The Sunday Interview: Katie Dahm

Everybody is in love with Katie Dahm. I certainly am. That guy over there is. The girl who makes your coffee at Starbucks is in love with Katie. You are in love with her, but you may not realize it yet. Here, watch…

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Katie Dahm smiles when she’s in the woods.

 

Katie Dahm

Age:  26
Years doing improv:  9

Your current projects:  
Wanderlust (Saturdays at 8 pm at the Hideout)
Control Issues (monthly at the Hideout)

Web presence: 
Not currently, but I’m soliciting blog names!

Katie, I mean this with the greatest respect: You seem like an actress. You have an actress vibe about you, a theatrical aura. Which is not to say you’re histrionic or personally dramatic; quite the opposite. But are you aware of this? What’s your actor-ly history? Were you a high-school theater geek like me?
Thanks, Andrew!  As I’ve gotten older and a little more confident, I’ve started to hear that sentiment more and more, and it’s always cool to hear. I was in 7th or 8th grade when I decided what I wanted to do in life was be an actor. That said, I was super quiet on stage and pretty shy and awkward offstage. I played a munchkin in our 8th-grade production of The Wizard of Oz, not Dorothy; though I think it was probably pretty cute the one or two times you could actually hear what I was saying.

But in high school, theater was my home. I stayed after school most evenings until 5:00 or 6:00 for rehearsals and spent my weekends competing at speech tournaments in a lovely event you’re familiar with called forensics (I was a card-carrying NFL member). My best friends and I would hang out in the theater classroom at lunch and crowd around late-night queso at Magnolia Café and Kerbey Lane after competitions and shows. Theater was my social life and artistic outlet.

Katie as zombie Pocahontas in high-school theater.

Katie as zombie Pocahontas in high-school theater.

When I got to college, I told myself that I wasn’t going to major in theater since there’s a pretty slim chance of making it a successful career, but then I kept auditioning for things and taking classes for fun, and pretty soon I was a theatre major (with a double major in psychology, because science is fun!). I love performing – trying on different characters and emotions, playing out relationships and situations I’d never experience in real life.  On stage is maybe the only place I experience true “flow,” that mental state of feeling fully engaged, energized, and focused. It’s addicting.

What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed?
My best friend from college, Tara Demmy (who performs and teaches super cool improv and Bouffon workshops in Philadelphia), does these characters that make me laugh until I can’t breathe. She has extra muscles in her face, I’m sure of it, giving her the ability to create the most ridiculous expressions.

We were in an ensemble-created play our junior year, and offstage during the more dramatic scenes we’d make shadow puppets to crack each other up. Some were pretty obscene. One time, during a long night of deliberation while picking new members for our college improv troupe, she peed in a urinal to cheer up our friend Bobby. She came to visit me here in Austin two winters ago, and we spent an afternoon reading passages from Jonathan Livingston Seagull to each other in Butler Park. I laughed until I cried.

What is something you think most improvisers could do (or stop doing) right now to make them instantly better at their craft?
It’s simple, but I love repetition onstage.  One, it helps me focus on listening – I have to be actively listening to repeat back what my scene partner just said. Two, it promotes communication – it lets my partner know what I just heard. Three, it’s super delightful – how satisfying is it when a scene wraps back around to that great line or gesture?

When used over the course of a show, repetition lends things thematic importance – do something once and I’ll probably forget about it as the scene goes on, twice and it stands out, three times and it becomes a pattern or theme. Recognizing a pattern is delightful for both performers and audience.

For something that takes longer though, study some Viewpoints.  It will seriously up your stage game.

You’re also a bit of a hippie. You make your own deodorant, you camp, you ride a bike everywhere. Where do these hippie tendencies come from?
I guess it really starts with my parents, though you wouldn’t suspect it from looking at them.

When I was growing up, our neighborhood didn’t have single-stream recycling, so we used to take our non-paper recycling over to Ecology Action downtown on Sundays after church. Our yearly vacation involved hiking in the mountains and an outdoor nature day camp, so those values were instilled in me from a pretty young age. My mom bought organic baby food before it was cool.

It’s about being a good steward of the earth, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t benefit personally from it, too. My deodorant is more effective and smells nicer than anything I’ve gotten from a store, ever, “natural” or not.  Riding my bike saves me time, squeezes in a small workout during my commute, and is just flat out fun. So really it’s a win-win.

Who’s an underrated improviser or troupe in Austin?
This one’s hard, because I’m sort of out of the loop when it comes to who’s “hot.” As far as newer Austin improvisers go, I love playing with Lindsay Hejl and Chris Albano.  I get to play with them once a month in Control Issues, and I have the delight of working with Chris in Wanderlust this winter.  Lindsey is cool, cool, cool, and so attentive to the scene, and Chris’s enthusiasm and joy onstage is contagious.

Speaking of troupes … You aren’t in a troupe. You do lots of shows, but you aren’t in a permanent improv troupe. Why not?
I know, right?  This may have to do with coming from a theater background. I’m comfortable with the show cycle: audition, rehearse, show, repeat. I enjoy that rhythm of working up to a project, giving it my all, and then letting it come to a close and moving on to the next experience.

Quinn Buckner, Kyle Traughber and I had a troupe a few years back called Quayle. I love those guys, and it was awesome fun. We stopped playing together when I moved to Philly for a hot second in 2011, and I think right now we all just have other projects that are satisfying our creative needs.

Quayle (Quinn, Katie, and Kyle)

Quayle (Quinn, Katie, and Kyle)

You and I were in a show together, I Love You So Much. It was a show that featured an above-average amount of onstage kissing and adult touching. Also, you were in a naked improv show called Live Nude Improv. So what are your thoughts about onstage physical intimacy — kissing and whatnot?
Physical intimacy is a big part of the human experience and can be particularly compelling on stage. One of the reasons “Live Nude Improv” was so successful is that the idea of getting to see a private side of people, sharing that intimate experience is exciting.  We got people in the door with the name, but the show itself was focused on larger themes, particularly exploring the conventional relationship between performer and audience and blurring those lines.  That’s what kept people coming back. (I should also note for those who did not see the production: most of the show was nudity-free, and most of the themes were actually not sexual. But hey, it was a pretty sexy show).

I studied dance while in college, so I’m pretty comfortable with my body and physical contact. Not everyone’s comfort level there is the same though, so I think it’s important in projects that explore themes of sexuality that cast members are cognizant of that and respectful of each other’s boundaries. I want the physical intimacy to be warranted by the scene and the performers to look comfortable. My experiences with this in the Austin improv scene have all been positive.

You look and act like a Disney princess and you have a reputation as wildly nice. Can you tell us a dirty joke or a story that contradicts your pristine image? 
Somewhere there exists a video of me telling the Aristocrats while standing outside in a blizzard.  It’s absolutely filthy.

What’s your worst tendency or habit in improv scenes?
Oh gosh, I’d have to go with hesitation. Sometimes the hardest part for me is getting out and adding to the scene. Like, lots of times, I’ll be on the sides, watching a show go down, and think, “Man these people are great, look at them go, they don’t need me.”

Yes, they’re perfectly capable of improvising without me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have something to contribute that would enhance the show’s awesomeness, too. And if I don’t get out there, I miss out on all the fun.

Now brag: What’s something you’re especially good at onstage?
I have been told that I’m a generous and connected player, which makes me blush in the best way. I think it means I’m good at allowing myself or finding ways to be emotionally affected by my partner’s offers. My acting experience definitely benefits me on this front.

You’re not very shy about your religious faith being very important to you. Do you think that your beliefs affect your improv or artistic choices in any way?
That’s a good question. I try to live out my faith in all aspects of my life (with variable degrees of success), but also I view the world through my beliefs, so there’s a lot of subconscious influence there. One attitude I carry that stems from my faith is that it’s my job to contribute the skills that I have to the effort at hand. How can I use my gifts and abilities to support the creation of something good and awesome, in this case onstage?

Who’s a hero of yours whom you don’t personally know?
Ho boy! Hero is such a big, pressure-filled word. It’s like picking favorites. I can’t do it!  I have lots of people whom I admire. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Florence Nightingale. She was smart and compassionate and created my mother’s profession (modern nursing).

I admire Meryl Streep for her incredible talent, class, and that sassy gleam in her eye that makes her so delightful.

I admire Michael Pollan’s thoughtfulness and clarity in writing.

There are saints I look to as examples of how to live God’s love. I think everyone needs people to look up to. There’s so much we can learn from the example and experiences of others.  (And sometimes those people write super delightful memoirs, which I’m discovering is my favorite book genre).

Katie as Belle as Katie as Belle...

Katie as Belle as Katie as Belle…

What’s the last book you read?
As of two hours ago, Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please.”

If you were to write an improv manual, what would be the titles of the first three chapters?
1. I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING! (Intentionality onstage)
2. Out on a limb
3. Use your Body!

Anything you’d like to plug?
Yes! Wanderlust, the Hideout’s upcoming mainstage show, opens Saturday, January 3rd, at 8:00 pm.

I have the pleasure of playing in the highlighted couple with Marc Majcher on opening weekend. I can’t say enough just how much I’m enjoying this rehearsal process.  The work my cast mates are doing is fun and funny and then also beautiful and shiver-sending. There are grounded scenes, extended time to explore relationships, and super cool movement and dance improvisation (aaaah all my favorite things). Ruby Willmann, who is directing the show, just wrote an awesome blog post about the journey of working on the production. If you’ll indulge me, I’d love to share an excerpt:

Wanderlust tells the tale of two friends embarking on a journey together. We see this through the lens of a memory which allows us to bend reality because, as many of us know, memories and storytelling go hand in hand. Our emotions color our experiences, our regrets influence our recollections, and we relive our memories through a filter of hopes and wishes and wonder. Wanderlust creates a stage where reality battles perception, and, through it all, our two heroes undergo a shared journey of love, laughter and discovery.

Wanderlust will be running at the Hideout Theatre January-February on Saturdays at 8:00pm.

What’s something that most people don’t know?
The house I grew up in has been struck by lightning twice. I used to have a serious fear of thunderstorms.  Now I’m mostly OK, but it makes me so nervous to be outside when there’s lightning.

Wanderlust plays every Saturday night in January and February at the Hideout Theatre.

Wanderlust plays every Saturday night in January and February at the Hideout Theatre.

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