Jesslyn Vezeau-Shipp has an annoyingly hyphenated last name, but that’s pretty much the only negative thing I can say about her. She’s a recent graduate of St. Louis’ Improv Shop and, since then, has stormed the stage with her incredibly friendly brand of improv. She’s always looking for ways to work with others, both on and off stage, and is never one to pass up the opportunity to make a new friend. That’s probably why she currently plays on four teams – two musical groups, an all-ladies group, and the newst Improv Shop House team, Scottie.
Meet Jesslyn Vezeau-Shipp:
Why did you get into improv? How long have you been doing it?
I’ve been doing funny voices, making up songs and funny characters for as long as I can remember. My parents still (embarrassingly) talk about my alien character Purple from the Planet Purple and my stunning rendition/re-imagining of the Royal Caribbean cruise line commercial.
My first actual improv experience was on a first date. We went for drinks and then he suggested that we go see his friends at an improv show. I thought that it was going to be really lame, but I figured I’d throw caution to the wind and give it a try anyway. That night I met lots of really funny, interesting and friendly people and laughed more than I had in a long time. I was hooked! I came back to subsequent shows and got to know more people, and all the time I thought “I could do this!” But I didn’t think I was the type of person who did comedy, or things onstage. I told myself that I was a funny conversationalist but not someone who could do it on command.
Then one night I went to a party with a bunch of improv people, and after hearing over and over that I should sign up for classes, I decided I would do it. Then a month later, I actually did it! I went through the Improv Shop program with a great group of people; we graduated in May of this year and many of us are doing pretty cool things!
What do you get out of musical improv that you feel is missing from regular old (less scary) improv?
I never really thought about musical improv at all until Sean Madden asked if I wanted to do a musical twosie with him. At first glance it seemed hokey, and I couldn’t imagine how we would do an entire scene in song. But once we got going, and especially once we had our first ImprOpera show, I realized that it can be a magical thing!
I think that musical improv is a really good challenge. It forces me to cut through the crap more quickly to get to the meat of the scene. Especially if you start out the scene singing, you don’t want to go through introductions and small talk. It has forced me to choose stronger characters and more defined points of view, because song makes the scene more “important” and no one wants to see a wishy washy or boring song- you would change the station otherwise!
Now that Improv Shop house team Scottie has a few shows under its belt, what do you most love about playing on the new team? What challenges are you looking to overcome as you keep performing together?
I love our group mind! We melded really well together from the beginning, and I look forward to continuing to build our scenework and group mind. All the people on the team are really genuine people, and quite a few of us have played together in the past; I think that really helps us feel comfortable around each other – there’s automatic love and support, which I really didn’t expect to that extent. I’m looking forward to getting more comfortable in our Harolds and becoming a well-oiled machine, full of trust and wit and ready to take over the world!
What’s on the horizon for Casual Pussy?
Good question! We are continuing to practice and play shows when we can, and we’re going to be auditioning for the next round of Longform Showcase slots, so hopefully you’ll see us more regularly! We’re working on expanding our character work and being better dudes onstage. We are going to have more sleepovers, take more ridiculous pictures, and think of less “aggressive” alternate names to play family-friendly shows! We also want to make a poster of the five of us as the Spice Girls (I’m Baby Spice).
Can you share some words of wisdom with those just starting out?
You don’t have to do everything! It’s really easy and tempting to say yes to all the team invites, classmate hangouts, shows, after-show bar crawls, etc. And if you have time, go for it! But I’ve found personally that I tend to take the improv mantra of “say yes” to the extreme – I say yes to everything optimistically and because I don’t want to miss out on friend hangouts, skills development, etc. But then I end up getting burned out and resentful that I don’t have free time and ultimately let people down because I have to drop out of the team I thought I could do, or cancel plans last-minute. I just wanted one freaking night at home. So it’s really beneficial, both improv-wise and sanity/life-wise, to have some time for yourself and develop/keep up with your other hobbies.
Also, respond honestly in your scenes! Dialogue doesn’t always have to be funny to be engaging. John Langen said something like “Just because they’re not laughing doesn’t mean that they’re not sitting on the edge of their seats and intrigued.” That is horrible paraphrasing, but that general idea has been something I’ve tried to hold on to. Laughter is this golden Snitch that we’re all chasing, but it’s so much more satisfying to see a scene where two people are really engaging with each other and discovering something special, than a scene where someone just goes for the bit or joke. Not to say that you shouldn’t do it, but grounded scenes are great and important, and they build your skill as an improviser.
What is the best improv advice or note you have ever received?
A couple Scottie practices ago, Kevin McKernan said something that has stuck with me and really resonated: “Everything is dumb.”
I love that so much. I so often find myself trying to come up with a really clever pull, or a different angle that’s ~*so unexpected*~ and it ends up not working because either I’m concentrating on how to make that weird shit work with what my scene partner is saying, or I am too rigid with my POV and not able to listen to the other person.
You can do a scene as two dogs who love meatloaf and have it be fucking profound – it’s not about the premise, it’s about what you do with it and the relationship you develop with the other person. It’s all dumb, and no matter what we do, it will be dumb. We are neurotic weirdos playing make-believe onstage, and because of that we will always rehash post-scene and think “oh man, if only I had loved the singer Meatloaf instead of actual meatloaf! I’m an idiot!” But guess what? If you had done that instead, you would have rehashed that too and been just as dissatisfied. Everything is dumb… but as long as you’re playing with integrity and having fun, it’s worth it!
What is the best lesson you’ve learned from improv that translates to your real life?
Have a point of view! I don’t like making people uncomfortable and I tend to pick my battles (and not pick many of them), so I tend to be very middle-of-the road in my conversations/interactions with people. In getting older and going through improv classes, I’ve realized that it’s okay to make people a little uncomfortable, and also that stating and sticking to a POV won’t necessarily make those people uncomfortable. So what if you like meatloaf and I love mac and cheese? It’s okay, you don’t hate me and I don’t hate you, and my choice isn’t automatically lesser because you said something different.
Do you have anything going on that you’d like to plug?
Yes please! Casual Pussy has a show on August 10th for Blue Monday at the Improv Shop, Hark! has a show on August 24th at the Heavy Anchor (and a lab slot at some point), and ImprOpera will continue to sign up for lab slots- or just come by our apartment and watch us do a “show” while we cook dinner!
(Optional…well, more optional than the others). Is there a video, podcast episode, blog post etc about improv that you find particularly inspirational or inspiring?
Your blog is the only improv blog I read, but I really love reading the interviews you do with people (and I can’t believe that I’m doing one! I’ve finally made it!). I really enjoy seeing how other people view and approach improv and this is a great way to do some more in-depth creeping on people I see all the time!
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