Bill Skaggs, the managing director and founding member of local improv troupe IndyProv, attributes his group's longevity to its ever-changing lineup, which performs shows weekly, if not more often. "There's always new blood, and that rejuvenates everyone, changes the dynamic of the group," he says.
The troupe will celebrate its 10th anniversary Thursday with a show at one of its many stomping grounds, Talbott Street, with reality TV drag queen Pandora Boxx, who rose to fame on RuPaul's Drag Race and RuPaul's Drag U.
With 30 members and 200 different improvisational games to work with, no two IndyProv shows are the same. As member David Bahr puts it: "When I'm explaining it to people, I always start off with, 'Have you ever seen that Drew Carey show?'" ("The Price is Right?" interjects member Rob Miller.) "Ha. Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which is well-known enough that most people know what improv is these days."
"We're all comedy nerds," explains Skaggs. "We're like Trekkies saying 'Oh my God, did you see SNL last night? Part of the bigger picture is to make this a comedy community. There's wasn't much of a scene in town 10 years ago. Now we're a nonprofit and we do work with a lot of different organizations, give classes, do corporate training, and we perform all over the Midwest."
"He's constantly thinking of ways to get Indyprov in front of people," adds member Shannon Samson of Skaggs. "He'd have us perform on a street corner if he thought three people would walk by! And he's actually made us do that."
The IndyProv crew looks forward to the Pandora Boxx show as a chance to interact in a new way. "Pandora's sort of a nerd, too, which is why we were drawn to her. She has a Harry Potter costume, for god's sake!" Skaggs says. "When most of the RuPaul girls do a show, they go to a bar and lip sync and do three songs and that's it. Nobody's ever done something like this. We'll be interacting with her and have a special thing planned just for her."
For her part, Pandora's life hasn't quite been the same ever since shooting to fame as one of the show's most popular performers. "I had done drag for a long time, and it was very fulfilling, but it wasn't really going anywhere anymore," she says. "I didn't feel happy and creative, and I was going to quit. But what I did resonated with the fans of the show. It's been an amazing, crazy experience."
A true modern-day cross-genre entertainer, she's conquered stage, screen, music, television and several forms of online media. "I'm always looking for new kinds of outlets. Sometimes it's a little crazy and unrelenting. It's a little intimidating because I don't want to let people down. I don't try and think too much about being a role model, but I get all these amazing emails and messages form adults and kids. If I had grown up seeing a show like Drag Race, my life would have been different because I could have seen people with experience like me."
As one of the show's most popular contestants, voted Miss Congeniality, she's picked up a good-girl reputation slightly at odds with the cattiness normally associated with reality TV.
"I've told some of the other girls that are thought of as bitches that they actually have it easier, because you can only go up from there," she jokes. "If you meet someone and they're nice than you think, it's a bit easier - 'Oh, god, I thought she'd be a bitch but she was so nice after all!' Me, I'm nice, but nobody's nice 100 percent every single day, and I'm a little more quiet and reserved and shy if you meet me in person. Sometimes people might mistake that for being bitchy, but I'd never be bitchy with a fan."
Her travels have also made her aware of just how much impact those RuPaul-hosted shows have had during a time when gay rights have made huge strides. "You almost feel like the movement has just started because we've gained so much ground in the last couple of years, but it's been a long struggle to get here," she says. "And I think a show like Drag Race is a big help. It shows gay life, that we're drag queens but we're also boys who have lives outside of it."
She says she follows in the footsteps of a long line of glamorous and sometimes bawdy entertainers: "All my icons are women comedians. Carol Burnett was at the top of my list, along with people like Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler. It's an endless stream of amazing actresses and comedians. I was always drawn to comedy. I think it comes from realizing if I made people laugh, they'd accept me more. Once you get that first laugh, it's in your blood. It's like a drug. You're hooked."