JJ Jackson: Lastly, I wear sparkly eyeliner
It doesn’t take long when you’re in the WIT improv community to get to meet Bagelz & Jam creator, J.J. Jackson. An active improviser, she studied Nonviolent Communication for years which helped play a key role in her perspective on things. This Harold team member currently plays in Fisticuffs, Sweater Kittens, You’re Invited, and Jukebox Heroes. We got a chance to ask her a few questions about comedy, running an all-female jam, and dealing with stage fright.
What inspired you to sign up for your first improv class? Do you have a background in theater or comedy?
I had no background in any of that stuff! People would suggest that I take an improv class, and I’d always vehemently say no because I was so terrified. Then I was at a retreat one time and I got inspired and pledged to my friends that by the next retreat I will have signed up for a class. So with their support, I took the plunge!
When was your first “aha I love improv” moment?
One of my favorite early improv memories was in Shawn Westfall’s class. I was playing a child and for some reason I was able to just totally embody that character. I wasn’t thinking about being funny at all – I just was that child. It was so amazing to feel that. And at one point, people started laughing! And I thought “Ohhh – this is what it’s all about!”
What made you launch and continue to run the all-female jam Bagelz & Jam workshops?
The first Bagelz was a birthday party for me. I had wanted to do a “ladies brunch” kind of thing with all my new girlfriends I had made in the improv community. The list kept getting longer and longer, and I couldn’t find a restaurant to hold all of us! So I thought, “what do we all have in common – OH YEAH! Let’s just have an improv jam! And we’ll just eat there!” I found a cheap place to rent, and we did it! It was so fun and one of the participants, Laura Goehrke, suggested that I just do this monthly. I hadn’t even thought of that, but I went ahead and tried it out. And it worked! It’s been four years this month!
I (along with Amy Purcell) continue it because I love what happens when women play together. I do love my menfolk! And I also love carving out a place just for the ladies. One thing is that there is often a freedom that comes when there are no set gender roles. And maybe some people are more likely to step off the backline if it’s all women. Also, one thing that’s important to me is that we hang out and eat together before jamming. It’s so we can connect as humans and get comfortable with each other before hitting the stage. I love how that helps (me at least) feel more comfortable stepping out. I/we really strive to create as comfortable and safe an environment as possible. And the women are awesome! I’m always just blown away by the amazing people in this community.
What is your next personal improv goal?
I hesitate to even say this because that means it’s out there in the universe! But I’d love to try duoprov sometime. Like in a million years! 🙂
You’ve admitted in the past you had stage fright when starting improv. What’s your advice to others dealing with that?
Oh geez – the bane of my improv existence. Yes I have stage fright for sure. Hell, I even have it right now about this very piece! I am always trying to find ways of dealing with it. For me, thoughts of talking myself out of the fear don’t help much. For me, stage fright is all in the left hemisphere of the brain – the judging, black and white part. I’m going to suck. People will think I’m horrible, etc. Many of my inner voices have lawyers and can argue against any positive talk.
So anything that gets me into my right hemisphere can help. Such as breathing – but really focusing on the breathing process – we have bodies and we can be IN them and not just in our heads. The one I remember more often is to feel my feet planted on the floor. Also, I have to mention ‘power posing’. I watched the TED Talk by Amy Cuddy on how changing our body position for just two minutes can literally change our confidence. I tried it before a You’re Invited FIST show – and we all actually walked on stage in power poses! AND IT HELPED! It’s so weird, but it really helps. That is a very easy thing to do that helps me a lot.
Eye contact is great – so when doing those crazy eights, I look at people. And smile! Touch is really helpful for me. Fisticuffs does a warm up called the human knot, where we tangle ourselves up and then have to untangle ourselves. It’s awesome for me because we’re all literally connected – it feels really groupy. I’m not alone, I’m in a group. Also, I think bonding before a show (coffee, a meal, etc.) helps me feel like I’m really in the group and not alone. And it reminds me how much I like these people, which also helps.
Lastly, wear sparkly eye liner. Lauren Cross let Ceci De Robertis and me borrow some, and we all wore it during our You’re Invited shows. It’s awesome. Never underestimate a good sparkly eyeliner!
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Taking a class at WIT is a great way to meet new people and unleash your creativity. Listen to JJ! She’s a smart cookie. Sign up for a level one class today!