The Jester Interview:
Scott has thought about comedic character acting for a long time, since
she was a child, in fact. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, her first
theatrical experience was a long way from comedy, though, in Euripides
tragedy and with the Tyger’s Heart Shakespeare Company. She arrived in
New York to study at New York University’s acting school, where she was
placed in the Atlantic school, which led her to take a turn away from
how she had previously conceived comedic characters. Now, she is a
member of all-female sketch comedy group Meat (with Becky Poole, Biz
Ellis and Reggan Holland) that has performed at the Upright Citizens
Brigade Theatre and in the annual Sketchfest NYC among other places. Scott also has her own solo character
showcase, “Castle of Enchantment,” which takes over Mo Pitkin’s on July
4/19/07 review), and is working both on her own stand-up comedy act (playing at the
Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn June 25) as well as a television project
with Meat. She caught Jester’s eye with her Katherine
Hepburn-turned-nasty character, Cynthia Falconcrest (see
9/8/06 review), and
has a stable of other funny personalities in her shows.
Jester: What is unique about the Atlantic School? Why did NYU choose to
put you there?
LS: I always wanted to do characters and had done characters since I was
a kid. That was the kind of acting I always wanted to do. That’s mainly
what I did. But when I auditioned, they wanted to break me of that a
little bit. They wanted me to go in a very different direction and
challenge me in a different way. That’s what the administration does
when they accept you -- they think about what would be the best training
for you. I wanted to go to Stella Adler, where Robert De Niro went,
which is very character-driven. The Atlantic is just completely being
yourself and being in the moment and everything about the moment. It’s
David Mamet’s theater company. That style of acting … is not putting
anything on top of …
J: It’s dialogue driven as opposed to character driven?
LS: Yes. There’s a very specific way they break down a script to get at
the subtext. Then you’re playing the subtext of what’s going on in the
scene. It takes a playwright to teach people how to translate what a
playwright is saying. It was cool because the kind of acting I was doing
as character acting up until that point was very much in my own head.
Everything was planned out ahead of time -- who this character was and
what they were like, and I was never in the moment, ever. Everything was
delivery of something preconceived about who this character was.
Atlantic completely broke me of that and I was forced to be very present
and never in my own head.
In conjunction with that, there was a teacher there, Josh Pais, who
became my “friend-tor.” The class was called “Committed Impulse,” and it
was creating characters and creating physical work … the point actually
wasn’t to create characters but another take on being in the moment, and
pushing yourself to experience the moment in an animalistic way. You
never knew what was going to happen in that classroom. It was a
dangerous place for me because everything came from the physical place.
It’s hard to describe. We would do Grotowski work [developed by a
theater director by that name] -- really stretching your face and body,
and expanding what you thought you were capable of doing. That became
for me and for a lot of people, creating characters, but that wasn’t the
point. I changed from a very intellectual approach to creating
characters, to creating them completely physically and being in the
moment with that. So it could be a really powerful experience to be in a
class with a bunch of people doing that. They might be people I hung out
with but, in that [exercise], I would have no idea who they were right
J: Do any of the characters you have now date back to before you changed
LS: Everything is either completely instinctual with me -- either I see
this person, have a vision of it or how they sound, or I play with sound
and the physicality, and the character comes out of that. As a
performer, you always go into your head sometimes, especially in comedy,
whether they’re laughing at it or what are they not laughing at,
especially if you wrote it -- does a line need to be changed? You go in
and out of being in the moment. But for the most part, when you’re in
the zone and clicking, all that’s there is the moment and I’m not in my
head at all.
J: Does anything you do come out of improv at all, or is it all from
acting and writing material?
LS: Some things do come out of improv. We don’t ever do improv games or
do exercises to help us create something. If anything comes out of
improvisation, we’re all sitting around and hanging out, and someone
will say something, and someone else will say something else, and it all
just sort of happens in conversation. It isn’t ‘Let’s sit down and write
a sketch.’ We’re just hanging out and something magical will happen, and
that’s a sketch -- ‘Oh my god, that’s so funny.’ That just comes from
hanging out. One of our videos, “Mr. Knickerbocker,” came from that.
Recently at “Craptacular,” the finale of Sketchfest, we were all hanging
out in the dressing room, Becky and I were in the dressing room, rubbing
our butts against each other, asking “Is this gay sex?” Reggan came in a
little later, and we have a sketch/characters called Four Groovy
Douchebags, and we thought wouldn’t it be funny if it was them
experimenting with what gay sex is. Becky and I were saying “I can’t
feel anything! Can you?” and then someone said there should be an
announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, we present, ‘Gay sex.’” -- a reveal
of this is what they think sex is … but there’s this long scene of them
not feeling anything. That just came out of improvised conversation
without a particular goal in mind. We’ll definitely write down the beats
and do it again.
J: How do you choose what ideas you keep for yourself and what goes to
LS: We all write separately. As to performing outside of Meat, I do a
lot and Becky does quite a bit, and Biz and I are working on a side
project together. I can’t speak for them in how they choose what will be
Meat or not, from ideas they get. But for me it’s just a feeling, that
something needs to be done by four people, or I could see Reggan doing
this really well. Or a sketch might be better told as a story and I do
it in stand-up. You try different things out and get a sense of what
will work well.
J: How did you come up with Castle of Enchantment?
LS: I started it this April. ... I was offered a spot at the PIT to do
whatever I wanted. I’ve really been trying to work on my stand-up, so I
thought of calling it “Livia Scott & Friends,” and I would do stand-up
and invite other people to do things. Kevin Allison [The PIT artistic
director] asked me to create a concept. After talking to every single
friend whose comedic opinion I respect, and I had to come up with it
quickly, because the spot was going to open up in a week, I had to
figure something out fast. I asked myself how I could do characters in a
show. The idea of dead celebrities came about. I was going to have it be
a lifestyle show -- like Babe Ruth would come back and show you how to
make a sandwich, and interview the people. But then I thought that was
kind of limiting. One of the people I talk to a lot about ideas and
collaboration is Todd Hanson, who writes for the Onion. He’s a really
good friend and we have a good collaborative rhythm in talking about
things. It was very much from my conversation with him that the Castle
of Enchantment idea came about, with the people brought back to life by
the power of magic. The word enchantment came from me. How I fit it into
the concept -- he came up with ‘castle.’ There were a lot of
conversations but that was the one that really solidified it. … It was
kind of stressful but it was fun -- being able to do anything in that
J: Of everything you think of, how do you know what to keep and what to
LS: You may think something is hilarious and no one else thinks it’s
funny at all. And sometimes you have to stick to your guns and make
whatever was hilarious to you work. Too often, I’ve seen it happen,
people throw something away because they didn’t get a good response one
night -- ‘I’m never doing that again.’ [I think], ‘Are you crazy? You
were so excited about that.’ But sometimes you have to let go and move
on. Some of it has to do with … I try stuff out on people a lot before I
go on stage. I’m really lucky, I have a lot of people in my life who are
fun and funny. Some of them are not even performers. My first boyfriend
lives in Seattle and does research at the University of Washington; he’s
a scientist, not a comedy person at all. I’ll call him and ask if he
thinks something is funny. He’ll give me a contribution.
If the resources are there and you don’t have to wait to be in front of
an audience -- it’s like rehearsal -- it’s a good idea to grab hold of
that and embrace it. It’s like my test group. And then other times you
just don’t know and have to try it.
J: Why did you go the route of inventing characters, rather than doing
your solo material about family, friends or growing up, like many other
solo performers do?
LS: I never thought about that before. Maybe it’s because people in my
family aren’t really that jazzy. I can do an impression of my mom, but
she’s not really that high energy a character. My dad is pretty
interesting. They’re all academics, so…
J: Or solo performers use their personal stuff.
LS: I don’t know why I don’t gravitate toward that. I know why I
gravitate to what I do, but don’t know why I don’t gravitate toward the
more personal. I’ve always been interested in psychology and what makes
people tick. I find people fascinating. I could sit on a park bench and
watch people for hours and be so totally interested. I do that a lot.
I’ll go to the park and people watch. When I have writer’s block, I’ll
There’s a lot of ‘fist-shaking’ that goes on in our family about
politics and society, I guess as a result of all being academics. So
I’ve always been interested in social commentary and a certain sense of
justice and wanting to make fun of people who need to be made fun of, or
people in a position of power or the establishment. In comedy that
interests me more than ‘oh, my dad is like so crazy.’ Everyone’s dad is
a little crazy, so what else?