Day 343 - Jeff (1st person I approached)
December 09, 2014 - I was attending my first gathering for the holiday season this evening. I decided at the last minute that I’d use the time I had before dinner to look for today’s story. I saw Jeff sitting by himself, eating onion rings, and looking at his phone. When I explained to him what I was doing he asked how long it would take. He too had somewhere to be. He agreed to chat, telling me he thought the concept of my project was great.
Jeff was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta.
“I have two younger brothers,” he said.
“As the oldest, I think I broke all the rules for the others. We were all close growing up. And now my youngest brother seems like he’s the oldest. Even when he was just starting school, he wanted to be called Mr Lastname by the other kids,” he said. When Jeff was young, he used to put on shows in his basement for others.
“I would charge a dollar, and I used puppets in the shows. I used to make them myself,” he told me.
In high-school, Jeff always seemed to hang out with the rough kids.
“I was drawn to the kids that were bad. There was just something, that grittier edge. We lived in Bowness, (a community within Calgary) and it was considered by some to be rough, or seedy. I liked that. I enjoyed living there,” he said, smiling.
“It’s very grounding, to me.”
A girl in high-school asked Jeff if he was going to audition for the upcoming school play.
“I told her I was thinking of playing rugby. But because she asked me, I auditioned, and got a part. I played the main lead/love interest, and she got the part opposite me. It was called ‘Finian's Rainbow,’ a musical about romance, political satire and racism. We ended up dating after the play was done,” he said.
“I went to the University of Calgary after graduating high school. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, so I took a bunch of general studies. In the second year of university, I wanted to do some drama classes. For some reason, my girlfriend, the same one from the play in high-school, had registered all my classes. She had me doing only educational classes, and told me all the drama classes were full. There were some control issues going on,” he said.
In what would have been the third year of university, Jeff decided to take time off from school, and go travelling.
“I went with my brother, the one who is just younger than I am. We landed in Frankfurt, and went to France, Greece, Turkey, Israel and Egypt. We rented a car and drove all around Israel. In Egypt we took a trip down the Nile River. It was amazing. We were gone for five months. My brother is also an actor and we write stuff together,” he said. I asked what was the motivation for the trip.
“I had been in school for a while, and my brother had spent a year at university too. Oh, wait. Right! My girlfriend was supposed to go on that trip, that’s right! She decided to stay in school, so my brother and I went travelling. We had some other places planned as well, and my brother was the one who said he wanted to do Israel and Egypt,” he said.
“I had almost forgotten she was supposed to come on that trip.” Jeff and that girlfriend from high-school, broke up after two-and-a-half-years.
Coming back from his travels, Jeff returned to university in Calgary, and spent the next two years studying drama. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree.
“I was dating another woman who was from Vancouver. I finished school, and then followed her to Vancouver. We got married and were together for seven years,” he said.
“Things didn’t work out between us, but we remain good friends. We still have a wonderful relationship, even though we’re no longer married.”
Soon after Jeff and I had started chatting, I asked him if he was an actor. When Jeff had mentioned his youngest brother preferring to be called Mr Lastname, the name triggered a memory for me. It turns out that we know some of the same people, and I've heard of Jeff over the years through mutual friends. I worked in theatre in a past life, looking after the audience, not acting. Jeff is a professional actor, musician and does a lot of improv work. Improv is a form of theatre where most or all of what is performed is created at the moment it is performed, often with input from the audience.
“I’ve been here in Vancouver now for fourteen years. At first, the improv gigs were just a way to make some money on the side. There aren’t many actors who want to try and make a living at improv. Personally I really enjoy it. It’s not my main financial support, but here I am, fourteen years later and I’m still doing improv and loving it,” he said. Jeff also plays upright bass, and writes music.
“I had a friend record an album of my songs, and figured I should put a band together. This was about a year ago. We’re what I call ‘cowboy noir.’ It’s a five piece band,’ he told me. Jeff had a personal crisis a couple of years ago, and it changed the lens through which he views things.
“I have a different outlook on things now. It was kind of like starting all over again. That can be very liberating.”
“I think this project you’re doing is so interesting, getting out there and talking to people," he told me.
"I’ve worked on an improv show called ‘Life Story.’ We’d interview someone before the show, and then tell that person's story in front of an audience, using improv and suggestions from the crowd. It’s kind of like a theatre version of what you’re doing. It was a lot of fun,” he said. Our time was up, Jeff’s onion rings were finished and we both had to get going. Once again, the universe presented me with a surprise; the random stranger I approached wasn’t so far removed from my life, and was not so random. Jeff is currently appearing in ‘A Twisted Christmas Carol’ at the Revue Stage, on Granville Island. #notastranger
* ‘A Twisted Christmas Carol’ - http://bit.ly/12LOVHZ