It’s good to be a part of something dynamic and exciting again. When I was an undergrad at the University of Tennessee, I liked to keep myself busy. I got involved with environmentalists, progressive activists, artists, musicians, and writers. I discovered acting, and became a performer. This, while double majoring in Anthropology and English. I wanted to do everything, be everything for everyone. So, I had no free time. It was a great- I’d recommend it to anyone. True, I made plenty of mistakes while I was at it; there were times I fell flat on my face or stuck my foot in my mouth. I was taught some difficult lessons. But I learned, and I got better. I was giving myself a future. I didn’t know it, though: I just wanted to DO stuff.
I graduated in 2013. I was anxious. Not surprising—I had been taught to be fearful of the real world, often by trusted advisers with good intentions. But now I know I needn’t have been intimidated. Because I knew what I wanted, I knew what made me happy. I had a passion for performing, for storytelling. It was inside of me, in an embryonic state, but very there and very real, all the same. I may be a cynic by conditioning, but I am romantic at heart, and romantics don’t give up on what they love, even in spite of the warning signs, and all the obstacles, all the ghosts chasing after you in the form of “good advice”. You ignore all that. You just do it.
And I did it. I kept performing. I persisted with blind faith, and my loyalty is paying off. I know what I am: a working actor, regularly performing with local film and theatre companies who have kindly let me be a part of what they do. And, I know what’s next: I’ve been given a chance to be involved with a group that advocates and nurtures the things that I love, in a community that I love.
Thank you, SAFTA. Now, enough about me, let’s get this show on the road…
Erik Schiller is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, where he received his BA in Anthropology and English, with a minor in Theatre. He has been performing in live stage and film productions in Knoxville since 2009, working with local companies that include the Clarence Brown Theatre, Yellow Rose Productions, and Badland Pictures. In addition, he has served as Secretary for All Campus Theatre at UTK, is a founding member of the guerilla theatre troop Shakespeare Unauthorized, and has had poetry published in the Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine
Rehearsing the piece “Singing Blue/Straight Girls”, (from left to right) Sean Madison Kelley, Amber Autry, and Molly Kessler, with dir. Adam Crandall in the background.
OUTSpoken (a one-night event) will be going up next Saturday, the 28th at 7PM at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church. Molly Kessler will be one of seven performers lending their talents to the pieces showcased in the production. Having been an actor since her freshmen year, she wrote her first play “I See London, I See France” in 2013. She will be performing the poetry piece “Singing Blue” as well as playing a supporting role in the prose piece “Steel”.
ES: How did you get involved with OUTSpoken?
MK: Well, I was contacted by Adam [Crandall, director] who organized the event.
ES: OUTspoken presents a series of separate written pieces, along with poetry readings, by local LGBT and ally writers. Can you tell us more about the pieces that you are a part of?
MK: The piece is a poem called “Singing Blue” and Adam’s joined it together with another poem called “Straight Girls”, and it’s sort of a back-and-forth: both pieces are about gay women pining after straight girls, and realizing that it’s an unattainable or unrequited love. So, Sean Kelly, who’s performing “Straight Girls”, and I are doing this back and forth.
ES: One of the themes common to both “Singing Blue/ Straight Girls” as well as the other piece you are involved in, “Steel”, are people dealing with relationships, or potential relationships, that aren`t working out. Do you have any personal connection to the type of issue these pieces are exploring?
MK: Yeah, I think we all do. It doesn`t necessarily have to be romantic but just, trying to be friends with somebody or trying to work with somebody when you have incompatible personalities. It doesn`t even have to be romantic. I can think of dozens of situations like that, sexual preference aside.
ES: What do you, speaking of both the pieces you’re in, hope to achieve? Do you come in with a specific goal in my mind, with these projects?.
MK: I just come into it hoping to tell the story. Because that’s what I assume part of the goal in writing it was, to convey some sort of emotion or tell a story, and I hope it comes across and does the story-teller justice.
Director Adam Crandall (left) directs Taylor Jackson (right) in OUTSpoken piece “Banging”.
ES: Of course, OUTSpoken is more than just a night of story-telling. There’s also a wider social issue being promoted. What kind of role do you think a production like this plays in the big picture of giving voice to LGBT people in our community?
MK: I think that the kinds of stories we’ve told for a long time don`t really show that side of human experience. But we’re showing those who may not know a lot about LGBT issues, that they’re real people, showing them go through things that everyone can relate to. It helps you understand that it is a human experience, and that we are all the same.
ES: So, would you say that the performing arts, like theatre and film have a special role to play in promoting that kind of understanding?
MK: Well, yeah, because it’s entertaining. And when people are entertained, they listen. Even something like the difference between news programs and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert-people get their news from shows like that now, because it’s entertaining and they retain it. And in our production… the pieces are so beautiful, and you can`t help but listen.
ES: So we’ve talked about performance- what about writing? Do you have a lot of experience with, say, writing poetry?
MK: Well, I’ve written poetry, but I don`t show it to anyone because it’s just goofy and stupid. It all rhymes, and it’s all Seussy and not about anything real. I have written a play, which was not fiction but based on my experience studying abroad in France.
ES: Having both performed and worked in a written form, would you say you have a preference?
MK: I much prefer writing, myself. The difference for me… I don`t know, it’s not that I feel more connected to my words… I feel more connected to someone else saying my words than I do when it is myself saying somebody else’s words- if that makes sense. I feel more comfortable with someone else saying my words, than me saying someone else’s. Because I feel like I don`t do them justice.
ES: How about your future plans? We were talking earlier about how you were planning on moving to Chicago. What do you plan to do once you get up there?
MK: Yes. Some friends and I, including Amber Autry, who is also in the show, are planning on moving there sometime in September. I want to take some classes with Second City and Improv Olympic. I’m not sure quite where that will go, I’m really interested in writing more than performing, but life takes you places, and you don`t know where it will go. And that’s exciting, and also terrifying.
ES: One more question. Do you have a favorite LGBT pop icon?
MK: It’s gotta be Ellen. Without a doubt Ellen. It will always be Ellen.
Erik Schiller is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, where he received his BA in Anthropology and English, with a minor in Theatre. He has been performing in live stage and film productions in Knoxville since 2009, working with local companies that include the Clarence Brown Theatre, Yellow Rose Productions, and Badland Pictures. In addition, he has served as Secretary for All Campus Theatre at UTK, is a founding member of the guerilla theatre troop Shakespeare Unauthorized, and has had poetry published in the Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine.