs all day.

  21. Ryan Hill on October 13, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    Where to begin? Paul started In Our Prime, our troupe that has now traveled to several improv festivals. Paul saw me when I was a brand new improviser and believed in me and got me on board. His heart and his actions are full of love and compassion. Sacrifices for others are just a matter of course for him. I’m proud to be his friend and artistic partner.

  22. Ruby on October 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Thinking of Paul is like hitting the refresh button on your day. You think, you smile, and you feel lifted. Thanks Paul – you’ve lifted me more times than you know.

  23. Jennifer on October 14, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    Everything everyone has said is spot on. Here is my Paul Experience.

    The first time I saw Paul was in Austin Secrets at the Hideout last year. He shared a very personal and emotional experience that had me (and the rest of the audience) crying. He was even on the verge of tears. It was one of the most powerful scenes I have ever seen to date.

    Then I started taking Improv classes in January and imagine my surprise to have Paul as our Teaching Assistant!! He has followed us through level 6, which ends this week. That makes me very sad. I cannot imagine how weird it’ll feel without seeing Paul each week. Our teachers have changed but he has been our one consistent supporter. I had asked if we got some kind of certificate when we graduated our classes. Paul made us one! I made him brownies for his birthday (they were terrible) and he ate them and told me to hush that they were delicious.

    He’s ALWAYS smiling. Always ready and freely giving out hugs and words of encouragement, even when I know he’s had a rough day. He is truly one of the most selfless people I know or have ever met.

    Seriously, it’s going to feel weird not seeing him every Tuesday. Thank you Paul for being you.

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