Santa Fe native Jennifer Jasper’s one-woman show I Can Hear You...But I'm Not Listening may be unscripted, but she knows all of it by heart: it’s a selection of stories about her family and the life they lived as she grew up in New Mexico.
"One of the core tenets growing up was 'Don't draw attention to yourself,'" she says, "which makes being a solo performer kind of awkward."
The show, which Jasper stages at Teatro Paraguas on Jan. 9 and 10, covers life as the middle child in a family with five girls as well as some more personal experiences that set an appropriate tone, given that this is a homecoming for Jasper. While she is always excited to see how an audience reacts to her shows, this performance is unique because besides her family, "there will be people in the audience who are mentioned," she says. Jasper, though, is no stranger to adaptation, as her unscripted style attests.
The performer proved those skills further in 2013, when she was awarded an Artist Support Grant by Jack Straw Productions that enabled Jasper was able to record her stories. It was an amazing opportunity, but one that also provided a few obstacles. "I had to transcribe the stories, then rewrite them for audio because the audience can't see me, so the stories became more narrative," she tells SFR. "But when I perform it, I really love not sticking to a script."
Jasper—currently a part of Printer's Devil Theater—majored in directing at the University of New Mexico. She moved to Seattle, Wash., in the late '80s with a performance company she cofounded in Albuquerque called Phantasmagoria, which became known as the King's Elephant Theater once in Seattle.
Since relocating, Jasper has been "performing a lot more" than she imagined she would, a trend that led to Middle, a solo performance piece for which she drew stories from a hat and shared them, again unscripted, with the audience.
"Afterward, everyone said, 'You weren't in any of your stories,'" Jasper recalls. She wrestled with the fact that she seemed to have left herself out of a show that was supposed to center around her experiences, and then moved away from the idea completely. In 2012, an acquaintance made a friendly challenge to endure three minutes of stand-up comedy at a local open mic—something Jasper had done throughout her early career. "When I met her the next time, I said, 'Well, I've committed to something: I've booked a theater for a weekend in July and I'm doing a full-length show.' That was March." She laughs. "I work well with deadlines."
With such a short time to create a show, Jasper began to assemble stories, but "it kept going back to family." After an internal struggle over the show's thematic direction, Jasper realized that the stories this time weren't just about her family: they were now about her.
"All of a sudden it was the show I had wanted to do a couple years ago," she says. "All of a sudden, I appeared in my own material." And Jasper has a wealth of material to pull from: she didn't speak until she was 3 years old, when she started with full sentences that, due to a severe speech impediment, were nearly unintelligible.
After speech therapy as a child, Jasper developed what she calls "an obsession with the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder" at the age of 10, and later discovered an "interesting hobby" of her grandfather's—one of her favorite stories "because of the audience reactions." (Hint: It involves a dildo.)
The clarity of Jasper's performance style, which allows her to speak to the audience like she's telling stories at the dinner table (granted, maybe not everyone's dinner table), only helps I Can Hear You...But I'm Not Listening.
"This show is very autobiographical," Jasper says, "A lot of the stories are kind of our family lore." She smiles. "Bringing it home means a lot."
I CAN HEAR YOU...BUT I'M NOT LISTENING 8 pm Thursday and Friday, Jan. 9 & 10 $15-$18. Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie, 424-1601