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75th Anniversary: Alumni Profiles

Jeanne Leep '91

Dr. Jeanne Leep has studied, performed and taught improvisational theatre foryears. A founding member of the first Calvin Improv Team, she is the co-founder of River City Improv and has started student improvisational groups throughout Michigan and Wisconsin. She is the chair of the department of theatre arts at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, where she both teaches and directs. She is the author of Theatrical Improvisation: Short Form, Long Form and Sketch Based Improv, (Palgrave Macmillian, 2008) and recently traveled to Moscow to study Stanislavski's performance techniques at the Moscow Art Theatre (which she found to be, as practiced there, surprisingly improvisational).

In addition to her book, other scholarship includes: "Long Form Improvisation in performance: Discovering an Authentic Dialogue in the Ultimate Unsafe Space" and "Making Connections Across the Curriculum, Using Wandering Thespians to Strengthen Theatre Performance and Recognition on Campus." Her numerous directing credits including The Cripple of Inishamaan, Dead Man Walking, Nickel and Dimed, Tartuffe, How I Learned to Drive, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Glass Menagerie, The Road to Mecca, Reckless, Top Girls, Source Code: Candide, Dancing at Lughnasa, Marvin's Room and The Laramie Project.

Dr. Leep also serves on the First Year Experience Committee, and has founded the Common Reading Program at Edgewood College, now in its second year. She eagerly performs whenever she can, especially with her pals at River City who graciously let her share the stage with them despite her immigration to Wisconsin. She received her B.A. from Calvin College with a double major in English and communication with a theatre emphasis in 1991, her M.A. in theatre from the University of Michigan in 1993, and her Ph.D. in theatrical directing in 2004 from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She currently lives in Monona, Wisconsin, with her husband David and their cat Simba.

Q&A

How has theatre influenced your life?

How hasn't it? I'm a firm believer in the power of the creative abilities that studying theatre affords one in life. I've used the principles of theatre and improvisation in the vast majority of my multi-faceted existence. The collaboration that simply must exist in production has helped me in every single thing I do that involves other people-and that's just about everything, really.

How has your faith influenced your life's work?

Hmm. That's a long answer. Here's a short story to illustrate. One time while I was randomly driving down Korf's street, he was outside digging a hole of some kind in his front yard, and I, having no real sense of boundaries, stopped and hung out with him for a while (poor Korf-sorry about that). We were talking about faith and theatre, and, channeling the book of Matthew, he said to me that it was my job to be salt and light. I've used that as my guide. I've said to him since that sometimes I feel like pepper and fog, but to shine like a light and to the best kind of spicy salt is my goal. My faith has changed and grown in new ways from when I was a student I have to admit. I'm not afraid to be surrounded by people who don't share my faith or don't agree with me on many issues. But it is important to me to be known as someone whose actions reflect the Godliness that Jesus refers to that salt and light passage. I don't always succeed, but that's the goal. I was lucky enough to get to direct Dead Man Walking, (before you did it, Calvin!) and when Sr. Helen Prejean came to our campus to speak she talked about the radical ministry of Jesus Christ. Something clicked in my brain there—that's what I want to be, in my own pepper and foggy way as best I can—a radical follower of Jesus. On a practical level, that has drawn me to projects that are focused on issues of social justice, like Dead Man Walking, and The Laramie Project.

Favorite roles/ crews at Calvin College? (subsequent work too!)

Everything was a favorite-every single time I got to work there is a memory dipped in solid gold. I think being the cast of Murder in the Cathedral and watching the faces of the audience as they realized that this wasn't a murder mystery but actually a long poem is one of my favorites in an absurdist comedy kind of way. But playing Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire absolutely was a life changing experience for me. That role was the beginning of a journey—a quest to go more deeply into the extremely interesting art form of performance.

Advice for aspiring actors

Be not afraid.

What CAN'T you do with a theatre degree? Hey listen, everything that can be outsourced in the future is going to be outsourced. (The proofreader for my book was in India for Pete's sake.) But the creative "industry" isn't going anywhere. It is actually growing at a record pace and creativity isn't outsourced; it's actually imported. Arming yourself with the skills to think creatively can only help you, no matter how you apply that skill. If you study theatre you might go into theatre professionally, but you might go into business, or the video gaming industry, or social work, or design, or law or whatever. Theatre provides student with the opportunity to think creatively, to work collaboratively, to problem solve in real time, to meet firm deadlines, to deal with the public, to communicate clearly using action and word, to handle criticism and a host of other things that are applicable to just about everything there is to do with one's life. And studying the art of theatre gives you the added bonus of exploring the human condition, which can give you joy, hope, fortitude, wisdom and strength as you travel though life and experience your own deeply human conditions.

Secondary

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Jeanne Leep

Graduation year
1991

Major
English and CAS/theatre

Further education
M.A. in theatre, University of Michigan; Ph.D. in theatrical directing, Wayne State University

Favorite roles/crews while at Calvin
Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire

One quirky thing about you
Oh lordy. Just one? In my heart of hearts, I'm a dork. And my closest friends all know it. And I trip and fall a lot. Does Calvin offer a movement class? They didn't while I was there—maybe it would have helped.