On the Couch with Jessica Papst

Jessica Papst Arts Review On the CouchWho is Jessica Papst?
I am currently touring Australia with Michelle Brasier and Erin Hermann-Young in Carole King: The Songbook of her Life, which is a beautiful project based on the music of singer/songwriter Carole King. I grew up in Queensland (Brisbane and recently the Gold Coast) and moved to Melbourne in March to begin the project.

As performer I’ve been involved in musical theatre for about 10 years. In the past decade I’ve also been directing, writing and choreographing for young performers and local community groups. Unlike many working musical theatre performers, I didn’t go to one of the big MT schools, my background is in acting which I think was the best path of preparation for me. I have a very close knit family in Queensland and some amazing, supportive friends who are all very excited about the big move.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
I was living that life until recently. I’m a high school teacher and have been in schools and studios almost 10 years. My first teaching job threw me in the deep end of the Performing Arts department but I loved it. I taught Drama, Dance and English in the classroom and helped run all the extra-curricular groups that goes along with the territory. It’s a consuming job, teaching, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain my high standards both there and in building a career as an artist so, eventually I had to choose.

If I wasn’t touring this show I would probably be in my most recent incarnation of teaching, working with the Youth Theatre program I was running on the Gold Coast and the studios I choreographed for. People always suggest I set up my own performance school but, like teaching, running your own business takes all of your energy and I’m not quite ready to stop performing. Though I don’t see myself satisfied in a career without a lot of creativity, I’d maybe retrain to be a lawyer, or a journalist. I don’t love conflict, but I do like to argue.

Who inspires you and why?
My folks. Talk about two people open to growth and change. They packed everything up in their early 20s and moved from country Victoria to Brisbane because they wanted something different for their family’s future. I know it’s not moving countries or escaping a dangerous situation but it required a dream and the courage to pursue it and anyone who does that inspires me. They’ve both been through their own personal battles and allowed it to shape them into even better people, also pretty inspiring. Anyone who takes risks and chases dreams inspires me. People willing to be adventurous and “throw their hat in the ring”. Musicians. Strong women. Overcomers. People who are kind regardless of their circumstances. This world is hard enough. People who push through inspire me to do the same.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I think teaching makes a difference, or can at least if it goes beyond fulfilling curriculum requirements. Young people need positive role models and the influence I had as a young teacher probably had more impact on their overall human-ness rather than getting A’s in my classes. If a kid doesn’t feel respected, or that they can trust you or that you even want to be there – you will get nothing from them. They’re very relational beings, and if you care, they respond. If you don’t care, they know and will reject everything you have to offer. They are a walking example of that quote, “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about,” so once again, kindness and patience goes a long way.

I also think entertainment makes a difference. Music certainly does. I know that singing some beautiful songs isn’t going to solve the world’s problems but spirit and attitude change us in our little part of the world we live in. If the soul is down, the rest of the person won’t flourish. And if we aren’t flourishing we can’t do what we’ve been put here to do. Music comforts, it heals emotional wounds, it helps us express how we feel when we haven’t got the words to explain, it reminds us of memories we made with people we love, it narrates our emotional journey (I know, I’m going on about it, but it’s true). And entertainers allow the audience to feel, to connect and to reflect – by watching the journey play out on stage – and also to escape their day, their problems, their life for a moment. All valuable contributions to the world.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
New York City (NYC) – I’ll let you know why when I get back in October. As far as places I’ve actually been to, probably London. It reminded me of Melbourne when I was there – the culture, the weather, the wine… a lot of my favourite musicians are English.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take then to, and why?
Whatever musical is showing. At this point in time. Matilda. Because it’s just ridiculous. In a good way. I’m still very new to town so I’m finding all the spots to go and things to do. I do love going out to the Yarra Valley, checking out local restaurants here in town and finding amazing donuts.

What are you currently reading?
My script. No time for anything else! But I’m halfway through Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road. I keep highlighting all the amazing things she says. It’s covered in notes. I’m often working on something that’s an immediate focus – script, score, new project to direct etc – so it’s hard to find time for leisure reading. But when I travel with the show this year, I’ll be stocking up. I’ve been trying to finish Diane Keaton’s Lets Just Say it Wasn’t Pretty for about a year, and at Christmas I bought Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. The last amazing book I finished was Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. Misty Copeland’s biography is next on my list. See, strong women everywhere!

What are you currently listening to?
Other than Carole’s repertoire, my mate Tom Oliver’s EP Hey, Jarryd James, Jeff Buckley, Creedence, Joplin, Missy Elliot. I like to mix it up. I really loved discovering James Bay last year, and Beth Hart. Mariachi El Bronx. Alabama Shakes. I love Paulo Nutini, Hozier, Michael Franti. Basically the 2015 Bluesfest lineup was my dream concert. I think that’s also when I confirmed that it wasn’t specifically “musical theatre” as a genre that drives me, creatively. I’m a musician at my core and its music itself that lights me up.

And then I’ll choreograph something I’ll obsess over, or direct a scene that allows young actors to find that electricity and I’m like, “why choose just one?” I plan on being creative, in whatever shape that takes, for the rest of my life.

Happiness is?
Not setting an alarm. Seriously. I love sleep and don’t get enough.

What does the future hold for you?
After Carole, I’ll be further settling into life in Melbourne, exploring the city, working towards a trip to New York in October – which is a life dream! But, as is the case with the artists life, I’ll be working on a range of things at once to prepare for my next 12 months. When it rains, it pours!

I’ve been increasingly involved in cabaret over the past few years as its a genre I really love. My show, Only the Good Die Young is simmering at the moment. I still feel like there’s more to do with it so perhaps watch this space! I have another couple of cabarets on the back burner because of our tour so I think a slow development of those ideas is likely.

I have an 18 month goal to write a Soul/RnB style EP of originals, and I recently decided I want to write a book. I really just want to make great work with amazing people, so I’ll continue to throw myself into different projects down here. For now, my full focus is on Carole King: The Songbook of Her Life as we start our Australian tour this Saturday!

Jessica is currently performing in Carole King: The Songbook of her Life, touring nationally throughout May and June 2016. For more information and touring dates, visit: www.facebook.com/carolekingsongbooktour for details.

Image: Jessica Papst