Comedian Profile: Kelly Jennings

Editors Note: In this segment, we step away from the stage and take a look at comedians in the Philadelphia area… Learn a little more about where they come from, what they do while not performing and of course the question we all ask ourselves… Why do we do it?

KELLY JENNINGS

Might have seen her in: Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Fantastical…, Comedy Sportz, The Moops (mercenary status)

Hangs her hat in: Lansdowne, PA

Stomping Grounds: Ardmore, PA

Pays the Bills as: Actor / Director / Teaching Artist

Other Hobbies: cycling, martial arts/self defense, local government/community interest groups, big sci-fi fan, documentaries of all sorts, NPR, voracious consumption of information from disparate industries (Management, self improvement, religion, general history, native cultures, warfare and military strategy, pro football et al.)

Why Improv?

(A woman 35- 40 crosses to corner of room and picks up a large wooden box – a ‘soap box’ and stands upon it.  As she speaks people gather around, some curious, others dismissive but no one seems to leave.)

Just remember, you asked.

I came to improv as an actor recently graduated from Syracuse Univ. Drama Dept, which back then was a very reputable training program. My experience of improv at the time was only as a rehearsal tool for scripted work. The improv shows I had seen were frankly boring and felt suspiciously scripted, not at all spontaneous.

I attended the general open call for Philadelphia theaters (now known as TAGP) and I was asked to audition for Comedy Sportz. I never thought I would be cast.  When I did get cast I thought it would be something I’d do for a few months then move on. 18 years later I’m still there.

As an actor I was very in my head. In some ways I’d still say that’s my bête noir. Good improv is anything but about being in your head. So for me improv forces me to be present and in the moment. I think I am more authentically myself when I am improvising than maybe at any other time.

I love the immediacy of improv, not knowing what’s going to happen next and the interdependency one has with one’s partners on stage. It is a wonderful freedom to be able to just *be* knowing that whatever you are creating has never existed before and will never exist again quite like this.

I believe with all my heart and soul that performing of any kind be that improv or scripted theater or music or dance is a sacred act. I view myself as a 21st century shaman. We live in a secular world for the most part. All of the mystery and wonder and ritual that cultures of the past had for experiencing/explaining/processing their lives and the world around them has for contemporary people been replaced with dry facts and scientific studies. And when we can’t use science to explain our ills we numb ourselves unconscious with food, alcohol, clubbing, TV, drugs. Anything to keep ourselves from experiencing emotions. We like our world neat, black and white, simple and free of complication.  The function of a performer as I see it is to create a place – both physical and emotional where it is safe for the audience to express themselves without being cynical or disconnected from themselves and each other.

As comedians, we allow audiences to view life with some sense superiority – they see us on the receiving side of life’s harshness. They either identify with the characters we play or the situation or they get to be objective and feel as though they would never be in that situation. We facilitate catharsis. Nowhere is that more palpably felt than in an improv show.

My interest over the past few years has drawn me away from strict short form /long form formats and led to a desire to incorporate all that energy and *danger*from improv into scripted work. Actors and directors speak so much of being *in the moment* on stage, of keeping a scene or a show *fresh*. That’s what improv is – fresh, in the moment life. Scripted theater has polished, professional, and succinct qualities that allow it to make poignant and relevant comments without the meandering feeling that can happen in improv. So what happens when you try and make a hybrid of the two?  That’s the exploration I’ve been on through pieces like Killer Pussy and Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Fantastical…

As a theater artist I have been highly influenced by the concepts of Peter Brook, the Dada and surrealist movements, classical theater, restoration era theater, and agit prop theater of the 50’s and 60’s. Also performance art – Laurie Anderson is a god!, Man Ray, Seurat, Chagall, Magritte, Phillip Glass, modern dance, professional sports, gothic novels, Saturday morning and weekday cartoons from bugs bunny to Hercules, the Justice League and Speed Racer. From Johnny Sokko and his Amazing Flying Robot, Ultraman, and Godzilla, Star Trek and Doctor Who, and a severe lack of mathematical and scientific skill despite a keen interest in both.

My ultimate dream is to create a piece of theater that is seamless between audience and performer. Where it is impossible to determine what is improvised and what is scripted, what part is *the show* and what part is just being present. I want an audience to leave knowing that they have experienced something unique and one of a kind. I want an audience to feel excited, alive and yes, even angry and upset. I want audiences to leave *feeling* and not just looking for a quick high five and drinks at the bar.

(The woman steps down from her soap box. She picks it up and places it back in the corner. She exits.)

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