If you've been around Unscripted any given weekend, you've definitely met Kacey Cleveland. After growing up in St. Pete and leaving for a long time, Kacey's made her way back home and is leaving her mark on stage.
How did you get started doing improv? What's your story?
I started doing improv in high school. Simple games in beginning theater classes to help us get out of our own way, really. I fell in love. It fit because I felt I'd finally found a place where my gifts of a loosely applied filter and creatively active mind were prized. After studying theater and psychology in college, I found myself doing radio as a “personality” -- theater of the mind and the ability to tell stories through character came in very handy. Every job I've ever had has a requirement to 1) speak in front of people such that they listen and remain open to what you're saying and 2) the ability to connect disparate people, ideas, technologies and information in a way that is compelling enough that I get to eat.
What have you been involved with at Unscripted?
So far I've done Whose Line St. Pete, debuted a new duo with Jay Revis called “That’s Why We’re Single,” and been cast in the main stage show “Westworld.” I'm privileged to host the “Afterparty” this season, and am taking the Improv 1 and 2 courses, too!
What's your favorite memory so far?
This one’s tough because I tend to remember how things felt rather than scene specifics when it comes to improv so I remember the rush of having my character in Westworld, Ms. Ellie Mae Barton, fiddled with and her aggression was turned up. I'd had some trouble with an antique hairpin not holding my hair up during the previous 2 scenes and channeled that into an opener that set the tone for everyone about how the aggression was going to be handled for this little vignette. (Suffice it to say that Ellie wasn't afraid to shoot things that irritated her -- breathing or not!)
What's your personal approach to improv?
Improv is the one time when I HAVE to quiet my brain and be present -- in the moment. I tend to go 100mph and do a million things at once. So for me, the peace that comes from being present, attending to everything around me and making interesting, honest choices is freedom. Freedom = FUN in my book because there's not even time for me to judge the thought! Out it comes and now we have to deal with it.
That said, I try to take it just seriously enough. I know that sounds like a head-scratcher, but it’s the balance between being aware that it's not brain surgery and no one I've ever known has died from improv while wanting to do and be your very best for the people you're playing with and the audience who came to see you. No one wants to suck, but every great improver has sucked -- hard -- on stage and will tell you they're better for having done so!
If you had to choose one memory about doing improv that sticks out in your mind, what would it be?
All-time? Working as a morning DJ in a little town in North Carolina we were a top 50 market which means we got big names coming into the studios all the time. Lots of comics and bands, but the one interview that stands out is Casey Kasem. We bonded over both answering “Yes!” to his assistant’s question if we were both on the line. From there, it was the “Casey/Kacey” game: we’d say our name to the other person and giggle like little kids. He did Scooby Doo voices and I sang songs back...it was a wacky 90 seconds or so, but at the end of it he said he'd not had anyone play with him in years and thanked me for the fun! I hold that memory close because it reminds me that playing IS fun, and it's nearly impossible to do alone...even Casey Kasem had trouble finding people to play with him, for Pete's sake!
What sort of advice would you have for a new person who wants to be part of the Unscripted community?
Come Play!! However you're comfortable. Maybe you want to perform but don't know how; take a class. Maybe you want to be part of it but aren't one for the limelight; learn how to tech, volunteer to usher, or bring your friends and be a great audience member! There are some amazing people and none of them have bitten me yet. Of course, I haven't asked...
What do you hope for the future of the theater and the St. Pete improv scene?
I hope that it continues to grow. St. Pete is too well-known for being an arts town to not be a perfectly positioned “next” in the National Improv landscape. I think we need a St. Pete style of improv that can be taught… someone should get right on that!
Learn from everyone. The day you think you know it all is the day you stop being curious about it. By the same light, be aware of what you do well and recognize that people will want to know “how” you do it. Be kind and share what you know and what you're still curious about. The world needs more kindness and curiosity!
You can see Kacey on stage through May on Saturdays in Westworld Unscripted, in The Duo Show & Cagematch with her duo team That's Why We're Single, in Whose Line St Pete with The Unscripted Players short form team, and as host of The Afterparty on Friday nights.