Today we’re joined by Tempest Wisdom. Tempest is a fantastically talented actor who is studying at University of Chicago. She specializes in physical comedy and improv. Tempest also has aspirations to direct one day. It’s very clear that she loves acting, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
I am an actor at the University of Chicago! I am interested in many styles of acting, but I am most interested in (and best at) physical comedy and improvisation. Most recently, I played the twin brothers Antipholus & Antipholus in Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors.” Right now, I am most involved in the University of Chicago’s Commedia dell’Arte troupe. Commedia is a VERY old form of Italian masked comedy that uses stock characters and scenarios to create humor. One of my friends in the troupe (our artistic director!) says that it’s improv with the hard parts taken out — you already know your character and the basics of the scene, so you’re free to play! Commedia was an extremely important and influential moment in theater history: it gave rise to everything from modern clowning to ballet. You know the word “slapstick?” That’s Commedia, too. “Harlequin?” Commedia. “Pants?” Even that comes from Commedia.
My character specifically is a lover. His primary occupation is being vapid and pretty and in love. One of the neat things about having stock characters is that I am playing a character who has been embodied literally countless times by countless actors since the 1600s. I am from a long line of lovers, all of whom are their own versions of that basic character skeleton of “pretty, vain, not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” My character even crops up in fiction! The vampire Lestat from The Vampire Chronicles played a lover with the same name (Lelio) in a Commedia troupe once upon a time. Something tells me our interpretations are a little different.
Basically, my art involves doing silly things with my body and face to make people laugh. I cannot think of anything better to do with my time.
What inspires you?
To be completely honest, I am incredibly motivated by attention and laughter. But if you’re looking for a more serious, artistic answer, I am fascinated by the performative aspect of theater, by which I mean the relationship between audience and performer and how to give a genuine performance onstage, whether you’re doing intense realism where you have to genuinely believe that you’re standing in your living room, arguing with your real-life wife despite the fact that there is a room full of people staring at you and you’re actually yelling at another actor or whether you’re in a musical and have to find a way to make speaking directly to the audience and singing and dancing and holding for laughs a natural, real thing to do while allowing yourself to believe that your character is a real person and that this IS your day-to-day life and that it is all true and immediate and your emotions are genuine. What it means to be onstage and be watched is very interesting to me and is actually going to be the subject of my thesis project next year.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I have no idea. I don’t think I ever considered the possibility of NOT being involved in theater. My mom is also an actress, so my sister and I grew up listening to musical soundtracks and that kind of stuff. I’m also just very, very extroverted, so this is a pretty natural outlet for me.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?
I think the beauty of acting is that if you’re doing it right, YOU are the special signature!
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
This is a really great question because I actually want to teach theater for a living so I love being asked stuff like this! Of course I want to say all of the “follow your dreams, don’t give up, keep creating” stuff that is super important to know, but I have a couple more specific things to say that I don’t think are said enough. Thing #1 is one of the most important things I was told by one of my mentors: you are enough. A lot of aspiring actors seem to think that you need to try so, so hard all the time and be Acting all the time or you’re not doing enough, which is simply not true. You bring more to the table than you think you do, and you don’t need to Shatner it up to give a good performance.
Thing #2 is another really important thing to remember: fail. You are going to. A bunch. You’re gonna make terrible art and you’re gonna fall flat on your face onstage and you’re gonna feel like a total loser. It does not make you a bad actor or director or improver or whatever it is you do. What it means is that you were taking risks, which is part of the process and what allows you to make really great art. Being vulnerable onstage is a HUGE part of performance, and you aren’t really vulnerable if there’s no risk involved. If and when you fail, do it spectacularly. Don’t just stumble and try to brush it off and pretend that you didn’t. Instead, stumble and trip and fall all the way down the stairs and accidentally rip your pants and EMBRACE IT. Apologize for nothing.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I am asexual and somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, but who the heck knows where.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
Theater is a pretty queer industry, and UChicago is a pretty queer campus, so people are generally knowledgeable and accepting. I have had to explain what asexuality is and what it means for me, specifically, but those are usually conversations with people who are curious, a little uncomfortable, but love their queer/LGBT+ friends and want to be good allies to them. I pride myself on being a forceful personality, so I don’t think anyone would ever challenge me to my face about, for example, identifying as queer as well as aro/ace. In general, my experience has been that people are kind and educated, and if they aren’t, they are more than willing to learn.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
I’ve noticed a tendency to conflate asexuality and aromanticism. I have a memory of before I started identifying as aro-spec, when I made a joke about pick-up lines or something like that, and a friend of mine was like “but aren’t you ACE????” It really annoys me when people don’t get or don’t accept that a lot of people experience romantic and sexual attraction differently and that one is possible without the other.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
I would say that labels are great and validating and all that, but don’t worry about justifying yourself and your experiences to anyone but yourself. I definitely don’t identify with everything I’ve read or heard about asexuality, and I DEFINITELY don’t identify with everything about aromanticism. And that’s cool. There isn’t a citizenship exam or a diagnosis or anything like that. That can be kind of rough if, like me, you REALLY LIKE LABELING YOURSELF, but trust me, it feels way better to base your identity off of your experiences rather than some kind of nonexistent “you must be this tall to ride” scale.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
In all honesty, the internet is a great resource for general Commedia stuff— learn about our stock characters, look at pictures of the masks (they’re very weird!! I really like them) and check out some filmed performances. As for my stuff in particular, we have lots of good photos on our Facebook page at U of C Commedia. I’m the one pouting, usually. I’ve also included some pictures of the production of “Comedy of Errors” I just starred in, which was GREAT fun. The rest of those pics are on Facebook at University Theater at the University of Chicago.
Thank you, Tempest, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.