One of my *ahemMANY ship contracts was with Jen and her husband Larrance. She was wildly smart, wildly talented and pretty damn together. Fast forward to me porting in Bar Harbor on yet ANOTHER ship contract where she has CREATED a theater. I- doing basically the same thing as when I met her; her- owning a. damn. theater. TO say she's driven is somehow not even close to enough. She is also kind and thoughtful and fiercly honest. Enjoy.
AS: How would you like to be described?
JEN L. SHEPARD: Co-Owner of ImprovAcadia, professional actress and teacher, badass
AS: Where are you from? Where do you live? What do you consider home?
JS: I’m from Nebraska. I was born in Grand Island and lived my young life in Omaha. i now live in Maine. Maine is my home.
In a lot of ways, i felt I really came of age in Iowa City when I was at the U of Iowa. This had more to do with independence than anything else.
AS: Life story in half a page, GO!
JS: I started up there. After Iowa, I moved to Chicago. I intended to be an actor but found long form improv. My Mom, Judith Shepard, and Larrance bought me my first class. I soon began booking gigs. In 2000, Larrance and I visited Bar Harbor. We decided to open ImprovAcadia. It took four years of planning and saving to get it all ready. We opened in 2004. We open for our Fifteenth Season on Friday, May 25 2018. I’m proud of that.
In-between working on our theater, we’ve worked for Second City at Sea, College of the Atlantic and Penobscot Theater.
This winter we joined Penobscot Theater on a shared space in Bangor, ME. We’ve been hosting students show and inviting improvisers from all over Maine to come share our stage.
AS: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment? Why?
JS: ImprovAcadia. It is truly our vision. Mine and Larrance’s equally. I’m very proud of what we’ve built and that we’ve paid our actor’s from day one.
AS: What is your biggest failure? And what(if anything) did you learn from it?
JS: Anger. I used to be very quick to anger. I would blow my top pretty regularly and even worse just kind of being generally angry around everyone.
When you own a business, you don’t have that luxury. Your co-worker’s are looking to you to set an example. Too often they’d mistakenly think I was mad at them when I wasn’t even thinking about them. I even had arguments with cast members.
i’ve worked hard on my anger. Tempering my temper with learning when to let go of it and when to express it but to do without rancor. To speak quickly before I let it build to rage. Meditation and exercise have also played roles in helping me to become healthier.
I learned that anger can be a powerful tool but it can also hurt more than help.
AS: Describe your perfect day:
JS: Wake up late, a quiet morning, an adventure in the afternoon (hiking somewhere new or snorkeling or a new experience), then drinks and nachos with friends and family. The nachos are non-negotiable.
AS: How did you get where you are?
JS: We had an idea. The idea to open ImprovAcadia. We encountered a ton of negativity, refusals and even open derision. We countered each of these with fierce determination, ignoring it or recruiting allies - we did this on a case by case basis.
We wouldn’t be here without the help of so many. As we’re opening for our 15th season, we made a thank you board to thank everyone helped us get open. We’d been meaning to do it for years. Even thanking people who we haven’t talked to in years but who helped.
AS: What are you most proud of?
JS: Getting my temper in control and learning how to be more mindful of myself and others.
Learning that the flip side of anger is compassion. As my Mom says, "everyone is doing their best. It may not look like it but they are. Remember that when you respond.” My Mom also says, “Think of all the pizza you’re going to eat in your life. You don’t do it in one sitting but rather bite by bite.” Both of these sayings have helped me although one is more eloquent that the other.
AS: What is one of your fears?
JS: Aging. Losing my mind. I hope to keep my mind.
AS: What keeps you going every day?
JS: Love of what I do. I have a happy life. I laugh a lot. I know so many wonderful artists and there’s so many more to know.
AS: Favorite podcast?
JS: Welcome to Nightvale. I love a good creepy, sad story.
AS: Last piece of art that spoke to you?
JS: A statue of Tawaret (hippo goddess in Egypt) that I just saw in St. Louis. She was powerful and protected the weak.
AS: Tell us an embarrassing story:
JS: At the end of my freshman year at UNO (before I transferred to U of Iowa), I got super drunk at a professor’s house. I was so drunk that I threw up in her roses. I had to be carried out of the party. Luckily I was 20, so I recovered very quickly.
AS: Pump up song?
JS: Queen Bitch by Bowie
Simple Song by The Shins
Water Fountain by TuneYards
AS: What advice would you give to someone who is lost?
JS: Not sure. That’s tough. I used to hand advice willy nilly but have stopped that in recent years. I’ve tried to get better at listening and offering this - comfort and companionship. I’m too quick to think I know best…….I might but what if I don’t? So I wait and listen. When I do offer advice, it is very specific. Like suggestions of things to try or I tell them about the Pizza. I’m not kidding.
AS: Do you have a mantra or words to live by?
JS: Everyone is doing their best.
Nutz in the Butz - said when stuff is out of whack or I really like something
I don’t know.
AS: What gives you meaning?
JS: My work, my relationship with Larrance, my relationship with my Mom, friends, my cat.
AS: What do you struggle with?
JS: Worry and jealousy. I worry about stuff when I really don’t need to. This ebbs and flows but it’s bad when I’m stressed/tired which is, of course, the worst time to worry. Sometimes the result is insomnia…..my mind goes a million miles an hour….not even stopping on any thought, just like a microfiche machine. Then I get jealous of others who in my perception seem not as worried/burdened as me. This is a dangerous path down which to travel. I fucking hate it. Sometimes I get halfway down the path and I have to worked hard to turn around.
AS: What is success to you?
JS: Being happy.
AS: What are you working on that you’re geeked out about?
JS: I’m pretty geeked about long form improv again. I’ve returned to it this winter. I forgot how much I loved it. When it works, it is the best thing ever.
Also, I’m geeked on acting. I got to do a comedic role (La Fou in Beauty & the Beast) and a dramatic role (Soccer Mom in The Wolves) and both were an exceptional amount of fun.
AS: Anything else?
JS: Nachos are the perfect food.
What question would you add to this?
Do you have a pre-show or pre-creation ritual?
I do. I play a video game and completely disconnect for 15 minutes. Then reconnect with everyone in an intentional way - i.e. warm-up’s, engaging in a check-in of some kind with each person.