I am unapologetically curious and fascinated by people. I always like to hear about how people decided what they wanted to be when they grew up (whether making this decision at 10 or 60), and how they made that happen. Or didn’t. So, I decided to start asking people questions. And, I started with local actor and comedy aficionado Jen Scott, because I knew she would be nice to me. (Seriously- people can make me really anxious and uncomfortable.)
And, Jen is a gem. She is my friend, but everyone I mention her name to agrees– you leave a conversation with her and just feel a bit lighter. She is exactly the kind of person I would want to collaborate with artistically , because she’s generous. And positive. It makes sense that she does comedy improv, because the rule of improv is “yes, AND.” You have to be a yay-sayer.
I realized that, despite having known Jen casually for several years, I actually knew very little about her. Which was kindof perfect.
So, we talked about unexpected paths, and about how to get out of your own way. We talked about ambition and risk-taking and how so much of “making it” (whatever that means) is about persistance and knowing generous people.
L: How long have you lived in the Twin Cities?
J: It will be 12 years December 1!
L: What did you move here for? From Iowa, right?
J: Yes. Iowa. I moved here because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know what to do in college. I got a degree in a totally unmarketable field…in Music and a minor in Art and Design and a minor in German- I’m a bass player. I wasn’t a good music major. I mean, I got good grades. If I was really serious about it, I would have gone to another school, though. So I followed my friends Dave and Becky here.
L: What did you do when you came first came to Minneapolis?
J: I worked as Steve Antenucci’s Admin Assistant at Theatre in the Round. So I was the Assistant Director of Theater, which cracked me up- I had a plaque. Steve was an angel. He said, “Do your parents know how much your making working here? And do you still want to work here?” He taught me so much. I also needed a couple part time jobs to stay afloat, so I started box office working at Brave New Workshop. I ran the box office for Brave New Workshop’s Flannigan’s Wake.
L: Had you done any improv at this point?
J: No. And they offered free classes, and I said “I don’t know what this is. Sure I’ll take your free class.” I’m very lucky. I really had no idea what I was doing for at least a good 2 years. Some people know what they’re doing or know that they can do things- I really had no clue that anyone could be a funny person. Not that I am a funny person– I try to be. But, that you can actually pursue [making a career out of] things like that…I didn’t know that.
L: How have you transitioned since? You fully support yourself as an actor and a teacher. How did this happen?
J: Out of pure stubbornness. I started because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for a living, even thought I was taking improv classes…I loved improv. I took a year of advertising school and thought that might be a career for me. It got to a point where I had to choose between ad school or improv, because they started backing up against one another. I could have been more stubborn with ad school- I don’t know if it would have gotten me anything. But I really enjoyed the connection and the brainstorming support with improv more than all of the guys I was in ad school with. I didn’t feel the connection. I couldn’t be myself with them. So I chose improv. And then I was lucky enough to have a couple of people say “Jen, you should try this” or “Jen, I think you’d be a good fit for this.” The teaching was someone saying “Jen, I think you’d be a good fit for the teens”. So, I was lucky. And the acting part was similar: a lot of “Oh Jen you should try this” and also a lot of sneaking my way in to shows by playing piano. People learned I played piano through my accompanying improv, and they would say “Jen, can you do The Minnesota Show?” “Sure, I’ll do The Minnesota show. Can I [also] understudy?” “Ok, I guess.”
And then Flannigan’s Wake was the same way. “Jen you play piano!” “Can I understudy?” “Sure.” And then Mystery Cafe, I’ve been working for them for a number of years, and that started out with piano. [I told them] I’m a terrible piano player, and that I’d be more comfortable being an actor. And, luckily they were cool about transitioning me. And that’s what I do for them now. So…a whole bunch of different ways of people just giving me a chance. “Oh, you do improv. And you’re around, and you’re a nice person. Do you want to be a nun who cleans plates? You’re an understudy.”
L: What’s been hard as you’ve transitioned into being a full-time artist?
J: Juggling. I’ve always kept myself very busy, and I was going through tax stuff for ’06 or ’08 and, oh my god! I don’t know how I did all of that. I was crazy. It became second nature- I didn’t know anything different. So…balance has been the biggest. Along with money stuff.
And, fearlessness. I have certainly found myself making excuses when I couldn’t [be fearless], and then getting bitter at people who are, and that’s been a good challenge. And trying to learn how to celebrate the successes [of other actors] and work on my own. They can do it, I can do it. There’s room for all of us. So, trying to get that into practice.
Also, working against [self sabotage]. There are certain things I should be doing to take myself where I want to go, but [then I start asking], do I want to go there?
Have you read The War of Art? You would love it. And there’s also a book called Do The Work by the same guy. They totally express that artistic dilemma. He calls it resistance. It’s not just for artists. Say you want to start a non-profit…anything that will bring you to your dreams, you have to work against something…it is always there, and it’s resistance. And it’s working against you. And once you recognize what IT [the resistance] is….then you can figure out how to get past it.
L: What are your continuing goals?
J: My next goal is working on writing things down to say in front of people, and that feels riskier to me [than improvisation] for some reason…adding “this is a work by” after something.
L: Saying “I thought that this was worth presenting.”
J: Exactly. That’s a challenge. I think I need to put that writing in an experimental [mindset] or something that makes it feel ok. I wrote a bunch of sketches for my sketch group, and it’s all in these early phases, but I’m having a hard time presenting these sketches to my fellow writers…my friends…because I’m like, what if they’re bad? I’m old! All of my sketches are about making babies now. But I just have to do it!
L: So, you said a lot of people have been helpful on your journey. And you talked about those books. Is there anything else you think of as ‘god, i’m really glad I found that.’
J: I love taking workshops. I’ve taken a lot of workshops that are kinda out of my comfort level, but those have always been weirdly useful to me. Like I took a Margolis Brown workshop…I gained a lot from just knowing that my body can move that way.
And also, talking to people who have come before me. I love talking to a number of old school Brave New Workshop-style comedians who still have theatre as a part of their life who I kind of hold as heros. It’s awesome to meet those people and see where their lives have gone.
Also, having a hubby who tells me to just stand up straight, even thought I hate it when he says that, and who asks “why do you put yourself down when you talk?” So, i’ve been working on that- on trying to get better about speaking positively about what I’m doing to people, even though I feel like a douche.
“I’m teaching at children’s theatre.”
I always feel like saying it comes off as being better than people, so it’s hard. Because we’ve all met those people who wear their resumes on their sleeve.
I wonder if maybe when I find myself in conversation, if I need to take a moment and…breathe or ground down or something, and remind myself “Just be honest. And be excited for it.”
My friend Ian does it well. He’s a go-getter, and he’s from New York City, and I don’t know how he does it, but for some reason he’s able to talk about things that excite him, and say they’re awesome, and not come across like a douche. I think that if Ian can do it…can sell himself so well…that we can. I want to pick up on that. Maybe we need to practice on eachother. I’ll tell you what I’m doing, and you tell me, and we’ll celebrate it.
I’d love to take more risks, and try and push myself to get things out…even something stupid like a web video. So, scripted work and writing web videos and getting stuff out there. The commedians and actors that I like…they push stuff out there, they get stuff out there and it’s really risky, but they just do it. And they’re just people.
L: How did you come up with Camilla Parker Bowls? And when did you start it?
J: Oh! The first one was last January. I didn’t realize that I stole the idea of improvising from an interview from [Las Vegas improvisor] Matt Donnelly. I told my friends Jim and Dennis about it. Jim came up with the name Camilla Parker Bowls, and Dennis added “at the Bryant Lake Bowl”, which we thought was hilarious. I don’t play a character. I play a hyped-up version of myself. I could be this British drag queen, but it’s just me interviewing, and then I turn it over to these three improvisors. It’s really nice to have a group of engaged funny people talking to someone of interest. And, everyone’s of interest. I kinda love that I get to show these 3 improvisors that I love off. So, most of it is just producing the show. I like it, it’s easy. I like doing it. I like talking to strangers and I like asking questions. It’s become a very fun and easy thing to do.
In the improv community we all are so bubbled…there are very few who crossover from acting to improv or improv to acting- there are a couple, but we are so much in a bubble. All improvisors are puppies anyway, “can we say yes, and?!” There aren’t many jerk improvisors because it doesn’t survive well. No one wants to play with you.
L: I’ve noticed that artists have a hard time combining art-making and money-making. How do you make your art your business?
J: I decided to start thinking about acting and teaching as “work”. So, I have 2 jobs today- I work at the science museum as a performer, and I’ve got a show tonight. And I’ll say “I’m going to first work, and then second work.” It helps to keep it in that mindset…part of why we work is for money. There are three reasons to do something: You like it, it makes you money, or it gets you where you want to go. I try to remember this.
I guess the bottom line is, as artists, we just have to keep doing it. And then telling our friends about it. And strangers. And then we have to remember to stand up straight.
L: It’s all really hard.
J: It’s all really hard.
L: We need a gold star.
J: And a cookie.
L: I can’t wait to see Camilla Parker Bowls.
J: I hope you like it. It’s super silly.
If you live in the Twin Cities, you, too, can see Camilla Parker Bowls at the BLB, tomorrow (Thursday) night at 10:00pm.