Dave Pasquesi never expected to be an actor. After studying philosophy at Loyola, he expected to attend business or law school. He was indeed already accepted to Kellogg’s MBA program at Northwestern when he made the decision to follow his passion for improvisation and performing.
“ I remember the decision…There was a bum laying in the street, literally in the gutter, and I was thinking: ‘Well, if I continue this…that is a definite option. That is a likely conclusion to what I am pursuing.’”
Pasquesi’s choice was made at a time long before improvisation had made anyone famous. “You have to understand, at this time, doing this was basically a dead end. No one was expecting to get famous or make money or end up on Saturday Night Live.”
His first exposure to acting had occurred with his mother’s insistence that he attend classes with his brother at Second City. Pasquesi’s brother was already in law school and was attending improv classes to help him in mock court exercises.
“Second City didn’t have classes then. Don Depallo would teach sometimes and Del [Close] would teach sometime but there was nothing formalized.” Pasquesi was initially afraid of what the classes would ask of him. “I thought it was going to be a real drag. I don’t recall what the exact fear was but just frightened to be in front of people and [having] people making fun of you. And having to do ridiculous things. Forced to do ridiculous humiliating things was probably what I had in mind. Of course we’re not forced to do anything. And the humiliation, if I do humiliating things that was all my idea.”
What he found in classes and on stage was unlike anything that he had encountered before. Eventually Pasquesi decided to commit himself to a path that had no guarantees and by his own admission, conceivably no future whatsoever. “I just stopped everything. I was working in real estate, which was fine. It was a great job, it was neat. But I just stopped everything. I quit it all and started doing a little standup and some improvisation. A friend of mine took me in and let me sleep on his floor.”
Pasquesi benefited from some advice given to him by a friend’s brother and went to find Del Close who was, at that time, beginning to develop the Harold for performances. “Del was great…I learned a lot from him about how to proceed without worrying about a lot of the things that most people find essential…To look at the facts…to try to get better at improvisation is different than trying to become a successful actor or famous. Those are not the same thing. And they are all fine but it would be silly to do one while hoping the other happens.”
Pasquesi is well known to Chicago audiences for his work as one half of the duo responsible for TJ and Dave but has appeared on stage at the Steppenwolf, in major Hollywood motion pictures and is a very successful and in-demand voice over artist. Pasquesi cites the breadth of his work as one of the most pleasurable aspects of his professional life but still cherishes improv above all. “I think improvisation is still the thing that I enjoy most. The rest of the things I do there are parts I don’t enjoy, but improvisation, I don’t think there’s any part of I don’t enjoy.”
Pasquesi is quick to cite his lack of familiarity with traditional acting training but emphasizes his belief in improvisation as “…a tremendous acting method or at least an exercise, certainly. As I say I think it’s more than that…I was doing this play with a guy who is a great Chicago actor. Been doing it for a long time…Well regarded. Schooled in acting. He comes to see an improv show at age probably 45 or later. And he had never seen long form. And he was like: “Whoa. This is great for everyone.” And he at that age started taking improv classes.”
Reflecting on his own journey, Pasquesi sees the value of struggling to discover what precisely being an actor meant for him. “I look back on certain periods that were real thrilling for me… and it seems the one common feature in all of them is that I didn’t know what I was doing. And so I don’t know that I would want to know more than I did. Cause that was the thrilling part. Not having any idea and doing it anyway. I guess that’s it – that was the one thing – to embrace that not knowing.”
Performers: Dave Pasquesi