Friday, June 26, 2015

Pride Profile: Jennifer Jasper, a triple P, playwright, producer, performer

Kathie Whitehall and Jennifer Jasper (Beth Matthiessen)
This year’s Pride theater celebrity is Jennifer Jasper. She does so many presentations and is so busy around town that just a simple list is complex. Aside from performing a triplet of solo shows based on aspects of her unusual life, she also hosts monthly Family Affair cabarets at the Jewelbox Theatre (inside the Rendevous on 3rd Ave. in Belltown), each of which raises funds for a deserving theater community member who is having a crisis!

In 2014, she was one of six winning playwrights at the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival for her play “et•y•mol•o•gy” which was published in “Off Off Broadway Festival Plays, 39th Series” in 2015. A producer saw her play presented in New York City and decided to feature her in a whole evening of her plays. The showcase, entitled “Pressing Matters,” will run Off Broadway in New York during the 2016 season!

But let’s start at the beginning…
Jennifer describes her start in life as, “I was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the middle of five girls. I have a whole show about that I Can Hear You But I’m Not Listening which pretty much sums it up. All of us sing and my mother would play soundtracks from musicals on Sundays, so we knew all the words.

“I didn’t grow up saying I wanted to be an actress, but I was always interested in comedy and did dream of being a standup comic. I love timing. And I love making people laugh.

“I play with timing. I hear it and I instinctively know how much of a pause there should be. It’s like music to me. I think that’s why I’ve been draw to storytelling.

“Also my improvisational roots sync up, that flow of energy between me and the audience. I love live theater and love storytelling and knowing what the audience wants. As a writer, instead of my words, my focus tends to be the audience’s journey.

“When I was a senior in high school, I auditioned for a musical in a community theater production and got cast. I fell in love with theater because of the people. I found people like myself. I found gay people in theater!

“I grew up in a liberal area, so I had dallied in high school with girls and boys, but to be around people who were gay and older, they became my family. I stayed out of school for a couple of years and didn’t go to college, and did a lot of theater. I stage-managed and went to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque a couple of years later. I thought, ‘I’ll take a theater class.’ And that was it.

“By my junior year, I was being mentored as a director. I also was part of an improv company, and that (entire) company, King Elephant Theatre, moved to Seattle. We heard about the theater/fringe movement. As a company, we were starting to do really exciting work as an ensemble. So all nine of us (including Scot Augustson, K. Brian Neel, Kevin Kent, Joe Zavadil who all do theater, and Katy Bourne who does music) moved to Seattle. Scot and I were roommates for years. We all ate, drank and lived theater.

“We were in AHA Theatre’s space, where Freehold now is. We performed in Seattle for five of our ten years together. After a while, everyone began moving in different directions as we neared 30. It was just time.

“I was ready to direct and do other performance. I started Pulp Vixens with Mia Levine and Shawnmarie Stanton, our answer to Greek Active with Dan Savage. They were male-focused, and we were female-focused. Mia and I did a one-act called Innocent Heat, and asked Kevin Kent to direct.

“The three of us travelled – did the Michigan Womyn’s Festival twice, and other festivals. We created other pieces. We started commissioning pieces from Scot Augustson. Hung By the Chimney is going to be remounted at Theatre Off Jackson, this December, to celebrate TOJ’s 10 Year Anniversary because it was the first piece mounted ten years ago!

Pulp Vixens lasted for ten years, too. During that time, I also would do monologues and hosted Comedy Underground open mics Queer Night. I also worked a corporate job in point of sales, during the day.

“Around that time, I had moved in with Kathie Whitehall (Jennifer’s wife and relationship of seven years), and we started talking about our options, and did I want to go back to school or what, with theater. I wanted to rediscover my passion for theater.”

We interrupt to tell the story of How Jennifer Met Kathie:
Jennifer says, “Kathie was a blind date, and I don’t do blind dates! But a friend pressured me into a coffee. When I saw her, I thought she looked pretty butch and thought, ‘I don’t know if I can be that Gay again.’ And when Kathie saw me, she thought, ‘Soccer mom.’ But we’ve been together ever since.”

We return to her evolution into a solo performance artist (among other ventures):
“I decided to leave my corporate job and started managing a restaurant four days a week. Kathie was so supportive. She helped me rediscover my passion for theater by wanting me to do it. I don’t think I’d be doing any of what I’m doing now if it weren’t for her.

“About four years ago, I wanted to do a solo work, and that turned into three pieces so far. They’re all autobiographical. Bully Girl (the third) is one I want to take into middle schools (because it’s about both sides of bullying – being one and being bullied). It’s about peer-pressure. That’s still in the development phase.

“I started writing short plays in 2013 when 14/48 Projects asked me to try Kamikaze (where people draw roles they may have never done before). I was afraid to write a play and Kathie said, ‘It’s just ten minutes!’ so I committed to that.” Jennifer now has written six short plays.

Future plans:
Jennifer says, “I want to have enough time, money and confidence to fully produce and push my solo shows, to continue to explore myself as a playwright. My next pipe dream? To perform one of my solo shows on a New York City stage. I mean, who doesn't want to be Lily Tomlin?"

Given how busy Jennifer is, and with her short plays being performed in New York, perhaps her next dream will be realized in very short order! Happy Pride, Jennifer!

Follow Jennifer at the following websites: