Jaime Moyer: Actor/Director/Master of Improv Interview by Peg Doman
Jaime Moyer is one of the funniest women I’ve ever met, and her mother Lavinia Moyer Hart is another one. Expert storytelling and raucous, outrageous humor run in their family.
Born in Detroit to Lavinia and Harlan Moyer, Jaime had no chance to grow up not being an actor/entertainer. Her parents founded and her mother was the Artistic Director of the Attic Theatre in Greektown, Detroit. Both her parents have done national television commercials.
Jaime spent her early childhood in the theater where the other actors treated her as if she were one of them. All the actors were eccentric and treated her as is if she were a younger sister.
She loves the theater. When a production’s run ends, they “strike” (take down) the set. After living with the play, characters and actors, she’d “cry, cry, cry” because she’d had a love affair with the production and hated to see it end. Her first professional experience when she was four or five years old in “Wings” (which her mother was producing at the Music Hall). She performed in the dream sequence of a woman who’d had a stroke.
She attended Detroit Waldorf School from nursery school through sixth grade, except for two years when she lived with her father in Los Angeles . She studied French, German, crocheting, knitting, drawing, woodworking, pottery and all the arts. She was making pop-up books in the first grade. Of course, reading, math and other core subjects were taught as well but Jaime said even the math was fun, because it was taught so creatively.
Rote memorization was not a technique used at the Waldorf. The students were encouraged to build their own books and curriculum; they performed in actual plays as well, among them “The Iliad”. She came out of the school confident in herself, in her ability to accomplish what she wanted and in the legitimacy of her artistic pursuits.
Her mother Lavinia resigned from the Attic Theatre about the time Jaime turned 18, ending her everyday life in the theater. By then Jaime was acting in many stage productions and was a successful actor. She thought long and hard about going to college because it would take time away from her stage work; but then she decided she wanted the experience and expertise. She received her theater degree from the University of Detroit-Mercy.
While she doesn’t subscribe to a particular method or school of acting or movement, Jaime studied them in college. She just wants to make her portrayal of a character so true to the person and situation, that the audience believes her to be true.
While still in Detroit , in 2001 Jaime auditioned and was chosen for the touring company and then the Mainstage of the improvisational comedy group Second City Detroit. The Detroit troop’s an off-shoot of Chicago ’s Second City , which, in her words is, “… the mother lode, the heroes of comedy”. This was a bonus in her quest for laughter. She improvised, wrote, directed and produced with them, while still pursuing other acting jobs. In fact, if a theater or city wants a production tailored to their location, they would commission Second City to create and design an original production incorporating local events, history, places and people.
Improv is a skill that she says comes naturally to young children, “They are always setting up situations. ‘I’m mom, you’re dad, and you’re the kids. Now, here’s the house.’” They have fun and figure out the world by trying on different roles and personalities. [Ed. Do you know any 12-year olds? They try on costumes-outfits and personality traits, then shuck them just as quickly and go on to the next one. Their mercurial, curious natures are ever changing.]
While in Detroit Jaime earned her union cards in S.A.G., the Screen Actors Guild organized for on-screen actors, and Equity, the Actors Equity Association for live performers. Membership in these unions provides members with instantly, nationally recognized credentials.
Since she moved to L.A. in March 2009, these two union designations has been a life line. Of the 1000s of actors that show up in L.A. wanting to get into movies and plays, those with these credentials have the inside track as proof of competency. In addition, Los Angeles is a very expensive place to live, and having a support system is critical. She has worked two or three jobs while living in Detroit and had to contend with the fatigue of always being busy so she could pay her rent and expenses. In L.A. she lives in the upstairs of her father and stepmother’s house, a part of their amazing support for her.
One of her favorite quotes was by Paul Newman in response to James Lipton’s question on “Actor’s Studio”, “What does it take to be a successful actor?” Newman’s response was, “Tenacity.” Note that he didn’t say talent. In the business an actor must be in the right place at the right time with the right qualifications. In other words, talent meets opportunity meets timing.
Jaime is in the L.A. Second City troop and does stand-up, acting, writing and directing with them.
For ten years she’s teaching improvisation (improv) which she says is not a function of being funny. Rather the participants open and build a situation one line at a time. Some of her students are business people who want to be more comfortable speaking in front of groups, for instance, giving presentations to employees or responding to the media. Feeling confident and relaxed, they can respond easily and present a more authoritative presence. Her clients range from the United States Army to Reuters.
Jaime has appeared in several feature films, the most notable being “Prayers for Bobby”. She played the work friend of Bobby’s mom, played by Sigourny Weaver. She still receives an occasional residual check for that production.
Jaime played Sister Elizabeth Donderstock in Amy and David Sedaris’ play “The Book of Liz” for which she received a Molly Award as funniest performer.
Jaime says her most satisfying moments in acting have been, “100%, to make people laugh, the release of tension.” For an example of Jaime’s humor, take a look at her Second City You-Tube clips, short features “Fancy Catz” , which has gone viral with over 273,000 viewings.
Recently she was walking down an L.A. street, talking with a friend, and a passerby shouted out to her as she walked away, “You’re the Fancy Catz lady!” She, of course, had to do ten minutes of stick to honor his recognition. He called his girlfriend to tell her he was talking to Jaime, and since there was no answer, had her leave a Fancy Catz lady message, “Next time, pick up your f-ing phone!”
She’d love to follow the career path of Kathy Bates who went from a regional theater actor to a national TV and stage performer; and the comedy, drama and voice-over career of Kathy Najimi playing the sidekick, not the star. She also loves the original movie “Hair Spray” by John Waters and the play “10 November”, about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Michigan .
She always liked Roseanne Barr’s TV show in which a working class family had hard times but also lots of laughs. Tina Fey (a Chicago Second City alumnus) is one of her heroes, writing, starring in and producing “30 Rock”. As producer of the television comedy Fey brought several Second City alumni with her to the show.
Jaime Moyer has worked at two or three jobs at a time to support herself while acting, to pay for her rent, phone, utilities and union dues. Her mother Lavinia Hart, now a tenured professor in Wayne State University’s theater department, tells her students to go ahead and establish their own theater groups and pursue their theater dreams because their lives are still fluid. Their circumstances may change; they may want a car that works, or own a house or may even get pregnant. Then, their initial dreams may have to be adapted as stability becomes more important.
Jaime wants a more stable life, with a regular income, medical insurance, and the predictability brought by acting on-camera as a principle; however, she realizes that she’s most likely to break into voice-over work and writing. She’d also like to direct and produce in the future. She is a successful actor, but is not secure enough yet for mortgage payments.
[Ed: I should include a disclaimer: Jaime Moyer and her mother Lavinia Hart are cousins of mine; by marriage, however, that never stopped me from claiming them!]