Jen Diamond and Pam Hugi – also known as Baltimore-based indie comedy duo OLGA – formed in 2014. OLGA performs must see long-form improv, original sketches, and duo-stand up. They do a very good job.
Both are members of Surprise Party and helped create BIG's weekly bring-your-own team show, Impropourri. They happen to host a night of improv with teams of two at Baltimore Improv Group called The BIG Duo Feature.
When I was a child and teenager, teachers and adults told me I acted too curious and asked too many questions. That may have turned out to be true in the below transcript. And it was worth it and delightful.
Tell us all about The BIG Duo Feature. How might you describe your show to someone who knows nothing about improv?
The BIG Duo Feature is a monthly improv show that showcases duos! These teams of two will make you laugh two times as hard as they perform their own unique forms.
For the more knowledgeable improv crowd, what do you hope they’ll take away from the show.
We hope this show will give performers and seasoned improv-watchers a chance to see all the forms duo improv can take. Each of the troupes we’ve had perform already had a very different flavor, and most utilized a different format.
Improv is already such a “bare-bones” art form – you need nothing except for performers and an audience. Duo improv takes that minimalism to the next level by reducing the cast down to just two actors. It’s kind of awesome to see how much you can do with so little.
What’s the story of how you entered into improv? (Why/When/How etc)
PAM: I first got into improv in High School. I was lucky enough to have a long-form improv club at my school, coached by teachers from IO (Chicago’s primary Improv Theater). I fell in love with it even though it took years for me to feel confident even initiating a scene. In college I met Jen in our improv troupe, the Buttered Niblets. We later formed a duo called OLGA which brought us on a beautiful path that lead to this blog post.
JEN: I also began performing improv in high school on a team called Spon Gen. I really did not want to audition to be in Spon Gen, but my aggressive friend convinced me to do it as a joke, and I got cast. After that, I was on the Johns Hopkins improv team, the Buttered Niblets, where I met sweet Pam and decided to never let her go. We formed OLGA in 2013, when I received some generous funding from the school to complete an arts capstone project. We used most of the money to buy tampons to throw at the audience during the show.
What brought you into coaching? Is there anything you’d like to share about your style, how you work to get the most out of teams, or your experience coaching?
We started coaching regularly when we were approached by the kind and strong Michael Hartwell to coach a conservatory team (BRISKET 4 LYFE). Having both of us in the room was a great way to begin coaching, because we always had a buddy to bounce ideas off of and ensure we never did anything entirely off base.
[Editor’s note: Consersvatory teams are now Harold Night]
JEN: When I coach, I focus primarily on helping teams ground their improv in strong relationship-building and world-building. I believe that characters that are on the same team and have a super strong relationship create the most interesting scenes and give the performers the most “fun stuff” to fall back on. I also believe strongly in “following the fun” and making your troupe mates laugh and feel very supported.
To get the most out of teams, I always try to ask what they’ve been struggling with in the recent past. I make sure that the fundamentals are as strong as possible before finding exercises to find joy in playing with each other and in performing.
PAM: When I coach I mostly try to ask myself – what would Jen say? Only sort of kidding. I draw inspiration from performers I love to watch and try to help teams not get in their own way. I am a strong believer in committing to emotions and allowing scenes to go dark or sad or quiet if that is the truth of the situation – usually, those are the scenes that end up being the most compelling to watch.
What other skills might people in improv develop to further enhance themselves in their craft?
The ability to be vulnerable on stage! Once you get over looking bad or or needing to “win” a scene, you can really go places. With novice improvisers you see people only able to do scenes about things outside of themselves that they think will be funny concept. Like every scene ever where a scientist talks to his lab assistant about a new invention – it is so hard to make that scene funny if you are just relying on the idea that this machine is a weird idea. The people on stage have the be the weird ones, not the machine!
What question (or questions) do you wish I’d ask you? How would you answer?
I wish you would ask us about our dog. Her name is Lola and she currently has two ear infections.
What else would you like to share?
A picture of our dog
What brought you to Baltimore and Maryland?
JEN: I came to Baltimore in 2010 to go to Johns Hopkins. I had never been to Baltimore before that, other than to just visit the school. In 2014, after graduating, I left for one year to work at a theatre in Connecticut. I quickly realized that I did not wish to live in Connecticut because there are too many people in love with insurance there, so I came back to Baltimore ASAP to find Pam!
PAM: I came in 2011 to go to Johns Hopkins. I chose this school for all of the wrong reasons but it ended up going swimmingly regardless in no small part due to meeting Jen within 1 week of arriving on campus.
JEN: Wow, that is so nice!!!!!!!
If you had to change your name, what would new name would you pick? Why would you choose that name?
JEN: Professor Jen Diamond. Because then people would think I was a professor, even though Professor would just be my first name.
PAM: I’m insulted by this.
Often things we liked as a kid reflect in our adult lives? How is that true for you?
JEN: I was always a weird, quiet kid who only wanted to play games of pretend in which I was a female wolf. Now I perform improv, which is essentially one big game of pretend, and I can be a female wolf whenever I want to.
PAM: I also tended to favor games of pretend but that was until I discovered neopets and then nothing else mattered for ~3 years.
What is something you’ve always wanted to try but have been too scared to?
JEN: Climb a super big mountain.
PAM: A somersault. Seriously.
What fictional place would you most like to go?
PAM: Bro-hio (Ohio for Bros)
Describe your ideal way to spend the weekend?
JEN: Eat a fancy breakfast, go on a day trip to someplace v cool and do cool stuff, walk around a lot, get home early and stay up late eating ice cream and watching Sex and the City with Pam.
If you could turn any activity into an Olympic sport, what would you have a good chance at winning a medal for?
JEN: Unlocking stuff with keys.
PAM: Getting people to dare me to do things that I wanted to do all along.
Who has impressed you most with what they’ve accomplished?
JEN: Balto the dog.
PAM: The man who invented the medicine that Balto the dog transported.
Who do you want to compliment that you have wanted to share, but haven’t?
JEN: I want to tell Pam her natural blonde hair is beautiful like an angel’s.
PAM: I would say to Jen that she has the voice of a siren.
What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
JEN: Why I Can’t Slam Dunk
PAM: Why Aiden from Sex and the City was Problematic
Outside of improv, what do you spend time doing that you enjoy?
JEN: I write plays and try to go see a lot of scripted theatre.
PAM: I like to going hiking with the dog and play tennis. Woops! Guess I’m the sporty one!
What’s a story you’d like to share that doesn’t necessarily have a connection to improv?
JEN: One time, I got so excited while I was drinking from a wine glass, that I bit the rim of the glass, broke it, and had to spit the shards out into my hand.
PAM: Gavin Creel once hugged me during a live performance of Hair.
What in your personal life influences you either as a performer or a person?
JEN: I think male friendships are fascinating in real life. Pam and I always play men who are best friends in our improv scenes.
PAM: Totally. That and people who are incredibly confident with what they are working with. I love confident dopes and people are truly sweet to one another.
What kind of work do you do? How does your work or career influence you as a performer?
JEN: I work for a nonprofit called the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, working in communications and on student loan reform. I don’t think this really influences my work as a performer! This was a bad answer!
How has improv influenced your life outside of the theater for the better?
JEN: I am a very shy girl! I always have been! My kindergarten teacher told my parents she never heard me speak for the first few months of teaching me. Improv makes me feel brave and better at talking to strangers.
PAM: I’ve met so many of the people I love through improv. I’ve also learned to trust my instinct a little more.
What advice do you have for people looking to do improv?
JEN: If you’re learning improv, focus on making your scene partner look great. One-off jokes are rarely funny. Also, male improvisers, please try to take a serious look at whether or not you are dominating and talking-over in every scene you perform in with a woman or gender minority.
PAM: Amen to that!
What was a memorable show that you were in the audience for? What made it memorable and what did you take away from it?
JEN: Pam and I talk all the time about a GUS show we saw years ago. I can’t remember what the scene itself was actually about, but Heather Moyer just kept doing the most insane walks back and forth across the back of the stage. Definitely one of the times I’ve laughed the hardest at an improv show.
[Ed. note: see more Heather antics Saturday, Dec. 1 at 8 a.m. to Sunday, Dec. 2 at 1 a.m. at the MOYERTHON. A continuous stream of long and short improv performances with Heather be in every single one of them.]
PAM: The first time I saw the Improvised Shakespeare Company in Chicago it was right after I started learning about long form. I could hardly breath from laughing so hard.
To catch the next showing of The BIG Duo Feature, please check out our show calendar or ask our staff in person at 1727 N. Calvert St.
Various BIG members and friends contribute to the blog. Enjoy!