Tuesday, March 17, 2015
An interview with Jennifer Jasper
We were lucky to have Jennifer Jasper, one of our newest faculty members, answer a few questions about herself and her work for our blog. Jennifer is a storyteller, performer and director whose most recent solo show, Bullygirl, premiered in January as part of the Radial Theater Project's Locally Grown festival. Her short play et•y•mo•lo•gy was a winner of the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival in NYC and is set to be published in a forthcoming anthology. She also runs a monthly cabaret series, Family Affair, at the JewelBox Theatre in Belltown. Jennifer is teaching the class Telling Your Story this spring, and we're so thrilled to have her on board.
Freehold: Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a performer and storyteller? What drew you to this type of performance?
Jennifer Jasper: I began performing in Albuquerque, NM while I was working on my BA in Directing. I fell in love with improvisation and worked with a group, Phantasmagoria, which later evolved into Kings’ Elephant Theatre. We were together for a total of 10 years. I also performed with my other production company Pulp Vixens for another 10 years. I did some stand up comedy for awhile and hosted burlesque, but in the last five years my performance moved into solo work as a monologuist/storyteller. It seemed like a natural evolution.
What brought you to Seattle? How did you first hear about Freehold?
JJ: I moved here in 1986 with Kings’ Elephant Theatre. We had decided to move the company and Seattle, for many reasons won the vote. Most of us are still here and active in the theater or other performing arts and on occasion find ourselves in collaborations. I love the Seattle theater scene and feel passionate about the original work that is developed here.
I have always known about Freehold. I remember when it was in the Oddfellow’s Building on Capitol Hill. I have a lot of colleagues who have taken classes and taught over the years. Ironically, the new home of Freehold is the old Aha! and Kings’ Elephant Theatre space. I spent A LOT of hours helping to build it out into a theater space in the early 90’s. Don’t ask me how many times I’ve painted and cleaned the bathrooms! I’m excited to return to the space as a guest faculty member of the esteemed Freehold School!
How does your directing background influence your work in other aspects of theatre?
JJ: I think all disciplines work together. I can’t keep them separate if I try. As an improviser you are constantly answering the basic questions for the scene: Who? What? Where? Why? As a director you do the same, but on a larger scale. As a storyteller you are answering those same questions, but on a personal level. When I’m telling a story or creating a solo work I can’t help but see the larger picture even though most of the time I’m working on a magnified aspect of the whole. But the arc, whether as a simple story or a larger collaborative work is still essential for the piece to move the audience. It’s like a telescope that you move closer and further away depending on your role. But you always have it in your hand.
Can you share some of your favorite or most memorable onstage (or backstage) anecdotes?
JJ: Ooohh. That is a tough one. Let’s see. Well, I’d have to say audience members should always think twice about breaking the cell phone rules when I’m on stage. There have been three incidents, and folks, you never know when one of the actors is also a very quick improviser.
I was doing stand-up and a woman’s cell phone rang. I asked for her phone and answered it. I asked her daughter (who had called) if it was a 911 emergency and went on to berate her for interrupting her mother’s one night out.
I played a character who had a drinking problem in a play set in the 1940’s and during a very serious monologue a phone rang – they didn’t want to answer it. I made them and added a bit to my monologue.
In one Pulp Vixen show as I was doing the opening monologue that was important exposition I heard a man (under the influence) speaking loudly into his phone, “I’m at show! Yeah, it’s happening right now!” At which point I stopped the show, waited for him to finish, instructed the stage manager to take his phone and hold onto it and proceeded to start the entire show over from house lights and house music playing. In all cases the audiences appreciated it. That is live theater.
What inspired you to start Family Affair?
JJ: Around 2 ½ years ago, a dear friend and former Kings’ Elephant performer, Heather Hughes, lost her battle with lung cancer. She was 44. Earlier that year another friend and performer, Matthew Scott Olsen, passed away. He was 45. And then, that fall, the theater community lost Andrea Allen, 45, to breast cancer. It was a tough year for all of us who had been down in the trenches in our early years making theater happen. We pitched in when we could with meals and such, but you couldn’t help but feel helpless. Then Nancy Guppy suggested Jane Kaplan of the Jewel Box Theater and I get together. She was looking for a monthly cabaret and I was starting to get more and more into storytelling. When Jane and I met, we both cried about Heather (she had worked at the Rendezvous). Jane and I have known each other for many years. I knew I wanted to do something different and by the end of the meeting we had conceived the idea of Family Affair. A night to celebrate family through performance and help someone in our “artistic family” out during rough patches. It’s been an amazing two years now and my favorite day of the month is the 3rd Thursday, the day AFTER the event because you just FEEL good. Every month is an amazing night of sharing. Come see it.
Can you tell us a little about your most recent solo show, Bullygirl? What was your experience like developing and performing the show?
JJ: There are stories that I LOVE to tell, mainly about my family.
Then there are the stories that I NEED to tell. That’s Bullygirl. My stories revolved around my decisions during my pre-adolescent years in regards to peer pressure. I was both victim and bully during different times. I think that is a common postion teens find themselves in. It is rarely black and white. It was a hard show to do for various reasons, but the hardest emotion to overcome was my shame about some of my actions.
I wasn’t sure how it would be received. It was not hilarious. It was pretty raw. The development was harder than the other shows because I shied away from telling the story and tended to describe it. I was finally able to let myself relive it and that’s when the material really started to form. I had young people, parents and teachers approach me to tell me how much this kind of show would be helpful in schools. I recently applied to 4Culture for a project grant to collaborate with Shawn Belyea as my director to work the show into a 35 minute piece that could tour middle schools. I’m really excited about the prospect. I also finally feel freer now that I told those stories.
What are you looking forward to teaching in your storytelling class this quarter?
JJ: I am really looking forward to helping people discover their stories. I always find that the story I thought I wanted to tell is rarely the story that ends up being told.
There is such a wonderful feeling of connection that comes with sharing your experiences with an audience. You are part of a bigger picture. I think that’s what theater is at its core for me. Connection.
To learn more about Jennifer Jasper, visit her website: http://www.jenniferjasperperforms.com. You can also find her on Twitter: @JennJasper
To learn more about Jennifer's Freehold class, TELLING YOUR STORY, click here.