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December 20, 2011

Geeking Out With ... Jet Eveleth
by WomenInComedy - 0

By Contributor Pam Victor

“Geeking Out with … ”
is a series of interviews with well-known, highly experienced improvisers. It’s a chance to talk about stuff that might interest hardcore, improv dorkwads like me. For an extended, full-frontal geek-out version of this interview, please visit my blog, My Nephew is a Poodle.

If you have seen Jet Eveleth perform improv, you remember her. Not only does she have crackerjack improv skills, but Jet Eveleth pops on stage. Your eye follows her as she flows from character to character with a bendy physicality that often defies gravity.

Eveleth swims in a sea of improv delights in Chicago. She currently performs at iO with The Armando Diaz Experience, The Reckoning, The Deltones and The Collectibles. Additionally, she is looking forward to a possible mini-tour with Paul Brittan (Saturday Night Live) of the created-from-improv scripted show Ted and Melanie. She is also working “with some really cool film guys from MN” on the development of a pilot that, according to Eveleth, “is very inspired by my favorite documentaries (Billy the Kid, Anvil! The Story of Anvil) and Chris Lilley's work.” And that’s not counting recent forays into movies, her stand-up experience, her previous work with The Chi-Town Clown Revue, and her stint as artistic director for The Chicago Improv Festival … And I have a feeling this is Eveleth on a slow day.

Pam Victor: So how did you get into improv?

Jet Eveleth: In college at UMASS Amherst, I walked by a short-form audition and some guys called me in. I guess my first "yes and" was walking into that audition at that moment.

Pam Victor: So was that Mission: IMPROVable?

Jet Eveleth: Yes, I was in Mission: IMPROVable. It was the MI guys that convinced me to move to Chicago to do improv. I read [Charna Halpern’s book] Truth in Comedy before I moved to Chicago and I remember the first time I set eyes on the entrance of iO. I connected to the book, the philosophies, and once I saw John Lutz and Stephanie Weir do a scene my mind was blown. It was so funny and so beautiful at the same time, and all made up in the moment. I sat in the audience and thought to myself, "This is all I want to do."

Pam Victor: So you came out to Chicago and right away went through the levels at iO?

Jet Eveleth: iO was my first destination. I saw a show the first night I arrived, three days after graduating from college. I went through classes there and also [The] Second City and The Annoyance Theatre.

Pam Victor: Wow. You were really driven.

Jet Eveleth:

Pam Victor:
I had a lengthy discussion with Chris Gethard about the "game" being at the heart of the UCB philosophy. What is at the heart of your improv philosophy?

Jet Eveleth:
I love analogies. So here we go ... For a while, everyone thought atoms were the smallest you could go, the building blocks, right? But then they discovered the nucleus and then the protons and neutrons ... and who knows what we will discover next?

So right now (and this will change), I think that perhaps the game (the series of actions in a unique pattern) is the atom. And perhaps the character is the nucleus, and within that is the POV [point of view] born of the moment, in this space. We can still break it down smaller ...

But it becomes very Zen-like.

Jet Eveleth, Up Close and Personal

Pam Victor:
Hahaha. I have this theory that there is a hardcore science geek inside almost every improviser. You are proving the rule.

So, really? The game, rather than relationship and character, is your go-to? Having watched you improvise, that surprises me.

Jet Eveleth: I guess when I say game I don't mean it like many in the improv world. Game has a history in all performing arts. So in Commedia [dell’Arte] and clowning, there is game. In dance, there is game. But its foundation is in action and pattern. I don't separate character, relationship and game. I play as honest as I can and all three are born how they see fit. Game can be developed first; I just don't play that way. I play character-driven, and when you have wants they lead to actions falling into patterns — game is born. But without the heavy fist.

Pam Victor: You are an amazing character actress. I love Barb. Can you talk about where your basic stock of characters comes from and how you nourish them?

Jet Eveleth: Thank you. Nourishing is a great word. I think we have to nourish ourselves as people if we want all this cool art to come out of us. Or perhaps, by nourish, I mean be close to ourselves. I feel that sometimes we run away from ourselves, especially in high stakes situations, like let's say on stage for example. I mean, everyone has their comedic voice, mine tends to live in character and physical work. That is what tickles me the most to watch and to play.

I remember the first time I set eyes on the entrance of iO.

Improv has been an amazing tool for me to find out I love playing POV's far from my own. I learned early on, the more humanity these characters have, the more the room connects to them. At the end of the day we have to balance skill with joy and risk, and we have to do it effortlessly. So practice is the only answer.

And when I say brave I don't mean putting on a brave face. I mean being out of control, losing your shit because that is what is required of your character in the moment. The willingness to be flawed. I think we can get lost in the idea that we are supposed to be the prettiest, smartest, most put together person in the room because we are on stage. When, indeed, it is the opposite.

Pam Victor: Your physicality is truly unique and immensely engaging. Is that something that comes naturally to you, or have you had certain training that allows your personal physicality to really shine?

Jet Eveleth: I have a background in dance, but I think when it comes down to it I like moving around. I also study yoga and clown, but I think I'm drawn to that for the same reasons. It feels like everything comes full circle if you just do what you love. Then one day, someone asks you this question. br />
I also love being physical because it means I never have to "think" and god knows there are so many cops that live in the mind. I much prefer to fall, roll, climb and hump. It is all so lovely and primal. I guess I'm like a local saying, "Let's take the back roads, there are way too many state troopers on the highway." Besides, the back roads are prettier and everyone is taking the highway.

I mean life is short, fall.

When I say brave, I don't mean putting on a brave face. I mean being out of control, losing your shit because that is what is required of your character in the moment. The willingness to be flawed.

Pam Victor: In your job as artistic director of the Chicago Improv Festival, I would imagine you really got an insider’s view of the global approach to improv. What have you noticed about interesting cultural differences and similarities in improv?

Jet Eveleth:
That is a great question. It is fun to see how right on Joseph Campbell is about the universal consciousness in the evolution of art. Even though we are thousands of miles apart we are stumbling upon the same concepts and techniques within the art form. And yet, because we have such unique histories we also grow apart, some grounded in Commedia, some storytelling and others political theater. For example, I love the way Mexico City's troupe ImproTOP becomes their world rather than just gesturing to it. This comes from a heritage of physical storytelling and clown, and their show becomes instantly physical and playful in a way we rarely see in the states.

Pam Victor: At the improv forum at CIF, I saw four of you perform what I consider to be a “Perfect Set” from an improviser's point of view. Can you tell me about the structure The Reckoning follows? Can you break it down a little for me? It’s so naturally organic that as a viewer, it looks somewhat magical to me. So much so, I want to drink it because I think it will make me more powerful.

Jet Eveleth:
Don't drink it! Don't drink it!

Pam Victor: BUT I HAVE TO!!!! (I tried to lick the back of Jake Schneider's head when he was turned away. I almost got caught. Really embarrassing.)

Jet Eveleth: In a nutshell, I can tell you that most of our shows have moments that are scenic and moments that are non-scenic (anything that isn't a scene). The edits are part of the show rather than a necessary evil. So we make them cool and experimental, which lead to scenes that are truly improvised. I find I always have more fun when I believe that I do the best work in the moment and not thinking on the sides. Then we let patterns happen. We look for characters, locations, objects, stage pictures, edits or anything else that want to come back, and we are receptive to them when they appear. I rarely speak the language of beats and games because that language can become handcuffs if they become demands. Who can demand the moment?

I think I just heard God laugh.

Edited to add: Jonathan Pitts, Executive Director of Chicago Improv Festival Productions and Co-Founder/Producer of the Chicago Improv Festival, has been booking all the international teams for CIF since its inception and continues to do so today. Much to my delight, it was Jonathan who brought ImproTOP to CIF 2011, and I was blown away by their performance there. I'm looking forward to interviewing Jonathan for this series, so he can share his perspective as someone who works with improvisers around the world as well as his other unique insights from deep inside in the Chicago improv scene.

Read the rest of Pam's interview with Jet Eveleth at My Nephew is a Poodle.

Photo credit: Jeff Hausthor

Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Shows. Pam directs, produces and performs in the hot, new comic soap opera web series "Silent H, Deadly H". Pam also writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."


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