By Sue Staats
There’s a well-worn truism we’ve all heard—If you want to get something done, ask a busy person. And I can’t think of anyone busier than the newest member of the Stories on Stage Sacramento team, Jessica Laskey. She’s an actor, singer, writer, teacher and now she'll be responsible for selecting just the right people to read the stories at each of our events, in her new role as Casting Director. (Come see the first actors she's chosen March 27.)
As a freelance writer, Jessica contributes monthly columns to Inside Publications, and if you’ve read Sacramento Magazine, Sactown, or Comstock’s, chances are you’ve seen her many articles there too. As an actor and singer, she’s appeared in numerous Sacramento theatrical performances and has read many times for Stories on Stage Sacramento and our sister series, Stories on Stage Davis. As a teacher, she’s taught drama and English in Sacramento and Paris. A native of Sacramento (and daughter of well-known Sacramento columnist Ed Goldman) Jessica has lived and worked in Sacramento, Berkeley, San Francisco, New York City, and Paris.
Did I mention she also speaks fluent French? And, as I found out last week, when I emailed her some questions, she’s currently doing all of this from—Dallas?
Q. Jessica! Dallas? What are you doing in Dallas? How long do you expect to be there? How does it compare to the other places you’ve lived/worked recently?
A. Believe me, I'm just as surprised as anyone that I landed in Dallas for the moment! My husband got the opportunity to be part of an amazing translation PhD program here, so we decided to relocate temporarily while he completes the program. We still have our roots in Sacramento, though, so it's going to be a back-and-forth situation for the next couple years. Dallas is definitely a different beast—if you thought LA drivers were bad, Dallas drivers will shock you!
Q. Let’s talk about your new role as the Casting Director for Stories on Stage Sacramento. I’m assuming that being in Dallas means you’ll be auditioning actors via Skype (or something similar) and also relying on your extensive knowledge of who’s currently working in Sacramento. What do you look for in an actor?
A. If I'm familiar with someone's work onstage, it's a matter of making sure they're comfortable adjusting their skills to the unique environment: it's a smaller venue, but it still requires projection. It's a performance, most certainly, but it's still in service to the text instead of to the actor's ego. I look for the actor's ability to connect with the piece and embody the words—to essentially melt into the text so the audience can have as seamless an experience as possible.
Q. How is reading a story to an audience different from acting in a play? What kind of challenge does that project for an actor?
A. Reading a story aloud is a very different process than memorizing a script and standing up and performing it. It can be surprisingly difficult to strike a good balance between looking at the page, looking at the audience, deciding how much character to include (accents, etc.) and how much to just let the story unfold as it would if you were reading it to yourself on the page. Actors who excel at this kind of reading are those who understand that balance and don't overpower the text with "choices."
Q. Does your experience as a Stories on Stage Sacramento (and Davis) reader help you as you select the actor?
A. I think so, because reading requires a certain amount of comfort making last-minute adjustments—mic placement, lighting and tripping on words can all present different challenges during the performance, so the unflappable concentration that actors bring to performing a play is demanded even more so in this short, intense window of performance. That being said, having the text in front of you takes a certain amount of pressure off the performer—removing the stress of memorization—which can make the process very fun.
Q. How does accepting the Casting Director role in SoSS fit in to your plans for your future. And by the way, what ARE your goals? To ask the ripe old question—where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?
A. It fits in perfectly! I'm still very involved in the Sacramento arts scene—I write about it monthly and some of my closest friends are performing locally—so this is a wonderful way for me to stay involved with an organization I've loved for years. (I even served on the board of Stories on Stage Davis, our sister series, last year.) My goals are, quite honestly, to keep on keeping on. I'm loving the balance I have right now of writing, performing and teaching, and I plan to continue that both in Dallas and once we've returned to California.
Q. What questions should I have asked you, but didn’t?
A. The big one – what’s so special about Stories on Stage Sacramento? My answer to that is: the experience of sitting in a room, sharing a live performance with a group of people is so exciting. Add to that the shared experience of the authors being present to both represent and enjoy their own writing and the entire evening ends up feeling alive and collaborative in a rare and special way.
Thanks, Jessica. A Stories on Stage Sacramento event is a rare and special experience, and we’re really happy you've agreed to become an important part of it.
There’s so much more about who Jessica is and what she does that couldn’t be crammed into this interview. But you can see it: here’s the link http://www.jessicalaskey.com/
Sue Staats is a Sacramento writer. She directed Stories on Stage Sacramento for six years, from 2013 to 2019, and now contributes stories to the website and cookies to the events. She’s currently looking for a home for her short story collection and getting her feet wet in a couple other projects, with the hope that eventually one of them will draw her into deeper waters.
Her fiction and poetry have been published in The Los Angeles Review, Graze Magazine, Farallon Review, Tule Review, Late Peaches: Poems by Sacramento Poets, Sacramento Voices, and others. She earned an MFA from Pacific University, and was a finalist for the Gulf Coast Prize in Fiction and the Nisqually Prize in Fiction. Her stories have been performed at Stories on Stage Sacramento and Stories on Stage Davis, and at the SF Bay-area reading series “Why There Are Words.”