Jet Eveleth Tells The Whole Truth

by Sophie Lucido Johnson

Jet Eveleth is the kind of performer who makes you feel like you haven’t done enough with your life, just by the sheer amount that she’s already accomplished. She has been member of  The Reckoning at the iO Theater (Chicago & Los Angeles) since 2001.  She also tours the shows Adsit & Eveleth and Jet & Paul. She has also toured the original sketch shows, Ted & Melanie, The Barb Lameter Show,  Cafe Noir, Roseville, Touched, and I Live Next Door To Horses (Winner of Del Close Award for Best Scripted Show). She development the television pilots Ditch Mitchem, You Should Be Famous, and Jet Across America.  Her film works include the comedies, American Legacy, One-Small Hitch and Close Quarters.  She has performed at the Andy Kaufman Awards and was included in “Best Of Chicago’s Stand-Up” at The Lincoln Lodge. She was listed as New City magazine’s “Top 50 Players” in Chicago for 2010 and 2012. In 2012 she toured Europe performing and teaching physical theater with The Second City as part of a cultural exchange with the US Embassy. She studied clown with Paola Coletto, Aitor Basauri and Philippe Gaulier, mentor of Sacha Baron Cohen. She is the former artistic director of the Chicago Improv Festival and teaches for The Second City Conservatory Program, the iO Theater and for Columbia College’s Comedy Studies Program, where she received her Masters in Interdisciplinary Arts.

Improv Wins is lucky enough to have Jet teaching a master class this year on January 25 and 26. We sat down and talked to her about her workshops, her background, her favorite things, and her inspirations, in preparation for the conference this year.

 

TNM: So you are doing some master classes for improv wins this year.

Jet: Yes!

Tell me about the workshops you’re going to be doing.

Yeah I’m doing a “Playing Honest” workshop — I’m actually offering it twice because it can fill up. The work itself is inspired by my experience doing long form in Chicago, you know like watching shows like TJ and Dave, and playing in them as well. The way that lots of the work in Chicago is unfolding to be very honest and truthful. It is also inspired by my work in clown. I studied with some LeCoq-inspired clown teachers. Then also, it is inspired by my work in Meisner. So it’s kind of combining different schools and studies into how to bring that into long form improv. The work is very experiential in that you can talk about it but it’s really, when you’re in the room, you realize that it so much about energetics.

Yeah, definitely. TNM has had you before and we are all crazy in love with you.

Oooooh!

I think you’ve managed that because of what you’re talking about: energy, and you have a really beautiful spirit to you.

Thank you!

Could you tell me about your story? What got you interested in improv in the first place?

Honestly, we would make home movies and videos as kids and we had to improvise the scenes we wouldn’t script them first; we would sort of talk about what we were going to be doing. I think the openness of that excited me because there is so much play when you know what you want but you have your own way of getting it. And I went to college and I got in early decision to NYU in the Meisner Program and I was like, “Yeah, this is what I want to do,” but I didn’t have enough money to pay for it, so I ended up going to UMass Amherst. But there was an improv group at UMass Amherst and one day I walked by an audition they were having and they were like, “Come on in!” When we started playing games and stuff I was like, “This is all you do?” And they were like, “Yeah!” And I was like, “This is so much fun!” Because always my favorite part of doing a play was the first few weeks where everything was really open. Like, you just play the characters and don’t even worry about the script. And I was like, “Oh my god in improv you neeeevvvver get the script!” Something that has always made me feel kind of different is that I think I don’t think in words. I think more in gestures and personalities and in visuals and in space but I don’t really think in words, and I always felt different. Then recently I felt better because I read this quote about how Einstein didn’t think in words. And I was like, “Ok, so I’m not an idiot necessarily.”

Yeah, you’re actually basically Einstein!

Well yeah, that’s what I’m trying to say. No but, I realized that not everyone does think in words, but you have to figure out how you process the world and the human experience and then create from there. So I really process through energetics and connections.

So when you do improv workshops are there like a lot of those exercises where you make eye contact for twenty minutes?

That’s it! That’s all we do. (Laughs.) No, but, we do live in the eyes a lot, because the eyes are big connectors.

I hope that it’s clear that I LOVE those exercises. I think that if I’m allowed to look in someone’s eyes for twenty minutes my work improves tremendously.

(Laughs.) Well, really, I do a lot of side-coaching so nothing stagnates. I never do an exercise where you just look in the eyes and then that’s it. I try to start from simple foundation of eye contact and simple breath — things that don’t take any effort. And then from the effortless place we try to find what’s going on inside of us so that we can bring more of ourselves to the stage. I think that something that is lacking in American theater is that we don’t bring enough of ourselves to the work that we do. Sometimes I think something that holds us back is that we don’t always know who we are.

Yeah, totally! Maybe you don’t even ever find out until them moment before you die, and then you’re like, “Oooh.”

That’s kind of a beautiful idea.

Well, improv gives you such a nice ability to explore that.

Hmmm. Yeah.

It sounds like you came up studying a lot of theatre, which is so cool, because a lot of people just study the math of comedy and that’s it. It’s a nice flavor to talk to someone with such an extensive background! Who are some of your influences?

It’s kind of across the board. It’s so funny when I think about who I look up to it’s not even necessarily just actors — although I am a big fan of all these actors, and of course great improvisers, when I got to Chicago I got to see what great improv can be, like on an artful level. But also, I’m a big fan of painters. And dancers. Isadora Duncan for being brave enough to say, “I’m tired of the seventeen basic poses in ballet.” She was like, “What if we just move to the music?” To me, I was like, “OH MY GOD. That is what improv is.” To let go of this idea that there is this structure, and what happens if it’s just expression, and you design the movements; they’re not set. That’s sort of inspiring to me. Or the fact that Picasso always worked from a source, but especially in his later works, he wasn’t really worried about his work looking like his source. He wasn’t worried about people seeing a bowl of fruit. He painted form a source, and then trusted that that would be enough. I think about that with improv. If you get a suggestion, that’s really just a suggestion in the moment, and there’s no need to prove that you heard it; it’s about knowing that the word inspired you, and then moving on, and having that just be your inspiration. Inspiration is more important than the obligation to the suggestion.

That’s really beautiful. I agree. I feel like all art forms are kind of just improvising in a lot of ways. So, you started in Chicago and now you’re in LA — what are some differences, or things you’ve learned from each of those cities?

You know, I’ve only been in LA for a year, and when I came out to LA, I came out more for television and film, but I still do a lot of improv and I teach it a bit… but I feel like what I’m learning the most from both cities is that improv is an evolving art form. The times that we don’t serve it are the times we hold on to the past and try to do things the right way, because there is no right way to do it. And I do think that’s why I’m such a fan of someone like Picasso, or Isadora Duncan, or Charlie Chaplin, is because there’s no handcuffs to the past. They really were revolutionaries. And I think that when I meet people and they speak about black-and-white in improv, or rights and wrongs in improv, in a way I know that there is something off. I can’t believe that there could be such black-and-white in an evolving art form.

What are some changes you’ve noticed since you started doing improv?

Back in the ’80s, you can watch videos where it was a line on the back wall, or a semi circle, and someone took a step forward and said something witty and then stepped back. It was very high structure because it was really born out of short form. And that’s ok! Short form is its own beast. Short form is ballet: there are seventeen techniques, and this is how we do them, and they’re very structured. Now we look at modern dance, as sort of reaction to ballet, or born out of ballet, right? It’s like, now we realize that there is break dancing and evolution of modern — tap, anything! Anything that isn’t super-high-structure is sort of modern. Modern became this catch-all of, “It’s not ballet, so it’s modern.” And that’s what is happening with improv now. When people are very stuck in their ways, and things are very high-structured, to me that looks more like short-form. When improv is done in 2014 as it should be, it really starts to look more formless and effortless. It looks more gray and a little harder to figure out before it happens. You can’t see it coming. It is a little more courageous and unsafe, and that’s what I love about it.

I love that sentiment. So, if you don’t mind, tell me all about your OWN dreams and hopes and goals.

For me, I want to take everything I love about improv and everything improv has taught me and bring it to new mediums and mixed mediums so to develop film that has more improv in it and to create pieces of theater that mix clown with improv. I’m interested in blending more worlds. I went to graduate school and I studied interdisciplinary arts, and it was just the beginning of understanding. When you want to push an art form to the next place, one of the best ways to do it is to bring in other art forms to inform it and get it past its own boundaries.

What I love about your dream is that it’s not, like, “I hope to win three awards and have two children.” It’s like a beautiful, nebulous, webby dream.

Oh no! Too hippy dippy?

It’s so good!!! It’s like one of those things where you can go forward into the future and know that if you work as hard as you can, you’ll feel successful at your dreams. That’s how we should all dream! We should all dream in such a way!

I think if you talk to the average improviser, what we really want is to play with our friends. I mean, that’s what I want. And I’m really lucky, because the people I play with are also my best friends. To me, they’re geniuses, and I want to create the next level of this work. I can’t wait to be 80 and see what the NEXT level is. I like knowing that I’m part of a movement — that it’s bigger than us. I want to learn how to push myself. The stage will always be scary for me. But you get to the place where it’s not scary for me anymore. The next place for me is film. It’s really scary to me, and that’s how I know that I need to get into it. When I hold a camera, it still feels a little overwhelming. That’s why I know… I tend to thrive when I’m a small fish in a big sea. That’s when I’m happiest! When I’m a little overwhelmed. In film, I really feel like the beast is bigger than me — and not that I’ll ever tame improv, because I always say that improv is a wild horse — but I’ve learned a little bit of horse-whispering, and now I need to go learn how to ride a different horse. In LA I feel like I’m getting thrown all the time. I was like, ‘Man, what I thinking” But I wouldn’t have it any other way. What I’d really love to do is own a small production company.

That would be so cool!

The person I look up to the most is probably Charlie Chaplin. “The Great Dictator” might be my favorite movie. To me, there’s so much beauty and depth and truth and comedy in that film. And it has so much bravery and so much to say I think you can only create that work when you’re by the camera and by the light and you kin of get behind it.

Great! What was your favorite TV show as a child?

Golden Girls!

That’s such a hipster favorite!

I thought it was normal! I loved Traci Ulman and Carol Burnett and SNL, but Golden Girls was one of the biggest influences. It was four archetypical female comedians tackling a differnt type of clown. You know what? Name another show like that. No other show, I think, in the history of American television has four female leads before a male even comes into play.

Well, Real Housewives.

You got me.

 

Sign up for Jet’s Saturday Playing Honest workshop here

Sign up for Jet’s Sunday Playing Honest workshop here 

Love the comedy of Ricky Gervais and Louis CK? Having a difficult time playing clever? Try playing real. Let go of feeling robotic on stage and speaking in unnatural tones. Instead of playing a fairly convincing human, be a human. This workshop will focus on making improv easy by bringing more of yourself to the stage. Designed specifically to help students move past the traps of complicated situations and forced invention. We will focus on techniques that allow your thoughts to descend and that ignite your imagination. We will take a completely unique approach to the stage by using a long-form approach with Lecoq clown and Meisner techniques to discover your own comedic voice.

Pre-order the Improv Wins book!

UPDATE: Success!

Improv Wins (the book!) is being independently published through Kickstarter – that means pre-ordering the book right now helps fund the initial printing costs! We’ve got great rewards available including show dedications, festival passes and visits from the authors. Funding ends April 26th (right smack in the middle of Hell Yes Fest at Moontower!).

Q&A with Prescott Gaylord, Improv Wins 2013 instructor

Here’s a quick interview with Prescott Gaylord from the Baltimore Improv Group about his upcoming master class at Improv Wins 2013, 2:00-5:00p Saturday February 23rd at TNM Main Stage. Sign up for the workshop here.

Yes, that is Prescott’s torso in the photo above, we promise.

What do you enjoy most about the Improvised Play format?
One of the coolest things to me about improv is pretending to do things that you are not actually doing, in as real a way as possible.  Taken one step further, an improvised play is a whole event (an improv show) that is pretending to be something it is not (a scripted play).  I find this to be badass.  In ‘Unscripted’ we really strive to make the experience as close as possible for the audience as going to a play.  We have one full story, programs, props, costumes, and lighting cues that play like a play.  We just don’t know any of them beforehand. It is like going to an improv show where the input shouted out was “full two act play” and we just play it.

What are the benefits of being able to perform the Improvised Play?
Being able to perform, direct, and produce an Improvised Play hones really important improv skills.  See, we take some of the ‘normal’ improv tools away: mimed environment work, multiple characters, opening input generation.  The improvisers are forced to focus on deep relationships that evolve, strong characters, emotions, tension.  The actors who end up performing in improvised plays – come out superior actors in my opinion.
What kind of improviser should take this workshop?
Improvisers who are interested in story construction, relationships, and grounded acting should take this workshop.  I would also recommend it for anyone interested in directing a production with a large cast.  Certainly coaches will find useful things in this workshop as well. Also – anyone who wants to steal any of my ideas I have developed over the last 4 years of this production.
Sign up for the workshop here.

Improv Wins Conference 2013

We’re stoked to release the information about our 2013 Conference happening at The New Movement in Austin, Tx this February 22nd-24th! It’s a great way to get involved in our improv scene as well as a great way for seasoned veterans to sharpen their skills. And if you’re just a fan, it’s a great way to watch some new innovative shows!

TNM and ACW presents Colt Cabana, The Megaphone Show, Chris and Tami

He’s got skills on the microphone, he’s got skills on the comedy stage and he’s most definitely got skills in the ring and this February 22nd-24th he’s putting all three on display in conjunction with The New Movement and Anarchy Championship WrestlingContinue reading

Politics, you guys!

You don’t have to be an expert on politics to know that there’s an election going on. In fact, I don’t believe you have to be an expert on politics to get your own show on FOX or CNN making comments about it.

On November 6th people of all races, ages and creeds will come together in the spirit of patriotism to go through the election process we were all taught in 8th grade civics. They will line up and place their marble in one of two bowls. The bowls are then emptied into a nest of meerkats. We’ll know who the new president is by the old rhyme “If the meerkats run, then Romney is the one. If the meerkats sleep, Obama we keep.”

I think.

I have a confession to make…I’m not an expert on politics. Chances are YOU aren’t either.

Which is why November’s video roundup is chock full of informational and entertaining (something I call “entertational”) videos to keep you informed about “political happenings,” which is incidentally the name of my news pundit show on CNN – Wednesdays at 5.

…videos

In this video, (brought to you by TNM Comedy’s CJ Hunt) an evil billionaire gives some heartfelt reasons why we should give Mitt Romney our full support.

From SNL (and Jon Hamm), here’s a vid is about Pat Finger’s campaign for City Council of Butts County…should be fine

I’ve heard of campaign ads, but NEGATIVE campaign ads?! They exist, and in this clip from Mr. Show we see that no one is safe.

Democratic Party? Republican Party? I prefer Royal’s Party (from Station Theater’s Royal Millen featuring Matt Gawloski.) In this clip they review a contingency plan for a russian mafia invasion, something I think the other platforms are sorely lacking.

You can’t cast your vote until watching this candid video from President Obama’s college years from Key and Peele.


-Roger Anderson

Fan Letters: John Darnielle

invisiblescripts

Dear John1,

I first got into your music when I was given a cassette tape for my birthday in high school. I listened to it over and over again while I stayed with my grandparents, in Kentucky, for three weeks in the summer of 1999. The tape sounded like something that had been made in a room, like the one I was trapped in at my grandparent’s in rural Kentucky. The first song on the tape was about falling in love near a turkey pen at night. Some girls impersonated turkey sounds. Your voice sounded like you were in love with the world, but also angry at it for something indefinable. After that summer my unwavering answer to the question “what’s your favorite band” has been “The Mountain Goats” for over a decade.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen you in concert: Austin (most often), Dallas, Norman (I made you a pie & presents, you ran out to your car to give my friends and I handmade buttons), Upstate New York at a farm sanctuary, NYC, Glasgow (while we were talking the guy who wrote “Trainspotting” came over and chatted you up), Edinburgh, London, DC. This year I tried to see you in Houston but my son arrived a week early and we were in the hospital when you played down the street from my house. You can’t feel like you’ve missed anything with a newborn in your arms, but I’m still anxious to catch the next concert. Your shows are my favorite kind of performance art. Confession; the first time I saw you in concert I thought you might have epilepsy or autism for the first half hour of the performance. You where so singularly focused. In each song you were attempting to destroy the guitar  your vocal chords, or perhaps the invisible rope the universe uses to tie us up when we’re young and afraid that nothing benevolent is out there. You also crossed your eyes a lot.

Over time though, you transfigured into an unparalleled showman, seemingly marshaling the band behind you in a type of revolt. 2 It feels like the earth just got plucked out of god’s womb. So even though tickets used to be like five bucks, I’ll still pay up to twenty five now.

Even more than I want to be like Joe Bill, TJ Jagodowski, or Tami Nelson as an improviser on stage I want to be like John Darnielle as a performer. I want to be The Mountain Goats of Improv. That’s an end goal that keeps me trying things on days when my insecurities have dulled the passion.

You’ve been an inspiring creative example to me in so many ways and continue to teach the masterclass on how to do it right. You are absurdly prolific and go with what is fresh to you now without making idols out of the past or getting hung up on a calculation of what is popular. You’ve spoken many times about your choice to do your art where you are, with the labels and folks you want to work with, despite the fact that industry folks said the only way to “make it” was to change everything about your life and do it their way. Your die-hard fans have put you where you want to be, but it took a while. And there is a great nobility and grace in the way that unfolded: that you didn’t try to be all things to all people at 26 and then burn out by 35. You built a community around your art and you keep your other passions alive by writing about music for years at Last Plane to Jakarta, repping feminist causes hard, and doing all the fun things. Your example speaks a lot to creative people trying to make something outside of the cultural mainstream: you are a hero to people trying to express themselves, instead of trying to express what they think the public wants to buy.

Then in the last couple of years all the comedy people took notice of the unheralded fact at the heart of my adoration of the Darnielle style, how damn funny you are. I’m not sure my sense of comedy owes a greater debt3 than to your way of telling stories against the grain: of finding glee where there shouldn’t be any and glimmering hope among the detritus of human desperation. These days on Twitter you are clearly the favorite musician of the comedians I care about: John Hodgman, Sarah Silverman, Carrie Brownstein, & Patton Oswalt are perpetually singing your praises & re-tweeting you. And why shouldn’t they, you are the funniest person I follow on Twitter 4 and I teach comedy for a living. You’ve played the Daily Show after-party  and this year you appeared on Conan and The Colbert Report. The big dogs of comedy count you as their friends and if one thing makes me sightly melancholy about not being famous it is that. However, everybody has their fantasies and I have mine. I hope that on the day someone gets you to do an Armando show or you try out improv in someone’s late night jam I hope I’m there. Hell, I hope I’m on that stage.

In the meantime, I’ll go buy Transcendental Youth from my local indie record store and I hope the whole rest of the world does too.

Love from the Gut,

Shyla

 

 

*Photo by Lalitree Darnielle*

 

Show 4 footnotes

  1. It seems like everybody I’ve been reading lately has been encouraging me to write fanmail. Austin Kleon’s fantastic creativity manual, “Steal Like an Artist”, exhorts the reader to resort to hero-praise on the internet (where the indeterminacy of it ever being seen by the intended reader cuts down on the weirdness of attempting to pester those you admire from afar) and last night I came across an article by Sara Benincasa wherein she also makes the case for fan letters. I give in. 
  2. It is as if Robespierre had a midnight conversion and decided that he was hungry for blood, but not the blood of the Monarchy but the blood already pulsing within  his veins – the blood so tenuously keeping his heart beating from moment to moment- and then he went into the mob and started telling them to forsake political agenda and it’s inevitable disappointment, and fight instead with all their strength for justice and freedom within their own mind. That’s what it’s like for you to sing a few songs and do some stage banter.
  3. And I am not just talking about my TMG improv show “Alpha Bloodbath”.
  4. @mountain_goats

Charleston’s Greg Tavares publishes “Improv for Everyone”

Charleston, South Carolina is home to Theatre 99 and a thriving improv community  An instructor, performer, and pillar of that community, Greg Tavares recently answered some questions about his new book for Improv Wins! 

Tell us a bit about your book: 

I just wrote a book called “Improv For Everyone”.  It is a book for people who love improv and want improv to love them back.

How did you find improv? 

I am self taught.  I did my first show in 1985 and two years later I took a workshop during the International Thespian Conference. I knew right then and there that I wanted to do this the rest of my life.  I have opened 2 theatres here in Charleston, I get to do 3 shows a week almost every week, and I get to teach over 50 workshops a year.  I love it.

If you could get all improvisers, everywhere, to stop doing one thing what would it be? 

Judging themselves and their scene partner while they are doing the work.  That is the one “don’t” in my book.  I am actually really against negative instruction, I have a whole thing in my book about it.  I think improv teachers are too quick to say “don’t do this or don’t do that.”  I literally say in my book that I only have one “don’t” — don’t judge your improv while you are doing it.  At the bar after with your friends, do it all you want, but when you are in the mix, just play.

What inspires you then?

OK it is nerd time for me, I am still inspired by a group that broke up over 10 years ago.  They were called Burn Manhattan and they did a kind of movement/sound/performance art long form thing.  I saw them a bunch of times over a couple of months in 1999 or 1998 and I still think about them.  I get improv crushes all the time.  I tend to like the quieter cooperators rather than the super funny people.

What is up next for Greg Tavares?

I am super excited to be able to travel a little bit and teach some of the stuff that is in the book.  I am going to Atlanta, New York City, Richmond, Greenville and Norfolk VA in the next few weeks to do workshops and talk about my book.  I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to meet and work with other like minded people who love doing improv. It makes me very happy.