Tara Ochs has been part of the Dad’s Garage family since it was in embryonic form at Florida State University. Now on the ensemble, Tara’s experience with Dad’s Garage has helped her become a working actor.
How did you become involved with Dad’s Garage?
I was with the Whammo Players, an improv troupe at Florida State University (FSU), that eventually formed Dad’s Garage. I was a bit younger than the other guys in the Whammo Players, so by the time I graduated from FSU theatre school in 1997 they’d left to form Dad’s Garage. Even before I graduated I would come to Atlanta and hang out at Dad’s Garage. As soon as I was done at FSU I immediately moved to Atlanta.
Did you want to become an actor?
I wasn’t thinking that far in advance, man. Sure, it sounded good, but I didn’t know what else to do! Theatre sounded like a decent degree. There was nothing else I was interested in.
I followed my buddies up to Atlanta; it’s the big city in the South everyone moves to. You moved to Atlanta to start a career. I just started acting… doing improv, live theatre, and I was a receptionist at a salon.
What were ye olde early days at Dads Garage like?
Those were the good old days. It was really a grassroots theatre. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we knew how to put on an improv show. There were plenty of nights we didn’t have an audience. We built that theatre. It was slapped together by volunteers. It was a family. You might do six shows a weekend and then drink beer and party all night afterwards. It’s different now because it’s gotten so big and people have gotten older and have families. But we were all college aged, and we had a lot of energy.
I wish it was like the old days because I wish I was 21 again.
By nature, improv is a young person’s sport. If we don’t make room for the young people to take over, they’ll never grow. In the late 90s it was a very close-knit group of friends. Nobody knew how to run a theatre, or get money to pay for a theatre… it was everybody all in making it happen. We were just a bunch of partiers having a good time, and our friends were our audience… and that’s how we grew.
What’s your favorite Dad’s Garage story from the olden days?
They all involve alcohol. I’m not sure if I can share them.
What were some of the first shows you remember doing?
Durang Durang. It was a bunch of shorts by Christopher Durang. It was super fun. Liz did the costumes and Jamie threw together the set, and it all looked great.
The first SCANDAL soap opera we did ran for nine months with the same characters! When we finally closed that show it was the longest night ever. I played a villain named Sandra Thorn. It was set in a little theatre in Little Five Points. My character wanted to buy the theatre and turn it into a parking lot. I had a lap dog with me named Pepsi. He was a slipper (a cat slipper, actually) that Liz made look like a dog. I even made him yip with my own voice.
Sorry I don’t have better stories. Most of them start off with “one time I was really drunk, and…”
What prompted the move to LA?
It really falls in the category of not planning my future whatsoeer. I thought “I’m going to be an actor and that means I need to move to LA.” There wasn’t much industry in Atlanta then, so I just packed up and left for LA. I’d never been there before. I moved out and tried to be an actress for nine years. I almost always had to wait tables to make ends meet, but I had a really good waiting tables job. It was never a struggle for me out there. I was really lucky. I met a wonderful bunch of people and made great connections.
Could you have had success out there without the Dad’s Garage experience?
Well, my career has definitely revolved around improv. That was my special skill. There weren’t many women improvisers, so I was a novelty. I was a pretty girl and I could do improv reasonably well. Now there’s more women in improv, but I still think I’m the prettiest.
What prompted the move to Atlanta?
I was sick of waiting tables and I felt really stuck. It was the same old, same old. Auditions, small parts in TV shows, a couple commercials here and there. Everywhere was starting to pay less. A lot of work left, and what work there was paid a lot less. I did a Superbowl commercial that ran all the time on USA and I think I made $1000 off that thing! Commercials like that used to pay thirty grand minimum, but they don’t pay like that anymore. I got frustrated. I missed my home, I missed Dad’s Garage, and I missed my family and friends.
Was life harder in LA?
Life’s hard everywhere. It’s more expensive in LA, but I don’t know if it’s harder. I think life gets hard or easy randomly. The industry of acting is very focused on film and television in LA, and it’s hard to make a career with all the things I get to do here. In Atlanta I can make a full living as a performer. I do voiceovers, teaching, improvising, live performing, writing, etc.
When I moved back to Atlanta in 2009, I came right back to Dad’s Garage! I did Invasion Christmas Carol that year and I got to know the new guard. Ed Morgan, Tom Rittenhouse, Matt Horgan, Amber Nash, all the cute boys… That’s the life blood of our theatre. Most of my old buddies are gone now.
It’s not as bold and brave as it was when we were young, but the humor is a bit more mature. If you can believe that. We’re not as homophobic anymore, and I’m really proud of that. We used to end scenes with two dudes kissing because it would bring the house down. “Oh God, two guys who are straight kissed! How wild!” Now nobody’s shocked and it doesn’t get a laugh anymore. Comedy is the first to point the finger at hypocrisy, and we are the last ones to let it go. If it gets laughs, we’ll still do it.
What’s life been like since you’ve been back?
Great! It’s been a rollercoaster of all the fun things I’ve gotten to do because I moved back to Atlanta. I worked with Second City and that was thanks to Dad’s garage. A lot of my career is thanks to being part of Dad’s.
How had the industry changed?
There’s a ton more film and TV work here in Atlanta. It doesn’t mean we get more work… we have access to work, but it can be hard to get. I don’t book a lot of new things. It takes luck, time, and being ready at the right time. That’s as true here as it is in LA. The difference here is that it is cheaper to live. We might not have the opportunity for the bigger roles, but here we can get smaller roles and still work on other projects. In LA it’s always a hustle just to pay the bills.
What has Dad’s given you to help you succeed?
Improv has been huge. It’s been the basis for a lot of my career. It can help any actor or writer. For me, improv makes me more confident in situations where I have to generate my own content. Working as a narrative-based improviser, it helps you understand the bigger picture of story structure as well. As an improviser, I have an understanding of why this character is acting this way in terms of the story and what is needed of them next. You get a really strong sense of story structure; beginning, middle, and end; and the parts we play in a story.
What are the professional connections Dad’s gave you?
What’s the future?
I’m just going to keep doing what I do. Entertain. I’ll probably do more service-oriented projects like working with at-risk youth. I want to work the kids in Selma on their youth center. Creating my own projects. Teaching. I like doing that.
What’s the future of Dad’s Garage?
I hope it remains true to its roots. It’s a good solid community for improv comedy. We have our own space, but I hope we build it as a space to grow great commedians