By Chelsea Fernandez and Jeff Bernstein
Jill Vice is a woman on a simple mission — to push her limits as a performer and hone her ability to faithfully channel characters as different from her as possible, a skill she honed in her Best of the SF Fringe solo show “Tipped & Tipsy” that is currently touring the U.S. and Canada to sold out audiences and garnering rave reviews. “Tipped & Tipsy” has been called “The most hilarious solo slo-mo bar brawl ever seen” by the San Francisco Chronicle. The Bay Guardian says, “Without set or costume changes, Vice proves a protean physical performer, seamlessly inhabiting the oddball outcasts. . . With strong writing and acting at its core, Tipsy breezes by, leaving a superlative buzz,” and the Huffington Post says, “Jill Vice takes on the physical and vocal characteristics of her clientele at Happy’s Bar in an impressive array of body language and vocal talent. Vice’s performance is robust, her material well written, and her characters quite memorable.”
Jill’s secret to success as a performer is her broad training. While she began her career studying performance art at the San Francisco Art Institute with Tony Labat, she moved on to Clowning at the Circus Center Theater before moving to A.C.T. where she cut her teeth in classical performance. Lucky for us, Jill will be teaching a One-Person Show class at Writing Pad San Francisco this October.
Jill was kind enough to take some time out of her busy tour schedule to answer some questions (from Victoria, BC, no less):
1. What inspired you to become an actress and how did you make the transition to a career in performance?
By Christina McNeill
I have always been an artist, but up until I left for college at the San Francisco Art Institute, I only did 2D art; collages, paintings, drawings primarily. When I was in art school, I started seeing a therapist (depression sometimes comes with the territory of being an artist). He would always say the same thing to me as he sat across from me listening to my stories. “Jill, put down the paint brush. You are a performer. You are meant for the stage.” After a couple of years resisting, I began taking acting classes.
2. How did you first get into solo performance? Can you tell us about your first solo show?
I got sick of auditioning for the roles that fit “my look.” I didn’t just want to play the edgy white girl. I wanted to play gritty, ugly people. I wanted to play men and the underdogs of society. And that meant I’d just have to write and cast myself. So I did.
My first show was about my experience in high school when I talked my little sister into shoplifting with me and we went to jail. I told it as a film noir. I was hooked.
3. How do you prepare for a role? Do you research the role or have a special method for understanding the character you are portraying?
My preparation for each role is as unique as the role itself. I often start from the outside in. What do they look like? How do they carry themselves? What are they most proud of? How do they walk? What Hollywood actor would I cast in the role? How do they talk? Oftentimes, finding the voice can really carry my imagination into a character’s being.
4. You have extensive training in various forms of performance, such as clown, mime, and film. Where do you get your ideas for your shows, and how do you decide what genre you want them to be?
My shows come directly from my life experience. I personally can only write about things I know intimately. That being said, my work is fiction. As I’m writing it, I don’t know what’s going to happen next until it happens. My current show, “Tipped & Tipsy” takes place in a local bar with a group of male regulars and the bar owner. After bartending for 15 years, I had a lot of experience to draw from.
I am a huge fan of genre. I tend to approach my work cinematically. I think in camera angles and “special effects” and I use “mime” to bring my audience on board with me. Oftentimes after a show, an audience member will tell me they loved the backflip I did or the costume for one of my characters. I use no props or costumes and I am not an acrobat. It was their imagination. That is the magic of theater.
5. Your award-winning solo show, “Tipped & Tipsy,” chronicles your experience working as a bartender. What is your personal writing process like, and how does it change when you collaborate with other writers and directors?
While my medium of choice is solo, I would argue that in my case (& countless others) the word “solo” only applies to how many people ultimately end up on stage and not to how many people it took to get there. While my solo work is technically written by me, it is a very collaborative process. I need accountability when I write, so I work with a small team. I will do some writing and then bring it to them for feedback and back and forth until it is “done.”
6. You once toured the UK as the lead singer and guitarist of punk band Chester. What was that like, and how has your experience as a musician informed your writing and performance work?
There is a musicality to all of my work. My pieces have a lot of sound cues that really carry them. Just as good music has peaks and valleys, timing is hugely important in theater. It keeps your audience awake on their journey. Touring with the band was a lot of fun. It taught me one of the most important lessons of my performing career. Fake it till you make it.
7. What advice would you give to actors who are just starting out?
VOLUME! If nothing else, just speak louder. You’ll be amazed at how far it can carry you.
8. What can students look forward to learning in your solo show class?
By Christina McNeill
Solo Performance is a medium that has no limits. Students will learn to drop into the moment of their stories, the difference between the writer’s work and the performer’s work, embodying characters, and connecting with the audience.
Thanks, Jill. That was fascinating!
Don’t miss your chance to study with Jill!! By the end of class, you’ll finish a draft or partial draft of your solo show and perform a piece of it in a theater. Sign up for her one-person show class before it’s full!