What hooked you so hard on performing? I have two favorite moments in theater: One is when the first cue hits on opening night and it's like [gasp] Oh my god—the audience is there and it's all together and this world is created. The other is when the stage is painted and the set is torn down and you turn the ghost light off and it's done. Those are very different moments, but they fill me with the same sense of awe of creating a world—a world you don't have to live in forever. I don't have a maternal instinct. I love kids, but I don't need to create a life. I create mini-lives every time I create theater or tell a story—and when I don't like them anymore, I can give them up for adoption! I also found theater as another way of being around people like me—the first gay people I ever met were in theater, and older, like a family. They were mentors and fun people you want to be around. It's addictive.
Why do you tell stories about your family so much? Is your family more interesting than everybody else's? No, everybody's family is crazy. Everybody has stories. But mine have to do with this change in parenting since I was raised, from indifference to caring—or at least to nurturing. My parents were young and not particularly equipped to have children. My mother wanted to travel. My father is a recluse who somehow ended up with a gaggle of girls around him. When my mother saw a DVD of the show, she said, "I can't believe how much happened when I was out of the house!"
Did she freak out? No, I was surprised—the part about finding my grandfather's dildo collection? She said: "Oh that. Who cares? Dirty old man!" But she wanted me to take out the part about her making out with my youngest sister—it was just an accidental slip of the tongue. I told her: "It's okay, you just forgot who you were kissing, it happens to everyone. It just happened to be your daughter." And I do a whole segment about the sister who passed away—that meant a lot to them.
Are you pissed off at your parents? I might be angry that they don't realize how well we turned out despite them. But I love them. And they loved us. It's why I continue to explore it. I'm way past blaming them for anything. The family stuff is a hard one. People say, "Oh, you're fine, just look at David Sedaris." But you're putting people out there, and are you just putting them out there to get ahead? But the family stories are the ones other people always say, "Tell that one!" about.
You started the Family Affair storytelling series earlier this year—how's that been going? I love the space [in the Rendezvous] because it's so intimate. I've gotten to see a lot of people who I never see perform, and it's such an intimate, sharing night. It's what I love about theater—the connection. People don't leave. They want to sit around and talk and meet the performers and meet the audience members. I always end it with an improvised story—a box of slips of paper with people I've never talked about or a story I've never told onstage.
Every show is a benefit for a family in need, right? Yeah, a little chunk of change for people in chemotherapy for leukemia or people who need a little help. I did it for one actor who was missing work because of health problems who said, "That actually paid for my groceries."
You quit your job in the corporate world and now work at a restaurant—why? I decided to do more of my art before it's too late. I turned 50, and I'm just coming into my own as a director, because I have life experience, and coming into my own as a performer, but now I'm tired! Why couldn't I have had all this knowledge when I was 25 and could stay up all night?
Jennifer Jasper hosts the monthly Family Affair storytelling series, where performers from all disciplines gather to share stories about family, on the third Wednesday of every month at the Rendezvous JewelBox Theater.