I’m a Jinius!: Interview with Julia Wiedeman and Angela Dee of NAKED PEOPLE

Shameless self-promotion here! But, within it I think there is some wonderful information about getting your own show up on its feet. I’m a big fan of taking our acting career into our own hands and Juila Wiedeman is an inspiring force to have worked with.
Read on – and thanks to Jiji for interviewing us. Go visit her site! The link is at the bottom.
Hola mariposas! Today I am so excited to post my interview with writer and performer Julia Wiedeman and director Angela Dee and talk about their show NAKED PEOPLE, currently running at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

For those of you who don’t know Julia, she does musical improv with her group Dumpster Tequila, performs burlesque around the city (Slipper Room, Galapagos, Webster Hall) aaaaaand won UCB’s Dirtiest Sketch Contest TWICE.  She is a true mariposa (and for those of you who read this blog regularly know that is the highest compliment) and I wanted to ask her about the creative process behind her amazing one woman show.

If you’ve ever wanted to write and perform your own show or were too scared/discouraged, read this interview! Truly inspiring.

1. What inspired you to write your show?

Julia: The inspiration to sit down and write my own “one-person” show came from a simple and direct reaction to watching other people’s “one-person” shows: An “I Can Do That Too” feeling. I see a lot of shows and have always enjoyed creating my own work so when I saw shows like Shannon O’Neill’s Prison Freaks, Michael Hartney’s So I Like Superman, Leslie Meisel and Megan Neuringer’s Love Can Suck a Dick and So Can I, Paul Down’s The Paul Down Syndrome, and Mike Still’s Dictator for Life, the most visceral reaction I felt, besides loving the shows, was “ME TOO!” The very personal and serious content of shows like Pam Murphy’s The C Word and Nick Ross’s Highly Involved Human inspired me to turn myself inside out to write a show; to try and say something while also making people laugh.

So I started thinking about my life and what experiences I wanted to explore and after a while it became clear that nudity was at the top of the list. I’ve been naked all over the place: Central Park, Times Square, stages up and down the East coast, the Metropolitan Opera, bars in the East Village and Brooklyn, modeling for art classes, all over the internet, etc. and as comfortable as I am, I know that there are people who feel the exact opposite of comfortable when it comes to nudity. I decided I wanted to discuss the varying degrees of comfort regarding nakedness and also how people define nakedness emotionally and physically.

2. What was your writing process? How did you figure out the characters and structure of it?

Julia: The writing process began with free writing character monologues. I lit a candle, turned on classical music and started writing. I picked through the pages, read the bits I liked out loud and improvised in front of a camera and then wrote more focused monologues. I put the pieces together and invited some fellow writer/performers to my apartment to listen to me read it. I made the adjustments they suggested, submitted it to Upright Citizens Brigade for a Spank slot, and it was rejected.

With the rejection came some great notes from John Frusciante about why the show didn’t work for the UCB. The big note was that there was a lack of game and therefore a lack of funny evident in the script. Naturally I did a lot of crying, but then I basically started over. My director, Angela Dee, and I sat down over the course of a few weeks and talked about what was in the script, what wasn’t in the script, and through this conversation we birthed and killed a great many ideas to discover what eventually became NAKED PEOPLE. After each meeting, Angela would assign me homework and remind me to not think about the show as a whole as she insisted that that was her job.

Angela: I’ve always felt that with writing you just have to start. It doesn’t matter what comes out, or if it’s good. All that matters is that if you have an idea you should simply put it on the page and then worry about the structure/plot/etc later. It can be hard to stay objective when you’re doing something as complicated as writing your own one-person show. If we think about the piece as a whole right at the beginning it can get overwhelming very quickly. And with comedy, it’s easy to miss opportunities to hit the fun/game within the sketches and only do broad, show-wide moves. I felt it was important that Julia really connect with each of her characters and find out what they wanted to say about the thesis individually. When we had a number of them (there’s a few great characters that didn’t make the cut due to the 25/30-minute time constraints!) we could see who worked together best to tell the overall narrative.

Julia: The big difference between the first draft and the second draft of NAKED PEOPLE was that I no longer thought of each piece as a character monologue, but rather individual sketches. In regards to the overall structure and the video, Angela Dee is responsible for those elements coming together.

Angela: I’ve always found one-person shows difficult to watch because the structure is boring: one person talks to a pretend other person. Either as series of disconnected characters or in a story-telling way about their life. Both approaches come off as slightly masturbatory which makes me a hostile audience member immediately. So I knew I wanted it to be high-octane and active from the start. Which is easy with Julia. In general, I think that if a show, theater or movie, starts off with a bang and ends with a bigger bang everything will be OK.

As for the video, it was Julia’s idea to have the man-on-the-street element. I believe she was inspired by A Bit of Fry and Laurie, there. It was an easy overall structure to enforce and I found it an exciting way to set up and transition to/from each sketch.

Julia: Once NAKED PEOPLE had received a Spank slot, been performed, and been turned down, Angela and I met with Nate Dern and brainstormed ways to make the show even tighter and underline/highlight/hit on the head the fun/games in places. In truth, while the video portion was re-shot and edited to be shorter, the script didn’t change much between the first and second Spank. However, the subtle changes we did make made everything more simple, real, powerful and fun. Every “no” NAKED PEOPLE received was an opportunity to develop the show more.

3. What were you looking for in a director?

Julia: I asked Angela Dee to be my director because I knew that I needed to trust and have a great time with the person I worked with on NAKED PEOPLE. Angela and I worked together on two sketches I wrote and she and I performed for The Dirtiest Sketch Contest at UCB and it’s safe to say that since asking Angela to get topless and flirt with a baby and then later simulate giving me an abortion on stage, we have understood that we share a humor.

Angela is a brilliant actress and improviser and we share a work ethic that doesn’t let either of us sleep until we are satisfied. I thought I was a true perfectionist until I started working with Angela. She brought everything that I was afraid to discuss, face, and include in NAKED PEOPLE to the forefront and cheered me on as I discovered the comedy in it.

Angela: I was quite surprised when Julia asked me to direct NAKED PEOPLE. I have always felt that her sense of humor was risky and that made me excited because I’ve always been drawn to comedians that push the envelope – like Julia Davis and Ricky Gervais, for example. But, being a first-time stage director (I’ve only directed on-camera), I wanted her to be sure. I felt like she had access to a number of way more qualified directors. So, I did a that little Dracula trick of making her ask me 3 times which I think annoyed her! She never backed down. So, in the end, I knew she was serious and that was all the encouragement I needed.

4. After watching your show I was so blown away by your confidence and commitment and how you just “owned it” on stage. Do you ever get stage fright? Do you have any advice for performers on how to be confident on stage?

Julia: First of all, thank you very much for being blown away!

Secondly, I have never felt stage fright. I have always loved being onstage and people looking at me. I might be missing a part of brain or my love of entertaining people overrides the synapses that would make me frightened, nevertheless I have never been scared to be onstage.

I am guilty of getting unfocused and worried about who’s in the audience and what they are going to think about whatever I’m about to do onstage. But, whether I am performing NAKED PEOPLE or improv, taking the time to warm up before the show and focus my brain on the performance at hand is resolves this issue. Group minding with improv teammates, the Tracy Anderson arm routine, vocal/diction exercises, deep breathing, whatever works.

Just because I don’t feel “stage fright” doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize it happens. Before a Musical Improv class performance a little over a year ago a fellow classmate and friend, who is now quite successful in LA, started “freaking out” a little. She was safely one of the more brilliant singers in the class and I was confused that she would ever doubt her strength onstage. My “fix-it” personality kicked in and I reminded her that she loves performing and that she belongs onstage. Needless to say, she made magic onstage that afternoon.

In addition to warming up and loving being onstage, I do absolutely everything I can do to prepare before I even get to the theatre in order to eliminate even the possibility of nerves and wonky focus. Being scared or worrying about the audience or the words or the costumes or the blocking or how smart I hope I am or if my make up is too much or too little or whatever else distracts me from loving every minute I am onstage detracts from the performance an audience deserves and can always be remedied with preparedness. Basically, I do all of the work that needs to be done so that I can just love up on the stage and audience.

Angela: Apparently I get stage-fright for both of us! Even though I’m never on stage in the show I am in an absolute state of high-anxiety until that final black-out. No fair!

Julia: Angela hides this fear very well.

5. What’s the hardest part about doing a one-person show?

Julia: The hardest part of the NAKED PEOPLE process so far was/is separating the writer from the performer.

There was a point in rehearsal where I was unable understand how to perform the words I had written. I thought the solution was to rewrite those words, because after all, I am the writer, I’m in control. However, it is necessary to stop writing, especially when your director tells you to stop, and approach the words as an actor. Letting go of the fact that I wrote the words and attacking the script from an actor’s perspective, interpreting the content as I have done countless scripts I have not written, was an enormously stressful part of the process.

Returning to my training as an actress and building the characters’ unwritten worlds and Angela’s patience and ever evolving tactics to get me out of my head (once making me do parts of the show as an ogre) proves to be the solution time and time again.

Angela: It’s funny, because I think as writer-performers we assume that we’ll know how best to deliver the words we have written, but I think 99% of the time we absolutely do not. That’s why you’ll hear stories about castings where the outlier in the auditions booking the job because they bought a completely different perspective to the character. Julia was surprisingly flexible and open to my direction in this manner. I think I’d be awful if the roles were reversed. I’m very protective about what I write, but Julia was willing to trust me completely and that puts her ahead of the curve in this industry.

6. Who or what inspires you right now? 

Julia: Ricky Gervais. Kristen Wiig. Beyonce. Nicki Minaj. People that create and perform their own work with people that share their artistic language.

7. Do you have any advice for people interested in doing a one-person show?

Julia: Watch, read, and listen to as many solo performances as you can.
Share your work as much as possible. Whether you perform it onstage or read it in a class, get into the habit of allowing peers to offer their perspective, critique, and insight.Talk to the performers you love. Buy them a drink and pick their brain about how they do what they do.

Angela: I would say trust the things that make you laugh, your sense-of-humor if you will. Don’t ever try to conform to the current norms or trends in comedy. And don’t let anyone talk you out of your specific brand. We live in a pretty product-oriented time, so while it’s of the utmost importance that we strive to be the best we can be, don’t let anyone else’s condescension of what you find funny knock you off your path. The chances are that if you find it funny, someone else will, too.

Julia: Know that you cannot create a “one-person” show alone. I hesitate to call NAKED PEOPLE a “one-person” show because of all of the people who have contributed their talents to making sure I look good onstage. From my director to my cameramen and from my sister to my wonderful tech fellow in the booth, I have surrounded myself with people that support every crazy idea I have and know how to speak to me and what to say and when to say “more”, “no”, “yes”, “what the f are you thinking?” and “That’s funny, do that again.” Work with the people you love and respect, and your show will reflect that.

Lastly, hire a good PR person.

Thank you so much Julia and Angela!!! You two are such cool mariposas!

And if you need a good laugh next week, you can catch NAKED PEOPLE on Thursday, December 22nd, 9:30 P.M. [And now January 5th & 26th reservations will become available soon] REserve tickets HERE.

via I’m a Jinius!: interview: julia wiedeman and angela dee of naked people.

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About The NYC Actor

Angela Dee is a professional actress working in Film, Theatre, TV, Commercials and Voiceovers. She currently lives in New York. www.angeladee.com

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