Interview with Jill Kamler

September 13, 2017 | Batsheba Castro Martinez

As creatives, we derive inspiration from various sources. I firmly believe that we can get this by looking at other disciplines beyond the visual arts. In the words of Leo Burnett, “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.”

There is so much we can learn from people in other fields apart from our own. I wanted to take the opportunity to reach out to Jill Kamler, a friend I have greatly admired for a very long time, and get a point of view from a performance artist; something not commonly found here at Springfield Creatives.

To preface, Kamler is a queer actor and writer currently based in Los Angeles, California. Originally from Webb City, Missouri, they came to Springfield for Missouri State’s BFA Acting program and graduated in 2015.

Kamler’s correct pronouns are they/them/theirs.


B: Tell me a little bit about your journey as an individual in this world.

J: Oh gosh.. well, I grew up in a really creative family. Both of my parents were really creative and beautiful visual artists and were musical, as well. Growing up we had a really creative environment and was a thing that was really fostered for us. I knew I was creative, but I didn’t really feel like I knew who I was as an artist. I felt like “I can do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but there’s nothing I was really great at.” I felt like I had a lot of smaller talents and I just didn’t know what to do with them. I played a little bit of piano and I played tuba in band for six years. You know, but what could I do with that? I didn’t feel super confident in any one talent that I had and I started doing theatre in sixth grade. In junior high, I did it as a fun thing. It wasn’t until high school when I got serious about it and I realized that I loved doing it and was really good at it. Then I went to the Missouri Fine Arts Academy as a high school student and that is where I started to feel like this was something that I wanted to pursue. I kind of felt like I couldn’t really call myself an artist until then because I always associated that word with just visual art. But I was much more comfortable claiming my identity as an artist and a person after that. That’s when I decided to pursue it as a career and ended up going to Missouri State University.

B: What drove you to choose acting as a medium for creativity?

J: I would say the element of telling a story. I would consider myself an empath; I feel very empathetic towards other people and I like to understand what they’re feeling and going through.  A lot of acting is like that: understanding a character and what motivates them. I think I really discovered a love for the story telling aspect of it when I was in Radium Girls as a high school sophomore. It was a true story and that was really compelling to me. Radium Girls was based on a true story and somehow in the cosmos of the universe, we were telling their story in a way that maybe they weren’t able to at the time. And that was very powerful for me. Finding power in that, it was so much easier for me, for some reason, to tell other people’s stories instead of my own until I got older. I think there was something about it that allowed me to let go and come to a higher place of power and understanding.

B: What people or organizations influenced you the most whilst you were at Missouri State?

J: Let’s see… so obviously the theatre and dance department was my main focus. I majored in Acting.. I was in the BFA program. It’s a really intense major and it was a huge influence for me because it was most of what I did. Within that, my acting professors influenced me a lot. But, honestly, during my time at MSU I felt like I was sort of hitting a wall a lot of the time. I was getting the same kind of notes like “you are really self aware.” And in acting, that’s not always a good thing. You don’t really want to see that someone is acting, you want to see them living in the moment. And I was having a difficult time with that because, as an anxious person, I’m constantly monitoring and judging myself. And I kept struggling with that and I kept the same note. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I was caring about so much about doing it right, that I wasn’t doing it well. So I didn’t get much experience on the main stages, I didn’t fit any of the places where you normally fit into in the theatre world. I wasn’t musical theatre oriented, I wasn’t feminine. I found myself getting tired of seeing the same kind of characters where being a romantic interest was the main part of their story line. So I felt really stuck in some ways and it forced me to look outside of what was possible. I really got into this scripting and performing class as a senior and that is where I found that solo performance is a very powerful vehicle. So many famous people, that you wouldn’t think of, have been solo artists and they’ve been to tell their story and carve out spaces for themselves that weren’t there. That’s why you know them now because they did that and took the risks.

In addition to that, the study abroad program to London was a game changer for me. I came back knowing more about myself. I always knew I wasn’t straight, but when I came back from London, I was like “oh.. I’m queer! That makes more sense.” That’s when I understood way more about myself in a gender sense. After I came back, I didn’t feel conflicted about being out of place. I came back I felt like this is who I am, there’s not a place for me yet, but there will be. I’ll make it happen.

B: What do you hope to achieve with or through your career?

J: As I’ve become more woke, I have started to really examine what queer media is and what kinds of things are out there. I remember first learning about the L Word and I was like “what are you talking about” and it was the only thing I had ever heard of about gay women on screen in any way. I knew who Ellen Degeneres was, but her work is more based on her being funny and her interviews with people. I wasn’t really alive when she came out, so it wasn’t something that I really impacted me in the same way as people who were alive then. So, I watched the L Word as a sophomore in college, and the show is terrible, but at the time that was the only thing out there and so I thought it was the best thing. I had heard of Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but that was it. I didn’t have any other examples of queer people in the media. And I started to think about what was missing, or what’s there but not exactly accurate. I want to be able to make this a better situation for the people who are younger, just like so many actors before me. How Ellen Degeneres, in her time, was the only women out on television and I want more than that, but it all starts with a certain level and challenging that level. I want to be part of something huge that makes our perception of queer people in media a better scenario and a more accurate depiction of what our experiences are like and more opportunities for actual queer people to portray those characters versus Eddie Redmayne doing another movie where he portrays a trans woman. And there are so many people out there who are willing in their acting and they are having a tough time because of who they are. So I’m kind of over the excuse that you couldn’t find someone else because that isn’t an excuse anymore. There are people who are waiting to work and waiting for an opportunity to tell their story. And I think we have a responsibility to listen to that.

B: So, I am a visual artist and you are an actor, some people may say that they are two completely different disciplines and may not have much in common. Regardless of the differences one might see at first glance, I think that we both deal with the basic principle of communicating a message to our audience. What is the biggest mistake that you’ve seen people make when it comes to communicating and how would you remedy it, given the chance?

J: I think that communicating begins with listening and I think that a lot people don’t listen or they listen with the intent to respond, not with the intent to understand. And I feel like if we all tried to do a better job of listening to each other to understand, that we wouldn’t have half the problems that we have with communication. I think that’s major. In acting, a lot of our time preparing a character is understanding them or learning to understand them. If we took the same amount of energy to understand our fellow human beings, think of how that would change our culture.

B: And my final question: what keeps bringing you back to Springfield?

J: Oh gosh… well working for the Missouri Fine Arts Academy for the past few years has kept bringing me back. But apart from that, I’ve had to consider what Springfield means now that I’m in Los Angeles. I returned, but it was different because my community was gone. The things that I loved about Springfield were a lot of the people that I went to school with, but they weren’t there anymore. So coming back to Springfield, it’s the same place, but in a very different context and so it’s weird. Right now what keeps bringing me back is that I still have people that I love there and that I’ve worked with in college. And for a “small” city, it actually  has a really supportive arts’ community. Now that I’ve lived in this large city for two years, I didn’t think I would miss it, I really didn’t. All I wanted to do was leave the Midwest. Then, I did leave and I missed it. It surprised me. There’s a natural pull in me to come back to a place that is familiar and where I’ve had a lot of life experiences. I think it’s always going to have that sense of familiarity and home to it that is hard to articulate. It’s where my favorite coffee shop is and my favorite Thai place is. I have a fondness to it that I can’t really describe very well.

B: Side note, what IS your favorite coffee shop?

J: Mudhouse! I mean, I like a lot of different coffee shops like the Coffee Ethic and I like Brick & Mortar, but Mudhouse has always been the place where I enjoy just hanging out and the vibe is so comfortable. I haven’t found any place like that here in Los Angeles.

To learn more about Kamler’s work, you can visit www.jillkamler.com.

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