Jessica is a performer and teacher who actively integrates contemplative practices into the classroom and rehearsal room. Her work is often socially or civically engaged. In partnership with Joanna Merlin, she has led MICHA, the Michael Chekhov Association since 1999. Her current research focuses on the embodied voice and employs a variety of somatic influences, the Roy Hart approach and phonetics guided by Louis Colaianni’s phonetic pillows. Her research has generated performances (Songs for the Heart of Hearing) and offered professional workshops (MICHA, CSU Summer Arts). Her original work has been produced by Performance Space 122, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Seattle's Studio Current and The Tin Shop. Jessica studied Meredith Monk's repertoire and performed under her direction, sang in Daria Fain and Robert Kocik's Commons Choir and is currently collaborating with Ethelyn Friend and Gary Grundei on the improvised opera, Wednesday. In 2016, she collaborated with Sojourn Theatre to write and direct a bi-lingual, Eastern Washington based production of their play, How To End Poverty in 90 Minutes (with 99 people you may or may not know).
Each summer, Jessica can be found at MICHA's International Michael Chekhov Workshop where, among other things, she facilitates the annual Theater of the Future Open Space and enforces the sacred nap. She is currently editing a book of Chekhov’s original lessons that will be published in 2017 by MICHA. She is Assistant Professor of Theatre at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.
Where were you born?
New York, but I grew up for the most part in Mystic, Connecticut.
Where do you live/work?
Walla Walla, Washington and New York.
What fuels your desire to create?
Feelings of dissatisfaction and injustice fuel my desire to create. Similarly, when I feel confused or disconnected, making work becomes a method of attracting clarity and of making connections and meaning.
Since much of my creative work these days occurs in the classroom, I find it is my individual students who inspire me, coupled with the imposed challenge of a 50 or 120 minute class time.
The best thing about being an artist is...
The persistent directive that it is my job to open myself to both the world around and within me and then to notice what I notice. I get to play, deeply, and when expression rises up in me, it is my job to channel it out and into the space around me. It is such a privilege and such a joy to experience this freedom.
The biggest obstacle in working with self is?
I have a young daughter and I am also a college professor, so stepping outside of my roles as mother and teacher and making the time for my artistic practice is the biggest challenge for me right now. Or, put another way, allowing my artistic practice into my mothering and teaching is the biggest obstacle for me.
No, the biggest obstacle is believing that I do not need to divide myself.
What advice would you give self at the very beginning of your training and professional career?
I recently learned that Alfred Wolfsohn had a voice student and she sang everything a bit sharp. He never corrected her pitch. He understood, or rather, he heard, that her enthusiasm and excitement to sing was causing her to reach beyond the prescribed note. For years, the student continued her studies. Over time, she developed the awareness that enabled her to adjust her pitch. Her enthusiasm remained intact.
I grew up singing and was always in a choir as a kid, but when I got to college, I was discouraged by a teacher. I became shy and embarrassed of my voice and never studied music formally. Many years later, I have wound my way back to music, but it took a long time of denying myself something that brought me great joy. The advice I would give would be to be suspect of any advice encouraging you away from what brings you joy.
How did the "discovery" of Chekhov Technique transform your practice?
I learned the tenets of Chekhov's technique while also bearing witness to a group of artists (the MICHA faculty) as they modeled what it means to be an actor who is fully engaged in their craft, encountering the work anew each day. Chekhov's technique transformed my practice because it taught me that I will never 'know' and that I must always 'seek the experience'. It taught me to expand, to open, and in doing so, I began to sense and trust what he called the independent life of the image. To give myself to an image was the beginning of something new for me.
Are there any rituals you created to help you " face avoidance" that plagues any artist occasionally?
Sometimes, before a performance, I walk around in the audience and touch the empty chairs before the house opens.
What other art form do you connect to?
How does this craft/discipline help you in your work?
I love to be reminded of how much the body is capable of expressing itself without words, without text. And I love to sit (relatively) still and to imagine myself moving the way the dancer is moving. My physical body may not be able to do what the dancer's can, but my imaginary body can!
Describe your ritual or productive day at work?
I usually begin with a somatic practice. I then work to expand and engage with others (if there are others in the studio) or with the material. From there, it is always different. When I'm done, I drink some water.
Describe effective techniques you use to increase your focus/productivity when working on a project?
I don't know that they are techniques but basically --
I work with people who inspire me.
I call my mentors and I talk and talk and talk with them.
How do you reward self for a job well done?
Food, typically. A bonfire or the ocean, specially.
In 2016, SUPER SPACE is serving as a vehicle to facilitate Created to Create Project.
CREATED TO CREATE
INTRODUCING ONE ARTIST PER WEEK, FOR 52 WEEKS IN 2016.
Beginning, January, 1st, 2016
ACTORS, ARTISTS, THEATRE MAKERS, FILM MAKERS, DESIGNERS, TEACHING ARTISTS, STUDENTS all chosen because they spend a part each day creating. Artists will be chosen in no particular order.
Introduce artists from different parts of the world. People who use different mediums and whose practice is at a different skill level. A thing they all have in common is unique sense of style and self-expression.