The Sunday Interview: Jeremy Sweetlamb

In case you don't make it to the end of this interview––and shame on you if you don't––let me say it now: Jeremy Sweetlamb is teaching an "acting for improvisers" workshop. You can register for it here. And you should. Onward!

Jeremy Sweetlamb

 
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Age: 36
Years doing improv: 19
Troupes/shows you're in: Available Cupholders, Maestro Directing, Upcoming Process run at The Hideout Theatre.
 
Why do you improvise?
Wow. That's a big one right off the bat. I used to say because I would die if I didn't. I was younger then. I don't think I would die any more. I've always been excited about feeling like I was there to contribute my ideas and perspectives on a new art form.
 
I studied film in college, an art form that is now just over a century old. There is little innovation there any more. Systems of power, process, and distribution are already in place. Improv, however, if you don't count super old school forms like commedia, is arguably only 60 years old, and just 40 when I started.
 
Apart from that, I love the immediacy of improv, but also I love the amount of control I have over my own actions. As an actor, I am an actor in a play. As an improviser, I am an actor, writer, director, and a prop and costume designer, all in one instant for the entire story.
 
What's one thing improvisers can do right now to create better scenes?
Well, it really depends on where you are in your training and trajectory. I find most improvisers need to connect better with their partner.
 
Practically speaking, I would advocate for almost everyone to make more eye contact, say yes more often that they are comfortable with, and go out on stage with absolutely nothing planned when your partners need you.
  
You teach middle-school theater. What's that like?
Teaching is in my family and always felt a bit inevitable for me.
 
Once I decided I didn't want to keep hustling down paying acting and improv gigs, I knew I could cash out on 10+ years of working in theatre and get a 9-5 getting kids hooked on improv and theatre. This is the first time I've ever felt like I could do this job until I retire, and while that makes my stomach jump just thinking about 30 years at one job, I hope it turns out that way.
 
You're married to an improviser (who also happens to be one of the best humans I've met). But y'all don't have a duo troupe. Why not?
We've done a couple of shows as a duo and we were in a group in New York when we first got together. The simple answer now that there is also a baby is just time. There is none. Our side project is grocery shopping. Pre-baby, I don't really know.
 
Ever gotten burned out on improv? Why do you keep coming back?
Of course. Certain shows or people can eventually get on my nerves.
 
It's easy, though, to come back to it refreshed, because my group happens to be so well respected and experienced. We do shows so rarely that we can get decent audiences and that really helps a show succeed.
 
It only takes one show for me to get a bit burned out on Maestro, but when I direct again in 2 or 3 months, I get really excited and have a good ole time, glad that I'm not doing that again for 2 or 3 months. My relationship with a show that has been running since 1998 can't possibly be spotless, right?
 
 You run the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival. Why take on so much work for what I assume is not commiserate pay?
I'm sorry, did you say miserable pay? Uh... well, I'm sure word has hit the street by press time that Ruby is taking it over for this year. It was my baby for the first 14 years, but now I have a real baby.
 
I was able for many years to delegate the things about producing such a big event that annoyed me to others, but eventually the number of things I enjoyed dwindled and I was kind of left with not much to do. The festival itself is kind of in a weird transitional space and so am I, so it just made sense.
 
Aside from my family, OOB is easily the thing I am the most proud of. We've done a lot of good but at the end of the day, it takes an energetic, enthusiastic, younger person to run it right. Ruby is all three of those in spades.
 
My answer to this question a few years ago would be that I had traveled with improv groups to many different festivals and found myself annoyed by some of their policies and inspired by others. The Big Stinkin' International Improv and Sketch Comedy Festival had just folded after 6 or 7 pretty successful years leaving a festival hole in Austin.
 
Throughout high school and college, I had wanted to run a festival of some kind. So, all of those things combined led me to start up OOB back in 2002.
 
You're a new father. Will you push improv onto your child?
No. I'm hoping she'll find her own obsessions.
 
Who's the funniest human being you know? Who's the funniest human being you don't know personally?
Oh, man... It has to be a tie, because I'm a weenie: Curtis Luciani and Mitch Baker are tied for the funniest person I know. I am constantly impressed and inspired by them. They are underrated geniuses.
 
I think the funniest person I don't know might be Ryan Stiles or maybe Tom Hanks. No, it's Zack Galifiniakis.
 
This summer, you're reviving Process, an improv show that was quite popular about four years ago during its initial run. Why this show?
Process has such a huge range of possibilities built into the form. I guess in the same way that I love the conflation of theatrical skills I mentioned earlier that make up the improviser. Process also draws on so many different modes of expression related to producing a play. It's my favorite format to do and the one I am most proud to have co-developed with my homies in well hung jury and Available Cupholders.
 
It isn't just genre improv. It isn't just a high-concept gimmick. It's BOTH! Love it so much. Poking fun at people who take themselves too seriously is a very comfortable underdog spot for me.
 
What's the job of the director of an improv show?
Same as scripted theatre: get the actors ready for the show. Do this by helping them bond with each other, have rehearsal and warm-up discipline, hit deadlines, and if needed, unite against you.
 
What's one thing most people don't know about you?
I'm convinced I'm going to die young and it makes me sad for my daughter.
 
Anything you want to plug?
Process is Saturdays in July and August. The last run completely sold out, so you know get your tix now, people.
 
(And his workshop, too.)

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