TheaterJones: Give us a synopsis of your piece.
Jill Vice: It’s a comedy. It’s a satire. It’s obviously a one-woman show, but unlike most traditional one-woman shows, there isn’t a lot of narration where I come to the audience and I talk to them. It’s really like a play. If you read it on paper, it reads like a play, except I’m all the characters, obviously. It’s basically just about a family of drunks at a bar, which is, you know, like any bar [with] a group of patrons, the regulars. [It] sort of becomes this second home [for them].
It’s about how they take care of each other. They’re mostly men. The bartender is female, and then there’s the bar owner, whose name is Rico. One of their regulars, Pat, is a homeless alcoholic. He hasn’t always been homeless, but things have gotten bad over the years, he’s been drinking. They’re rallying together to decide his fate, in a way. Basically it’s whether he should be 86’ed or not, but in a way, it’s whether he should live or die, and it’s a sort of family dynamic that they play. All the characters are really recognizable if you’ve ever drank at a local watering hole. Everybody comes up to me and says, “I know that person.”
Explain your origins in bartending. Then, with comedy and performing.
I came out to San Francisco on an art scholarship when I was 18. I was waitressing, then I dropped out of art school and I toured the U.K. with a rock band, and when I was there I needed extra money, so I bartended at a nightclub. Of course, in the U.K. bartending is very different from here. There’s no tipping, it’s not as hot of a job, it doesn’t take as much knowledge, the shots are pre-measured. It was fun, I was young, and when I came back to the states I was 21, and I started cocktail waitressing at a music venue in San Francisco.
I remember one night after I had been cocktail waitressing for a year or two to pay off my art school debt, I turned to the bartender and I said, “Man, we did really good tonight,” and she said, “Yeah, we did really good,” and I said, “Oh yeah, what’d you make?” and she said, “Oh…well, we’re not supposed to say.” That set off [in my head that] “they must be making more than us,” and so I thought, “I have to be a bartender.” I just worked my butt off to become a bartender. That was forever ago, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It works with my lifestyle, it works with being an artist. My time is really still mine, and I just go there one to two nights a week. In my 20s, I was working five to six nights a week, but now I’m down to one, two nights a week. The rest of the week is mine, and keeps me active, it’s flexible.
In terms of the comedy, I think I’ve been sort of a comedian since I was a little kid. In my late 20s, I saw a therapist for a while and he kept saying to me—I was an artist at the time, so I was doing multimedia, drawing and collage type stuff—“No, Jill, you’re a performer. You are an entertainer,” and I was like, “What are you talking about?” I didn’t do theater in high school, nothing. [He said] “You’re an entertainer. You need to take an improv class. You need to take an acting class.” I brushed him off for years, and then one day I took one. And then I took the next one, then I took the next one, and then I took the advanced one. I went through the whole program and I was performing, and I got into this thing called the Summer Training Congress.
From there, I got into physical comedy, and I auditioned for a circus school and got into that. I started a yearlong program that was super intensive, seven days a week, 12 hours a day just rehearsing. It culminated in a tour, and then I ended up specializing in mime and studying with these two mimes.
When I came out, I was like, “Well now what do I do with all these weird skills? I don’t really want to be an improviser, I don’t want to just stand and do stand-up comedy, I’m not inspired to be a clown in the circus.” None of them stood alone for me. I don’t really like ensemble work, I don’t audition well. And somebody said to me, we were talking about this director they had worked with on a one-person show. I had never really seen a one-person show, but I just signed up for the class. I was really depressed from not knowing what to do with myself, and I worked really hard for three months with him to put up a 10, 15 minute piece. I had no idea how it would go. I got a standing ovation, so I just never stopped. It’s really just fit me very well, and I’m able to incorporate the mime, I’m able to incorporate the physical comedy, I’m able to incorporate the acting, and I don’t have to audition for anyone. I write the script, it’s mine. I don’t have to share the writing, I don’t have to negotiate personalities, it’s just me.
Speaking of your varied background, can you elaborate more on how they have added to your performance style, and this show specifically?
In this show specifically, people who know me and who watched my path of going through all these programs…I just bumped into a woman on the bus who started in the acting community, and she was talking about coming to a lot of the shows that I did do over the years who finally saw Tipped & Tipsy and said, “Oh, wow, this is the perfect culmination of all that [various types of performing]. It all makes sense.” I have over 20 sound cues that I did myself, and there’s this musicality to the piece that’s very cinematic.
The influence of cinema on me has been a huge thing, but my own musicality comes out in these sound cues and how they interact with the piece. They bring a lot of vibrancy to it. There’s no props, there’s no costumes, and there’s no set pieces, so obviously mime is a huge thing. It’s always amazing to me when people come up and they talk about the bar that I’m at…they actually think there was a set. They’ll talk about the costumes that some of my characters have and I’ll say, “My character didn’t have a costume,” [and they’ll say] “The white wifebeater,” and I’ll say, “No, I never changed my clothes.” You know that feeling, that traditional “I’m stuck in a box” mime shit?
It’s just touching the space in a way and having the energy in a way that opens the audiences’ imaginations so they can see these things, so that they don’t see a woman, but a big man standing before them. I’ve had people come up to me when I talk about this part that I do, it’s a little bit acrobatic. There’s a bar brawl that breaks out, and it’s slightly acrobatic. People in their imaginations saw me getting thrown across the room. They see what I’m wanting them to see, but isn’t actually happening. That’s a lot of the mime, and then the physical comedy plays throughout the whole thing. In a typical solo show, you have a narrator who says something like “My dad and I were close ever since I was a kid,” and suddenly it cuts to my room and my dad. I don’t do that, so somehow you have to be able to follow that I have now switched to be someone else who is now responding to someone else, and someone else breaks. [There’s a change in] movement, and my body changing, because that was all the mime and circus training. It’s basically a perfect culmination of all of it.
Can you elaborate on the inspiration behind characters and the story itself?
The thing is, this show is fiction, but it is based on my experience. Many things in the show, some version of them have happened, but when I wrote the show, I had no idea what was going to happen next at any given point. I would consider writing to be the last of my skills. It’s not where I’m super confident. In the writing process, it was interesting starting from what I have a knowledge of, but I didn’t know what was going to happen next. It’s really interesting to spend a year writing something, and something happens and you think, “I didn’t know that would happen yesterday that that was going to happen.”
I also had people that drink a lot in San Francisco come up to me and say, “I know who Pat is. Is he so-and-so? I know who Ace is. Is he so-and-so?” Some of those [guesses] have been right, and they’ve actually nailed it and they didn’t even drink in the bars that I work in. They had known them [the people who characters are based on] throughout time in San Francisco, and they’ve seen them in the bars they’re drinking at. That’s not to say that these characters are exactly them. They’re these amalgams of one of each archetype at every bar that I’ve worked at, so they’re combinations for me of two or three people, plus my own fictionalizations. Just knowing the environment so well, I was able to sort of fictionalize it. When I first started to work on it, I go up to my director [David Ford] and I say, “I have this idea about doing a piece in a bar, I’ve been a bartender for a long time.” He said, “Let’s do that,” and I said, “Where do I start?” I started writing something, then I threw it away, wrote a couple drafts, threw it away, and then this story started to come up where I had introduced these characters and the bartender wants to cut one of them off today. This is the last day they’re going to drink in this bar, she and the owner have talked, and they’ve decided to cut him off.
From there, all the characters just started to get really antsy and rallying like, “What do you mean you’re cutting him off? Wait, wait, what’s going on here?” They were crying, and there were these secrets that were coming out. The story just started going, and that’s just coming from one situation that’s happened before. Like, make this executive decision with management where this person who is a huge supporter of the bar, a huge part of the community of the bar, a reason that people go there, “Hey, where is he? Is he here today? Where did he go?” And all of a sudden, you have to say, “We know you want our product, we know you want to hang out here, but we have decided we’re no longer going to give you our product.” It’s a weird thing, that by law—I’m guessing the Dallas law is somewhat similar to here—it’s actually illegal to serve someone who is intoxicated, fairly ironic. Beyond that, where is the line when it comes to if someone is really destroying themselves? Is it the bartender’s, is it the bar’s, job to intervene?
How did your initial collaborators help you bring out aspects of your own experiences in the piece?
They’re huge. As far as I’m concerned, the piece is 1/3 me, 1/3 Dave [Dennison], 1/3 [director] David [Ford]. I just had to conduct the whole thing. The way it worked was Dave Dennison was sort of my muse, and I would talk to him about ideas. Then I would go to David Ford with a deadline each week to bring something in and show him. I’d bring in some text that I had written. He would give me verbal feedback, and I would record it. Then I would go home and transcribe what he said, which would take me about an hour and a half, and then try to find the cryptic message in it of what to do next. It was sort of a week of homework. In that week, I would talk about it with Dave, and get ideas from him. Once the piece started to get more fleshed out, where it had chunks that it was time to put in front of an audience, then I worked a lot with Dave Dennison on finding the characters in my body, feeling the characters and creating clarity around it. He also would help me fine-tune the comedy.
How did you become involved with the Dallas Solo Fest?
My show is touring. It toured a little last year, it’s touring more this year and next year, and Grant Knutson is friends with [Audacity Theater Lab artistic director] Brad [McEntire]. I forget what his role is in general, but he does this thing for artists where he tours and he helps them with their tours. He’s such a great person in the touring community, he’s in Seattle, and I’ve met him at a few festivals. He told me about the Dallas fest, and how it was a new fest. I don’t typically do new fests, because it’s just not in the budget and it’s too risky.
But I grew up in Plano, and my folks live in Plano. My dad has been nagging me to bring the show to town for three years now, and I’ve been like, “Alright, I’m working on it,” and I just thought, “Oh, this would be a way.” He’s followed it on the road, he and my mom, but he wants to show it off to friends. It’s really awesome. He’s been begging me for video footage, but live theater does not translate, especially solo shows. If you watch a show that just killed it and you watch it on video…it’s unbelievable, it looks pathetic. None of the energy translates. It’s kind of incredible. The medium of theater doesn’t play to the camera, especially this solo stuff. I refuse to send video. Now, he gets to bring the friends, bring his besties, and finally get to show me off.
Since you have performed this many times in different parts of the country—and you do have family ties here—what are all the reasons you’re looking forward to performing this in Dallas?
That really is the biggest reason. Being able to show it to family and friends, being able to be a part of a brand new festival—I’ve never done that. And a small festival like this, I think will be a really interesting experience. Also, to experience that side of Dallas that I never did.
I’ve gone and seen theater with my folks, but growing up, I was not a part of the local theater scene. I was not a performer, I was not an entertainer, I was actually sort of an outcast. I was in high school, I was an artsy kid who was depressed and messed up, and I didn’t have a lot of friends. I really only have a few acquaintances left there that I can hopefully get to come out. Now I’m grown up and coming back, so it’ll be interesting to experience what’s it’s like to be somebody who is confident.
I’ve gone back to the South multiple times since I left when I was 18, but never as a professional in what I do. I think that will be an interesting experience. Also just feeling out the culture there and maybe trying to rally the service industry. People who love this piece are in the service industry. It really hits home for people who spend a lot of time in bars. They really get the culture. My parents do not, and they still get it and they really identify with these people, but because it’s a story about people who love each other.
» Jill Vice's Tipped and Tipsy is performed at the following times:
- Friday, June 5 @ 9:00 p.m.
- Saturday, June 6 @ 7:30 p.m.
- Sunday, June 7 @ 7 p.m.
And you can follow our coverage of the 2015 Dallas Solo Fest in our special section, here.