This week's drop in workshop instructor (and co-instructor of the Spitfire ST-2: Duo Scenes class) is a long form improv vet who got most of his experience in Atlanta. We got to ask Jay questions about his adopted home, how he got started, as well as what he thinks makes for great improv. Oh, and he's also a great Dad.
What's your favorite restaurant in St. Pete?
I like Red Mesa a lot. Gateway to India has a great lunch buffet. I'm vegetarian but I rarely go to the "vegan" restaurants in town. I love crappy diners, so I go to Waffle House often. It makes me feel like I'm in a Tom Waits song. You can't take yourself too seriously in a Waffle House.
Whats your favorite thing to do in St. Pete on a nice day?
I'm a single father of a three year old so most of my "things to do" are kid oriented. Mila and I enjoy the beach, the parks, and "walking adventures" downtown. She just graduated from a tricycle to a bicycle, so I'm looking forward to riding on the bike trails with her when she gets a little older. When I do have time without Mila I'm either doing Improv or playing poker at the dog track.
What's your day job?
I'm a Software Architect with Semantic Research.
What drew you to improv?
I fell in love with the original British version of Whose Line on Comedy Central when I was in college, and I knew I wanted to try it. I want to say something profound about the fleeting nature of the improvised moment, how it's pure art for art's sake, but really I think I just wanted to get attention and make people laugh.
Where did you learn to improvise?
My first improv classes were with J* (that's the name he actually goes by, pronounced J-Star) at the Basement Theater in Atlanta. I was very fortunate that I started in a small theater that gave us stage time right away, so I was performing every weekend soon after my first classes. I believe that's the best way to learn...in front of an audience.
Working with J* had another advantage as well. He loved to take his cast to festivals and have well known improvisers perform at the Basement, so from the beginning I was exposed to several different schools and styles of improv. I got to learn from some of the most well known teachers in the country. He taught me early on to learn and respect the history of the art form.
What's the most memorable moment you've had on stage?
My first festival show. It was at DSI in North Carolina. J* told us we were going to do a run of improvised Shakespeare, and oh, by the way we're performing it at one of the biggest festivals in the country. He had submitted it without even telling us. When we went to the festival we had only performed it once for an audience, but we pulled it off and had a great show. Working with him was as "without a net" as it gets, and I'm a better improviser for it.
How would you describe your personal style or approach to improv?
For me the number one thing is listening with zen-like awareness and reacting truthfully, and second is bringing a healthy dose of vulnerability to the stage. It's great to come up with a funny line at just the right time, but you can't count on that type of inspiration always being there. I've found you can get just as many laughs by being fully committed to the truth. Honestly, if the audience isn't laughing, but they're sitting forward in their seats fully engaged in what's going on, that's just as good to me.
What makes a good scene in your opinion?
When the actors are discovering the scene together instead of inventing it, truly listening to each other and having fun. Allowing themselves to be vulnerable. That's when it's good. That's when they let their guard down and we get a glimpse of who they really are. The only truly unique thing you can bring to the stage is yourself. If you're not fully present, well, I've already seen that scene a thousand times.
If improv didn't exist, what do you think you'd do instead?
I hope I would invent improv. Otherwise I would probably do some traditional acting. I did a little bit of community theatre and indie film work when I lived in Atlanta. That was a lot of fun.
What are you looking forward to right now, in general?
I'm new to the St. Pete improv scene, and I've been fortunate to work with some great improvisers here. I'm looking forward to continuing to build those relationships and that trust so that we can take our performances to the next level. I'm also looking forward to teaching some workshops and classes and sharing my improv philosophy with others.
How would you describe the Spitfire community in 5 words or less?
Art without ego.
If I've never been to Spitfire and I'm not sure if I'd like improv, what would you say to me?
I can't imagine anyone not liking a good improv show. Every time we get on stage we do something that has never been seen before and will never be seen again, then we forget about it. And it's hilarious!
Jay performs on Thursday nights in Flash Fiction, with his teams That's Why We're Single & 50 Shades of Gravy on Fridays and Saturdays in The Duo Show & The Spitfire Open, and will be appearing in the next Spitfire Mainstage show Weirder Stuff through November. He's also an accomplished workshop instructor, touring performer and teaches ST-2: Duo Scenes at Spitfire.