Improviser Profile: Jonathan Spuhler, the Baritone Opera singing Improviser

Posted On:06.30.2017


Story by Maggie Beker

Photo by Stacey Bode

While those lucky enough to have witnessed him hang upside down by his legs and dance in a punk cowboy outfit at Burning Man call him “Daredevil,” the Dad’s Garage Family calls him Jonathan Spuhler. Jonathan sat down with me in the revered lime green kitchen of Dad’s Garage beside some questionably old cupcakes to talk about himself and his experiences at Dad’s Garage as an improvising opera singer.

The Beginning…

Jonathan’s journey with DG began four years ago during a typically humid Georgia summer. Dad’s Garage had approached the Atlanta Opera about collaborating for the Dad’s Garage and Friends Fundraiser at The Goat Farm Arts Center that year. He leapt at the opportunity. “I’d been waiting for that moment my entire life.” He’d first been exposed to improv in college by two stern biddies; they weren’t the kind of junk kickin’ comedians DG boasts. But, the experience, combined with a little Colin Mochrie Whose Line Is It Anyway? internal idolization, got Jonathan hooked on the “yes, and…” way of life.

Improv’s central tenant has helped Jonathan outside of the hallowed halls of Dad’s Garage, too. He is working towards becoming a peer councilor. “For me, improv is so important in that way… when you listen to someone who’s frustrated with a situation, it never helps to say ‘no, but…’. I find that if I can be more ‘yes, and…’ I can not only find a good resolution for that person but really just help create a mutual trust.”

Feeling Honored

Jonathan finds the whole Dad’s Garage Family full of positive and uplifting people, “who are always there for you, and we get to laugh all of the time.” Jonathan counts himself so lucky to be a part of this rag tag team of creators that he has convinced himself he’s an imposter. “To be allowed and asked to be a part of this family is very – how do I say it without sounding sappy – Kevin will laugh at me for saying this, but I feel very honored.”

This phrase of gratitude is basically Jonathan’s catchphrase. So much so, that during an improv scene where the aforementioned Dad’s Garage Artistic Director Kevin Gillese and Jonathan Freaky Friday-ed it and switched places, Kevin went up to Jonathan and immediately said, “I am so honored to be here Kevin, thank you so much.”

Improvising Elsewhere

And playing characters like Kevin – well, it’s this kind of hard hitting character work that really pushes Jonathan as a performer. He just finished starring as Don Quixote/Cervantes in Capitol City Opera Company’s Man of La Mancha. “I don’t think if I had done this before I worked with Dad’s Garage I would have been able to allow myself to explore the character as myself. To bring myself whole heartedly into the character and, in turn, let the character envelope me. A lot of what I was allowed to do – and it was probably only because the director knew that I had been working with Dad’s Garage – is to improvise my own staging.”

Needless to say, he was grateful for the opportunity. At the end of our conversation, when asked if he had anything else he’d like to add, Jonathan extended another thank you. “But, genuinely, thank you. To everyone who’s been supportive and put up with me and my eccentricities. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to grow, and super stoked for the things we’re already doing and what’s to come in the future.”